I added Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism to the bibliography. That is all.
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 😉 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!
There’s a rather lively discussion on the comments for the Wild Hunt post (and no, I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray 😉 ). 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 😉 )
(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.
While my experiences with Chaos magic did a lot of good in that they really expanded my understanding of magic and how it works, one of the unfortunate side effects was that I absorbed the psychological model of magic a little too deeply. (If you’re unfamiliar with the models of magic, here’s their origin.) Essentially, much of the material I found on Chaos magic was slanted heavily towards a highly pragmatic, even solipsistic, psychological perspective of how magic worked. In this model, spirits, gods and other entities aren’t objective beings; rather, they are aspects of the psyche given form for our understanding.
It’s been about three years, maybe a bit more, since I hit the deepest point of immersion in the psychological model. I was still working with totems, but what I read rubbed off on me enough that I *talked* about them as if they were just internal. I don’t think I completely believed it; I’ve interacted with them for too long to ignore the signs that I interpret as proof of their objective existences. Still, this immersion in solipsism has clung to my personal cosmology since then, and it’s been damned hard to scrape off (kind of like hagfish slime). It primarily manifested as a doubt, “Am I really doing what I think I’m doing, or are the spirits I’m talking to all in my head? Are other people getting the real results, while I’m just talking to parts of myself?”
This has led to occasional issues with my magical and spiritual practices. Nothing kills the mood of a ritual quite like a nice big bag of doubt dumped into the middle of the room. However, I’ve been fortunate in that the spirits I’ve been working with have been good about tapping me on the shoulder and bringing my focus back to the ritual at hand. This has helped me to break the cycle of doubt-ritual fails-proof for doubt-etc.
It’s not even that I was ever 100% convinced by the psychological model. Rather, there was always a part of me that maintained, even at my most solipsistic point, that the spirits and gods are “real” in a literal, as well as mythological/metaphorical, sense. But that doubt would come in every so often and steal my confidence.
Some of my Air month work has served to finally kick that habit. I’ve been working on communication, which leads into being more open emotionally, energetically and spiritually. I have a tendency to be insular and introspective to the point where I sometimes get so wrapped up in my head and my concerns that I get a little too focused, and it’s not always easy for me to open up to others. Add in that I learned early on how mean people can be, and I’ve developed quite a defensive “shell”. But I’ve been making headway in the past couple of weeks in learning to open up more to people that I know I can trust–and also opening up to those who may not have physical bodies, but are no less present in my life. (And since they’re not limited by physics, they don’t have to wait for me to open the front door before visiting!)
I was talking to the Animal Father late last week on my commute home. We talked about my attitude towards spirits, and he pointed out that even sitting there talking to him I had that seed of doubt. He asked me if I was willing to open up that last little bit, to consciously choose the belief in spirits over the doubt in spirits. He emphasized that if I was going to journey into the spirit worlds more often, and if I was going to shamanize, that I was going to have to accept the cosmology I was creating entirely. This didn’t mean never questioning my perceptions, or being aware of potentially dangerous beliefs (such as, “God told me to shoot all the meter maids because God hates bureaucracy”). And it’s not even faith, per se, at least not in the stereotypical sense where you never question it, you just go with it.
But in order to do what I need to do in the future as I become more experienced and mature in my path, there comes a point where I have to unceremoniously toss the doubt out on its ear. It serves no purpose other than to trip me up, and any possible benefit it might have is covered, in a more healthy manner, by conscious appraisal of my progress, as well as trading notes with other magical practitioners to get some feedback on what I’m doing.
And so that’s what I’ve done. Belief is a choice. We may feel strongly obligated towards a particular beliefs, but in the end it’s still our decision as to whether we accept those beliefs in our lives or not (never mind the individual interpretation thereof). I choose to allow myself to believe that the Animal Father, the totems, the skin spirits, and all the rest, exist as objective beings, and the experiences I have are quite real. While there is a psychological level to my belief, and I can look at things from that perspective, I no longer feel that that is the only “true” level of spiritual reality. I’m still a big fan of the microcosm-macrocosm connection, but I’m much happier for having gotten rid of the doubt that has become more than useless.
…but the more I read about shamanism in general and the more I develop my own practices, the more I realize that I really don’t care for core shamanism.
There. I said it. Let the rotten-tomato-pelting commence!
