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2019: A Year of Change

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This morning, I woke up late, drank a cup of coffee, and prepared my 2020 journal. Admittedly, I’d cracked into it a few days early after running out of space in my previous notebook. A post from a friend made me return to my intentions and aspirations for my 34th year (2019) and hours later, I’m at the head of our dining room table with my scrawlings laid out in front of me, reflecting on the past year. My husband is in the living room, reading old articles he wrote for our college town’s hockey team and undoubtedly marveling at the progress he’s made in the area of sports journalism since the beginning of the decade.

2019 brought a lot of personal change. I quit my office job to pursue my passions. Thanks to a supportive life partner who earns enough to float us during this stage of experimentation, I began to reorient my life toward creative, artistic work. I took a big leap professionally, and so far, it’s working out (albeit slowly). I grappled with imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and the necessity of personal discipline and practice. I made new friends and chosen family, and we welcomed our first family member to visit us in Korea.

In 2019, I rediscovered witchcraft and spellwork, things I hadn’t considered much since I first read The Spiral Dance as a college freshman in 2003, sitting outside with my pagan roommate as she cast a spell to let go of an ex. In truth, I’ve been a hedge witch for some time, slowly opening my heart to plant medicine, to my inner voice, and to my lineage. I come from a line of gardeners and artists (painters, woodcrafters, potters), from the Irish and the pre-Christian Celts of Cisalpine Gaul. This year, I opened to my lineage, though I’ve barely dipped a toe into that great river of time.

I discovered the Strange Magic podcast and a number of beautiful books on spellwork and herbs. I hosted a Mabon celebration for some friends and we made magical teas and fire cider. We practiced divination and radical sharing with tarot cards. I was nervous; it was my first time sharing these practices with others. I started writing my own incantations and spells and gave two tarot readings to others, something I was terrified to do. I’ve begun to carve out a magical life.

Here were my favorite magical books I read (or started reading) in 2019:
Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger
Belonging: Remember Ourselves Home by Toko-pa Turner
Water Witchcraft: Magic and Lore from the Celtic Tradition by Annwyn Avalon
The Book of Celtic Magic by Kristoffer Hughes

Journal, April 18th:
More and more, I want to move forward in love, with love, for all around me and for what I do.

In 2019, I attended an improv class, even though it scared me. I started taking photos again, and made a bit of cash from it. I shifted away from toxic people. I journaled regularly for the first time ever and established a morning pages practice. I took a few nude selfies, after hearing about the power of such acts from The Sexually Liberated Woman podcast. It was interesting to see myself in this way, and it emboldened me. Taking inspiration from adrienne maree brown, I’ve begun to record the things I love about my body. So far, my brief list includes: 1) my hair (it’s thick and curly and I like the color); 2) the tiny body hairs that grow on the side of my abdomen, just below my hips (they look cute in morning light); 3) my neck and collarbone (I like the shape of them in boat necklines).

Of my 34 Things I intended to do in my 34th year, these were the things I actually did:
I got a TEFL certification. I ate more chopped salads. I wrote regularly. I started co-running a D&D campaign with my husband! I fermented stuff (specifically, kombucha). I made a fresh batch of my prized calendula + comfrey oil, which I will share with friends soon. I performed in a radio play! I embodied witchiness, not always consistently or perfectly, and that’s okay. I maintained my tarot practice, staying open to the story the cards had to tell. I brought color and character back into my wardrobe. My clothing had become so drab and depressing in Korea, and it was affecting my mental health.

Journal, April 23rd:
Living in the city, I’ve come to shut off a lot of my sensory awareness and enter a protective state. Protective against what? Pollution, sickness, even just people themselves, phones and signals. Sitting on the ground here on campus, I’m distracted by a loud noise – construction? Most likely. But I also heard the chorus of birdsong. I think there is a quality of duality needed to reconnect in this loud, busy urban environment. I saw an older lady feeding seed to pigeons. Why, I wonder? I think she just took delight in their presence around her, the heavy flapping of their wings. For a moment, I forgot that unrelenting sound in the distance. The city will always be besieged with these sounds. But change the frequency a bit and other layers reveal themselves: the cooing of spring birds, it grows louder the more attuned I am. I realize that there is nature all around me, it is all, it cannot be destroyed or drowned out by the city. It is the city. It is me.

