Ravenari made an excellent comment to my bunny hop post from the other day. This part in particular got me thinking:
I wonder as well, if that sort of familiarisation with each animal spirit (even onces you’ve danced with before) is also a method to broaden your base of animal helpers. Because I feel that as you become more familiar with the energies as you skin dance, more will come through as clear helpers.
It’s one of those moments where I smack my forehead and say “Geez, why the hell didn’t I see that before?” This is sort of a continuation of our conversation a couple of weeks back about spirit helpers in general–and how it’s not a great idea to go journeying with just a power animal. I’ve been more aware since then of how the various spirits in my life interact with me, particularly as I walk along this particular path. I’ve been particularly focused on the totems, since they’re at the center of a lot of my elemental work in my six months. But I haven’t been too sure as to what would happen after March when the six months were up.
The Animal Father telling me he wanted me to work with the skin spirits on a daily basis after my six months was my first indication, along with him making it clear that part of the transition from the six months to the next stage of my training would involve dedicating myself to him. However, Ravenari’s comment above made it hit home to me that I’ll probably spend the second six months (at least) just working on strengthening my relationships with the spirits and determining who’s willing to help me and how. These first six months have been a process of cosmology building, creating the setting for the work to happen in, and next I’ll be figuring out who’ll be walking the path with me the most, at least to some extent–spirits may come and go as they please, as the relationships change, etc.
So this helps me make some sense of what’s going on. This is why I believe it’s crucial for those of us who work on a solitary basis to talk shop with others regularly. Other people can have perspectives on things that we may have totally missed. Ravenari is a practitioner of a traditional Russian form of animism/shamanism, and her viewpoint gives me something besides the neoshamanic/core shamanic/etc. material that’s a lot more common in neopaganism. It’s not so much that I think I should be a practitioner of Vilturj, mind you–it’s that what she says makes sense to me in a way that core shamanism and its derivatives haven’t, at least not on the subject of spirits. Most of the neoshamanic material deals a lot with the shaman doing most of the work, with little “interference” from the spirits. And, as she noted in her original post on the topic, it’s not a great idea to go journeying with only a power animal, because a power animal only has so much influence in certain places. (Granted, it’s dangerous to go alone, too.)
My point is that while I may not personally draw on every single thing Ravenari has in her practice, in both her original post, and her comment to my post about her post, she was able to offer me a unique perspective based on her experience. It may have gone against conventional neoshamanic wisdom in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean it can’t ring true to me, a neoshamanic practitioner. We don’t always have to toe the party line, and when something works with what I have, I’m going to run with it. And it does make a lot of sense that the various spiritual relationships I’ve been cultivating over the years–not just the skin spirits, but many others–would come into play as I started on my shamanic path. I think there was part of me that was expecting to have to find a whole new “set” of spirits for this work, and perhaps I will meet some new faces along the way, but it is quite comforting to realize that some of my best allies have been around all along.
All this does make me feel better overall about what I’m doing. I think there’s a certain amount of uncertainty that comes from “creating” your path rather than working with one you’ve been raised with. It’s so easy to be led astray by one’s own UPG; I’ve been exceptionally cautious about my discoveries. There are things that I’ve discovered but haven’t yet talked about or accepted because I’m still waiting to see if they pan out into something more substantial or not. But while I don’t expect to have everything I do verified by someone else before I accept it, the external validation I got in this case was a nice treat. Obviously, if the second six months end up being entirely different, then I’ll of course change my views. But the idea that cosmology comes first, then comes learning how to work with the spirits more effectively, makes perfect sense with what I’m doing.
One final thing I do want to make clear, on a bit of a tangent. I am not yet a practicing shaman, though I may refer to myself as a therioshaman for short. Therioshaman-in-training is a better term (but it’s a mouthful!). While I’ve made a few practice runs journeying with the drum, and done years of trance-dancing and shapeshifting, I won’t start with the actual shamanizing for a while yet. It looks as though the spirits want me to have at least a solid year of training in the basics–cosmology and working with spirit helpers–before I even get the bike with training wheels, never mind taking the training wheels off! Occasionally it’s frustrating, because I realize how much work there is to do once I am practicing. However, mostly it’s a relief, because I know I’m not going to get sent off unprepared. I know that shamanizing isn’t safe, that not all spirits are friendly, and not every journey will be successful. But I do feel that I am being directed through effective training, and it’s things like the experiences above, as well as the fact that both I and the spirits have been seeing a lot of very concrete progress come out of the past few months, that show me that I’m on the right track.