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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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. 

Tree of Life
Ophelia
Ruby Lips

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.

Psychic Prints: The Mandala

My Hermés Tohu Bohu scarf. It’s one of my favorite scarves, not just for its beautiful design but for the meaning behind it.  

“Tohu Bohu” is Hebrew for disorder; primordial chaos; the state of the world before God created light.

The design is based on the mandala, a symbolic structure of the universe. The concentric geometric diagram of the mandala attempts to contain the formlessness of the universe.  

There are three levels to the mandala: The outer stands for the human environment; the inner is those who live in this environment, or humans; and the alternate level is the teachings of the universe.

As a ritual object, its hypnotic nature can induce a mental state that supports spiritual evolution. Or more intentionally, it may serve as an instructional tool in which man moves gradually to the innermost zone, an act analogous to the the quest for the center in a labyrinth.

As mandalas may be identified with all figures composed of various elements enclosed in a square, such as the labyrinth, the horoscope, or the clock, it is not a surprise that Hermés associates its Zodiac scarf with Tohu Bohu, which happens to be another one of my favorite scarves in my collection:

  

The Mythology of the Hat

A hat covers our crown, the highest chakra and summit of our selves. It broadcasts who we are, or who we want to tell people we are. When we wear it in deference to a god or team, the message to the world is direct, as on a nun or Yankee. Or it’s symbolism may be associative. The meaning of a chequered keffiyeh can change from an Arab nationalist in Palestine to a hipster in Brooklyn.

It can cloister one from the outside world. It creates anonymity as it hides the physical face; or on a deeper level, one’s individuality, such as the cap of a nurse’s uniform, baseball team, or flight attendant. In a hat, the ego self now represents a unit of many.

Contrarily, a hat may point to personality. A cowboy’s stetson connotes his unyielding individualism and roaming spirit as he sets off on the hero’s journey. A woman in a wide brim has an air of worldly mystique and inaccessibility. A possessor of many hats may be a possessor of many personalities. The suicide of hat enthusiast Isabella Blow shocked-how could a woman with such spirited headwear suffer melancholia?

A hat can signify ideas, which spring forth from just beneath it. An old hat is an old idea. To wear a lot of hats indicates many talents or skills. To keep something under your hat is to store a secret in the dark recesses of your mind. In Meyrink’s novel the Golem, the protagonist takes on thoughts and experiences of another man whose hat he has put on by mistake.

Hats give us agency in an otherwise volatile, ego-attacking world. When we wear our hat, the shield is up and sense of self intact.

Some hats allude to the phallus, such as the Phrygian cap or KKK hat. The mere wearing of a hat may scandalize and we take it off as a sign of respect. Perhaps the feminine answer to such an offense was Schiaparelli’s high heeled shoe hat, that dared to take a symbol for the female sex organ and quite literally turn it on its head.

Not to be overlooked is the practical necessity of a hat-to shield from the elements or danger. Absractly, they protect us from judgement, as we wear them to signal who we are before others can decide for themselves. With this in mind, it stands that hats at once protect us from the physical world and contain us to our own psychic condition of self-defined, ego-driven identity.

Isabella Blow by Mario Testino

 

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.

 

Psychic Prints: Pomegranates

The opening scene in the 1969 Soviet film The Color of Pomegranates, an abstract narrative of an Armenian poet’s life, shows three of the forbidden fruits bleeding through a crisp white tablecloth. Perhaps the scene alludes to the pomegranate’s symbol of the spilled blood of Dionysus, or it could stand for the holy trinity that bled for us and our sins. But the same color red mysteriously permeates throughout the film, notably in dress and textile: the towel of the baths masseur, the liturgical robes of the priests, the carpets woven by the eerie, wailing weavers, all display a stark red against an otherwise flat backdrop. And while the role of the fruit in the poet’s fate is ambiguous, its function as a signifier of religious sentiment is clear.

     

Such an example of the cryptic occult power of the pomegranate is in keeping with its history, as its meaning has always evaded man. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” notes the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century, “for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery.”

