Story Time: My Bloody Baptism

Part of digging one’s way through the rust and mud to a magical life is reaching back to those profoundly wyrd experiences which have occurred in one’s past but we’re potentially glossed over or not met with the same willing, open eyes with which one currently seeks the numinous. I know that I, personally, tend to find as much (or more) insight and inspiration from processing the accounts and experiences of other practitioners who I would consider to be peers as I do from practical texts. For these reasons I thought it would make sense to share another story.

I had just moved to New Orleans and was ironing out the kinks in a set of all-new songs using vocals, guitar, drum machine/beatboxing, synth, and base loops which I would record, layer, and mix on-the-fly into gritty indie jams. It would be my first performance in this unbelievable city as well as my first ever performance under my newly-chosen moniker, which was not just another band name to me, but a declaration of intent; a magical act that would have precisely undefined, but self-evidently real consequences.

Having spent eight-ish years prior to this in a locally successful five-piece band back in Florida, I had noticed that as our local popularity had grown, so had my wondering about the efficacy of what I was doing as a means for doing good. I struggled with the idea that many people out there dancing couldn’t hear the desperate cynicisms and ironic empathies within my words for the cacophony of booze and personal demons that always seem so empowered for most trauma and ghost-haunted humans when they find themselves wading through the swamps of social gatherings. 

For me, the whole point of writing, composing, practicing, and performing music was to do something inherently good for others (it definitely wasn’t for the money), and while there were some who went out of their way to express that what I was doing really did mean a lot to them or helped them in some way, mostly what arose were meal-opportunities for personal demons and sickly social dynamics by means of addictions, both chemical and emotional.

So by the time I had moved to New Orleans this had all been fermenting inside for some time, and the trimming season I spent in NorCal that led up to my move provided plenty of time to ruminate away from writing and performing and that whole world. I was still pretty sure I wanted to make music as my primary output at that point, but I didn’t want the words to get lost anymore, and I needed to pinpoint the exact gears that made what I was doing helpful for others and focus on them

So the tempo dropped and the sound became more moody and communicative as opposed to dancey, a choice that may have been an unknown cowardice on my part all along. And after an uncomfortable period of analysis and contemplation I began to feel that what I was really offering which was of-worth was the permission to feel anything without judgement that seemed to permeate the audience when I performed. When there’s a skinny drunk screaming his heart into a can up there, you, as an audience member, have zero chance of being the most obnoxious/ridiculous-looking/crazy/likely-to-be-hated person in the room, because that’s my job and you can be as weird as you like without fear. In my mind, that was so beautiful. A tiny martyrdom. A minor shamanism. And that became my answer.

Loop pedal stuff with drummer Michael Murphy

Now that I finally knew what I was obviously supposed to do with my entire life, it needed a name. There is a concept a roommate told me about which I found on a Feng Shui website around that time called Sha. It was defined as harmful energy, the Chi that is present when people are angry or when a place has a threatening feel to it. Immediately I heard Issac Brock’s Ugly Casanova side project echoing in my ear “SHA SHA SHA SHAAAA” and it struck me as fun that these two contradictory feelings would be tied to the same three-letter word. But then it occurred to me that this idea of dispelling Sha was essentially the same mechanism of creating an emotionally safe place for the audience which I’d just, quite dramatically, identified as foundational to my craft, and the pseudonym Sha Sha Shaman was born.

Now, I feel I must contextualize that at this time in my life I had no magical education. I had my own occasionally-functional grassroots brand of Castaneda-inspired psychonautical shamanism, but my depth of study and practice was that of a teacup. An observation which is, in all honesty, still true, albeit nowadays a travel thermos may prove a more apt metaphor. The point is that my ignorance as to the cultural specificity and significance of the two terms involved, and the subsequently less-than-graceful appropriative line-walking contained therein, are not lost on me. My bad.

So back to the show, the first show under this declarative new name. I meant it to be just that, a pronouncement of my intentions to help, to serve, and to enjoy myself at the same time. I held a simple, small ceremony, which for me at the time was a pretty big deal, to commemorate the occasion before heading to the bar and I remember getting that hyperthick feeling in the air, one I was familiar with, but not yet intentionally. When it was time for my set I hurried to finish my beer and get another one, plus water, for the set and choke down a cigarette as I checked all my levels. Loop pedal work is absolutely ruined if your volumes aren’t dialed-in by NASA (or equivalent) and the dials on my pedal made it possible to adjust these, if necessary, while performing, however shoes were too bulky and socks too slick, so to do so required bare feet for the sake of traction. I tossed my shoes to the side and began to emotionally prepare. The sound guy gave me the go-ahead from his little booth and I remembered there was one little detail I had forgotten to mention to him which, to be honest, I cannot even recall now. So I intended to hop off the stage, take two steps to approach and deliver the message, then return to the stage and play a set so fantastic that they name a fucking parade after me. What happened was different. 

