I used to think that others I met were wise witches and wizards welcoming me and guiding me, everyone and everything a potential teacher. I was a gnostic initiate on the threshold of a newly re-enchanted cosmos. At some point prior, an event had occurred that changed me, my sense of time and space altered. Pot restored some prior magical conception of reality that I’d been made to hide or repress — even as it also opened me to new modes of experience. I had become fearful in certain ways during my schooling. I’d developed emotional and psychological armor, shutting myself off from awe, desire, love, pain, hope — so as to just endure amid fear of bullying. It happened early in my childhood. A neighbor down the street used to push me. I was bullied and betrayed. This kid was my “best friend” at the time. Yet he pushed me around. He hurt me. That pattern of bullying and abuse continued, repeating itself in middle school and high school and beyond. These events turned me inward. I became like a turtle withdrawn into its shell. Pot got me out of that pattern. It helped me peek my head out of the Cave, like the dude who escapes in Plato’s allegory. I started to think of myself in terms of that character: the freed prisoner, the one whose head pierces the veil. At the end of the high (which can also be an ascent, a flight north), the hero returns again to the cave to free the others. The myth is restaged countless times; it can be transhistorical, like Christ’s harrowing of Hell, or historically specific, like Harriet Tubman’s many journeys to the South. The myth can be told as part of one’s past or one’s future. Millions of people relate to this tale in one or another of its many retellings. What about today? Is this still the narrative with which I fashion myself? I’ve become more discerning than that, have I not? In my encounters with witches and wizards, I study statements and practices. I listen for clues. If it seems like a person or group is trying to trick me or manipulate me, I bounce.
From early adolescence onward, I’ve been haunted, conflicted, attracted into near identity with yet simultaneously repulsed by the wizard archetype, particularly as embodied by “Raistlin Majere,” a character introduced to me through the fantasy novels of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance series. Raistlin has become synonymous in my imagination with the Lucifer character in Milton — though I encountered Raistlin first. I often hear myself wondering in a ponderous, psychoanalytic way, “Why did these books grasp hold of me? What was the nature of their appeal? What was it that I heard calling to me? How did these books reconstitute and reshape me? I found in them an entire cosmology, did I not? Was it my first, my original — or was there another, one prior? Did I ever reflect self-consciously about Christianity, accept it or choose it as my mythos, know myself to believe in it — or was it only ever a series of meaningless, inexplicable rituals imposed upon me by alien authority structures: family, church, community?” Part of me has come to view Weis and Hickman as corporate corruptors of the fantastic imagination. These were books that fed and perhaps irritated, worsened, fed and prolonged my sensitivity to the violence of being labelled a “nerd” by my classmates at school. That’s a powerful memory: one’s slightly larger male classmates narrowing their eyes, clenching their fists and snarling disgustedly, “Nerd!” I remember resolving to read the Bible in its entirety and getting distracted, setting it aside, reading Tolkein, Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance and Darksword trilogies, Marvel superhero comics, horror novelists like Clive Barker and Stephen King. From their cover art onward, the Dragonlance books are all about a universe become filled with pubescent menace: men with swords, dragon-riding women. A world ensorcelled by hormones, symbol-systems, RPGs, and media. Readers are encouraged to see themselves in the Raistlin character: a figure of great intelligence trapped in a weak and sickly body, and for that reason contemptuous of others. That contempt is localized in the figure of Raistlin’s twin brother Caramon, the sibling who inherited the pair’s physical strength. Public school attempted to divide me from this through memorization of the alternative rituals of “science” and “mathematics” — but these had none of the same seductive powers, none of the erotic charge, the pleasure felt when under the spell of a fantasy.
Slow, given to loops and routines, I lay down on a couch, as in a therapist’s office, and allow Jesse Fleming and Electric Sound Bath’s Ataraxia Series #1: Heart and Insight Meditations, a tape released last year on Crash Symbols, guide me to a place of self-questioning.
“When did I start behaving like a jerk?” I wonder quietly, as if for the first time. “Ages 5-10?” Cousins, neighbors, video games. “Why was I sometimes cruel to others?” I was bullied. Just in minor, ordinary ways: small attacks, acts of aggression. But certainly with enough frequency to embitter me. To this day, for instance, I find it hard to forgive some kid who, before gym class one day, pegged me in the face with a basketball, unprovoked, without forewarning, breaking my glasses, blackening my eye. But forgive I must, I suppose, if I’m ever to forgive myself. Ages 10-15. Fears about measuring up, fitting what was expected of me because of body type, gender. Ages 15-20. “I was a nice person at times,” I blubber. Fleming’s words unearth points of pain, but he advises well. Under his direction, I allow myself to ask for forgiveness for the harms that I’ve caused, knowingly or unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Thus we advance toward the extinction of suffering.