Chaos Magic

Chaos magic-if you believe in that sort of thing-is a highly individualistic form of magic where you create your own belief system. It doesn’t matter if your magic works. What matters is you think your magic works. If you decide to believe in a power, and earnestly hold in your heart that belief, you get the very effects of what you intend. You create the system. You mix the potion. You decide the ingredients, who to pray to, what moon to howl at.

You can call it an expression of the supernatural or self-fullfilled prophesy or coincidence or just a bunch of baloney. But the result remains. There’s positive feedback between thinking and behavior. You are self-creating. 

Chaos magic can be an individual or group effort.  If you have a belief of your own, you can affect change. And if there’s a belief on a collective level, there is a sea of this change.

There’s a Witches’ market in Mexico City. With spells and potions, powders and candles. You can see there’s a system promoted by a whole culture. A subconscious consensus. Make a honey jar to keep your man from straying. Drink bird saliva for impotence. And there’s the strength of the belief of millions of other Mexicans that will support your desired results. There’s power in group energy. 

Among the aboriginal Australians, the ritual of pointing a kangaroo bone at your victim results in death. You can call it “bone-pointing syndrome” or “self-willed death” but death happens regardless.

But you don’t have to join the group. You can walk your own path. That’s the point. Just pick your belief, choose your prophet, draw a sigil, do whatever you want that you feel works for you. This is a feeling-based system so just do what feels right.

 

The Mythology of the Shoe

Shoes are transportive. They take us on trips. The God Hermes traveled between seen and unseen dimensions in his winged sandals. Cinderella’s glass slippers gave her access to an otherwise exclusive world. Dorothy’s ruby slippers took her on a journey of initiation.

They may also signify the erotic. The western stiletto or the lotus shoe of the bound foot of China connote the sado-ecstasy of another’s pain. After a wedding, there is the custom of tying a pair of shoes to the departing car of the betrothed to signify sexual union. Thigh-high boots mean sexual dominion over another.

They can represent agency, status or authority. If I were in your shoes; To fill someone’s shoes; to wait for a dead man’s shoes is to wait for entitlement achieved only by someone’s death. An expensive pair of shoes is a status symbol second only to the “it” bag.

Contrarily, shoes that are worn-out evoke pity. You’ve lost agency over your life and wealth. There’s the image of the tramp with his toes poking out-he is exposed to the elements and cruelty of fate.

In the German fairy tale, The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces, twelve daughters of a king descend to an enchanted underground realm where they dance with imaginary suitors. They return home with their shoes destroyed, reminding us that we must have our feet on the ground.

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Dress for the Job You Want

I believe the act of creating is a two-part process. It is one part our doing while the other half gets handed over to the universe. We initiate the process by creating the kernel. It could be in the small form of having a vision for something and declaring your intentions. Or having an image in your head and picking up a brush or pen and materializing it. And if that action is in congruence with your authentic self-which is to say it really brings you joy or some sort of creative fulfillment (as opposed to doing it because you’re realizing someone else’s fantasies for you), then the universe responds to your action. It gives what you put in; reaps for you what you sow. If you are in an honest act of creation, you are in alignment with a sort of cosmic plane where events and people conspire to get you closer to your goal.

It was a few years ago that I had a sort of existential riddle to solve. I was leaving my job as an ESL teacher and back in school, trying to figure out what was next. I needed to upset the system, my system. I needed to start again and make sure it was what I wanted and not some idea I wrongly got from somewhere. But I didn’t know what I actually wanted. I had only scattered ideas of things I loved/loved to do…clothes, writing, organizing information…It was hard to think of a way for all those things to add up to a job title but it at least felt good to begin to know what brought me joy.

I kept my dreams alive in various and sometimes dumb ways like fantasy-shopping for the bag I would have when I would get to my next level. The Proenza Schouler PS II bag, a very “professional” (expensive) but cool shoulder bag that maybe I would carry to my professional but cool job.

One day I decided that if I was lost, the only solution would be to do something, any action that took me out of my state of inertia. Thinking about bags was nice but what did that bag really mean? I needed to explore that wanting and see that it represented a more evolved, fulfilled version of myself that was living out her creative impulses and desires. So I bought The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion and started memorizing fashion terms (words for clothing models, print and pattern, silhouette, etc.). I read Suzy Menkes’ runway analysis in the International Herald Tribune and kept notes on all the evocative expressions she used (Calvin Klein Collection represented a “pared down elegance” while Prada’s oversized paillettes were “an innovative proposition”). I had no idea why I did these things other than it made me feel happy and productive. I was just following my inspiration.

