The word ‘intercourse’ is used for both speech and sex. This is no coincidence, and for those who practice magic, it points to deep truths about our interconnectedness, the relationship between witchcraft and shape-shifting, and the mystery of our embodiment at this difficult point in history. I offer this essay to you in the hope that it will change your shape to be a bit more like mine, that you may experience some of the blessings I have gathered in my sixty-nine years in this life.
But I’m running ahead of myself. We were talking of speech, and sex!
When I touch my lover, we are in dialogue. I enlarge and open my entire body, my hands and mind as much as my sex. In response to my touch, their breath changes: perhaps they sigh, or they reach to kiss; perhaps they arch their back. My touch arises when I imagine what my lover will become in response to my touch. Will they change with my touch, becoming like my internal image of their future? What I do next is guided by their sigh, or the change in their pulse, or what I hear in their breath, for this listening influences my image of what they are becoming, and this image dictates my body’s shape—that is, the entire constellation of my sense of self changes in response to this dialogue, and thus my hands and my body move. As my lover touches me, my breath changes: perhaps I sigh, or I reach to kiss; perhaps I arch my back in response to their touch. I change, and I become more like them.
Yet if my lover and I were talking, and I apprehended that which they meant to convey, how would this dialogue, in its bodily and mental essence, be any different from our lovemaking? In speech, meaning is conveyed by so much more than the dictionary meaning of the words. The shape of your bodymind when you speak conveys meaning, and I receive that meaning through the shape of my bodymind when I am touched by the sound of your words. As my bodymind apprehends your thoughts, in response to your words, I become more like you were when you spoke.
It was on the day of the solstice that I stood by my friend’s pond in New Mexico and watched the dragonflies make love. It was a warm day, and I watched for several hours as they hovered, remaining connected. Yet to say they ‘made love’ is presumptuous, anthropomorphic, because it assumes their experience of coupling parallels mine when I am with a lover. If I say ‘the dragonflies were making love,’ versus ‘the dragonflies were mating,’ I am implying that the dragonflies were not only having an experience, they were aware of that experience. I am even suggesting that the dragonflies were communicating their experience to me because I was able to watch them. I imagined that the shapes that I saw on that hot summer day meant the same to them as they would to me, were I to hold my body in a similar way.
Watching, I saw their slowly changing cojoined shape, and I remembered. I have been privileged to hold a similarly changing conjoined shape when receiving, when giving, while touching and being touched. And as I watched, my imaginal body, my palpable sense of ‘what could be,’ took on the dragonflies’ shape as I remembered communications of hands and lips and skin: how my body arched, and how my lover’s body arched; how their touch and my touch made us take on the same shape as these insects. More than that, however, I knew this: to have that shape was what told me (and perhaps also my lover) that the sex was love.
Was what the dragonflies were experiencing also love? Did my watching mind, taking on their trembling shape, allow me to become more like the dragonflies?
Sharing a Shape
You have a thought and you decide to speak to me. You speak words and I hear them, and I am changed by the meaning of the speech. Your desire that I comprehend your words suggests a desire that I become more like you. Your speaking does not necessarily involve a wish that I accept what you have said as truth. Rather, it is a wish that upon hearing your words, I will have thoughts and see imagery that reflects your own imagery as you spoke. Your desire, perhaps, is that my bodymind should hold a shape that resonates with your shape when you spoke, and that we might become more similar in the shapes we each hold.
What has happened to both of us to allow meaning to be shared? Observe as your speech arises in your mind and your breath, tongue, and lips move in concert; observe how meaning develops as your senses and mind receive and interpret my words. The process between us that we call conversation or dialogue is largely invisible to the inner-eye of the conscious mind. Yet larynx, lungs, diaphragm, tongue, eardrum, and middle ear are as much involved in speech as my hand and sex are when making love.
I feel a scintillation here in my bodymind as I speak words. The words direct how I shape the tissues and organs of my body to emit a sound that moves through the air to touch your ear. Upon hearing, you also create within yourself a similar scintillating structure, and this structure carries the meaning.
I have tried to catch the moment where sound becomes meaning and I have never succeeded. I hear the words and something happens within me: perhaps mind’s-eye images appear; or as you yell ‘Stop!’ I cease to move; or my own wordy thoughts bubble forth from my mouth in response. What occurs appears instantaneous and without an intermediate step. An internal dictionary does not seem an appropriate explanation; I can find no a priori mapping between word and image. Rather it seems that the process of conversation pervades my bodymind. It has no location and seems to have no clearly defined steps. Emotional affect, metaphorical imagery, and intellectual meaning all emerge and develop simultaneously within me when I either speak or listen.
The meaning of language, then, resides not in the words themselves, but rather in their effect on my embodiment. By sharing language, we share our bodies.
It is a commonplace to say, regarding relationships, that opposites attract. As with magnets, our differences connect us and bind us. Gravity, however, is a non-polar force: like attracts like. Language seems more like a type of gravity than a type of polarity. In dialogue, the desire for similarity, to become the other’s mirror, provides the binding force. The Moon and Earth are in their joint and loving orbit around the Sun because of a three-way mutual attraction due to gravity. In this oversimplified metaphor, they all love each other and dance together because they share a similarity, the state of having mass.
For there to be communication, both speaker and listener must also share a similarity. Perhaps communication is possible because language preserves memories of the shared history of our separate embodiments—in other words, we create a shared narrative to contain both our personal histories and the history of the relationship. A friend prefers another metaphor for this kind of non-polar, gravitational attraction: we resonate together, like affecting like, as sounds do. If I play a guitar in a room full of unattended guitars, all the guitars will sing, though more quietly than the one I am playing. Instead of sharing “mass,” the guitars share vibration.
Is dialogue, then, not so much a process where those involved become ‘like each other,’ but rather ‘in resonance, they create something in each other that has never existed before’?
A Shape-Shifter’s Blessing
I am a witch, and I cast spells. The words of my spells are crafted and spoken with careful intent, sometimes with a particular gesture or a specific breath pattern. My careful intent, the words, my gestures, this dance, all form my shape. When I speak a blessing, someone listens, and the world is touched, and the world’s shape is changed.
Speech, sex, magic: we are shape-shifters, ever-changing our shapes in response to the speaking world, and causing changes with our speech. This is witchcraft, and intercourse; and in the full bloom of our practice, perhaps it is also love.
For the sake of the union of Shekinah with her Holy-and-beloved-hidden-face-of-the-divine,
We take upon ourselves the mitzvah (performing the beautiful deed),
“That we love our neighbor as ourselves,”
And by this merit
We accept the gift
Of our heartbeat and our breath,
And we act within the world,
As we open our mouths
All images by Peaseblossom.