October 3, 2011

On the Magic of Exhaustion

(Or, Sleep Cycles and the Land)
(Or, why my sleep schedule really sucks)

As some of you may know, up until very recently I had spent my whole life living in Florida. What you probably don't know is that during that time, I had never even visited a place where the climate was all that different from my home state. Many trips to the Caribbean, sure; once to southern California; a few excursions to the desert, but never anywhere with any real sense of seasonality to it. This never bothered me in any particular sense, but given my lack of perspective, I never had any idea what effect the Land had on my magic.

Once you get past the picturesque beaches (and then, past the beaches filled with drunken college students), Florida feels... leathery. Even the water feels tough and dry; where it's not salty, it's tannic; where it doesn't immediately run down through sand, it has all nutrients quickly sucked out of it, supporting only the toughest of life. And the life is tough. Plant-life is waxy, hard, bladed, and grasping for footholds. Some suck moisture right out of the air to avoid the astringent waters. Wildlife is either leathery, of the swarming, bloodsucking variety, or hidden in the trees.

I once read (and damned if I can find it again now that I want to link it) a quote from a magician visiting an American desert from England, about how she was amazed any magic at all could  be worked there, because the Land seemed so lifeless. There was nothing to draw on, she said, nothing to work with. The magician to whom she was speaking then told her of the magic of Endurance, and how it required a remarkably different approach than what she was used to.

I learned early on that the key to good magic was endurance and exhaustion. My best spells (such as they were) were cast while using a single focus to rail against my mind and body trying to sleep, and just after my body did fall asleep, and just after my conscious mind shut down, if all went right (and it frequently didn't), an Awareness would remain. If my focus was good and my intent was simple enough, it was the work of this Awareness that would preform the spell, ideally before my conscious mind "snapped to" (with my body quickly to follow, sort of the mental equivalent of your leg jerking you awake at night) or I fell asleep entirely. At 12 years old, my first brush with "beyond consciousness" was had in this manner, trying to stay awake all night simply because I could. Not much changed over the years, though oddly enough, rather than finding myself constantly exhausted all the time from these stints, I found that I needed less sleep after a good bout of magic.

Until recently, that is. And dear Christ what a shock to the system that was. My first few days here were great; I was full of a "lush" energy I had rarely felt before, tapping into the elements of the place seemed remarkably easy, I was incredibly excited about the feel of the place, and eager to use it in my magic. So I stay up late, push myself to the point of involuntarily passing out, try to form my idea in the "beyond" and... nothing. There was no Endurance here, I was just... tired. And staying up late completely wrecked me the next day. So being a good magician, I... tried it again. And again.

Some of you may have an idea of how terrifying it is to have all of your magic suddenly dry up on you; I hope the rest of you never experience it. But of course, instead of being a good self-reflective little mage and asking myself what could have been wrong, I panicked. And oh my what a panic it was. But eventually, a bout of crippling exhaustion coincided with a weekend, and when I woke up, I felt... fine. Which you have to understand, is new to me. Normally if I get a "good night's sleep", I feel awful the next morning. I've always needed a schedule that kept me relatively "exhausted" in order to feel alive the next day. Endurance was necessary. Until it wasn't.

It must be hilarious on the outside looking in, such revelations like "eight hours sleep make you functional" and "meditation works better when you're not fighting to stay awake". But then, I'm fighting 23 years of conditioning, and habits like "I write better papers at 4 in the morning" die hard.

But they're dieing. Learning to work with the energy of this place is my next big project; for now I'm just letting myself acclimate, making offerings and asking that any unhelpful Land-related habits I have be pointed out to me. And they are. Who knows? Maybe soon I'll finally be able to call a circle where more than the Fire quarter lights up for me.

...crap. It's three in the morning, isn't it?


  1. Interesting. I've only visited Florida, and those visits are usually made under duress. (funerals, visits to MIL, etc. etc.) It has struck me as the thirstiest place I've ever visited. Staying at my MIL's home has always created a battle between my defenses and the something that is so desperate for magic? energy? whatever that it takes much of my attention while I am there. I've attributed it the inlaw factor, but maybe it is just the State?

  2. It now strikes me that I have probably never worked much with the power and spirits of the land. During my longest stint in Florida (2 weeks), I didn't really do any magic aside from astral projection. I found it easy enough at the time, but never picked up a particular feel to the energy of Florida.

    I can't remember where you said you moved to, or what region of the country, but I'm in the midwest (Indiana, specifically). Since I've been starting to explore the magic of the land, I've come to realize that the saying about Midwestern weather is also true of the tides of power within the land here: Wait 10 minutes and it'll change.

    You tend to get a mix of stuff here, but it's all rather vibrant. However, I'm still learning to fully tap into it and haven't put much effort in.

  3. I've never tried magic in any other part of the country...however, after reading your post, I suppose with a different atmosphere, it would change the way everything fits together...hhhmmm...

    Devil's Tower originally had a Native American name which just meant spirits...it was the white man interpreting it which changed it to Devil's Tower...

  4. @Lavanah: "Thirsty" is exactly the way to describe it. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop that won't make you even fucking thirstier. I think the trick to the energy of Florida is adopting a "this too shall pass" attitude. It is excellent for dulling the impact of attack, stress, and other panic-ridden situations.

    @Ocean: I'm in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina now. So far the energy here definitely seems to change, but on the order of days rather than hours or minutes. I'm actually grateful for that, as the Midwest might drive me crazy (scratch that, the Midwest drives everyone crazy ;p ).

    @Judy: It definitely seems to be playing out that way, yes. Mostly I was just unprepared for the change, as I had never realized how heavily I was tapping into the energy of the place. Thanks for the info on Devil's Tower; there are all sorts of local, relatively unexplored natural landmarks around here with kooky names that I'm looking forward to exploring =)

  5. I've found the spirits of Florida, when you first encounter the ones that are of the natural landscape, have a bit of a Kill You And Eat You vibe to them... lots of eat or be eaten energy but if your wary and give them some space then they will cotton up to you as a new creature in the swamp...

    Metaphors aplenty, from a boy raised and Witched in the Anchorage Alaska area... yeah, I can relate to a change in scenery affecting ones sense of the unseen and uncanny.

    Blessings on your new mountain home!

  6. I found the story of the English magician visiting the desert interesting. I've often longed to visit a place like that to sit quietly with the spirits.

    Living in lush Southern British Columbia is wonderful, but sometimes it feels very 'full.' When trying to meditate by the river, there are the whispers of the trees, the murmuring of the water, the chatting birds, the ocassional crack of a tumbling rock from the shale hill behind me, the sound of cattle across the river, the natter of a chipmunk, the scent of pine and underbrush... Sometimes having too much to listen to - the spirits of trees, land, water, animals, ancestors can be just as crippling as feeling like there is a struggle to hear anything at all. It's alot to take in - you need a good filter.

    Perspective, I guess. I'm really interested to hear how you feel about the spirit of place once you've been there for a year or so. And will you return to Florida to visit? It would be fascinating to see if your connection to that place changes.

  7. @Pax: It seems to me that over time, swamp and marsh spirits have a habit of getting used to, and then subsequently ignoring you (as long as you don't get too close). The mountain spirits seem more... genuinely interested in your presence, I guess.

    @Rue: Perspective indeed. I'm very much with Jason Miller in the thought that we should occasionally take spiritual retreats to such foreign places, if for no other reason than it knocks us out of ignoring what we've stopped paying attention to when we return. I've visited Florida once since this post, and will do so again for Christmas, and I must say it definitely still feels... thirsty. Not in a bad way, but definitely noticeable and different.