I also approached a friend of a friend for career advice. She proposed I get into fashion forecasting. She mentioned a few firms but one stuck with me: Stylesight. The hugely influential trend-maker and predictor that seemed to sense what bubbled up years before Ms. Menkes referred to it as “an innovative proposition.” For some reason this idea of a firm that told the future resonated with me. Like a fortune-teller for fashion.

So I consumed my dictionary and the International Herald Tribune and Stylesight reports and told people-just to feel I had a real life tangible goal-that I wanted to work for Stylesight. I didn’t know how I would go about doing it, only that it felt satisfying to say it. I said it so much that I just started believing it.

One uninspired day at home, I found myself hitting a wall. Studying with Suzy and Fairchild just weren’t doing it for me. I decided again-I had to do something aside from staying home in my self-made prison of discontent. And so I went in to work a shift at my vintage/designer buying job, where I buy clothing outright from the public at a shop in New York.

I was at the buying counter doing a buy for a client who seemed to know everything ever about the pieces and designers she brought in to sell. “Oh that’s a sample from Manish Arora Spring 2011-they ended up doing that in a floral” or “I love it when JPG does Andalucian gypsy.” Her pieces were treasures, each one more special than the last. And that’s when I pulled out…omigosh…the Proenza Schouler PS II bag. I was in disbelief. No one had ever known a PS II to come through the shop. It was like seeing an apparition. I priced it and discretely threw it on our employee holds shelf (sorry, first dibs), unable to contain the thrill of knowing I would soon be living my cool girl dream, or at least look the part. Maybe I was riding that high but I also got curious about this well-heeled, fashion-fluent woman who was selling her amazing closet and asked, “What is it that you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I was in fashion but I’m thinking of leaving it to become an ESL teacher.” The Twilight Zone theme played in my head. I had to tell her my same-but-opposite story, ending it with the bold declaration, “I really want to work at Stylesight.”  She looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and said with an amused interest, “I have contacts at Stylesight. We should meet for coffee sometime and chat.”

So we met for coffee, shared stories and traded contacts. I gave her pointers on how to get into teaching. She gave me a name  of someone from Stylesight, which I was to use surreptitiously. I did, and I got myself an interview and a job, where I walked into the Stylesight offices every day with my Proenza Schouler PS II bag, feeling very pleased with myself. And grateful for the universe meeting me halfway and delivering my dreams.

And what do you think my two tasks at this new position were but to a.) catalog the runways according to model, print and pattern, silhouette, etc. and b.) write runway analysis.

It’s up to us to create the life we want. And when we’re lost, we only have to plant little seeds that make us happy, and watch with awe as they bear fruit.

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Photo by Juhi Baig

The Psychic Life of Indigo

Indigo denotes the sixth chakra, the third eye, the doorway to the occult and the east.

Indigo expresses the beginning and end of life and period of creation in between. It is the color of death in funerary dress and textiles in the Middle East. Women of ancient Egypt would smear their cheeks with the dye as a mourning ritual. The mourning period in that part of the world is still measured by the length of time it takes for the last indigo stain to fade from the skin. In the Arab World, it may signify new life when smeared on the face to announce a birth in the family. The Bedouins mark it on their bodies to display virility.

The indigo dying process shares traditions with obstetrics in parts of the world like Indonesia, where indigo dyers are medicine women who borrow from systems of menstrual regulation and fertility control. The same ingredients are used to control the “bleeding” of the cloth and the bleeding of women. The extract is used as a contraceptive and abortifacient in Nigeria. In Southeast Asia, the dye vat is seen as the uterus and the indigo “blood,” the fetus. Pregnant or menstruating women are banned from the shack as their life-giving blood threatens the black blood of the dead plant and both birthing processes can be corrupted.

Indigo dyestuffs are believed to have magical properties. Among the Omani bedouin, it wards off evil spirits and is nicknamed haras, or “the guard.” The indigo-dyed turban in parts of Asia prevents headaches and protects from the desert-dwelling, shape-shifting jinn.

In some societies, indigo is considered an agent for transmitting evil. Dyers using other dyestuffs seclude themselves from the indigo dyer. In India, he gets his own subcaste within a caste of weavers.

When he cuts down his plant, it turns black with death. In the dye hut, it steeps in the vat until it turns yellow and then green again before finally becoming a deep, soulful blue. Therefore the plant returns to life. He is in effect a kind of alchemist.

