by Sarah Twichell
In fairy tales, beings often appear in guises. A spirit appears in the guise of a fox. A god comes to earth in the guise of an old woman. In traditional European cultures, people took on guises as well. In Scotland, people dressed as spirits of the dead at Samhain, or changed their appearances to trick evil spirits out of harming them. In story and ritual, the appearance of guises teaches us that things are not always what they seem and that we should look carefully before judging or dismissing something.
When I work magically with a guise it teaches me the same lesson. I am not always what I seem, and I should look carefully before judging or dismissing ideas about who I am or could be.
Guising gives me the opportunity to take a look at what I consider to be beyond my own boundaries. When I guise as a being who is deeply wild, I can embody more wildness than I can ever imagine having in my ordinary life and self. In doing so, I gain a chance to question those limits: am I really tame and civilized as think? Is there wildness I didn’t see or recognize in me? What else am I missing when I say and act as though I am not wild?
Guising also works to free me from the ways that habit and expectation limit my perceptions of others and of the world. Sometimes things seem clearer, even harsh, through new eyes, and at other times they look softer and less clear. Knowing how different even the very familiar can look reminds me to find out what I can see when I really look, even with my everday eyes.
No matter how deep or magical my connection with a being I am guising is, in the end, I must come back to a shape that’s nearly the same as the one I left. In that “nearly,” though, lie the most powerful lessons of guising: the ones we bring back to our everyday lives.
At Rites, there were several opportunities to take on a guise. Did you choose to do this work there or somewhere else, or to interact with someone in guise? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.
[photo by David J. Anderson]
I had a very strong experience at the Guising Fire Circle, where I was dressed in white birch bark. My body began to feel heavy, rooted, limiting my ability to move around the circle. I began to feel ambivalent, then fearful and sad about the fire in the middle of our circle. I watched the other being celebrating and began to wonder – I was able to feel competing primal emotions. I recognized and was happy about the renewal of Spring, but felt isolated from the others. Was I tho only one who experienced sadness at this time of year? Spring is when we (trees) awaken and take stock of who among us did not make it through the winter. I felt that I was the only being who knew that the fire was a funeral. The Fire Tenders were burning a lot of Birch that night, furthering my overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss. Eventually I became dizzy, had to move away. I left the Fire Circle much earlier that I expected to when I became unable to cope with being in community with beings who did not comprehend what I was feeling. Not unlike my more solitary grieving processes when each of my parents died.
My guising experience was very different this year. Normally, it is very difficult for me to stay with it and let my self be totally free to allow the being to develop when others around me are not also doing the work. This year was different on the island because most if not all who participated were deeply engaged. I was able to totally lose my self and my ego in this guising experience. All sense of time left me and I was totally unaware of what was happening around me except when I was visited by other beings. It was a freeing and transformative experience for which I am deeply grateful! Thank you to everyone who facilitated and participated in the experience!