Sunday, February 28, 2021

On reframing.

I've said it before and it's true again this week: Some weeks provide an array of topics to blog about. This week, for example, I could talk about the shape of the stage at this weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference and why it's so troubling to Pagans (and muse about why the media don't cover any conventions sponsored by liberal and progressive groups  as avidly as they do CPAC). Or I could talk about an interview in this week's Politico Magazine with a liberal Christian theologian named the Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, which is framed on the somewhat ludicrous premise that the "religious left" hasn't been taken seriously in the past (really? So the name Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., means nothing to you?) and misses a trick when Dr. Jones uses the phrase "love your neighbor" without defining who constitutes neighbor more cogently. As a Pagan and an animist, my definition is likely to be a lot broader than hers.

Maybe I'll do that one next week. Today, though, I'd like to talk about a dream I had last night.

Colour | Deposit Photos

I've been known to indulge in dream analysis. I have a book written by Michael Sheridan, an Irish fellow who has made a career out of this sort of thing. The book has a pretty good dream symbol dictionary in the back -- although like a lot of these sorts of dictionaries, his definitions sometimes say more about him than about the dreamer. (For one thing, he seems to be fixated on yeast infections.) But I didn't bother to analyze the dream I had last night. It was enough to experience the feelings the dream brought up for me.

In this dream, I was playing a game I'd never played before. The people who invited me to play gave me a stack of chips -- two blues and several whites. I noticed the chips in their stack were different colors -- a red one and I forget what else -- but they said it didn't matter. Anyway, we played the game, and I did pretty well, and eventually I found out I wasn't supposed to do as well as I had because my starting stack of chips was actually worth less than theirs.

The scene shifted a bit, as dreams do, and it turned out this was all being staged for a reality TV show. And I overheard a couple of the guys on the crew say that they had been sure I would fail -- not just because the organizers had given me a lesser stack of chips, but because I was fat. This was TV, remember, where appearance is everything; the camera puts ten pounds on you, and all that. Because of the way I looked, they didn't expect me to win. I'd surprised them by being smart.

Upon hearing this, I was embarrassed. Humiliated, even. And those feelings were what stuck with me when I woke up. Because this has been a recurring theme my whole life: being judged lesser-than at first glance because of the size of my body, even though my IQ is in the 99th percentile* (which tends to be apparent as soon as I open my mouth).

So okay. If this were a real-world experience and if I were working through it with a therapist, one of the techniques the therapist would suggest is reframing, or looking at the issue from a different perspective. And I could do that in this scenario. In fact, the thought occurred to me after I woke up. After all, with the chips literally stacked against me, I did really well. I overcame the bias in this situation by using my natural giftedness.

But that isn't what my feelings were telling me. Dream Me was hurt. Dream Me would have appreciated some validation of that hurt, you bastards, and an apology wouldn't have gone amiss.

Reframing certainly works for lots of folks. Plenty of successful people have used humiliation as a springboard to their success -- the old "I'll show them" mentality. But for me, it seems like a mind trick. It might work in the moment, but it's not sustainable. It shifts the focus from what actually happened at the cost of burying your true feelings. And those true feelings will come back to bite you in the ass. Maybe even in a dream, decades later.


* You're thinking of Mensa. That's for people who score in the 98th percentile on a standardized IQ test. There's a different organization for those in the 99th percentile called Intertel; I've been a member of both at one time or another. 

There's an even loftier organization called the Triple Nine Society for those whose IQs are in the 99.9th percentile. I have never been that smart.


These moments of dreamy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who is once again reminding you to mask up, social distance, and hang in there, baby, the vaccine's coming.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A woo-woo follow-up.

Free Photos | Pixabay
I want to thank everybody who commented, both here and on Facebook, on my post last week about my weird experiences. I was gratified to get so many responses. (Okay, I didn't get as many responses as I got on this week's viral Facebook post -- "who's the most famous person you've met?" -- but still.) And I'm certain others would have commented if they'd seen my post (thanks, Facebook...) or if they'd felt comfortable talking about their weird experiences in public.

Because a lot of us aren't. One of the stories I shared last week, I'd kept to myself for 30 years. People think no one will believe them -- or that others will think they're crazy. Depending on their religious persuasion, they might even be accused of consorting with the devil.