I hopped down off the stage and was greeted, not with the familiar cold and sticky grime of a New Orleans dive bar floor, but with screaming pain from the arch in my left foot. I had quite literally looked before I leapt, but the dark of the bar and the beer I had been breathing rendered my best self-preservative intentions moot. I hopped on my good foot over to the sound guy and delivered the original message, too drunk to feel shame, and told him I needed to “fix my foot real quick.”

I sat in a chair and a friend came over with a cup and began collecting the dripping blood from my glass wound to keep the bar from becoming a hazmat zone, all red mixing with remnant beer foam. It was this moment that a man I’d never seen before, or since, saw what had happened. His eyes lit up and he walked very slowly and deliberately over to where my friend and I were sitting while praying under his breath and making the sign of the cross. He never broke eye-contact with me as his own eyes became wider and he dipped his finger in the blood-foam cup, which my friend still held, and continued to pray as he marked a cross of booze and blood upon my forehead and gestured as if to signify some sort of honor had been bestowed. I taped a bar napkin tightly around my bleeding foot and hopped back up onstage and played my whole set with that bloody cross on my head (and rather well for someone using foot pedals and having only one foot, if I do say so myself.) When I was finished the man was nowhere to be found.

The actual glass.

In the months following this performance I would slide into addiction, a demon I knew I had within but had been effectively avoiding. It would begin a process that would take years, the process of being shaman-ned by the universe through the process of finding true bottom, dismantling everything that I was, losing most of my human relationships, and eventually overcoming addiction in a way that means true liberation, rather than the approach of institutional rehabilitations which hold as a core tenet the impossibility of that liberated state and offering treatment to the symptoms of a deeper, spiritual issue rather than the issue itself. 

Looking back, I believe that this declarative ritual on my part, and the unpredictable mystery of the world meeting me halfway to significate the experience by means of a bloody forehead-cross barroom-baptism, was the initiation of that horrific but necessary journey. Sure, I could have white-knuckled it for the rest of my life, always having within me that desire for feel-good drugs above all other things, people, and experiences, pulling my consciousness partly away from being present and embodied and leaving me bitter about the banality of so-called normal human existence, but it’s unequivocally better this way. 

I never would have been capable of maintaining the relationships I now have in my life, human and non-human, without that journey. I thought I was supposed to be doing what I was doing, believed it with my soul, and I was right about the structure, just not the specifics. I declared that I would give myself to the service of sanctity and the betterment of the Whole, and that call was answered with an intensive psychospiritual training program and eventual promotion.

For the time I have left on Earth as this self, I get to be fully present. I long for little that is damaging now, and I do not fear myself or my own judgement. I get to be whole. I get to be a husband, a mentor, and hopefully a father. 

All this from a noob with a purpose.

I don’t want to sum this story up with some catchy little moral, because there isn’t one. But I will say that I don’t look at people who appear stuck as lost anymore, knowing that I seemed completely hopeless to all outsiders at certain stages in my life and would have probably slapped someone if they’d told me that one day my passion for music would migrate to spiritual practices. Paths don’t diverge in the wood on their own, we must participate in the approaching of the forks and accept, with open eyes and arms, the unfathomable possibilities we call to us when we act with meaning and heart. It is interesting though, to think that sometimes we may be auditioning for a much bigger role than we realize due to the potential in us that can only been seen at the current time, by spirits.

I just wanted to share, in case it reminds a reader of a time they need to go back and properly venerate within their own lives. These moments are our plot points, our nodes, and they simply can’t be shared or studied enough. For practical gain, yes, but also for pure enjoyment and fellowship.

Until next time. ❤

Resistance, The Shadow, & Ethical Malefica

It seems obvious that any time someone compulsively avoids an issue it’s because there is something present within or connected to the issue of which they are afraid or by which they’ve been traumatized. Sometimes that’s due to the action of others, sometimes our own foolish folly. In either case what we find is a partition between the actively aware self and some dark corner of the mind. It reminds me of instances where a parent loses a child and seals up their room as a sort of museum shrine to their lost beloved offspring. The rest of the world keeps changing with age and experience, but the room becomes an out-of-place fixed anomaly, which in turn can become a petri dish for less-than-pleasant phenomena. So too goes the shadow.

