Asking Questions is Serious Business!

Alright, I’m going to be asking for audience participation on this one. I’ve got a few questions about shamanism and the actual day to day effects thereof that I’d like some clarification on, if folks are willing to answer.

First off, I want to make it very clear that I’m not intending disrespect with any of these. There are some things that I’ve heard from people who have practiced shamanism that, quite frankly, I question. And although spirit work isn’t exactly the same, I hear similar things from spirit workers about the effects of their own relationships to the gods and spirits. Over the past half year or so–pretty much since I started heeding the pushing and shoving towards shamanism–I’ve run into more modern shamans and spirit workers who have the attitudes I’m going to discuss, and in the interest of trying to figure out what to expect, I’m asking for clarification on the whys of these perspectives. Additionally, it’s better than sitting here and making assumptions about thigs I haven’t yet experienced.

–Being a shaman will ruin your life.

I know some of this stems from the shaman sickness, the illness that comes of ignoring the call to be a shaman. I can’t say I’ve ever been deathly ill. I occasionally get asthma from acid reflux, but I do that entirely to myself through stress. The most impressive surgery I ever had was having a benign tumor removed from my hip when I was seventeen (it took all of ten minutes, or so I was told). I don’t have any immune disorders, and I outgrew my allergies once I became an adult (and even at their worst they just gave me sinus infections a couple times a year). Mentally, the most I deal with is depression from time to time, and nothing severe enough to warrant drugging myself.

As far as my personal life, it’s pretty good. I’m happily married; we’ve had our differences, to be sure, and there were times we really wondered what the hell we were doing, but we got through every situation and came out the better for it both as individuals and as a couple. I won’t say I’m the absolute bestest friend you’ll ever have in the whole wide world, but I do have a decent social life. I have a good job (though the schedule sucks right now) and I don’t have much trouble finding new contracts. Plus I have a good side career as a small-press author and editor, as well as artist.

So should I expect to lose all of that once I get into the meat of shamanism? Should I count on getting divorced, losing my job, going into debt, and having my health fall to pieces? Or do the trials I’ve been through count towards my total amount of suffering (like the eight month period in 2004 where I got dumped twice, moved three times, totalled my car, went into one of my worse cases of depression, and otherwise had my life explode?) Is it possible to be a shaman and still have a healthy mundane life? Or should I just give up on trying?

–The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.

I see this a lot in classic mythology–the gods can be real bastards. However, this view of the Divine tends to be a minority in modern paganism. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but if the deities are living beings who are aware of the changes in the world, at least to the point that they understand that 21st Century United States culture is not the same as ancient Greece or paleolithic France, would they not also understand that how humans approach deities has changed as well?

My perspective on the Divine is very similar to this, written up by my husband. It’s a more egalitarian perspective, and it more accurately reflects the relationships I’ve had with both deities and spirits/totems over the years. Granted, I also haven’t been a practicing shaman over that time, so that probably affects my perspective.

Now, being involved in BDSM, I’m well aware that, for example, a Master/slave situation is more intense than a scene in a bedroom. However, both/all parties also consent to and want to be in that situation. So it would make sense to get into a similar role of sacrifice and devotion and giving up of free will to a deity–with one’s consent. However, I have to honestly ask, what happens when the deity-devotee relationship becomes abusive? Do we allow gods to do things to us that we would never allow another human being to do, just because they’re bigger? If a person is in a relationship with another person that makes hir miserable, hir friends tell hir to get the hell out. But do we do the same with deities or spirits?

And that leads me to my next topic:

–There’s no way out.

Shamanism has been described as something one MUST do, and if you refuse, the spirits make you sick. This isn’t just in modern shamanism, either, but in traditional shamanic societies worldwide. What if shamanism ruins your life? What if it makes you miserable? What if the deities and spirits leave you destitute in a hole somewhere, cursing the day they ever called you? Are you stuck? Or do we have room to negotiate? Again, in my experience, I’ve always had room to negotiate; however, again, I haven’t been a practicing shaman in that time.

–If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.

Just like it says. How can something that a person complains about on a regular basis be worth it? If you aren’t complaining regularly, does it mean that you aren’t listening, or you aren’t really doing true shamanism? Should I look forward to being Our Lady of Intense Suffering?