A dyer in A Thousand and One Nights  informs us that the secret to indigo is carefully guarded as it is passed down through generations. What other mysteries and paradoxes it contains is a many-fold riddle in this magical part of history.

The Mystico-Nuclear Jewels of Dali

Dali was obsessed with the Atom Bomb. When it hit Hiroshima, he suddenly had a new way of looking at the world. His paradigm had changed. This universe was now an energetic one, composed of things he couldn’t see with the naked eye but that had incredible power to destroy or create. Protons and electrons have form and structure, he thought-but how do you depict them? This was what he would set out to do for decades to come-to visually represent the elements of quantum physics and the unseen forces of the universe. This hybrid of atomic-age thinking and his already-established religious traditions was what he would come to call, “nuclear mysticism.”

He entered artistic mediums that went beyond painting but one collection-his little-known line of jewelry-was a singular interpretation of his new approach to creating. He considered its role as part of a larger experiment in what he often referred to as his “mystical manifesto,” or his general artistic mission to show the spirituality of all substance. “My art encompasses physics, mathematics, architecture, nuclear science – the psycho-nuclear, the mystico-nuclear – and jewelry – not paint alone,” he wrote. 

The language of Dali mysticism is esoteric but his jewels are such a tangible and impactful expression of the divine. Gemstones are an innate representation of energy and exquisite manifestation of sacred geometry-they are the perfect medium for him represent the quantum world. 

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He selected the stones with intention: rubies represented energy, sapphires tranquility and lapis and lazuli meant the subconscious mind. Some pieces were mechanical, like a diamond-encrusted flower whose petals opened and closed or a ruby brooch in the shape of a steadily pulsing heart. Common motifs through the collection are Greek mythology and Catholic iconography. 

The Gold Cube Cross
Pax Vobiscum
Tristan and Isolde

Each piece invites you to play and delight in his hallucinatory world and consider the potential for the mystical behind the everyday.

Dior Was Superstitious!

Magic and superstition have always worked behind the scenes in the world of couture. Anything from pricking a finger, dropping scissors or sewing a hair into finale wedding dresses in hopes of getting hitched are just some of the mystical beliefs woven into fashion lore. Then there were the designers themselves, like Gabrielle Chanel who deferred to her lucky number five or Yves Saint Laurent who thought any fabric that his bulldog Moujik sat on would be the season’s best-seller.

Christian Dior was among the more overtly superstitious of the couturiers. He always kept two hearts, a four-leaf clover and piece of wood in his pocket and consulted his long-time fortune teller Madame Delahaye before any runway show. In fact it was she who pushed him to start his own line when he was approached by a benefactor.  “Accept!” She ordered him. “Accept! You must create the house of Christian Dior. Whatever the initial conditions, anything that they could offer you later on could not compare to the chance of today!”

“The house was temple-like,” says Kouka of the salon Dior.

He wore his lucky heart on his sleeve, so-to-speak, as his talisman become part of the Dior DNA. Lucky number “Eight” was the name he gave to the debut line of his Spring 1947 Collection. The house was located in the eighth district of Paris, in an eight-floor building with eight workshops. Eight resembled the female form, with its sensual curve that emphasized the bust and cinched the waist and it became his signature silhouette that heralded a new era in fashion.

The lily-of-the-valley was his favorite flower (considered a lucky charm in France since the 1600s) and he had a sprig sewn into the hem of each dress of his runway models. He based his first perfume, Miss Dior, on its sweet scent and the salons were sprayed with it before each show.

For the last Spring/Summer 2017, Dior designers referenced the house codes with the number eight, clovers and hearts throughout. Tarot motifs also spoke to his superstitious ways.

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The Mythology of Weaving

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In many weaving cultures, the upper crossbeam of a loom is called, “the beam of heaven.” The bottom of the loom represents earth. Therefore what you have in the middle is the world of creation.


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In all mythology, weaving is born in the divine world and so there must always be a single flaw in the pattern – to serve as a reminder of the imperfection of the physical world.

Which is why master weaver and Goddess Athena turned her mortal pupil Arachne into a spider when she boasted her weaving was superior to any goddess’s. Arachnids, the family of spiders (and expert weavers), borrow her name.

Clothes can be likened to language, where words are to the formation of syntax as threads are to fabric. “Text” and “textile” share a common root, meaning “to weave.” We have expressions: “the vocabulary of fashion” or “the fashion conversation.” We may “spin a story.” The Dogon tribe of Mali refer to the loom as secret speech and say that to be nude is “to be without words.”

