“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You Become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Life feels like it’s simmering. Bubbling along and reducing down, but also becoming thicker, more flavorful. Trying to Become. Trying to reduce-out all the watering-down we’ve had over quite a few generations. Those flavors can be good or bad depending on what part of the soup you live in at the moment, but it seems as though at this point most people recognize that change is happening at an inevitable pace. It’s time to stir the pot some more.
Many folks are getting incredibly worked-up, and I don’t blame them, but we need to hang-on to sanity if we want the change to be effective in transmuting our reality. Channeled anger can be incredibly useful, so long as it’s channeled into something we actually want. Unguided rage, or random attacks on internet strangers who are “wrong” tend to be unproductive at best, and more often counter-productive by furthering Argument Culture and Binary Thinking in general. And sometimes by further spreading propaganda which helps no-one*.
(*I don’t consider the various persons at the top of the elite levels to need “help” with this so I refuse to count them)
Fear, sadness, and anger seem to be ever-growing, at the dawning realization by many people that the western model of society as a manifestation of materialism and materialistic behavior. That’s good to a certain extent; shit’s bad and we need to do something about it! But people have different views as to how it’s bad that are usually limited by their own experience. We have a tendency to frame all of our problems with boxes so that we can assure ourselves that everything can be controlled and sorted out(at least so long as other people agree to use the same boxes as us). That tendency makes it fairly easy for all of our anger to wind up being re-channeled into trying to rebuild or repair the current broken model with us all being played against one-another, because it was broken from the beginning. We never intend to repeat the mistakes of the past do we? But somehow we manage to keep doing so, and to me that seems to indicate that some of our most basic assumptions of reality, the boxes we put our thoughts in, are fundamentally not large enough or flawed in some other intrinsic way.
We need to try to find useful ways of re-framing and expanding our views of the world that are less-binary. It also means making them less-exclusive towards approaches to thought and experience that are foreign to us, either because they are just not our experience, or because the dominant culture has largely abandoned them altogether. In other words, we need to start re-enchanting the world with magical perspectives and experiences that can lead us into a more healthy and joy-filled relationship with the world around us.
Recently, Gordon White and Conner Habib were having a chat about the interplay between activism, argument culture, and expanding our metaphysical approaches. It connected to ideas which I’ve spent a lot of my life unpacking, but sparked some really new and interesting ideas about metaphysics, animism, and the way we interact with our current cultural realities. I want to say upfront that I deeply appreciate them having the conversation they did and putting themselves on-record for a bunch of it, despite my having some misgivings about some elements of their conversation early-on. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, despite some issues I have with their presentation approaches in the beginning. It’s really worth listening to, and trying to break it down and internalize the bits that need internalizing and trying to externalize others.
Once they truly get started, Gordon and Conner work on some difficult, but probably needed criticism of the trend of reactionary-escalation in our culture(which I think most people can agree exists). As gay men who in my estimation tend towards honest and conscientious activism in their individual lives in various ways, they have a broad appreciation for the need of change in our society. More than that, from a mystical perspective they are convinced of the inevitability of change. That optimism shows through and is founded on their strongest point, which I’ll get to later. However they reserve some of their early criticism for other activist-types who have a tendency to fall into internal-bickering or unproductive shouting matches with opponents.
They point out how this is at best unproductive(paraphrasing: “You don’t convince anyone of anything by yelling at them that they are wrong”); that it distracts from the overall messages that are pursued by activists, or even detracts if it makes them look like just a bunch of angry reactionaries, however valid their core points.
I agree to a great extent, but I think this point turns back on itself in a self-destructive spiral the longer they belabor it: effectively they are tone-policing people for being tone-police(added irony points that I now find myself doing the same thing)! I’m sure this isn’t their intent, and it’s more a function of the dialogue getting hung-up and going in circles.
While some people might see this as a reason to dismiss what they are saying, I think it’s a good prompt for self-examination: perhaps the answer, rather than criticizing criticism, is to try to take a step away from that. Acknowledge that there are problems with how functionally useless certain criticisms become, not due to their content but because they turn back in endlessly rehashed criticism of language. That criticism has a powerful tendency to lead towards a functionally infinite downward and inward spiral that will suck-in bystanders as easily as any car-crash.
Ultimately, I think, that’s probably the point they are trying to make but it also hung them up not due to the observation itself(Yes, please, let’s be kind to each other, but stop wasting time in endless critical loops with people of good-faith!) but precisely because they belabored it and got sucked-in. There was some good stuff mixed in to that front-half of the conversation, and as is normal with them they softened a lot of it with hilarious/cringe-inducing humour(the best kind), but it felt a bit scattershot and it all felt like it got a bit bogged down and distracted-from in the very ways they were trying to point-out. Come to think of it, in a weird way, they may have proved their own point, quite well? We’ll sum it up with “Don’t follow the TERF’s down their own drain”, which as a trans person resonated deeply, and is a message I wish more of us would take to heart. That fight is won already and directly engaging trolls of any sort only empowers them.
So I’ll simply leave that criticism at just a few paragraphs(I wrote a lot more at first but realized I was falling into the same exact trap because it is soo easy to do!). Instead I’m going to move in the opposite direction, which they also eventually did: an upward and outward spiral of fractalized empowerment and expansion of our grasp of reality.
Now a huge part of the impact of this episode for me was their discussion of the power of transgender people to expand human consciousness. As a trans woman I’ve been aware of this of course, and even actively pursue it: there’s little more satisfying to me in life than talking to someone who starts off prejudiced in some really generic and boring way towards trans-folk, talking to them, engaging their confusion and fear (and often suppressed curiosity), but with care and compassion which they aren’t often expecting, and becoming Real to them.
This isn’t for everyone because it’s emotionally taxing and you really need a certain sort of confidence in your place in reality to do it, but it can be infinitely more effective than criticizing language/approach. Rather than trying to confine them, you are trying to expand them. People are built to want to grow. They fight against restrictions, even if those restrictions are sometimes good or at least necessary. On the other hand if they are encouraged to grow and expand their reality they’ll usually do it.
Sometimes of course this doesn’t play out, especially if a person is deeply fearful of having to expand their reality. Some people are so afraid of being put in boxes by others that they put their whole world in a subdivided set of boxed definitions and effectively cage themselves away. It’s a much easier to defend a prison you’ve locked yourself away in than to try to break through in other people’s prisons and risk being trapped. They lock themselves into a world that is static and unchanging and without exceptions, rather than one that allows for infinite variation and growth. But some part of them still wants to grow and resents the cage they’ve put themselves in.
This is one of the really important bits of the message Gordon and Conner are trying to get across and they do it in a couple of interesting ways. First of course, is the idea of “becoming invincible” and realizing that ultimately you yourself can’t be destroyed, and can only be bound if you accept those boundaries. Some boundaries may be useful to different people in different situations based on their temporal limitations, but if you take a long-view where human souls are indestructible essential bits of us that move from life to life amassing more ever greater complexity, then you realize that as humans we have an infinite potential and capacity for self-improvement and expansion.
The celebration of that possibility of expansion should not be limited, but needs to be discovered, due to a culture and worldview in the west that tries to deny this in an engineered attempt to restrict growth. Not through mere laws but through cultural norms like toxic masculinity, binary argumentation, colonialism, etc. We’re fed into a cultural system that I would compare to factory-farming. All we know are our boxes that we’ve built for ourselves, with the help of our overarching cultural stories based around limitation: laws, religious mores, categories, stereotypes, even language. Because there’s no end to the way humans can grow, we can be trained, train ourselves, and eventually try to entrain others to restrict ourselves to growing inward rather than outward. Our minds wall-off ideas much as our bodies wall-off infections, internalizing them without truly dealing with them in useful or healing ways. We can become an infinite fractal of internalized sins to find and imprison us in a deep dark hole that only we can see or hear.
The solution G&C put forward is effective in helping us refocus on the long-term progress of individual spirits. Opening tiny doors in people’s hearts to unlock a small part of them seems useless when it’s framed with only a few small beneficial changes over the course of a lifetime, but over the course of many it makes sense. And especially when you factor in the likelihood of psycho-spiritual trophic cascades, it even comes off seeming almost inevitable.
It’s certainly optimistic in a way that’s difficult to achieve sometimes if we get caught up in the scream-factory that social media and news seem to make of our day-to-day lives. It also encourages us to interact with that reality with different approaches to living. To unplug sometimes, to meditate, to develop our own souls, so that we might engage more effectively with those of others. Because ultimately we are on a rescue-mission for ourselves and our reality, and when we engage, we need to do so from a place of broader understanding and love.
They uphold trans-folks as extremely visible warpers-of-reality in a metaphysical sense, forcing a confrontation with the limitations of worldviews where gender is as rigorously a defined box as taxes, money, or the concept of land-ownership. That is inspiring to me as a trans-person; it’s great to have that aspect of my hedge-witchery recognized and lauded! But I think it needs to be broadened out. In many ways Trans folks have a lot of potential in common with other people who stand at the edges and boundaries of our realities like Saints, Witches, Bodhisattvas, Prophets, even “mere” Artists.
Seen as outsiders, both feared and respected, sometimes persecuted, disruptive to their societies due to their confidence in who and what they are, ultimately focused on love and growth among fellow humans. I think these are things that are upheld in many places as the essential qualities of someone who is a bringer-of-change and growth. I think ultimately that’s a place that it would be healthy for all people to get to. A sort of grand-recognition of the fuzziness of our reality.
Of course in some ways that’s scary, but it’s very real, and in fact the power comes from a place of stepping outside of the boxes and embracing the Real. This is a power we all have if we’re willing to step outside our boxes and live honestly Real lives that encourage others to love and grow, rather than to hate and stagnate. This doesn’t mean we’re pushovers(far from it!) but it means we have the ability to break and warp the mundane, depressing, two-dimensional world so many of us live in, simply by finding who we truly are and becoming Real. There are numerous paths to pursue that sort of magic in your own life of course; art, occultism, mysticism, zen… scuba-diving in ancient ruins or heck, hurtling down mountains dressed like a giant flying squirrel if that’s your jam!
As one point in the episode one of them(I forget which) asked semi-rhetorically “how else are we supposed to do it?” and they are entirely right: we do it by expanding our realities into fractals. Where rather than relativising our experiences and saying nothing is real, we make them into fractalized manifestations of relationships between stories, where everything can be real when it needs to be. We’re building-in the ability to handle the incomprehensible complexity that is an integral part of our world that allows us to grow, as “a feature, not a bug”.
I am reborn a thousand times, and a thousand times a thousand times.
Every second of every day.
I am the new and the old, blending a hundred million times a minute into an infinite fractal of conscious and unconscious and super-conscious. I am human and god and angel and daemon and fae. I am plant and animal and mineral and liquid and wind.
I am your life and breath and death, in infinite interplay in every moment of existence in every point in time and in every way of experiencing.
I am a Sorcerer living in Ptolemaic Thebes. I am the dreaming of humanity that swallowed him up and digested him and his work all the way up to the present.
I am Gordon White and Conner Habib, and they are me and all the rest, but all contained within our own infinitely-growing manifestations of fractalized reality.
This isn’t to say we aren’t “real” or aren’t “ourselves”, but rather that we need to accept that those selves are necessarily made up of the interplay of an incomprehensible array of influences that change in an infinite variety of ways every moment of every day. Whether it’s the stories we tell ourselves about persons around us or those other stories themselves, the Realness that is Me is a compound of untold numbers of influences smooshed together around my core being, which grows until all of that smoosh is melded and the cycle begins again. Beings of near-infinite complexity.
When you can start to think this big and still be able to find the youness that is within all of this, not only are you “Invincible” but you’re capable of helping other people grow in their own invincibility. Those stories and experiences will necessarily be completely alien from our own, and terrifying in Their own marvelously complex beauty. Language is merely a veneer that disguises for us the profound alien-ness of every person we meet, human and inhuman. “Alive” and “Dead”.
All of this is overwhelming and impossible to contain in words, but requires us to try to express it nonetheless. I think that for me at least, I’ve been strongly inspired to grow once again, into something even larger and more capable of inspiring love and growth in all you wonderfully alien creatures, straining to escape your boxes and grow in your lives and dreams as fully Living Spells. I hope you’ll do the same for me!