Again, I’m not trying to be disrespectful; I’m exaggerating a bit, but I do want to know why these beliefs are in place. I won’t lie and say I don’t sometimes suspect dogma, but on the other hand the people I’ve met don’t strike me as blind fanatics, either, so I figure there are good reasons for these things. So I’m asking folks, if you will, to kindly fill me in however much you wish, so I have an idea A) of how accurate my perceptions above are, and B) what, realistically, I may or may not want to prepare for.

The thing is, I’ve got two months until I decide whether to continue to pursue this path or not, and whether I want to dedicate myself more fully to the Animal Father. The totems will stay regardless, but the relationship to this particular deity and this path is what’s at stake here.

One of my biggest rules in magic/spirituality/woo/etc. is that it’s all well and good until it starts negatively affecting one’s mundane life–at that point, it’s time to take a step back and look at the situation with a detached eye, especially if it’s negatively affecting someone else. Now I know there are numerous self-professed shamans who have never had a problem, who seem to bask in Universal Love and Light, and while they may face dangers when journeying, their lives are otherwise healthy. Are they less shamanic than those whose lives have gone all to pieces?

What the heck am I getting myself into?

(Thanks in advance for perspectives, even if they end up not being easy to hear.)

21 thoughts on “Asking Questions is Serious Business!

  1. I’ve heard people who say that if one practices shamanism, one becomes a shaman. Personally my opinion is that one can say that one practices shamanism, but only other people can give you the name of “shaman”. The book “Bushman Shaman” speaks at length about this, by the way.

    I’ve been practicing shamanism for a while, and my viewpoints probably differ drastically from most anyone else on this, just like my views on other things. But I can offer my opinions on the above for you to take, leave or consider as you wish.

    -Being a shaman will ruin your life

    On the shamanic illness, I got it when I was about 13, on top of beginning my vampiric awakening and puberty. It was an illness like mononucleosis but without any of the actual illness being present in my blood. I also had very high fevers on and off and fell way behind in my schoolwork due to not being able to attend school for three months. Then it just got better overnight. My doctor was tearing his hair out over it, and the whole medical center was mystified.
    Again, this may be unorthodox, but I count my vampirism as the permanent physical change resulting partially from this. Perhaps Therianism is your change, and your difficult times with it as spoken of in “Fang, Fur, Blood and Bone” were part of your shamanic illness.
    As to shamanism making it impossible to have a life outside of it, I don’t think so. Spirits and deities in my experience are well aware of how life has changed, and most I have dealt with are understanding. However, they will make your life miserable if you dedicate yourself to this path and then ignore your duties on it for any length of time until you get back on track.

    –The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.

    Bullshit. Well, okay, in my opinion, bullshit. I tend to see gods and spirits as perhaps a couple steps up the evolutionary ladder, and therefore still sympathetic to us, as they remember what our stage of evolution was like. However, to paraphrase Frank Fools Crow, “Dead don’t necessarily mean smarter”. I’ve had some of my guiding spirits get exasperated with me for having a job that prevented me from going places and doing things for them, and I’ve gotten exasperated and smarted off at them, or told them that if they want me to do something, they better find a way from their end to make it possible and still make me able to hold up a life. Usually, they promptly do so, sometimes using extremely elaborate and improbable coincidences. I also have no problem bargaining with spirits, agreeing to do favors, but asking something in return. I try to keep that for special occasions, and just do stuff for free whenever possible though. But if a spirit expects me to follow it’s every whim, I’m going to tell it off and ignore it.

    -There’s no way out.

    Okay, this is pretty much true. Once you take up the Path, in my experience, you are stuck there. However, sometimes the Path changes along the way as you change. If you are genuinely unhappy with the way your shamanism is going, tell the spirits and ask to work with them, or for them to back off for a while as you need to get your head straight.
    Never just neglect them though, as they WILL bring your attention back to them forcefully and unpleasantly. I’ve written about a couple experiences in this area in my LJ. Also expect them to have a sense of humor at your expense at times, and just laugh and go along with it as a lesson in humility. It seems to always lead to a big and important lesson of some kind.

    –If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.