My first experience with my shadow was when I was 18 years old and in Florida. One of my best friends had stopped by, distraught over yet another argument with his long-time girlfriend (for eighteen year-olds anyway) who was quite clairvoyant, but had little control and was often tormented by her abilities. My friend and I decided to go to the beach, but at his request we drove an extra fifteen minutes to an access point we rarely frequented and parked far back in the dunes where the car would be hidden from potential friends driving by in our small town, where everyone (and their cars) were overly familiar and recognizable. It was no more than forty minutes later that his girlfriend came walking up behind us along the shore, now nearly a mile up the beach from the car, asking him if they could talk, as if there was nothing strange about any of this whatsoever. 

After they had talked (for a teenage relationship’s length of time) I approached her about the only thing on my mind the whole time I waited: How the fuck did she know where we were? 

Her casual reply when I asked her was, “Your little boy told me, the one that lives in your yard.”

Of course, I started to shake. Sure, this would have been urine-inducing enough on its own, but add to that my experiences within the month or so leading up to this conversation, the ones where I knew I was being watched regularly at night when I was out on the screened-in porch, and I was lucky to have nothing but salty air on my shorts. I had also, within the couple of weeks prior, experienced an escalation. I was getting rocks thrown at me from the exact spot it seemed I was being watched from; a stand of three palm trees and a wild patch of Florida brush beneath. And what’s more, I had also felt that it was most assuredly a young boy. 

“He’s mad at you. He doesn’t want to be ignored, don’t be afraid of him.” She said.

Having zero evidence to the contrary, I took her advice with total conviction and much apprehension. I went home and I mowed that wild patch. And I put some potted jade and a couple trinkets down there, along with a lawn chair and an official address in which I fumbled over every word, terrified that the neighbors, or worse my mother, could see or hear me performing this seemingly insane ritual action. Nothing noticeable happened except that I felt a little more crazy. At least, until the next time I was out on the porch at night. Where before there was the thick fog of an ominous and envious gazenow it felt fine happy even, though still not entirely healthy or free of presence. When I looked over at that spot it felt like someone winking at me, still imbalanced, but no longer bitter and jealous for attention.

In the following year it became apparent to me that I had been attempting to separate from my inner-child because at that time in my life my inner-child represented a threat to my well-being. For me at that time, survival seemed dependent on the sacrificing of the inner-child for the sake of functioning in a nightmarish soul-sucking workforce when all I cared to ever do was create. Combine that with male adolescence in a social climate where toxic masculinity seemed an exclusive option and you have one sad puppy who doesn’t feel allowed to express any sadness. When placed in the proper context, nothing about any of this is surprising.

It fascinates me to this day that my inner-child was throwing rocks at me, having been twisted into a shadow by my miscalculated judgement and misdirected survival instincts, but that is exactly what happened. This was a special kind of experience. One where because others were a part of it, it cannot be unconfirmed in my mind no matter how much time or distance comes between me, here in the ever-living now, and the boy on that beach.

I wish I could say that I was suddenly adept at identifying and integrating my shadow, but I had barely yet begun creating it at that time in my life. Just as eventually the mother redecorates the bedroom and begins the arduous work of healing, so too have I now done so with more emotional trauma and self delusion than I ever thought myself resilient enough to endure. 

All this leads me to the current climate and the question of ethical malefics. Allow me to explain, but first we need to take a slight detour that turns into an on-ramp. Come along.

Now, to anyone who disagrees with malintent, be it through magic, physical force, psychological manipulation etc.; How would you feel about someone murdering your child or partner? What about emotional abuse or manipulation? Are you actually opposed to retribution itself, or is it more the issue of losing yourself in the indulgence of revenge? What about real-time self-defense?

As was elucidated in the video this too is a symptom of the shadow, albeit a much more deeply seated one than with which most people are used to working. But that doesn’t mean some don’t dare to delve that deeply into the depths. Some have no choice. And I would argue, as Jordan Peterson did, that this can be one of the most difficult aspects of the self to dissolve and reintegrate and those who have done so are worthy of respect, but what’s more this seems the only possible way of accessing the realms of necessary resistance without falling into warped emotional reward systems in relation to resistance or violence. Retribution is not sononymous with vengeance.

