I am counting the seconds, one two three four five six seven eight nine ten. At Magic Jewelry, on Centre Street just off Canal, I am trying to pin down my energy. When I sit down in the chair and put my hands on the electrodes, I am chemical and ritual.
The metal sensors register your field, your aura, through your fingertips, and send the information to a box camera on a tripod. The stillness the subject maintains for the double exposure needed feels like getting a daguerreotype taken in the age of instant gratification selfies. But today, I am looking for someone else, something else to see me.
I hold stones in my pocket that are supposed to help clear my aura but most of the time just feel nice to worry between my fingers as I worry that they are probably bullshit. Theoretically, an aura camera uses electromagnetic sensors for your hands, which translate your high vibes, your vibrational frequency, your biological feedback into a swirl of colors, and then, with a second exposure, displays that color on an instant Polaroid photo.
The ritual of this monthly check-in is a reading of my anxieties in flat color instead of the pounding of three-dimensional space inside my gray matter. I want to see them painted out so I can point at them, finger them with my disappointments. I am looking to a path toward calm, which I think will give me joy.
In the image that I await in the white frame, energy moves up the body through your left side, arching over your head, back down your right arm, coursing through you in three-week intervals. These sides are also a time line: the left, your future week, the present, floating above your head and the right, the week you are leaving behind. After, your portrait develops, barely showing your face behind the color. About once a month, roughly corresponding to the imagined time cycles, a stranger tells me how I am living through my life, using Chakra correspondences in color to fill in details.
Ritual has been the thing that binds me to myself when I take on too much too fast. I take specific steps before I can write the piece I have been taking notes on all month, I have a series of loop-de-loops of routine I must do before I check my email. Hanging on my bedroom wall where I can see them at all times are two time-stamped lists: one for my morning routine, one for my evening. I rarely hit all the marks, but like the measure in the absence of a person to hold me to my schedule.
The camera that helps me see myself uses a photographic process discovered by a Russian electrical engineer named Semyon Kirlian in the 1930s. The image it produces, called formally a “Kirlian photograph,” reveals an electric field that occurs around us at all times. The rainbows it captures shift between individuals, change with location, time of day, mood. Since I first began this ritual, my images have been consistently bright red, with a yellow arc, black and void near my palms. I am told I am burning myself out, that I need to rest, that I should meditate, take a break from work.
Work gives me joy, but in the way that it also gives me a migraine and sleepless nights and the tightness in my chest as I make a to-do list that I know is not humanly possible but I have promised anyway. I am looking for validation that I’ve been good, that I am forgiven for my mistakes. “You need to lie down, maybe take some rest. There is so much passion here but also a lot of low energy, exhaustion.” I nod and nod because of course.
This is the third reading in which I’ve been told to chill, and tried with no result. If I came with the idea that what I had worked toward was to calm down, I also knew no stones in my pocket could stem the drive to be better. I am very sure I have failed. I do not know what I have failed at quite, but I have fallen short of my own measuring tape that stretches out in front of my selfhood with seemingly no end.
Rituals are what anchor our minds to our selves, the deep self you have to learn to drop into with mediation or religion or therapy. For some people, this self-awareness comes stealing in when they can sit still, in silence. Others spill their selves pell-mell to strangers who become confidants, become secret keepers.
In drinking and highs and trips, we chase the elusive moment when the ego fades away and we are left with something purer than our corporeal personhood. In the ritual of the Mass, parishioners give themselves over to something more. Thrumming through sun salutations, the yogis give themselves over to the Divine or the deeply physical, depending on whom you ask. But it’s the anxiety-suspending clarity, that moment of freedom from the anguish of existing as a chemical reaction, a human body on this fragile marble, that’s what every form of practice seems to chase.
What is our aura? What can it tell us? Spiritualists and new-agers claim to see it, feel it, this humming energy around us. Aura cameras tap into this field through the sensitive tips of our fingers, the electrodes beneath the hand plates I press my palms into with a prayer for some blue or purple or green, calm colors, spiritual and enlightened and earth. Instead I get all fire, yet again. I send all my energy through the wires and turn up passion and stress layered on my head like a crown. Every time I fail to achieve these stable, settled colors I feel like a failure. I crave the routine I cannot seem to grasp, and the lack of it is explicitly spelled out in the vibrant rubies and marigolds of my aura.
Our cultural perception of such stability is that it’s deeply unsexy, that to be unpredictable and wild is to be free. How much time do we waste chasing irregularity when we could free ourselves from chaos by making peace with the routine? To me, the unevenness of my days feels like a burden. Despite my lists and schedules, my body needs unexpected sleep, needs to be fed and rested on its own time. My brain goes blank unexpectedly. I check in with my colors to get confirmation I am on the right track when the weeks drag and the deadlines drop away. At least my scarlet means I am working. At least my saffron means I glow.
Written by Haley E.D. Houseman.
Haley is freelance journalist and illustrator. She deals in modern witchcraft and the occult, as well as art, fashion, and plants. Living in Brooklyn, she still lurks around the Greater Boston Area, where she was born, in order to keep up with the witches of Salem and get her lobster fix at regular intervals. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @hedhouseman.