    Yes and no. On one hand, any magical or spiritual path should bring you some enjoyment and fulfillment, otherwise what’s the point? However, on the other hand, it should also make you learn and grow, and that can be unpleasant. I agree with (of all people) Stephen King in his book “Desperation” when he says that the difference between the cruelty of chance and the occasional cruelty of the Divine (I insert spirits, guides, angels, deities, whatever else here) is that the cruelty of the Divine is refining and serves the purpose of making you stronger. So in that view, if you don’t at least have to face your demons and flaws, which can be humiliating and painful, then perhaps you are NOT doing it right. Shamanism in my experience forces you to face your flaws, hypocricies and demons over and over and over until you learn from or overcome them. Then you find new ones to learn from and overcome. It’s a lifelong path and I think that’s the point.

    Hope this helps a little bit. Again, this is only my perspective, and I can hardly be considered typical in my practices.

  2. Preface to my comment:
    I feel like what a I wrote may come off as a criticism, or that you will feel defensive. Please do not take it this way. I am only responding based on my definition of shamanism. Yours is clearly different, and that is valid, but the worries you have come from “my” and many others classic definition of shamanism. Bringing those worries into conflict with your very different definition of shamanism is what is likely causing this disjointedness.

    Take some time to redefine what shamanism means to you, and you will see these concerns do not apply to what you think it means to be shaman. I have no doubt the spirits you are working with on this agree with your definition of shaman or they would have given you a clue by four by now 😉


    What you have relayed here is true in the anthropology I have read.

    Proposed reasons:

    Experiencing the illness and suffering on such a great level (shaman illness) is not only because of resisting the path, but so that you can fully understand and relate to the suffering of your community. The ills you will be working to heal. For example, when my friends and I go to doctors for our re-occuring movement disorders, often we get poor treatment from the doctors, they don’t understand what we are going through. They want to give it a pill and make us go away and stop reminding them of suffering. A shaman who has felt suffering, who continues to feel it and survive it, can serve a suffering person and community with full compassion, and furthermore the “patient” can trust the shaman because they have been there.

    Service to the gods is a calling, you have been asked to serve for your community, not to get things like lessons, understandings and healing for yourself. This service and calling is to serve others at the expense of yourself and you do it for your community. Not something everyone wants to do, but you can see how turning away from this duty could screw someone too. Choosing to turn away from one’s calling to serve your community could make one feel bad and useless and like they missed their meaning in life.

    Perhaps, Shamans will say that if you are not suffering you are not doing it right, because if you are not suffering, you are not doing shamanism as they know it from the history and anthropology books and from their own lives, you are doing something else. Something that aids and improves your life. Not something that dedicates every moment of it to your community. There is a saying I have read in these accounts, “a shaman can’t heal one self.”

    I don’t think that anyone would say shamans are better than anyone else for taking this path, or that the people that serve them are in unending debt to them. A shaman should be supported by its community for what it does, kept feed, roofed, and clothed, however, they don’t gain wealth or happiness from this path and it is often a thankless life.

    Why then, would anyone do it? Why do soldiers go to war to die in ditches? Why do some nurses go into sick houses just to die of the same disease as those they are attending? I am sure there are many reasons, but one might be that they can’t live on knowing they chose not to. They were called, could make a difference. Perhaps they felt living on happy at home they would always wonder if they could have done more.

    Not everyone is called as such. I felt called once, I was bedridden and sick with a serious movement disorder and I learned about Shamanism, I thought maybe I was called. But I realized there was no community for me to serve, no one who called to me. The idea of the magic and journeying of shamanism interested me, and I eventually looked into similar but different things, druidry, witchcraft, ceremonial magic for example.

    I don’t know if what I write here applies to your situation at all. A lot of shamans don’t serve a community. Having a human community at least means to get calls on the phone crying because their baby is sick while you are busy at work. You don’t stay up sleepless nights next to the sickbed of someone, or mediating between a divorcing couple.

    You serve a different community, you serve a group of spirit animals. What would shamanic service to animals look like? Would you stop to care for sick/wounded/dying animals on the side of the road, even if it would make you late to work? What if you saw an animal dying in someones back yard?

    “One of my biggest rules in magic/spirituality/woo/etc. is that it’s all well and good until it starts negatively affecting one’s mundane life–at that point, it’s time to take a step back and look at the situation with a detached eye, especially if it’s negatively affecting someone else.” This statement makes sense, in a magic to improve your own life sense, in a religion sense. But in a lifestyle work sense it doesn’t. If being a shaman is your mundane life, then how can it not interfere? If what you are, what you do, everything about you is shamanism, then how can you step back and take a detached look?