Okay, in seriousness…first off, I don’t want to become one of those people. You know, the armchair scholars who are envious of the success of a particular author/academic/etc.’s successful theories, and who take any opportunity to tear them down. It’s one thing to disagree with someone; it’s another to discredit them altogether when you lack the sufficient background to do so. Now, I have a B.A. in English. Not particularly impressive. I love reading, and that includes academic texts; however, the context I’m coming from when it comes to academia is primarily a layperson’s at this point, especially when you get into psychology, anthropology, and the like. So if you were to put me head to head with, say, Michael Harner in an academic match of wits, I’d lose, trust me.
Also, I don’t discount core shamanism entirely. For some people, it’s the perfect thing. If you thought The Way of the Shaman was the best book ever written, more power to you. Therioshamanism, after all, is what I’m creating for myself. And Harner most obviously knows his stuff as both an academic and as a classically trained shaman. I may not always agree with the presentation of his material, but again–I don’t own anyone’s opinions but my own. (And you know what they say about opinions…)
But with that out of the way, let me elaborate a little more as to why I find core shamanism to be insufficient for my own needs.
One thing that particularly bothers me is the attempt in core shamanism (referred to as CS from here on) to remove all cultural context from shamanism. The exact definition taken from Shamanism.org is “Core Shamanism, the near universal methods of shamanism without a specific cultural perspective”. I understand what the point in CS is. CS admits that it is not traditional shamanism, and it tries to strip away the cultural trappings that such practices as sucking shamanism and the spirit canoe were originally derived from.
The problem I see with this is that shamanism, by its very nature, relies on culture for its cosmology. You can see certain practices and motifs that are common in many (though not all) shamanic systems. However, I’ve seen some CS practitioners who literally treat all shamanic systems as alike, except for names and a few other details. This bothers me. If you compare, say, Evenk shamans with Korean shamans, even though they’re on the same continent, you get a wide variety of practices. While Evenk shamans are the classic “soul flight” practitioners (and are largely male), Korean shamans are generally mediumistic in practice (and are overwhelmingly female). Of course, some purists would question whether the latter are shamans at all; however, you could say that for anyone who isn’t Evenk, the culture that the term “shaman” came from.
My point, though, is that while you can find some similarities, I think it’s a bad idea to ignore the differences among various shamanic systems. I’m in the process of reading Mircea Eliade’s classic Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, and between that and other anthropological works it’s apparent that “shamanism” covers a wide range of ideas, practices, observations and beliefs.
In studying the shamanisms of multiple cultures, I have come to believe that culture-specific material, rather than being unimportant enough to simply be brushed to the side, is actually crucial to the practice of shamanism. As I mentioned, culture provides the cosmology that shamanism is practiced within. Cosmology is the study of the Universe, and the understanding of how the Universe is set up and operates. CS basically takes a certain motif found in some, not all, shamanic systems, such as that of the upper world and the lower world (as something other than Heaven and Hell in the Christian paradigm), and tries to plug these ideas into modern post-industrial cultural contexts. It also raises the power animal to superior status among spirit helpers and all but ignores ancestral spirits, as well as spirits of dead shamans, both of whom may be exceptionally important in some shamanic systems.
I’m not saying that you absolutely must work with ancestors and dead shamans as well as power animals to be “correct”. However, this demonstrates the seemingly arbitrary selection of practices integrated into CS. One of my complaints about The Way of the Shaman (you can see my full review here) was that it seemed to present what Harner thought “Westerners” want as far as shamanism goes. Granted, as has been pointed out to me, Harner was writing this at a time when shamans were still considered to be crazy, and shamanism wasn’t a respectable practice for non-Native Americans–and it was the first book of its kind. Still, the motifs that he presented are still central to CS a few decades later. It presents a rather limited view of what shamanism is, or can be.
For example, healing is a big part of CS. Extraction of illnesses and soul retrieval are particularly popular. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; I believe that the spiritual level of our health is sorely neglected in modern medicine, though the interconnection among multiple levels of being are becoming more recognized in Western medicine. However, healing is just one function of shamans, and given that Western medicine can be useful (particularly preventative medicine as opposed to “Let’s throw a pill at it!”) in my opinion it behooves the modern shaman to branch out somewhat.