The Bible sees it as representing the the universe one oneness, where the multiplicity and diversity of all things (the seeds) is reconciled in a single unit (the shell). In Christianity, depictions of pomegranates are often woven into church vestments and wall hangings, the broken fruit bursting with seeds symbolizing Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

In Jewish tradition, it is said that the seeds are 613 in total, corresponding to the number of Commandments of the Torah. In the Old Testament, it is written that representations of the fruit were embroidered onto the hem of the robe worn by the Hebrew high priest.

The decidedly sexual-looking fruit appears often in relation to the divine feminine. In the major arcana of the Tarot, the robes of the pregnant Empress display its motif, as she signifies fertility for ideas and the creative bearing of fruit. The mythological priests of Attis, the castrated consort of the earth goddess Cybele, wore pomegranates on their heads in wreaths. The calyx of the fruit was first worn as a crown by the Greek Goddess Hera and would go on to inspire the tiara.

The pomegranate tree’s bark has been a source for tannin used in curing leather. Its rind and flowers may be used as a textile dye. In the fifteenth century, the Mesopotamia-born motif found popularity in Central Asia, Europe and the Ottoman textiles. In the 19th century Americas, Navajo silversmiths co-opted the form from Mexican silver ornaments found on clothing, horse gear and jewelry. It’s now an archetypal symbol firmly entrenched in the collective psyche.

Its arousing beauty explains its prevalence in dress throughout the ages while its luteal interior, abundant with life-giving seeds and blood-like juice, accounts for its enduring mystery. But history-long attempts at insight into its psychic life show it’s a code that can’t be cracked.

 

 

 

The Head Scarf

Photo by Juhi Baig

I wear a lot of headscarves. It’s a go-to in my closet for work, travel, errands, anything. It all started when my mother and I began collecting Hermès scarves and I couldn’t find a place for them on my body that didn’t make me feel like one of those basics who follow the Parisian fashion blogs, layering it with their pearls or blue blazer (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”). But wrapping them around my head made me feel worldly and enigmatic. I became a woman with a fascinating story, who has a lot of lovers and secrets and who maybe lives some exotic “life apart.”

Photo by Thomas Julian

Then the fixation grew for reasons of convenience/laziness. I have hair that I loathe-unfashionably frizzy and unruly in most weather-that I can simply renounce with the twist of a scarf.

And then I started traveling to countries where I’m expected to cover my head out of deference to the local culture. I grew up punk and feminist and the Riot Grrrl in me asked herself if this was a conflict-but I secretly liked covering my head in Egypt…and my ankles in Morocco and my knees in Thailand. I think my self-satisfaction over dutifully abiding by another country’s cultural/religious values in the end supersedes my rebellion against those of my own country. Like, I will question my own culture but not someone else’s.

So I began to associate the scarf with far-flung parts of the world that I wanted to be lost in. A relic of ancient civilizations and spiritual traditions I wanted to be a part of. I wore it and was transported to another place or time where I’m anonymous and left to my own devices (I don’t know if you call this fetishizing…Sorry if it is)

Photo by Thomas Julian

Then I started to like the act of shrouding myself. There’s something about covering your head that makes you feel safe. Archetypally, to wear a scarf or veil is to cloister yourself from worldly life. I had a scarf on at the bank the other day when the clerk asked if I had the day off-as if to assume that I had to just duck out of the house for a moment and my scarf signaled that I didn’t want to be too engaged in the world (I did not have the day off-I wear my scarves to work-maybe because I don’t want to be there?).

Photo by Bruno Davey

These days, I’ve assigned another meaning to the headscarf. It also signifies aging gracefully (the Riot Grrrl in me definitely does not like this expression). At 36, I think about how I will adjust to changes in my appearance and what pieces might not work anymore. But my scarf is ever more a staple. In it, I feel wise and Empress-like. In my knowing. I have a station in life. And if I am ever unsure or feel too exposed to the elements, at least my headscarf has got me covered.