  3. A lot of that sounds like a very abusive relationship. I’m not inclined to put up with that from patron deities any more than I would from a live person. I don’t argue with the gods unless I *need* to — but when I need to, I won’t hesitate to say, “Hey! You want this job done, this is what I need to do it with,” and state my terms. It’s just like dealing with any other insanely powerful entity: they can fuck me over or kill me, but that won’t get them what they want.

    For the most part, though, I have a pretty positive relationship with the gods.

  4. Answered from personal experience, here.

    –Being a shaman will ruin your life.

    “Ruin” is a strong word. But “chang immensely” would certainly be true, and while I would argue that most of the changes end up being for the better, it’s a damned intense experience. And some of what ended up being my “Job” is, in fact, rather unpleasant and always will be. Now, that didn’t ruin my marriage, or my ability to interact with the mundane world. But there are ways in which I can’t show as much of my real face to the mundane world as I once could, ways in which my interaction with it is that of a foreigner rather than a native.

    –The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.

    Oh, no, you don’t have to lie down and take it. It’s just that it won’t make much difference in the final balance that you did. 😛 Still, I’m not of the “lie back and think of England” school of shamanism: if I don’t like what I’m being called upon to do or accept done to me, I complain mightily. I think it’s part of a full and loving relationship that it is safe for us to register our disagreements. But they *are* bigger, and odds are they *are* going to get their way if that’s really the relationship you have…and odds are, when you look back, you’ll find that they knew better than you did. If not, you’re working for the wrong gods.

    –If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.

    *shrugs* Life is suffering. Ask Buddha. 😛 It shouldn’t be *just* suffering, and there’s no need to wallow in it, normally.

  5. Thank you for this post! I have wondered about these many times before. (I actually think collecting answers from a group of people would make an excellent book!)

    Some of your thoughts, and other’s comments, are very timely for me. Thank you, thank you.

  6. 1. I’ve had the most trouble with the spirits when they’ve been trying to get my attention. They are often willing to escalate until it happens. I have, however, been able to work out boundaries with them that they respect, again, except for attention-getting. “Clue-bat didn’t work? How about a clue-by-four?…”

    2. Nope. I have worked out relationships with the entities I work with. I have declined alliances that wanted more of a superior/inferior dynamic (with the support of the entities with whom I am allied). I will not be bullied, basically, and do not accept that it’s necessary; one can make that sort of entity back off, even if it’s somewhat malevolently inclined (which is worthy of a tome), or just seeking worship (which I don’t do).

    3. I’m not doing much specifically shamanistic these days, and that seems to be OK with my allies. They do poke me occasionally, and I do honor them… but I don’t do much hard-core “work.” So, for me, there’s a way out. **IF** I am not ignoring something I need to deal with… because they WILL escalate then. OK, fair enough.

    4. I think if you’re suffering, you’re doing it wrong. Whatever “it” may be! I do not subscribe to the “vale of tears” theory of life, and think it ought to be as pleasant and smooth as possible. I mean, why not? It’s not like my misery feeds a starving kid or anything! And when I’m miserable, I’m a hell of a lot more solipsistic than I am when I’m content or even happy. I think adding to the basic contentment/happiness/joy of the world is a fine and valid and admirable path- and I can do it much more when I’m not suffering than when I am.

    In short- I negotiate, and have not had any serious problems as a result of this. I insist on respect from my allies, too- I see them more as “mentors” than lords. My allies don’t mind (though they do laugh at me at times). Other entities might, in which case I won’t agree to work with them. It’s like friendship or love- the offer can be one-sided, but for the relationship to happen both must agree.

    I’ll put the intensity of my relationships up against any master/slave-like one around, too. 🙂

  7. This is Solo, hijacking Tenshi’s account:
    Fuck you for giving me more fuel for thought tonight. Haha. I will respond to this more in detail later, but needless to say I’m leaning more towards Raven’s responses insofar as this topic, and my own personal experiences.

  8. Ok. First, you need to figure out what you believe your Duty to the Spirits” will entail. Just as one can learn martial arts and not be a martial artist, one can learn and utailize shamanistic tequniques and not be a shaman.