Most people don’t hunt for their food. So the need to find game, to appease a certain deity or spirit enough to receive game the entity guards, is mostly obsolete. However, those deities and spirits still exist. My work with the food totems is an example of that. There are still spirits who are angry about the treatment of food animals, whether domestic or wild. I seek their aid in improving the situation, as well as attempting to placate them so they’ll hopefully be more willing to give me that aid.
Additionally, most people today would be appalled at the idea of using shamanism to harm others. Yet that’s exactly what happened/happens in indigenous shamanisms worldwide. Rival shamans would attack both each other and their rivals’ communities; magical warfare was/is an everyday occurrence in many of these cultures. While some may attempt to explain away the phenomenon in lieu of nicer, prettier practices, the fact remains that not every culture has the same morals as modern America and other postindustrial cultures where CS is most common.
And this brings me back to the concept of culture. CS is not devoid of culture. Rather, it is primarily mainstream American, with subcultural influences from the New Age community, and the neopagan community to a somewhat smaller extent. While CS acknowledges the existence of cultural appropriation, by implying that indigenous peoples have “culture” while modern Americans do not, not only does it degrade the inherent and vibrant spirituality that can be found in modern America and other postindustrial societies, but it also, very subtly, attaches the “exotic” label to indigenous cultures. It characterizes non-Americans as the “Other”, by implying that they have a certain quality that Americans do not. By denying that Americans have culture, “culture” becomes an exotic trait, something that disillusioned Americans (and others) may try to seek–and have sought, by stereotyping indigenous cultures as being more “spiritual”, closer to the Earth, etc. CS practitioners who separate themselves from American culture still ally themselves with the “Other”, even if they claim they aren’t appropriating any culture-specific trapping. Many people who are attracted to CS probably aren’t attracted to it because it came out of the head of a white guy with a doctorate. They’re more likely going after it because they seek something Other, something exotic, but without the guilt of blatant cultural appropriation. They may not necessarily be taking obvious pieces of cultures other than their own, but they’re still engaged in a form of appropriation by seeking the “wisdom” of other cultures while denying their own. This does, despite the claims of many, result in a lot of cultural appropriation among modern CS practitioners and those influenced by them–not all, of course, but enough to make CS disliked among many traditional cultures who classify it as “plastic shamanism”.
The idea that shamanism can have all cultural trappings erased is a lie. Cosmology is central to shamanism, and it is culture-specific. Without cosmology, the shaman doesn’t have any context for hir experiences or practices. In reading about motifs such as the Upper World/Lower World dichotomy, power animals, and other common things that are treated as “near-universal” by CS, I find it increasingly apparent that in order to truly understand the function and the importance of these motifs, one must be aware of the cultural contexts that birthed them, and why they are important to those peoples. CS, if left to its own devices, offers none of this context. On its own, it is insufficient to give proper context to the practices it has drawn from cultures other than the one that birthed it. In order to make up for this deficiency, CS must be coupled with study of indigenous forms of shamanism–and I don’t just mean the likes of Carlos Castaneda. Otherwise it’s like messing around with Gematria without having any understanding of the context (from several cultures) that Qabalah was developed within. It’s not enough to know that something is important; one must know why it is important and what makes it so.
Additionally, CS practitioners should, in my opinion, have a thorough understanding of the influences that their culture has on their shamanic practices. CS is not in a bubble. You don’t just step out of the everyday world and into a completely autonomous reality. Otherwise, everyone’s reports of the Otherworld would be the same. As my husband, Taylor, pointed out to me, the astral realms are envisioned as being seven-layered because people expect them to be. Yet this is something that is specific to Western spiritism and the systems it has influenced; it is not in any way universal. This goes for the attitudes CS has towards certain traditional shamanic practices, such as attacking rival shamans. CS often has a white-light approach, whereas in some cultures even your own residents shaman may be someone to be wary of.
To conclude, I don’t want this to be taken as an all-out attack on CS. I think it can be highly effective in its practices, and I know that it’s very fulfilling for a number of people. For myself, though, I find it to be deficient, partly because of its cultural assumptions. This is a big reason why I’m creating therioshamanism from scratch rather than building on core shamanism. Not only do I dislike the claims of cultural neutrality, but I think that if I am to have any real effect on modern mainstream America, particularly in the areas of environmental awareness and awareness of interconnection, I have to embrace that culture rather than pushing it away. I can’t truly engage it if I’m constantly rejecting it and distancing myself from it. When I look at the culture I’m in, I don’t just see the strip malls and the crazy politicians and the pollution; I also see a diversity of people, many of whom are seeking the same sorts of goals that I am, and who may benefit from what I bring back from the spirit world. If I am to make a difference in this culture, I can’t detach myself from it. And, as far as I’m concerned, if any culture could use a few (more) good shamans, it’s this one.
