When Life “Gets in the Way”

My schedule right now really sucks. I have a full day at work, plus three hours of commuting total. By the time I get home in the evening, I have about three and a half hours at most to eat (and sometimes prepare) supper, shower, do whatever recreational activities I have planned, get ready for work the next day, and get ready for bed.

Oh, and squeeze in shamanic work when and as I can.

Add in that my day pretty much wipes me out, and that I don’t always sleep well (especially when I have to drag myself out of bed at six every morning), and a lot of the time during the week when I do have time to shamanize, I simply don’t have the energy to do so. Fortunately, since this is a contract job, it’s only a temporary situation. However, in the meantime, I’ve had to be creative about time management, as well as admit that sometimes I simply can’t do what I planned.

For example, meditation. If I’m tired, it’s too easy for me to fall asleep while trying to meditate in a quiet way. For instance, I’m still doing my daily meditation with the spirits at lunch time. There are some comfy chairs down in the lobby at work where it’s nice and quiet most days, so I can get a few minutes to check in with the powers that be. Unfortunately, sometimes the comfort of the chairs works against me, and I start drifting off a bit (and whoever I’m talking to has to get my attention again!). I’ve also learned that meditating right after eating is a bad idea, since digestion makes me sleepy.

I’ve also had to resign myself to the fact that by the time I get home, get fed, and get settled in for the evening, I’m usually too tired for things like dancing or drumming. There have been several occasions where I’ve gone upstairs with the greatest of intentions, only to have the spirits tell me to march right back downstairs and rest. One of the goals with my Earth work last month was regulating my physical health. I’m dealing with years of accumulated sleep deprivation from pushing myself too hard, and so one thing I’ve been doing has been to try to get eight hours of sleep (or at least eight hours of laying in bed being relaxed). Unfortunately, that only goes so far, and even if I go to bed on time I still have to get up and going pretty quickly, when I’d rather get up at my own pace (I can take up to an hour to wake up completely). If I were to spend as much time in bed as I needed, I’d be going to bed around 8pm, which would give me just enough time in the evening for supper and a shower.

So I learn to compromise. It’s frustrating sometimes; I want to be able to shamanize every night. I have so much that I want to do that’s not getting done, and until I’m done with this contract (or find a reasonable replacement) I’m stuck. But I also have to admit my current limitations and learn to work within them. Therefore, I do more on the weekends, and I spend the week mostly doing less strenuous activities like writing or reading. I also remind myself that I need to pace myself, and that this schedule won’t last forever.

And, occasionally, I find I have an evening where maybe I’m not so tired, and I’m awake enough to make something happen. But until that happens, it’s best to not push myself too hard. Quality over quantity, and all things will happen in their own time.

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For Those of You Playing Along At Home

In the past few months since I started this blog, I’ve had a few folks tell me that my work has inspired them in their own spiritual paths, or that, independent of what I’m doing, they find themselves in similar situations. So I’m not the only one who’s been seeking a more formal path, a closer connection to the Divine, and a more regular practice. I find this to be an excellent set of events, personally. One of my goals with this blog, along with helping me to keep track of my progress, is to demonstrate one person’s progress in creating a formal path essentially from scratch. While there are numerous elaborate and spiritually fulfilling traditions and religions out there whose adherents are quite satisfied (and in some cases are contributing to a great deal of positive growth), some of us prefer to wear down our own trails in the grass.

I do know that at least a couple of the aforementioned folks have their own spiritually-focused blogs that I’ve enjoyed getting to read. It’s nice getting to compare notes with other folks, whether they’re on a shamanic path or not. And while there are plenty of resources on how to be a solitary practitioner of an established path (such as Wicca, or as some would argue Neo-Wicca or eclectic Neopaganism), there’s not that much out there on constructing your own personal path. Oh, sure, there are books of correspondences and spells and whatnot, but most of the deeper texts on constructing a specific path, cosmology, set of rituals and celebrations, traditions, etc., seem to be group-oriented*.