    Second, to me a Shaman is a *form* of spirit worker. Just like not all humans are identical, not all spirits are identical. Just because they tell you do do things, doesn’t nescassarily mean you have to do what each and every one of them wants you to do. As someone else noted, the dead are jusst that, the dead- not nescessarily smarter, wiser, or anything else.

    However, there *are* those Beings that are not our playthings. We have to be careful- their world is not ours. If you promise them things or eat their food, or take their favors, it is not always up to you to descide what comes of it.

    Can being a Shaman “ruin your life?” Well, it depends on what you mean by ruin. If one said “limit ones options” I would say “oh yes, definitely”.

    I would say count your comittments. Understand what you owe. If you do not understand your spirit debts, it is high time for you to get a bead on it.

    If one agrees to put the Work first, and They accept, don’t act all surprised when the waiting room outside your door crowds up. If you just want to use shamanic techniques as a tool for self improvement, that’s fine. Stay in your own yard, and erect a very high, strong fence.

  9. I see the ruined life/no way out/lie down and take it/suffering type complaints a bit differently from most. You choose to server or not to serve; you set boundaries for your service. My agreements started with the statement that if “they” (Gods/spirits/etc) wanted me to do the things they asked, they’d better start by making sure there was a roof over my head and food on the table and a way to provide funding and time for the things that might need to be done. I needed a place of strength and stability to work from, and it wasn’t going to happen unless they helped me achieve that state first.

    If you’re not paying attention to your end of the bargain, yes, there will likely be more issues than normal. Then again, if you’re not paying attention to what you need to in “mundane” life, there will be more issues than there would be otherwise too. I’ve always seen it as being much like life – you have relationships at work that must be maintained (you and coworkers, you and supervisors, you and the big bosses, etc), relationships at home (immediate family, larger family, friends), and you have relationships with the Gods/Sprits that must be maintained. Just another set of things to keep an eye on.

    IME, the people who let this ruin their lives and lead to suffering suffer because they cannot imagine a normal life (ie, they were unstable before this, and they use it as an excuse/crutch to justify their unstable lives).

  10. “–The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.”

    I’m not a Shaman of any stripe but I DO work with gods and spirits on a “one on one” personal basis regularly.

    NO! You do not have to “lie down and take it”. They may be bigger than you, and they may be able to wreck your life, but in my experience most gods really AREN’T that petty. If you don’t like the way your work with them is turning out, you are not obligated to “lie down and take it” by any stretch of the imagination.

    Just like relationships on this plane, relationships with deities take work. Hard work, from both sides. Even if you are “subordinate” to the deity you work with (and most relationships with deities are this way), you should be respected. And if you’re not, it’s not worth your time and energy to pursue the relationship in any way.

    In my experience, most deities will respect you if you respect yourself, and don’t let them disrespect you in the relationship. Set boundaries. Or else you can and very likely WILL get driven into the ground.

  11. Errr… the suffering thing: complaining all the time isn’t the same as suffering all the time.

    Not that I’m one to talk or anything, because I’m so not, but.

  12. –Being a shaman will ruin your life.

    In terms of the ‘crisis’ sort of thing, and having gone through something similar just before and for a while after my 2nd degree (divorce, financial issues, deaths of loved ones of close friends where I was doing tons of support, 3 moves in 18 months, you name it on pretty much everything except medical stuff.)….

    It was hell. I do not want to do that ever again, please, if I can avoid it.

    But it was necessary to reshape my life into a place where I could do the religious work I was committing to. (Or, at least, most of it was.) The relationship that ended in divorce was on its last legs, and staying with my ex would have hindered my ability to priestess as well as I could in all sorts of ways.

    I think that if I hadn’t wanted to priestess in the ways I did, this might not have been needful. But I did, so some reshaping needed to happen. Here’s the thing: I’d do it all over again, knowing what I know now. Hell at the time, it has continuing ramifications in every area of my life – but I’m so much better off now.

    –The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.

    There’s a line from one of my favorite fantasy series – Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series, where she has one of the most realistic senses of deity interaction, in the sense that the spirit workers I know see those interactions.

    There’s two particular quotes which I’m going to paraphrase.