Our society doesn't give us a useful frame of reference for these experiences. Science is no help; you can't reproduce a weird experience on command. Look, I am a big booster of science.  How else would we have gotten Perseverance to Mars this week? How will we ever be free of this virus without medical breakthroughs like vaccines? 

But science doesn't have all the answers. 

I heard that: "Yet." Well, maybe. Or maybe there are some things science will never be able to explain. Especially if scientists insist on approaching weird occurrances with a materialist mindset. You can't force a ghost to materialize, after all, or allow someone to hear a voice from the Otherworld that's speaking only to you.

And as John Beckett mentioned in his blog post today, the frames of reference we do get from society aren't helpful. A whole lot of them are from fiction -- TV, movies and books -- and the woo-woo just doesn't work in (pardon the expression) the real world the way it does when someone's making it up. I am here to tell you that a real-life Naomi Witherspoon could never demand that a goddess show up in her living room Right Now and have the goddess actually show up. That's just not how it works.

I mentioned religion a little while ago, and I'd like to go back to that for a second. A number of the folks I talked with about last week's post are refugees, if you will, from a fairly mainstream religion they consider to be a cult. They associate tales of the woo-woo with certain practices they experienced in this church, and it has made them skeptical, or more accurately disbelieving, of anyone who says they've had weird things happen to them. That's an avoidance response, and it's a reasonable coping mechanism for someone who has been traumatized. I've read about people who have had similar reactions after escaping from an evangelical church. 

The recovery process for an abuse victim is long and not a lot of fun. But recovery is possible. And as part of the process, it might be worth thinking about whether two things could be true at once: that cult leaders, whether they founded a religion or not, are charlatans who have abused a lot of people and that magic is real.

Thanks again to everyone who commented last week. And if you're still working up to talking about your weird experience, I'm still listening whenever you're ready.


These additional moments of bloggy woo-woo have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep wearing a mask and social distancing! 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

True tales of the woo-woo.

Mist on the Rhine | copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019

So you all know I write a lot of stuff that deals with the woo-woo, as Naomi Witherspoon calls it. What you probably don't know is that I've had a number of brushes with the woo-woo myself. 

A lot of people have. But those who experience odd things don't often discuss it because they're afraid -- rightfully so, in many cases -- that they'll either be scoffed at or (depending on the religion of their audience) told they're consorting with demons.

Right now I'm taking a Paganism-related class online in which the instructor encouraged us to share our weird experiences in our private group. A whole lot of people came forward. Their experiences run the gamut from seeing ghosts to experiences with deities to, well, weird things.

Here are three of mine.


I'm reasonably sure that at least some of what we call intuition is more than just thoughts in our own heads. Take this weird thing that happened to me more than 30 years ago. 

The Mensa chapter of which I was a member organized a regional gathering, and as part of the entertainment, a friend and I offered to do divinations for any attendee who wanted one. I did a Tarot reading for a couple I didn't know, and as I looked at the cards I'd laid out, I was suddenly sure the woman was pregnant. I had no idea what the news would do to their relationship (this was the '80s -- for all I knew, they could have hooked up at the RG) so I said something vague like "big news and big challenges are coming" and left it at that. They weren't from our chapter and I had no way of finding out later whether I was right. But I was sure I was.

You could call that intuition, I suppose. But that certainty didn't come from inside my own head.


This next weird thing is more recent -- and a little weirder. As y'all know, I made a big move this past July. And in preparation for it, I sorted through all my stuff, including things I'd inherited from my mother after she died in 2008. In one of my bins of crafting stuff, I ran across a couple of Mom's unfinished projects that I'd kept, meaning to finish them someday. One of the projects was a bunch of embroidered fabric squares for a baby quilt. Mom had done all the embroidery; all that was left was to piece them together. Now I say "all that was left," but it would still have been a ton of work. The blocks needed be sewn together with fabric strips between them, and the batting and the backing fabric attached -- none of which I had -- and then the actual quilting had to be done. And I realized some of the blocks had those rusty stains that old fabric sometimes acquires out of nowhere. I'd have had to figure out how to get those mystery stains out before I did anything else. 