This year, I struggled with feelings of loss and grief. My last remaining grandparent having recently passed away and a close friendship coming to an abrupt end, I struggled a lot with deep feelings. When my brother, a prominent film critic, published a highly personal piece in which he grappled with our childhood traumas, it cracked me open and led to a lot of healing and sharing. In 2019, my perception of our place on this planet, and the Anthropocene, shifted. I now wonder what the end of my time on our beautiful earth will be like. I sit with that fear and grief daily, pondering what I should do. All I can say for certain is that I must be of service to others and to the earth. On January 18th, a spiritual ancestor whose work brought me such comfort and joy passed away. I hurt people, and they forgave me.

Journal, July 29th:
I am feeling so much grief right now. It is a feeling with deep deep roots in my childhood wounds. I’ve lost so much, and now I’ve recognized the loss of my grandparents’ stories, particularly Granny. Losing such an intense friendship, and managing a new set of stressors and self-doubts, this life shit has been hard as fuck lately.

2019 was a highly creative year. I bought a violin, and plan to actually practice playing it this year. Baby steps, y’all. I was in a short film. I made a Dream Life list, and reflecting on it now, it’s pretty doable and mostly reveals a desire to lead a healthy, inspired, creative life. It includes things like: 1) publish modules on the dmsguild, 2) eat and cook good and nourishing food, 3) lots of romance, 4) live by the sea with a wood burning stove, 5) play the fiddle. And so on.

This year, we played lots of Dungeons + Dragons with our friends. We pretended to be mermaids for our friend Lisa’s birthday. I was accepted as a writer and editor for an upcoming D&D supplement about the Feywild. My husband and I started planning, then abandoned, a podcast about gaming with your partner. Maybe we’ll pick that back up in the future. I remained obsessed with selkies. The Uncaged Anthology was released and it shattered my assumptions about what gaming can and must be, and for whom it exists (spoiler: it exists for everyone). I performed in a short play in which I gave birth on stage, and our play made it to the final festival round! I produced a full length play and contributed to other productions in Seoul. I read a lot of great books and short stories. I met T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh!

My favorite books/plays I read in 2019 include:
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages
Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
From the Sea to Somewhere Else by Monica Giordano
Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
And all the delightful little stories I heard for the first time on Levar Burton Reads.

Journal, November 19th:
There was something special about today. Perhaps allowing myself to record my dream while still in bed, taking time to mop the floors and clean out my email inbox (mostly), discovering a gorgeous new book. It was a cold day, but I felt pleasantly content to be out on the subway, waiting for the bus, in this big old city of so many people! There are some recurring themes in my dreams and in the books I’m reading: cats, and I have to rescue them. Pleasure. Every podcast I listened to today related to pleasure and its importance…And I’m realizing I can introduce pleasure in so many ways, and it would be so wonderful to be more aware of and connected to my body and its sensations.

In 2019, I wrote constantly about my concerns surrounding health and my body. I was sick a lot, and this had consequences related to my work. I wanted more nourishment, but struggled to give it to myself. I wanted to move more, but was plagued with stress and overwhelm. I worried about eating well, taking herbs, exercising enough. These are concerns which will carry into my intentions for my 35th year, which begins in a mere 10 days.

Amongst the many goals and aspirations I have for the coming year (and decade), here are some that stand out: daily vocal and breath practice. Inner child work. Pleasure as a priority. Daily yoga, stretching, and/or exercise. Enjoying my food, avoiding other tasks while eating. Playing. Reading more books by non-white and non-cis writers. Living in accordance with my values. Moon rituals. Nourishing broths. Painting with my watercolors. Meditation. More than anything, I want to live a creative and magical life.

2018 was a year of magic. 2019 was all about change. 2020 is the year of the Rat, not only my sign in the Chinese zodiac but a beacon of prosperity for all. It’s an Emperor year. I’m filled with childlike anticipation as I look forward to this new decade and all its possibility. What is my path? What service will I be called to offer to the earth and its precious children? What pleasure and magic awaits in this new decade? I can’t wait to find out. In the meantime, I’m following Ms. Berger’s advice and taking January to rest, to be, and to listen (and to take a snow-walk, if we are lucky enough to get snow here in Seoul!).

For those who read this, thank you for bearing witness to my growth. Send me a message or a link to your reflections on 2019 and/or your intentions for the coming year! I have cherished and loved each and every conversation that has sprung from the posts on this site and on my instagram. It is a blessing to share the magic of the cycle of seasons with you – my friends, family, and fellow humans.

Incantation for the Hierophant: I Am Enough

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Whenever I feel unbalanced or stressed, I try to make more time for my cards. There is wisdom and healing in my decks, and they form the foundation of my spiritual practice. The tarot is a well I can draw upon again and again when my cup needs filling. Well, today my cup felt pretty depleted. In fact, my cup has been feeling rather depleted over the past few months of busyness and activity. Can you relate?