    One is (in terms of deities and what they might ask of you): “You are the tool, not the work. Expect to be valued accordingly.”

    This, on one hand, sounds absolutely horrible. On the other hand, it’s a constant reminder to me of where the priority is. My deities want me to have a happy life – but they also have goals (which I very much agree with) where my happiness is a nice bonus, but not actually required. If I can be happy, and doing that Work, great. If not, the Work still needs doing. I’m committed to doing the Work, so my choice is, in a sense, made.

    (That said, the reassuring thing about that quote is that a good craftsman takes care of their tools: I feel very strongly that by doing the work I’m asked intelligently and carefully, I will also be tended to whenever possible without risking the work.)

    The other quote, in paraphrase, is the idea that the Gods must act through us: it is only by us choosing to allow them to act that they can do much in our world.

    It is possible (and desireable) to set appropriate limits. It is desireable for us to speak up and say “That will break me.” It is desireable for us to say “If I do this, I cannot do that. Time and energy forbid.”

    One of our standard guidelines for aspecting work is “Leave the body (and mind) of the person doing it in as good or better shape than you found it.” It covers a surprising number of things, and it gets the point across. I’ve had some really touching and moving experiences from it, too.

    Other negotiations are possible, and there are times when ‘leave in worse state’ may be worth agreeing to. But I’d rather have it be a fairly conscious and deliberate agreement.

    –There’s no way out.

    Not a shaman, but my own take:

    The oaths and commitments I make change me forever. If I ‘redo the wiring’ (as I believe my initiatory experiences have done, in part), then there are changes there that I may never be able to undo.

    One of my covenmates who is far more shamanically inclined (but not online much, or I’d encourage her to come post) has said that this is work she can’t *not* do. Stuff shows up and talks to her, whether she likes it or not. The only choices she really has are to totally block everything out (which is massively self-destructive in a number of ways), or to have some way she can more or less live with to cope with it. Training helped. Practice help. Learning how to say “Not now, but I’ll be ready to talk this evening.” to whatever spirit wanted her attention in the middle of her work day.

    Take this for how you will. I think there’s ways out. I also think choices have consequences, and some of the consequences can be incredibly hard going. It doesn’t mean there aren’t choices, but your personal priorities may limit which ones were viable for you. (The covenmate in question, for example, would have to shut off a tremendous amount of her identity to go back now. It’s extremely unlikely that choice will ever be palatable to her, because it would impact her work, her relationships, her friendships, her home, etc.)

    –If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.

    Martyrdom is so unsexy. May be my kink but…

    That said: I go for the “You must be *willing* to suffer” – you must be willign to keep going at it, when it’s not pleasant, and you’d rather be asleep, or doing something else, when it’s not convenient, when all sorts of other “buts” get in your way.

    I don’t think the actual suffering part is nearly as obligatory as the willingness to do it when necessary. And I think most of the time, it should be the most joyous sort of delight, of doing something you’re called to, and know intimately, and yet are still challenged by. Doesn’t mean there won’t be hard times – but that they’ll be in perspective of doing the stuff that makes your soul sing.

  13. In regards to “shamanic illnesses”:

    a) Not all shamanic traditions have such a thing as “shamanic illnesses”.

    b) In general, at least among the *older* traditions I’ve read about such things, the shamanic illnesses were starting when one was having arguments with one’s self about taking this path and generally *resolved* when one went to taking the shamanic path. (The “shamanic illnesses” among mul–Korean medicine women–come to mind; they may have a shamanic illness which originally *brings* them to that path, but it’s not something they really suffer from afterwards.)

    The whole reason that there are shamanic illnesses (in traditions that even accept such a thing–and as noted, *not all shamanic traditions do*) is that something is out of balance internally that one has to pretty much accept–and once one accepts this, things go back into balance.

    c) Quite a lot of stuff about people being called to shamanic stuff is in part due to stressors or change in their life in general–the way I see things, it’s more of a change shoving you in the general direction of shamanism, not the other way around.