Finally, this is my opinion, formed of thoughts that I’ve only now really found the words to convey, form the perspective of someone who is not traditionally trained, or CS-trained for that matter. It may actually end up being the rough draft for my essay for Talking About the Elephant, so commentary either way is appreciated.
I had intended to head out to Forest Park here in Portland this past weekend to connect with the Animal Father. Unfortunately, as those of you in the Pacific Northwest know, the weather was cold, wet, and windy–not a good combination for getting me out of the house. Still, I wanted to be able to spend some time with the god. Given that he’s not fond of visiting me at home in the middle of a city, I decided I’d go to him.
I decided to drum, since I need more practice with it. Per usual, I lost track of time, though this was longer than previous journeys. I allowed myself to relax into the trance. I found myself in a forest, somewhat like one I grew up near; however, as I walked down the path, I found myself going into a deeper, more primordial forest. I also noticed that I had taken the form of a red stag, the sacred animal of the Animal Father that represents the Autumn. Apparently, when in his domain, I take the form of whatever animal is strongest at that time of the year, or so I understood the explanation.
I came out of the woods onto a wide, open rolling plain. The grass was dry, as would be normal this time of year, and the sky was overcast. I wandered across the plain seeking the Animal Father. Suddenly, from behind me came a cave lion (the Summer aspect of the god); he acted as though he was going to attack me, so I lowered my antlers at him in a threat. Finally, he charged me and I kicked him, then I flew away in two enormous bounds that took me a mile away from him in seconds.
I ended up in a gully, and then looked up and saw Dire Wolf and Cave Bear peering over the edge at me, with no threat. Then they ran off, and I followed them. (I still haven’t figured out why Lion was chasing me.) When I made it to the top, I saw the Animal Father, and went up to him. He was enormous, filling the sky, but he made himself small so he could talk to me.
Some of what we talked about was private. However, he did ask me to start praying at both morning and bedtime (I’d just been doing bedtime) and to meditate once a day to touch base with the spirits. Then he sent me back home, the drumming gently easing me back, slowing down as I awoke. So far I’ve managed the prayers, though I got a little too busy for the meditation yesterday. I’m going to shoot for lunch hour as a good time to take a break.
I knew this request would come at some point, though it’s earlier than I expected. Still, I’m willing to work on it. I need more discipline, and this is a good start. The Air month has taught me some tough lessons already, and doing a daily practice will be quite a challenge for this spontaneous person! But for once I actually feel like I can do it. This whole therioshamanism thing has brought out an unprecedented level of commitment in me. Granted, there are things I’ve done longer, but not this intensely. I am feeling more confident in myself for this, and I’m really pleased with how my six months have been proceeding thus far. I feel like I’m gaining an even better understanding of what it is I’ve been working with over the past decade and change. Which just goes to show that even though you’ve done some more advanced magical/spiritual work, you can still benefit from the basics!
If I am going to end up teaching this to others down the line, though, it’s a really good thing I’m going through it myself. While the curriculum shouldn’t be cookie-cutter, it’s a good idea to teach things you have experienced yourself. While I haven’t run into any major snags so far, I have been through some difficult personal lessons as the spirits have helped me to become a better vessel for the tasks ahead. Better this way, than to expect that everyone will learn the material in the exact same way!
As for the month by month structure, I’m finding that the lessons from Earth are still reverberating through my life. This isn’t surprising; it’s not as though the spirits said “Oops, it’s the full moon, no more Earth for you!” The Earth lessons dovetail right into the Air lessons, and by the time I’m done I should have a really good basis to work from as I progress beyond the six months.
First off, I would like to thank all of you who have made constructive comments on this blog. It helps to get feedback, and some of the comments have given me some excellent alternate perspectives. Even those that give a bit of moral support or “Yeah, I’ve been there” are appreciated. So just wanted to say thank you 🙂
As for the potpourri, I’ve had a lot of random thoughts since my last post. Rather than bombarding you with a bunch of single paragraphs, I’ll condense and conserve.