As I contemplated my options, I clearly heard my mother's voice: "Oh, throw it out!"

Mom grew up in the Great Depression. She never threw anything out. But it was definitely her voice. "Are you sure?" I said aloud.

"Yes, throw it out!" she said. 

"Well, okay," I said. "If you're sure." 

Silence. Apparently that was her final word. So out it went.

I am pretty sure I posted about this on Facebook at the time, and I could tell it made some people uncomfortable. I seem to recall that someone tried to talk me into keeping the project anyway. Did they think I was making up hearing Mom's voice to justify dumping those quilt blocks? Or did they think I was delusional? I couldn't tell you. But I'll tell you this: Mom was adamant that I get rid of the thing. Who was I to say no?


One more weird thing: This one happened in the mid to late '90s, around the time my divorce was final. I had picked up a book called Secret Native American Pathways by Thomas Mails. It included instructions for things like making a prayer stick and a medicine wheel, and for setting up your own vision quest. I didn't have the time to head out into the wilderness, or a helper to make it safe -- but I had floor space in the basement. I marked off a rectangle with string, tied the proper colored fabric on each side to mark the four directions, sat in my square, and started praying to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit of the Sioux. I babbled for quite a while. And as I was asking to be made worthy of love, a voice interrupted me -- literally interrupted me -- and told me I already was. 

I began to cry. Trust me when I say this was not a thought that would have come out of my own head back then. 

I think that was the point when I began to believe the woo-woo was real.


Now it's your turn. Feel free to leave a comment about your own weird experience. Or if you don't feel comfortable sharing it in a public forum, which I completely understand, drop me an email at I believe the more we share our experiences, the less alone we'll feel, and the more accepted the woo-woo will become.


These moments of bloggy woo-woo have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Stay six feet apart! And wear a mask!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The shady side of New Mexico's state symbol.

I might have mentioned a time or two that I relocated to New Mexico last summer. During the run-up to the holidays, I thought I might pick up a Yule tree ornament that commemorated my move (rather than anything else that happened in 2020, like, oh, say, the virus). Immediately I thought of the zia, the state symbol that graces our state flag, our license plates, and a whole bunch of other stuff that's made in New Mexico.

Then a friend suggested I rethink that idea. He'd heard that using the symbol was bad luck. Then we both did some digging, and it turned out it's not bad luck, exactly, but bad form -- or more accurately, it's cultural appropriation.

Wikimedia Commons | CC 1.0

The zia is an appealing symbol, all right, with its clean lines pointing to the four directions and its circle in the heart of it all. It looks kind of like a sun. And in fact, that's how it started -- the original design belongs to Zia Pueblo and it symbolizes the sun, which in their culture is the father of all things. 

If the sacred symbol had stayed within the pueblo, it wouldn't have been a problem. But wouldn't you know, some ethnologists from the Smithsonian Institution showed up there around the turn of the 20th century and shortly after that, one of their most sacred pots disappeared from the pueblo and turned up in Santa Fe. This pot had a stylized sun face in the center, with three rays extending from each of the cardinal directions. Then in 1923, a white couple named Harry and Reba Mera reworked the symbol for a contest for a state flag design sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. (New Mexico didn't become a state until 1912.) The Meras had just a circle in the center and four rays, not three, on each side. They made the sun symbol red and the background yellow because those are the dominant colors on the Spanish flag, and Spanish heritage runs deep around here.

The Meras won. And now the symbol is everywhere.

The Zia aren't happy about it, as you might imagine. But by the time they petitioned the federal government to protect their sacred symbol, they hit a bureaucratic snafu: too much time had passed. The symbol had to stay in the public domain. 

The Zia had one more avenue -- state government. In 2000, the pueblo asked the state legislature for payment of $74 million -- a million dollars for every year the state had used the symbol without permission. They didn't get their money, but they did get a state Senate memorial in 2012 acknowledging the pueblo's contribution to state culture and promising to work on "reconciliation, mutual understanding and cooperation with respect to the use of the sacred Zia sun symbol." 

After learning all that, I decided not to hang a zia on my Yule tree. It might not be bad luck, but I'd like to stay in the good graces of both folks who have been here a whole lot longer than I have and their deities, too.


These moments of sacred sunlit blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.