    In short: I don’t think you have a damn thing to worry about here. 😀

    In regards to “having to take what the gods dish out, for good or for ill”:

    Erm, bullshit. Especially in earlier traditions, part of a shaman’s *job* is in essence to set things back in balance–including, on occasion, being assertive and telling whatever you are working with “no”. (Often this is done with the backup of other spirits, too.) If you’re just going along with a god’s whim, that’s being a *priest*, not a *spirit worker*, and not even a particularly good priest at that IMHO. 😀

    Then again, I also see the spirits et al as much as *people* as well as being Beings of Power. They breath and eat and shit and have Bad Days just like the rest of us. It’s just that bigger things tend to happen if they have good or bad days (and they tend to more extremes in being nice and being assholes too). Spirits may have a valid reason for being cranky, or they may well just be cantankerous. I will note that my own viewpoint is probably not conventional, though.

    And yes, this includes not necessarily wanting to deal with someone on a regular basis who persists in being a butthead. Being of Power or no.

    In regards to the “There’s no way out” argument:

    As I understand it, a shaman is in part what one is, and partly what one does. I also am a firm believer in that whilst being *receptive* to the spirits and what they have to say doesn’t always change, how one *reacts* and even *how* one communicates with the spirits *can* change over time. People grow and different skills (both physical and cognitive) develop in meatspace at different times, and things grow in some areas and lessen in others over time. No reason why astral senses and how one reacts with stuff astrally shouldn’t change, either.

    In regards to the “no pain, no gain” argument:

    See section on “shamanic illnesses”. In general, both the traditional “initiatory shamanic illness” (that many people think is a must with being a shaman–again, only some shamanic traditions actually have such a thing; some shamanic paths just rely on whomever is particularly good with dreamwork, etc.–I wish people would stop assuming that X documented experience is universal for all traditions X, Y, Z, and Foo) and difficulties in shamanism are generally an indication that You’re Doing It Wrong. You either have a block in you or you are needing to be cluebyfoured about something to adjust your perceptions or you’re working with something that clashes with what’s “innate” to enough of an extent that it’s giving you the metaphysical equivalent of a hamstring injury or migraine. Either way, it’s a signal something’s out of balance.

    The trick isn’t necessarily to “work through the pain”–the trick is more to see what is out of balance and how it can be set back into balance. Sometimes it’s something external, sometimes it’s internal. The trick is to know how far to “push” without risking the metaphysical equivalent of a blown hamstring with the internal stuff (where you’re growing) and the wisdom to tell the difference between internal and external stuff…and that’s pretty much a lifetime thing, really. (It’s also in part why the really old traditions have formal initiations and stuff. Think of it like metaphysical exercise coaches.)

  14. –If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.

    The curmudgeonly part of me is kind of dismissive of this. In grad school, people complain about how busy they are and how difficult their classes are. My coworkers complain about busy they are and how difficult their assignment it. And pagans complain about how god-bothered they are. Meh. I think there is just some plain ol’ human status seeking/posing going on. Having said that, I’m sure there are people taking hard classes, working difficult jobs and/or working with demanding and difficult spirits. Still, I take many of these claims with a grain of salt, personally.

    I want to echo Jennet’s comments above about tool. Based on my world view, I would frame it slightly differently as I see myself as part of the divine. Instead of tool, I would say “hand.” If I am making something, I may scrape my hand or tire it out. But I certain want to take care of it and feel my hands pain as my own (and really is me). So even if lefty and righty have their own individual nature and self-awareness, their pain is my pain. If I hurt them it is either an error in judgment or because I had a really good reason and I don’t escape the consequences either.

    I don’t think that spirits inflict pain willy-nilly. At least not spirits I would want to get involved with. Again, I agree with what Jennet write above about re-shaping. My path involves a lot of clearing of blocks and refine to become more authentically myself. By doing this, I am opening more and able to express my divinity/do my own Will/do the Will of the gods (which I kind of see as the same thing). The process of purification/refinement can involve culling away that which does not serve me. This can be behaviors, relationships or even just stuff. And bringing in new behaviors, relationship or stuff that is a better fit for me. This change can be scary and stressful, but in the sense of growing pains. In my view point, it is not forced upon me by the spirits, but rather is something that I am seeking and actively choosing as I want this.