Granted, some of that just comes with the group-based territory. If you’re already in a tradition of one sort or another that depends on groupwork, then you’re going to have the cosmology, rituals, etc. handed to you as part of your training. The same thing goes for those who are individual students working with a teacher or mentor. As I’ve mentioned before, though, those of us on our own have to create these things from scratch, determining what works best for us and what’s don’t really mesh well with our beliefs. One of the reasons I’m a “career solitary” is because I never found a particular tradition that I agreed with enough to dedicate myself to it, and now that I’m older and set in my ways, therioshamanism is the best choice, given that I’m its creator. However, I also value the input of others. Talking shop and trading notes are valuable practices for me–they allow me to bounce ideas off of others, and they help me to find inspiration in others’ work.

Here’s where, in the past, I might have said “Hey, I’m going to create a listserve/Livejournal community/forum/etc. for the discussion of creating your own path!” However, I’ve done that sort of thing before, and honestly, at this point, I haven’t the time. Additionally, it takes a TON of work just to get a bit of steady activity going on such a forum, and I’m stretched thinly enough that I don’t need another commitment. So I know better than to bite off more than I can chew.

However, I would like a way to gather a few resources for those who come to this blog seeking ideas on forging your own way through the spiritual world. Therefore, here’s my request. If you have a spiritually themed blog that you are primarily using as a journal to record your progress through a stage of growth, I want to link to you. Whether you’re creating your own path, starting a group, or working through a novitiate in an established tradition, if you’re recording it as you go along, complete with successes and setbacks, feelings and experiences, I’m interested. I’m going to create another section of links on the left sidebar of this journal just for these links. I want to offer the stories of others’ journeys for those who visit here who like using my experiences as inspiration for their own, and can benefit from reading even more first-hand accounts.

What I’m not looking for is personal journals that may include some spiritual content, but are also full of day to day minutiae, memes, etc. For example, I have my Livejournal for that sort of thing, but this one is specific to therioshamanism.

Leave a comment here (on therioshamanism.com, not the Livejournal feed post for those on LJ) and I’ll get you added in.

Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

* For those curious, two of my favorite books related to this are Gathering the Magic: Creating 21st Century Esoteric Groups by Nick Farrell and Magickal Connections: Creating a Lasting and Healthy Spiritual Group by Lisa McSherry. While both of them are rather practical, dealing with things like group dynamics, and the latter text is particularly coven-oriented, they also are good for prompting thought about group-based spirituality and magic in general, creating a group mindset without becoming a cult, etc.

On Being a Bird (Now With Bonus Stream of Consciousness!)

So last night I managed to make up for delaying my skin spirit ritual from last weekend. What I’ve been doing the past few months has amounted to me going to the pile of skins in the ritual room and letting one or two of them volunteer to dance or otherwise work with me. Last night when I went up, I was a bit surprised that the pheasant skin, one of only two bird skins that I have, made the most “noise”. I’ve had this skin for the better part of a decade, and most of the time he’d just been hanging on the wall by a string. However, when we moved to Portland, he insisted on being placed with the rest of the critters.

I picked him up and then lay down on the floor on my back with the pheasant spread out on my chest and stomach. He had me visualize my body as that of a bird:

Hollow bones, scaled feet with three toes and a heel, wings tucked up against a deep-chested body, feathers all over (modified scales), including a tail. Sensitive skin and delicate muscles to move feathers, crest, tail, fluff the body to stay warm. Stretch out the wings, wind resistance. Wings not important in the same way as legs–when on ground, feet and beak used to pick up things. Wings for locomotion. Like the two pairs of limbs were reversed. Stretching wings wide, then tuck close to body again. Food in beak, chew, then down gullet. Tip of beak pointed for precision pecking. Skin itchy, scaly, mites, take a dust bath to get rid of them. Slick with rain water. Intelligence to avoid predators, find food, mate, raise young. But die eventually–food, roadkill, shot. Pellets hit, tumble down as thunder crashes.