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Weaving is made up of a horizontal warp and a vertical weft, which criss-cross each other like time and space and result in the so-called tapestry of life.

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With this thread of life, we weave mankind’s narrative and alter it. To dress ourselves can be to commit a sacred act. Our bodies are our altar, our  weaving is our prayer. The clothes are our collective stories.

 

The Psychic Life of Clothes

*Originally published in The Babe Collective Magazine.

The cycle of life, from birth to death to the ritualistic period of fertility in between, is told in the threads we weave and wear. Women are the creators of life and weaving is women’s work. Therefore behind the veil of human history is a story about the feminine, creative magic of dress and the occult power of our everyday pieces.        

When Hera needed to seduce Zeus away from the battlefield, she borrowed Aphrodite’s belt of one hundred tassels, and successfully lured the lovestruck god from Troy. Consequently, the power of the Goddess’s girdle played out among mortals, as Latvian women later adopted it as a signal of their fertility. Motifs like the sun or a cross-hatch star symbolized sexual readiness while fringe evoked what lay beneath, as told in a folk song.

Turn your back young maiden. 

So that I can see if the ends of your belt are bushy;

If they are,

You will be my bride.

A woman’s shawl in early Slovak and Bohemian societies shared the same suggestive “bushy” fringe. Visually complex patterning contained motifs that promoted fertility and also protected it by befuddling the gaze of the evil eye. Later, during her disgraced, three- to six-week fluid emission period upon childbirth, she faced social segregation, and the bridal shawl became a protective screen that hung from her bed of confinement.

The Romanian blouse is woven by the wearer. She embroiders motifs of fertility and abundance, or may “write” her own love spell at the neckline, arm holes and any other entry point for evil spirits. She is a woman weaving and willing her own fate.

Shoes represent the power of the female sex organ and the story of Cinderella alludes to this. A shoe-fetishist’s account of Chinese footbinding in Records of Gathering Fragrance tells several stories of men stealing lotus shoes for masturbation. Shoes may signify sexual union when tied to the departing car of the betrothed after a wedding. The stiletto asserts domination.

Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols defines ornamentation as “a way out of chaos.” Jewelry ritualizes the human experience and provides extra weight to ground us. Earrings show a rite of passage into sexual maturation as the piercing of the lobe is analogous with the breaking of the hymen. A ring may mean fidelity, it’s cyclical shape ensuring eternity. Norwegians, believing silver reflected evil spirits back onto themselves, once wore brooches to protect their newborn babies from the huldrefolk, or forest-dwelling shape-shifters.

The color indigo expresses all stages of a woman’s life. In the Middle East, it is the color of mourning when used in funerary dress and textiles, or stained on the cheeks. Or it may signify new life when smeared on the face to announce a birth in the family. The Bedouins mark it on their bodies to display virility. In the dye hut in Asia, it shares traditions in obstetrics as the vat functions symbolically as the womb and the indigo blood, the fetus. This belief in this is so powerful that pregnant or menstruating women, considered a threat to the dying process, are banned from the hut.

Contrary to modern-day associations, the apron was once the seat and sign of supernatural and sexual powers. A bone figurine of venus wearing a string apron dates back to 20,000 B.C.E., noting its original relation to the feminine form, although Tantric sorcerers of Tibet and Siberian shamans usurped and masculinized it for more worldly power purposes. Folk beliefs well into the last century held that strategically placed motifs on the everyday apron, notably near the reproductive organs, both safeguarded from evil and called attention to the area.

Ever since Homer wrote of the love goddess’s girdle, we have used clothes to connect with our supernatural selves. We dress our bodies as we dress our altar. To “dress a candle” is to imbue it with oils and herbs, giving it the power to do what you ask. To dress yourself is to call upon a part of yourself you want to show up or protect. With this in mind, we walk in the footsteps of goddess sisters Isis and Nephthys, history’s first weavers, and create with our will our own tapestry of life.

 

The Psychic Souk

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There has always been an impulse in me to jump the garden wall – a need to see what’s “over there,” or anywhere but where I am. Wherever I go, I want to go further. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of chronic dissatisfaction or just itchy feet. But I have been known to plan vacations on my vacation.

I think everyone wants to live forever..? We write songs, paint pantings, collect stamps in order to leave behind a legacy. We want to be connected to this earth for as long as possible and a song or film helps guarantee that (although not really, because permanence is an illusion). I feel like the reason the death of David Bowie was a shock is because he had already achieved immortality in his proliphic career-how could he die?