  15. From Sara…
    [i]Perhaps, Shamans will say that if you are not suffering you are not doing it right, because if you are not suffering, you are not doing shamanism as they know it from the history and anthropology books and from their own lives, you are doing something else. Something that aids and improves your life. Not something that dedicates every moment of it to your community. There is a saying I have read in these accounts, “a shaman can’t heal one self.”[/i]

    [i]I don’t think that anyone would say shamans are better than anyone else for taking this path, or that the people that serve them are in unending debt to them. A shaman should be supported by its community for what it does, kept feed, roofed, and clothed, however, they don’t gain wealth or happiness from this path and it is often a thankless life.[/i]

    This got me thinking (like I ever stop, even when my brain’s all mushy it keeps going…).

    The suffering, at times, is real for me, particularly if I’m being lazy about answering my calling. Yes, it happens… if someone brings something to me that needs to be attended and I don’t do it I get my butt chewed figuratively speaking. Usually I get nagged at, though there have been times that I’ve weakened a bit and had to build my way back up. I do a lot of healing work (if I got paid for it I’d be in a different situation, maybe I should consider a healing practice a little more seriously). I can’t say that what I practice is shamanism (someone might classify it that way… dunno). I do know that it takes quite a bit of my life. The community I serve isn’t really a traditional community either though…

    I get a lot of spirits that come to me for help, for a place to rest, to be heard. I have people come to me with their problems, though not as often as a doctor would. I have friends that I occasionally help when they have need.

    What caught my attention in her reply was “a shaman can’t heal one self.”

    Strikes true… in my own healing process I’ve needed quite a bit of help. One helps others, and when needs help, they have to find it. This sounds true with others that I’ve talked to in my networking, and we’ve all ended up holding up mirrors for each other (and in some cases rather aggressively smacking each other in the face and pointing at giant gaping wounds that need attendance).

    I’ll agree that from what I know, it’s not that appreciated a role any more. Times have changed, the role is taken over by others for people looking for quick fixes. Society moves on, looking for the easy way, a way to avoid looking into the self and others, looking to avoid the questions that interacting with the spirit world brings.

    Now, doing the things that I do I can’t say really ruins my life. Takes u a lot of it, makes my co-parent wonder why I haven’t mellowed with the years he’s known me, makes him wonder why I can’t leave it and be “normal,” but not ruin it. What I do is my life. It’s who I am, who I was meant to be, who and what I will also be.

    These are my thoughts though, and still others are still seeking that connection, looking to escape the pain that not following the calls brings. There are still those that listen, and spirits still choose to call those people to task (and some that would rather not hear).

    An injured shaman may not be able to serve to their best ability though. Pain can be a really good distraction from helping others. A bit of pain is good, it keeps us at a level where we can care. Too much clouds the senses and the mind, locks us in caverns in our minds, deafens us to the cries of our fellows. These are my thoughts though, take them as you will.

    Now, shifting to the original post, I’d like to speak in regards to the spirit/human dynamic. My primary is the one I’ll speak about. He can be a rump at times, but he does care. He’ll show it in odd ways, he’ll fight back when I’m a rump myself, he’ll knock stuff over if he has to… but he’s also hauled my rump out of tight spots when he’s with me, gotten help at times that I refused to go for any (and chewed me out well when I was healthy enough to take it) and put up with a lot from me. In our case, it’s sort of symbiotic, he helps me, I help him, we annoy and amuse each other. I’ve had friends also sensitive to the spirit world listen to us bicker and joke, and laugh when he’s tried to make his point that I’m tackling a problem wrong and I eventually see his point.

    Could he wreck my life if so inclined? Probably. Is there a way out of it? Yeah, but it would require giving up a lot of things that I take for granted, and some things that I treasure greatly. I’m not willing to give up those things. If I have to help people and spirits, then that is what I will do in exchange for the gifts that I have found. Maybe some sorts of suffering aren’t suffering but more like that pain one gets after exercising…

    A lot would have to be shut down, and I know from the parts of me that have been opened that it will be painful to shut them again. There are many initiations that I have gone through in this life, and the path back isn’t one that I’d savor. Nor do I wish to break vows that I have made. It would be a waste of my time, and of those that I work with / have worked with… embodied and not.

    God-beings that I work with don’t generally tend to ask much of me, and the things that they have asked for, I have been able to do. The goddess Athena I used to work closely with when I was in school, later when I was pregnant she came to me and asked that I name my daughter in her honor. My daughter Athena in turn has been blessed with great intelligence (though she doesn’t always use it), independence, and skill. