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Roman household altar to Ianus, Vesta, Venus, Bacchus, Apollo, Saturnus, Fortuna, Minerva, Sol Invictus, Diana, Iuppiter, Mercurius, Dis Pater, and Iuno



Shinto household altar to Tenjin-sama and Amaterasu Omikami



Kemetic household altar and shrine to Bastet, Ma'at, Heru, Djehuti, Anpu, and Amun, as well as Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertem (The Memphite Triad)



Germanic household altar to Woden, Thunor, Ingwine-Frea, and Freo (custom woodburned god poles)

Miasma

Aug. 7th, 2017 08:08 am
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When I was around twenty six years old, I used to live on my own in a very small studio apartment just outside my hometown. It was a rather dark period of my life, and was just before I had to leave my place of employment to go on public assistance for my psychiatric conditions. Due to the compounded stress of both work, family, relationships, and social networking, my physical health and well-being began to decline. My living space became very disorganized, and as I started to isolate myself from friends and family, my sleep began to suffer.

I am a member of the Pagan community, and have practiced various forms of traditional polytheism for more than ten years of my life. Though I was and still am a deeply spiritual person, and have had amazingly powerful positive experiences, at this period of my life, my previous commitments to devotional polytheistic practice had began to fall away, and were replaced by feelings of complete despair and confusion.

Initially, my experiences started as a feeling of great uneasiness that would not only keep me tossing and turning in bed at night, but began to wake me up from a dead sleep, and I would try desperately to fall back sleep. Days and weeks would go by, and each time I had an experience, it would become even worse than before. As the feeling of uneasiness would increase, I began to notice strange noises and sensations. Initially I wrote them off as being the sounds of my cheap air conditioning unit above my apartment window, and the poor insulation in the walls around me, but eventually it became too intense to ignore. Like clockwork, I would wake up in the middle of the night, and would feel an ominous presence in my apartment, with a faint rumbling noise that I couldn't make out.

As these experiences became more frequent, and the feeling more intense, I began to have disturbing nightmares before I awoke from deep sleep. It would always be in dark and desolate places, and it always involved me dying in freak accidents or traumatic events. One night, I had an intense dream of driving around in a desolated city in the middle of the night, and I lost control of my vehicle. After I crashed into a large tree, and my vision within the dream started to fade, I heard what sounded like small children laughing at me. I woke up completely startled, and barely got even a few hours of sleep that night.

A few nights later, I remember waking up from a dead sleep, and had the immediate awareness that I was still asleep. I had complete awareness of my bedroom, but could sense that I was still in bed. Around the corner from the wall bed I was sleeping on was my kitchen, which is tucked away in a little alcove. During this experience, I could sense that there was something moving around, so I attempted to leave my bed. All I could manage was pushing myself with all my might directly onto the floor between my bed and the kitchen. A few moments later, small feet tall black figures ran past me towards the front door, and the last one stopped right in front of me while I was on the floor. I heard the sound of devilish cackling and I immediately woke up back on my bed.

Several weeks went by without incident, so I cleaned up my apartment, and tried my best to repair my poor sleep and hygiene habits. My life continued to be stressful however, and I always had the fear of what else might happen lingering in the back of my mind. For several more days, I would wake up in complete sleep paralysis, and what was once a subtle ominous presence with barely audible noises, soon became a dominant malevolent presence, with a hellish sounding growl. Eventually, this presence began to manifest, and I would be stuck in a sleep paralysis with the silhouette of a tall and featureless figure hanging out at the edge of my bed. Each night if would get closer and closer, to the point that I had several nights in a single week where this figure would be lying next to me in bed while I was experiencing my sleep paralysis.

At this point, I began to become more proactive, and in addition to meditating regularly, I started to engage more with my existing spiritual practices, however modestly. Things began to die down for a while, but I knew that until I was able to fix this issue, that things would continue. I started to research related sleep paralysis phenomenon, and what particularly stuck out to me was the common experience throughout most ancient cultures of a malevolent spirit that would latch itself onto a vulnerable victim and try to drain them of their health and happiness. It became clear to me that, in a similar manner to the Ancient Greek concept of miasma, I had drawn this negative spirit to myself because of my poor physical and emotional health.

After spending a few more days improving my situation as best I could, I still felt uneasy in my own apartment, so I decided to spend the night with some close friends. They were renting a home together, and had offered me a couch to sleep on over the weekend. After having a long discussion about my experiences, and hearing their own personal interpretations, I ended up falling sleep. Not too long after, I remember waking up in a sleep paralysis, seeing the very dark inside of their strange living room. What I saw, heard, and felt next is something that I will never forget as long as I live. Standing in the middle of the living room in front of the couch I was sleeping on was an elongated figure. It was about seven feet tall, with long arms and spindly dagger-like fingers. Though its shoulders were wide, its frame was gaunt, and its entire body was covered with grayish brown skin, that looked like decaying flesh. Its eyes were deep black caverns, and it's mouth was a gaping maw of pure darkness.

After a few moments, it rushed over to where I was laying, and crouched itself directly over me, making the loudest and most intense guttural growl I have ever heard. As I was being pinned to the couch, a feeling of complete disgust and anger washed over me. I was tired of being afraid and confused, and I knew that it was time for me to rid myself of this spirit that I attracted through my miasma. My mind immediately went to the gods and goddesses that were most sacred to me at the time, and I thought of them as a combined force of power and authority. I gathered all the strength that I could, and finally managed to speak what I wanted to say to this creature. I looked at the malevolent spirit in it's face, and in a strong voice I said, "In the name of the highest gods, leave!"

In an instant, I awoke from my final sleep paralysis. The presence was completely banished from my life, as if it had never existed in the first place. It felt as if fifty pounds had been lifted from my chest, and I was finally able to breathe again after nearly six months of horrific nightmares and sleep paralysis. I have never had this issue again, and have become even more devoted to my spiritual practices. Though my positive spiritual experiences have helped give me focus and meaning, this experience helped me to understand the value of emotional and physical health to one's spiritual well-being.

On several occasions since then, I have had opportunities to not only share this experience with those who are willing to listen, but to even help others through their sleep paralysis experiences. If there is any piece of wisdom that I can give you, it is to not only take care of yourself, but to realize that when necessary, the most powerful forces against these negative forces are the things that are most meaningful and sacred to you. Genuine faith and trust are anathema to the malevolent spirits which may seek to harm you.
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Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to expand my horizons with many online and offline social groups. I've not only networked through pagan and traditional polytheist circles - making and maintaining friends and acquaintances through those avenues, but have also spent a lot of time forming connections through music, art, gaming, and geek culture communities.

Though many of the people I've interacted with through these contemporary cultures usually come from either a Christian or Secularist background (especially the latter), there is most certainly considerable overlap between ostensibly pagan groups and heavily nerdy pursuits. That being said, save for a few recent exceptions, I've seldomly seen the interaction examined in any sort of detail, which I find rather disappointing and ultimately limiting.

For those of us who ended up coming to a pagan, polytheist, occult, or otherwise alternative spiritual path or tradition, what I'm about to say is already pretty familiar....

Many of us, at least in the west, were raised in some sort of Christian tradition, and the reasons that we came to alternative spirituality, at least as I experienced it, were informed by animistic and/or polytheistic spiritual experiences which were not addressed or recognized, and often either ignored or forcefully discouraged. Though we would eventually find source materials and contemporary literature which examined these other spiritual ideas, there was not much in the way of material that would satisfy our pagan yearnings when were were all children.

But what we did find, presented our first taste of mythological and folkloric ideas, through media that was not only accessible to us, but created in a format that appealed to the creative, exuberant, and explorative qualities that children most often embody. What I'm speaking to of course, are the staples of fantasy and science fiction: art, literature, music, and gaming.

When I was growing up, some of my first experiences of mythology were from the ideas I found in fantasy books, fantasy movies, and video games. I still have fond memories of watching movies like The Labrynth, and later movies like Conan The Barbarian. I also remembering having a sense of wonder from being to explore a fantasy setting in a video game, and I would later explore this further in tabletop RPGs when I was older. But when I was in grade school and middle school, a lot of the material from games I would play found their way into games of pretend, in art and personal stories I created, or in adaptations of those ideas to my first attempt to form pagan philosophies about the world around me.

With all this in mind, I think that in a way, these sources of medium can sort of serve as approachable introduction to folklore, and can help to inspire future generations to examine ideas they would not otherwise find in Christian religions, at least in the west. It is worth noting that many of the video games we've played come out of Japan, where there is still a polytheistic culture through Shintoism - or at least a pluralistic approach to divinity through Japanese forms of Buddhism (though the two are often blended together). There is a certain sense of irony that their culture would help to inspire these ideas in western cultures, and though I don't think it is always intentional, I think it is ultimately a blessing.

Some of what I've said here has already been addressed... in a negative sense. Many Fundamentalist Christian groups have decried the "Satanic content" of video games, art, and literature, and that likely will always be there in some form or another. To me, that is something that we can't entirely avoid, but I think a little controversy is good, ultimately.

The ways in which these mythological ideas are often quite subtle, and usually presented in a neutral manner - through the creation of fantasy world that is more loosely associated with historical cultures or beliefs. I don't think that these media need to necessarily inspire pagan or occult conversion, and many if not most of the people that create them don't hold to views that resemble them, but at the very least I think they can help to instill a sense of wonder, and appreciation for the folkloric history of human cultures throughout history.

But for those future generations who find themselves gravitating towards alternatives, it can grant a sense of comfort and inclusion to otherwise isolated children and adolescents, and help form positive memories for more mature explorations in the future. That being said, I think it is important to make a clear distinction between these fantasy worlds and historically consistent cultural traditions, in the formation of intellectually honest beliefs. I'm a polytheistic reconstructionist, and though I have a clear bias against loosely defined and overly romanticized spirituality, I think that having solid foundational definitions are valuable to people practicing any kind of spiritual path. But to me, that is ultimately the strength of these sources of media, in that by presenting folklore in an entertaining manner, like the many plays and casual fairy tales of old, we can open the door to so much more.

I think that the popularity of these sources of media have been heralding the return of at least an appreciation of folklore by modern culture, and have the potential to include many more people in what we do through alternative spirituality. With that in mind, I think it is our responsibility to lead and assist future generations as they come to the fold.

I look forward to what the future brings...

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