It was really an incredible experience. I’m so used to working with mammals in shapeshifting and other magic that this unusual experience really struck me. Birds may be warm-blooded, but in some ways they’re just as alien as reptiles. Not that this is a bad thing; it’s just mind-boggling to really be confronted by it. I’ll do a minor shift to Hawk when I call East/Air, but that’s mainly stretching wings in warm sunlight and clear blue sky. At least with the mammals I’ve worked with I’m still dealing with a quadruped whose forelegs are there for grasping or moving things as well as locomotion. It felt odd to keep my “wings” tucked in unless I was flying. And it amazed me how delicate the motor control over the feathers was. Most people can’t make their skin move independently of muscle, yet birds can move specific sections of feathers as opposed to the whole thing just with certain motions of skin and muscle. Even horses can twitch their skin to shoo away flies. Among humans, you’re talented if you can wiggle your ears. Other than that, it’s mainly lips, nose and eyelids that move.

Of course, birds are more body-expressive than humans. Birds pay attention to the whole body, not just facial expression (which is limited by the rigid beak). There’s so much more that I want to learn about what it is to be a bird with this sort of magic. While I’ve experimented with various totems over the years, my more intense workings have primarily been mammalian. If the pheasant skin decides to keep working with me, I look forward to the experiences ahead!

I’m actually not surprised that I ended up working with Pheasant. It’s still my Air month, and in addition, a large portion of Saturday was dedicated to a ritual involving the spirit of a free-range chicken I prepared, and Chicken, the cousin of Pheasant. Last night’s ritual only seems more appropriate for all that.

And Air Continues to Breeze On By….

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that my Air month has been more cerebral than anything else. I got used to Earth, with the drumming and the poking at my body to see what makes it tick (especially the stomach) and the solid feeling of being grounded on a daily basis. However, Air has primarily been about communication, and so I’ve been doing a lot of talking and a lot of thinking. As I was warned, the dream work really hasn’t taken center stage at all. I’ve been dutifully recording my dreams, though, mostly on my commute into work during the week. It’s become part of my morning routine, and I’m getting good enough at remembering that, half an hour after I first hear the alarm I can still remember the bulk of what I dreamed.

Still, I haven’t done much in the way of drumming. Instead I’ve talked, and talked, and talked some more. And then I’ve thought, and analyzed, and imagined inside my head. The interpersonal communication has been pretty impressive. I won’t go into details, but I actually ended up having to postpone my skin spirit work last weekend due to a personal crisis. It got worked out, but it involved some of the most intense communication I’ve had to do ever. With regards to communication with noncorporeal beings, I finally started doing the daily meditations as the Animal Father suggested at the beginning of my Air month. Today was the third day in a row that I managed to remember, and have a successful meditation. Hey, I’ll take any victory I can. Right now I’ve worked it into my lunch hour (I’m big on routine for changing habits). Not sure what I’ll do with regards to the weekend; I actually have more trouble with these things when I’m not on a schedule, because it’s easier to get distracted. (Oooooh…sleeping in…..)

I’ve also been getting better at being aware of my actions and thoughts and words. Not perfect, but getting there. I’ve shown some progress in stopping myself from speaking without thinking, and considering the potential results of my actions. Of course, the problem is that when the goal is to NOT do something, nobody notices ๐Ÿ˜‰ But in seriousness, I’m noticing it, and that matters quite a bit. I like being more aware of what I’m doing, rather than going through my day in robotic mode.

So this weekend, at the very least, I am going to try to keep up my daily work with the meditation and dream records, as well as make it up to the skin spirits for missing out on last weekend’s ritual. And, in a week, I’ll be getting ready to switch over to Fire. It’ll also have been three months since I started this blog to track my progress in formalizing the best of the past decade-plus’s efforts and lessons. It feels longer in some ways. However, I think it’s actually a record in near-daily practice for usually-spontaneous me. Certain things have kept my interest for years; animal magic has been my main magical squeeze for almost as long as I’ve been practicing magic. But, as those of you who have been following this know, any sort of daily practice for me is another thing entirely.

Here’s to continued success!

A Bit of Clarification

A post this week from the Wild Hunt blog dealt with the topic of cultural appropriation. I’ve blogged about it here before, and I wanted to offer some follow-up thoughts.