Travel gives me that feeling of living in the eternal. The universe feels infinite. I leave behind a legacy in the more places I go and fingerprints I leave. And in going outside my element, I no longer have those familiar cues that tell me who I am (my language, my street, my water pressure from my fancy western showerhead). So I’m forced to slay the ego-this idea of myself that I’ve been so attached to-and dissolve into a oneness with others. That’s that infiniteness I’m talking about. When you’re standing on a pyramid at Giza looking out onto the Sahara, you become that tiny grain of sand that makes up the whole desert. You gain perspective on your place in this world. “I’m just a grain of sand! Why do I give a fuck about that breakup when it’s just a blip on the cosmic plane!?” Nothing matters. Not in a nihilistic sense but in an existential one.

It took this writing project for me to see that collecting clothes scratches the same itch that travel does. When I can’t get away, I collect beautiful old things that I feel like have been somewhere. Through the folkloric prints of Thea Porter, theatrical colors of Zandra Rhodes, exotic silhouettes of YSL, I’m like an astral traveler. Clothes are transportive. They support the fantasy.

It’s kind of an exercise in conjuring. Like in meditation, when I invoke a deity for guidance on a certain prayer. “Empress, can you please give me some wisdom?!” and then I try to experience myself as inhabiting the Empress energy and being wise about the matter in question. Clothes work the same way. If I feel powerless, I put on Speakeasy-Era lesbian or Japanese Schoolgirl Assassin. You can transmute negativity to a higher energy. Or you can embrace the shitty feeling! Wear it with pride. Sometimes when I have an ugly or invisible day, I might surrender to it with Artfully Disheveled Waif. Loneliness gets Sicilian Widow (I really do this, think Dolce and Gabbana). Put on the clothes that get where you need to go-spiritually, emotionally, geographically. Wear somebody else’s ego for a bit. It’s a play on archetypes. It’s empowering.

That’s my axis of creativity-not in the classical, artistic sense but in the sense of spiritual creation. When clothes, travel and the divine can so strangely meet. Vintage and secondhand clothing is all energy. It’s been somewhere before you. And it contains magical qualities that can support you on this journey of life.

 

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The Whirling Dervish

 

16th century --- 16th-Century Miniature Painting Depicting Dancing Dervishes --- Image by © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS

Sufism is the mystical form of Islam. It’s peace-loving and pluralistic and predicates that love is the path to the divine. Communication with God is a personal experience so you may dance, sing, or bang on a drum and that’s a way of speaking with God. For this reason, it’s been banned in many societies by orthodox Muslims and puritan powers-that-be, who consider ritualistic song and dance outside of Quranic Law. So Sufism is kind of the wild child of Islam.

The whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism are probably the West’s first association with Sufism. We know the dance, or at least the expression – “like a whirling dervish” – to characterize a frenetic or spastic person…a funny thing to say if you know the dervishes are actually in a state of Zen.

Because these whirlers are not dancing but praying. They pray to one of the great truths-that everything in the world is whirling, from the smallest cell to the galaxies of the universe. Everything is turning. Everything is in a state of flux/vibration/change. So to whirl is to join in this universal prayer.

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Their equally-recognizable clerical uniform also performs the role of conveying a spiritual message and prayer. If, for example, a member is on a higher plane, a sash is wrapped around the hat, signifying the gravestone that will one day stand at the head of their graves.

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The long tunic denotes a dervish’s worldly life, and when he casts it off during the whirling ceremony, he is turning his back on the world in order to get closer to God.

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The rida is a woolen, waist-length jacket that is worn by the sheikh of the dervish lodge. Made up of two equal pieces of cloth, the left side represents shari’a, or Islamic law, while the right side stands for education and truth.

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A sash, or kemer, is used as closure and is wound around the man’s waist three times to represent the knowledge of God, the seeing of God and the stage of true existence.

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After the republic of Turkey was established in 1923, a series of laws were promulgated to eliminate any reminders of the Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes were outlawed and went underground. Clandestine ceremonies are still performed. But you can no longer see the clerical garb in public save for tourist attractions. 

But we have runways to thank for recreating the past through appropriation. Traditions are kept alive through designers’ reinterpreted creations. Carolina Herrera, Tia Cibani, Damir Doma, and Josie Natori:

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The dervishes serve as a reminder that anything can happen. Today does not define tomorrow. Everything in the world is vibrating, including you and I. Our current situation is just that – our current situation. It does not dictate tomorrow. Let’s celebrate the mutable nature of the universe and the fact that we are constantly operating in the field of potentiality. And remember that anything can change/turn/go in reverse at any moment.