I had a dream this morning. In the dream, there were so many starving kittens and I saved them all, stuffing them in boxes and blankets in my already crowded home. It began to rain, and I had to leave my home once more to compete in a challenge, in a place I’ve been before, an open hall containing two thick cloth ropes that formed a treacherously high course. I was up first, and I fell. I failed the test, and my team continued without me. The team was made up of three women in my life whom I admire and criticize for different reasons, representing the sides of myself I am afraid to examine or (perhaps?) of which I am overly judgmental. I cowered and weeped at their competency and talents as I slinked off to a corner, to awaken with a pounding headache in bed.

I went to my living room floor, lit some incense, gathered up my tarot cards, and welcomed well and healed spirits and guides into my magical space. As I did, lush orange sunlight beamed through the window. I laid out a Celtic Cross spread for the state of my life and spirit, and what I’m failing to see. The Hierophant has been visiting me lately, and that makes sense; it’s my card for this month. You’ll see that raven perching in the corner of this spread, too. Working through the messages of the cards, a word came to mind: “enough.” My mind races with this word. “Nothing is ever enough.” “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not disciplined enough.” “I don’t practice enough.” “I’m not talented enough, so maybe I should give up.” Raised in a capitalist society, I grew up believing that productivity and success determine my worth. No matter how many kittens you save, so my dream logic goes, you’re still a failure. This is the kind of absurd self-talk my subconscious self seemed to be highlighting.

And it is absurd, how hard many of us push ourselves. Some of us have no choice but to. Despite that, I am trying to learn that I am already what I’m meant to be: a living, breathing part of the divine web of existence. I do enough. I work enough. I have enough. There are many in the world who truly lack, who don’t have enough food, clean water, safety. But I am incredibly privileged and that is not me. Indeed, I have much more than enough. And yet, it can be so hard to see that. I am clouded by mental events, by my brain and its doing mode, which shouts at me, “You must, you should, you need…” This is a part of my Shadow, which the Hierophant waits to reveal to me in my dreams, in the cards, and in the flicker of the candles on my altar.

The cards laid out on the table, my body tired and drained, I walked away from the spread to eat some food and shower. I applied a homemade herbal oil – sweet almond stained bright yellow from dried chamomile and calendula blossoms – to my entire body and came back to the cards. Cleansed and ready to receive, this incantation came to me. It did not start with rhymes but developed them over time, as stream of consciousness transformed to spell. Should it speak to you, feel free to use it. Repeat it daily as an affirmation, read it lovingly aloud with a cup of tea or standing before your own altar, read it while holding The Emperor card close to your heart, or whisper it softly to yourself as you welcome the wisdom of your dreams.

I am a conduit of divinity and strength.
I fill my cup so my magic may shine.
I honor the abundance around and within me
and love the Shadow that binds.

I am an active agent of change,
tending myself as well as the world.

I do enough. I am good enough.
I see myself blossom and unfold.

The future holds that which my heart desires most.
I do as I will, harming none.
My hard work is an unfolding, not an undoing.
I embody the strength of the Sun.

I examine and embrace the dark parts of me,
for these hold the key to my glory.

I hope generously and freely, I believe in what will be.
I am enough, I am free, so mote it be.

Review: Grandmother Crookbesom’s Book of Hags

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One of the most enjoyable adventures I’ve run for my players involved a hag. In the final session, the party fought and killed the hag, who wished to reclaim her ancient dominion over a fey-touched forest. I named her the Rose Lady – as she kept immaculate rose gardens – and while the final battle was intense, I failed to establish her deeper motives. How had she come to rule the forest before? What twisted schemes and methods had first attracted attention to her? How did she recruit her wicked little minions and what did she want with the forest anyway? Looking back on the encounter, I had two qualms with my villain. First, she lacked the very things I love about hags: their twisted and scheming natures, their gruesomeness, their otherworldly strangeness. Second, I didn’t understand her place within the forest’s ecology. In the end, she’d come off as a tired old trope whose lair – a sentient hut! – was far more interesting than she was. 

Since first taking my seat behind a DM screen, I’ve wanted to give my players a gripping hag encounter; I’ve just not been certain how. I’ve always loved witches, the occult, and anything involving the fey. I talk to the moon, I read tarot, I brew herbal potions; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for a coven of witches to scoop me up into the realm of magick. So, you can imagine my disappointment when – amidst the vast collection of well-crafted D&D modules and supplements – I just couldn’t find a hag with an interesting narrative. Volo’s Guide to Monsters has an extensive section on hags packed with names, exit strategies, Weird Magic items, treasure, and more. But pull up an adventure that features a hag and while she may be rich in body horror and the grotesque, I’ll bet she lacks a good story. There are notable exceptions in the recent Uncaged, Volume 1, a collection to which the designers in question today contributed and which offers three hag-centric modules and a new hag variant called Lauma.