There’s a rather lively discussion on the comments for the Wild Hunt post (and no, I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). It was a good reminder to me that not everybody sees things my way. While rationally/intellectually I’m well aware of that fact, and I tend to be in favor of things like tolerance and free speech, if I get into a discussion on something I’m horribly opinionated passionate about, sometimes my awareness gets a bit blinded by my enthusiasm.

Cultural appropriation seems to largely be a matter of opinion, at least as far as what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. As was pointed out in the comments, just as not all pagans agree on the issue, neither do all Native Americans (and, one would imagine, members of other cultures that are sometimes borrowed/stolen from). And, while like so many other people, I have an opinion on the matter based on my own perspective, it’s just one among many. While I can sometimes get caught up in the “I’m right, I’m right, dammit I’M RIGHT!” cycle, I do realize in the end that I could just as well be wrong.

However, as I said, “right” and “wrong” are largely subjective. One thing that I have learned (at the tender? ripe old? depends on your perspective? age of 29) is that no matter what choice anyone makes, there will always be someone who disagrees. So I create my own neoshamanic path. No doubt there are people who will A) consider me a plastic shaman as bad as any, B) think that I should have just stuck to neopaganism, or C) think that I, and anyone else who doesn’t do things their way, is going straight to Hell. And those are just three potential criticisms I can come up with off the top of my head. If, say, I converted back to Christianity after over a decade as a pagan, there would be people who A) thought I was “betraying” paganism, B) figured I wasn’t serious in the first place and was just a trendy fluffbunny, or C) chose the wrong denomination to convert back to.

Does this mean I should ignore everyone who criticizes me? Of course not. Part of the reason I have this blog open is so that I can get feedback from other people. I am a “career solitary”. While I like being a part of the pagan community-at-large on a social level, I have no real interest in participating in any existing group or forming one of my own. IF (and that’s a big IF) I someday end up taking on students in this path, then it’s going to be under very specific conditions, one of which will probably be that a large portion of the curriculum, particularly in the beginning, will be self-directed. However, as a solitary, I do understand the need to have “reality checks” with other practitioners. Fortunately for me a large portion of my friends and acquaintances have been pagans and occultists of some flavor or another, so I have had a wide variety of people to bounce ideas off of. This is particularly important since my path has increasingly UPG-based as I’ve developed my own methods of working with totems and other spirits. While they work for me, it’s also nice to see what other people think, and how my methods may compare with how other people do similar things.

And sometimes people I respect have brought up things that I need to pay attention to. (By “people I respect” I’m not talking about internet troll-dom; people I respect may or may not be people I know personally, but who have voiced perspectives that are balanced, intelligent, and otherwise worth listening to, whether I agree with them or not.) In those cases I chew on what they’ve said a while, see if I agree with it, go back for more details when necessary, and *gasp* sometimes even change my opinion on things. While I may be stubborn, I do reserve the right to change my mind at any point. Sometimes people have some really good perspectives that I may not have thought of.

However, there comes a time when I have to say “Okay, this is my decision, and I stand by it”. As I said, just on the issue of cultural appropriation I can think of three different legitimate reasons people can give (legitimate to them, anyway) that I’m doing it wrong. And these are things I’ve considered in the course of what I’m doing. Maybe I would be less offensive if I didn’t use the dreaded “s” word, or if I converted to a more socially acceptable religion. However, I also have to factor in my spiritual needs and wants as well, and what I have found to be true for me. Where would we all be if we all stopped what we were doing any time anyone complained?

This is the balance I have struck on the issue of cultural appropriation: with the nature of the path I am following, it is inevitable that I will be influenced by cultures other than mine, given that the modern non-Native United States lacks a shamanic role outside of neopaganism and New Agers. I am aware of the controversy, and I choose to minimize my impact by being honest about my sources and my personal and cultural context, as well as trying to stay within my own cultural context as much as possible. And while I do sometimes get pretty vehement in trying to get others to be aware of the issue of cultural appropriation, I do in the end realize that each person has to make hir own decision on where s/he stands on it. So I’ve made my decisions, and while I may disagree with the decisions of others, in the end the choices that are most important for me to mind are my own.