What if you have done all that inner work, dissolution and coagulation, with aggression like I did with my inner-child? What if you’re entirely comfortable with your moral boundaries and know that when you seek justice it is not out of an imbalanced emotional need? Why couldn’t a release of justified rage be controlled and focused on an outcome that is an appropriate outlet for that feeling rather than repressing or redirecting it? Certainly I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone (on good days) but something like “Those who swore to uphold the law shall be judged by it.” certainly wouldn’t be putting anyone in harm’s way that doesn’t absolutely deserve it. Perhaps it has no effect other than being the correct place to release that anger, but perhaps that is okay too. If outrage isn’t properly worked through it will spill out into portions of our lives in which it has no business whatsoever, and if focusing that outrage back onto the cause through magic has even a slight chance of efficacy, then why the hell not? As long as it’s genuine and not some social justice piece for your own self-propagandization.

That last question was not rhetorical. I want to hear your thoughts.

Be safe out there and take care of each other. You’re irreplaceable.

Suicides & Synchronicities

There seems to be some strange assumption, when we think of old friends we’ve lost touch with, that they’re probably doing just fine. Maybe even better than we are. That was the assumption I was under when I heard the news that a beloved friend had chosen to end their life. I’m not telling their story today, as I am severely under qualified to do so. No, I’m only telling my own role in the strange events following this unfortunate end to a young and brilliant life: I’m telling the story of how one suicide ended up preventing another one through logic that is altogether non-human.

When I got the call that this friend had exited the material world I was still running ragged; 115 lbs wet, no hope, and a center-console full of empty baggies and broken crack pipes. Even through the fog of rampant addiction I very much felt the impact of this loss, though I did not have any capacity for facing or working through it at the time. 

This was summer. The memorial, I found out, was scheduled for fall.

By the time the date was drawing near I had lost my entire world to addiction, moved back in with family, and accumulated six months clean-time. Getting to see that group of old friends and mourning with them was one of the most important events of my life, and to no surprise; our times together when we were younger were equally as significant. But that is not part of this story, either.

The best friend of the departed had a sister, and that sister and I had chemistry. Our conversation didn’t stop for several months after returning to our home states and towns, her and I. She ended up proposing to me, to which I agreed. It wasn’t the kind of thing where you know it’s a good idea. In fact, it felt a little silly even at the time, but my heart was telling me something very clearly and plainly throughout the duration of that relationship. My heart was saying “You’ll be sorry if you don’t.” 

This is not the usual fodder my heart spouts to my brain. This was an anomaly. I’m used to a heart that yells out grand declarations while inebriated as others are trying to have conversation.

But then we fast forward to Thanksgiving a couple months later and she’s meeting my family. Fast forward to Christmas time drawing in and I’m getting ready to go spend the holiday with hers.

I’m nervous. I’m anxious. I know that it will all be okay, though, once I see her face and feel that connection that had been powerful enough to sustain me for months with a thousand miles between us. Except when I saw her, at home in this world utterly foreign to me, I noticed within the first few seconds that the connection was gone. Vanished. 

Abracadabra.

I did my best to maintain, but she would not connect. She outright refused to. Here I am a few states from home, hours of bus ride from any kind of safe place, in the livingroom of a family I don’t know, and the woman that asked me to marry her only a month prior was treating me like an indigent phantom limb. 

I spent three days in this living hell, all the while she maintained that nothing was wrong and that I was being, basically, crazy before finally ending things with a ten-cent breakup excuse and leaving me alone in an Airbnb to peacefully enjoy the walls closing in.

That night I almost relapsed. I wanted to. I could feel pure sorrow and anguish swirling around me in geometrical patterns. I felt so close very to God. I was not, however, going to let this bullshit steal my clean, so I mustered up the guts to call someone. Maybe the only someone that could have helped me at that moment, someone that I had known almost my entire life and with whom I had been through hell. Someone that never picks up the phone on the first try. But this time, they did. And they were so very good and kind to me that I made it through that night without doing anything stupid whatsoever.

The next morning I received a message from this old friend, the one that saved me the night before. We hadn’t spoken much at all around that time and you can imagine the surprise, the mind-melting gratitude, the reality-bending record-scratch that the following data incited.

As it turned out, the friend who answered the phone, the one I thought was saving my life the night before, was on their way to end their own life when they answered my call. If i hadn’t called them right then, as they explained, at that exact time and on that exact day, they would not be with us now, today. 

I followed my heart when it didn’t make sense and someone truly precious to me still walks the Earth as a result. I guess I’m sharing this because we should all be aware. No matter what the critics say (and that includes the self): listen to your heart. You may be much, much more sorry if you don’t.