And fear not, my fellow hag-lovers, for we have a delicious new supplement devoted entirely to hags and hag covens! It’s the book on hags I didn’t know I needed.

Grandmother Crookbesom’s Book of Hags, designed by Cat Evans, Oliver Clegg, Liz Gist, and Jessica Marcrum is a fabulously rich, 40-page book containing profiles and adventure hooks for 13 unique hags and covens. It’s packed with amazing lore, wickedly vivid descriptions, 3 new hag variants, Weird Magic, and more. Content warnings alert the reader to the more upsetting and/or grotesque bits and the clean, color-coded design makes flipping through the chapters a pleasant and convenient experience. 

You should buy this book.

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Review: College of Caterwauling

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In one of our three D&D campaigns, my husband Ryan plays a tabaxi lore bard named Mew’n McGregor. Yes, really. Ryan spends hours before sessions writing songs to inspire his fellow adventurers. Mew’n is charming at times, creepy at others. We like to laugh at how he casts his enchantment spells by eerily rubbing a pair of spoons together. He’s arrogant, he loves the spotlight, and Ryan enjoys playing up these moments for our friends in real time; he’s witty and generates insults and witticisms effortlessly on the spot. Mew’n is often the face of the party, a role many bards are tailored to fill.

When I played a bard, I was not nearly as charming or witty. I’m bad at smooth talk and spinning yarns is a skill I’m still building. So, what’s an awkward bard supposed to do?

One option: be weird instead.

Enter the Bardic College of Caterwauling, a subclass for D&D 5E written by Jessica Marcrum and available on the dmsguild. If you purchased Uncaged Volume 1, which I reviewed back in March, you’ll recognize her as the author of the eccentric, roleplay-heavy one-shot called “A Family Reunion.” I wasn’t surprised to see another delightfully eccentric product from this imaginative creator.

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Mermaid Self: Visualization

Last week, I ran a session of the Mermaid Adventures RPG for a friend’s birthday. She loves mermaids and I wanted to offer a fun, silly, atmospheric game for her and a few other players. To get the group in the mood to become mermaids, I wrote up a guided visualization and presented it at the start of the session. I later recorded it and mixed it with the same haunting song I’d used at the table, used and shared with permission from the composer, Brandon Feichter.

The script, included below, was adapted from this body scan meditation. Enjoy!

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Review: Uncaged, Volume 1

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Cover Artwork by Samantha Darcy

Uncaged, Volume 1 is ambitious, imperfect, and inspiring.

I’ve been awaiting this anthology since Ashley Warren posted a call for contributors on Twitter last year. Uncaged is a collection of myth- and folklore-themed one-shot adventures written for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition which subvert tropes around female mythological creatures and monsters and reinvent classical female archetypes. Each adventure is intended to be played in 1-5 hours.

Uncaged, Volume 1 is the first of four releases and it does not disappoint. The 25 modules in the collection are mostly for Tiers 1 and 2, but there are a few Tier 3 and one Tier 4 module as well. The narratives range from small town investigations to epic combat in the afterlife, from ancient mythological conflicts to spooky, cryptic fairy tales. Some of the adventures are sparse, while others are densely packed with information; most are a mere seven pages long.

There are minor grammatical and formatting issues and some modules feel much more polished than others, but the overall quality and value of the collection outweigh these concerns. The artwork is stunning and the layout is stylized and clean. I’m always seeking modules that emphasize roleplay, investigation, and exploration as much as combat and this collection fits the bill.

Some of the narratives are open-ended, allowing PCs to drive them in various directions, while others feel like short stories to be shared at the gaming table. Though my reaction to each adventure varies – and is based on my own preferences and biases – I would highly recommend purchasing the collection. Given the extent and the overall quality of the content, I have no regrets over the $14.95 price tag.

Since I haven’t yet run any of these adventures, my reviews below are based on readings alone. Starred* titles are my personal favorites, which I hope to run for my players within the next few months. I also hope to post extended reviews for any adventure I do run, along with some long overdue posts about past adventures I ran and loved. I’m getting there, it’s just…life!

THIS POST CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS. If any of my players (or anyone who is knowingly going to play through these adventures) are reading this, I advise you to stop here. Don’t ruin the surprises, however small they may be.

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