I was thinking more about my earlier observation that healing has never been one of my fortes as far as magic goes. And I realized that maybe it doesn’t have to be. It’s not unprecedented for a shaman to be a specialist. While a lot of the traditional roles of shamans have been taken over by specialists in this culture–doctors, priests, psychologists, and grocers (the latter of which are involved in finding food)–that doesn’t mean that all shamans must be generalists. While I see healing as part of the “general curriculum” of shamans, this doesn’t mean that my primary focus has to be on healing arts. If I were to shove myself into a role, I’d say that what it seems like I’m getting nudged towards is a modern approximation of the hunting shaman–the one who contacts the Animal Master/totems/etc. about releasing a few animals for the tribe to eat. Now, granted, there are still people in the U.S. who hunt for food. However, I’m an urban kinda person at this point, so I deal more with grocery stores and farmer’s markets (stalking the wily Cherry Garcia!). So I see that role manifested as a person who deals with the “food totems” and asks them how I may help heal the damage done to them through abuse of their physical children. I also extend it to other species, wildlife that are extremely endangered, to see what I can do to help them. I may not be combing the wounded sea-goddess’ hair in the Arctic, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a task or three for me to do.
I’ve been exploring the physical air some, observing its qualities. Now I realize even more why the element of Air is so associated with communication. It’s not just breath that counts, or wind–air is integral to our perception of light. While light can certainly pass through empty space with no problem, air often affects how we perceive it, whether through particles in the air, or air moving or otherwise affecting the objects that light bounces off of/illuminates to create our perception of colors. To give a negative view of this, it’s not just light pollution that makes it tougher to see the stars at night, but also air pollution.
Sound is also connected to Air. It travels upon the air, and once again the quality and temperature of that air can affect how we perceive it. The breath, of course, is the most easily observed example. However, humidity, temperature and speed of air can affect how quickly sound travels through it.
We swim through an ocean of air (I think Starhawk actually put it that way in The Earth Path). It is the medium, the matrix, through which we move. Maybe we can’t float (without help, anyway) but it carries so much to us. If I were to characterize just one of the elements as connecting us all, it would be air. The air I breathe as I write this has traveled through the lungs (or stomata, in the case of plants) of my ancestors and neighbors. It has traveled through numerous bodies, and will continue to do so (assuming, of course, that we don’t go and wipe out life on this planet thanks to our environmentally destructive foibles). Air truly is the element of communication for me, though I’d imagine if I were a fish, Water might be more important in that regard.
One of the issues with being a self-taught neoshaman, as opposed to a traditionally trained shaman, is that there isn’t a previously crafted cosmology presented to me by someone else. This means that it’s up to me to figure all that out, which involves essentially learning both from my experiences and observations, and what the spirits tell me. In one way it’s good because it offers me a lot more flexibility. Part of the reason I’ve never been big on learning under someone else is that I’d have to take on their cosmology to some extent. While I respect that people have different understandings of The Way Things Work, I want to work within my own understanding thereof. However, this also means that along with learning shamanizing, I’m also building a cosomology from scratch, albeit scratch that I’ve collected for over a decade.
One element of my cosmology that’s recently fallen into place involves the Animal Father. He’s been rather quiet lately; he even sent Stag as his representative for my Autumn Equinox ritual. The only time I spend any significant time with him is when I’m hiking. I finally figured out that he simply does not like “civilized” areas. He stems (if my UPG is accurate) from a time when humans were ensconced in Nature, and his occasional forays into more paved-over areas have not been good. So he prefers to meet with me when I hike, though a park is acceptable if there are no other alternatives. This would explain why I was told to try to get out to hike at least once a month, and why he was quiet for the five weeks when I didn’t go hiking in October and November.
Right now it’s too late in the year to go out to the mountains; the trails were already icy last weekend. But there’s a large park on the west side of Portland that may work well for my purposes until the weather improves again. I just can’t get him to show up for more than a brief moment, even in my ritual room. Therefore, he sends emissaries in the forms of certain totems that are his own; particularly those I celebrate at the solstices and equinoxes–Red Stag, Dire Wolf, Cave Bear, and European Lion.
I may see about seeking out that park this weekend, if the weather doesn’t get too bad. If I can take public transit out there, so much the better.