YMMV. (Maybe I should just stick that at the end of every post ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

A Question of Sheer Logistics

(As opposed to opaque logistics.)

I’m deeper into Eliade’s Shamanism, currently reading about some of the Siberian shamanic ceremonies, including the detailed description of the shaman’s experiences during a horse sacrifice. What has struck me with this is the elaborate structures of the ceremonies, and how they’re very much community-oriented events. Even a “simple” healing may involve the participation of at least the family of the patient, if not the community at large. The horse sacrifice and other journeying ceremonies may take days to prepare for, and last several days for the ritual itself. And this goes not just for Siberian tribes, but shamanic systems from around the world–while there are exceptions, in almost every culture there are at least some elaborate rituals for the more “important” shamanic activities. The “solitary shaman” seems to be a minority; while the shaman may not always be completely trusted in hir community, more often than not s/he is at least a part of it, at least in cultures where the people are in a cohesive unit rather than scattered all around.

I compare this to most of what I see in neoshamanism. Neoshamanism is, by the very nature of the cultures it’s prevalent in, more of a solitary practice. In America, at least, few people (comparatively speaking) need a shaman to shamanize for them. And among the subcultures where neoshamans are found, such as the neopagan and New Age community, there’s a definite lack of emphasis on the need for a clergy-type person to intercede with the gods and spirits. Why hire someone else to do it when you can learn to do it yourself? And people outside of these communities may see no real purpose for shamans that they assume are superstitious, crazy, or even evil.

One thing that I have noticed for myself (and this may vary from practitioner to practitioner) is that it’s a lot easier for me to hit a trance in a group setting. Some of it is energy; however, there’s also the atmosphere of sanctity, of celebration, and of mystery that helps to trigger an altered state of consciousness. The power of belief in one person can be strong, but multiply it by many–and that’s part of why group religions and spiritual practices are so popular. We feed on each other’s enthusiasm and belief.

Additionally, the more time that I take in setting up a ritual and making it just right, the more deeply I get into it. The act of preparing a place, going through specific ritualized preparations, and making it very clear to myself that I am about to step into a different headspace, all help with the transition of consciousness from one level to the next.

However, being one lonely person, there’s really only so much I can do. It’s kind of hard to set up a ritual psychodrama all by yourself, even without an audience. So part of what I’m going to have to ruminate on over the coming months is how to make up for the lack of group participation. Right now my rituals and journeys tend to be rather on the short side (a half an hour is average for a full ritual) and I will admit that I simply don’t usually get as much intensity as I have the few times I’ve done work in a group setting, though not necessarily as a part of a group. For example, wolf dancing is a lot more intense when I have my full pelt and I’m at a drum circle, than when I’m simply dancing to a drumming CD in the ritual room in our home.

Shamanism isn’t one of those things that really works effectively in a group where everyone’s a shaman, at least not unless A) you take turns shamanizing, or B) you stick to relatively mild things such as the guided meditation that lasts through twenty minutes of drumming. But I want to get into the more intense altered states of consciousness, and given how my mind works, I know that more elaborate ceremony is one of the keys of doing so.

There’s also the option of asking people to aid with drumming, ritual setup, etc. However, while I think I could justify that for something like my eventual initiation into shamanhood (whenever I and the spirits agree I’m ready) I can’t be calling up folks once a week or more and saying “Hey, I need you to come over all day Saturday and drum and play this part in my awesome ritual where I’m the center of attention, etc.”. My friends love me, but not quite that much.

I can certainly set up elaborate rituals myself. Granted, I’d have to work on my short attention span, but that’s part of the point of this whole formalization process. However, again, unless I perfect at least quad-location (that bilocation is for wimps!), I’ll be limited as to how much I can reasonably do before worrying about the details distracts me too much from actual shamanizing. This seems to be my most realistic option at this point.

I know for a fact that bells and whistles, so to speak, make rituals more effective for me (plus the totems and other spirits seem to like the effort). And I know from experience that the more time I put into a ritual, the better results I’m likely to get. I’m just going to have to work around the fact that I don’t have a bunch of helpers or apprentices, and that my neighbors are more likely to complain about the noise than come help me drum in my back yard.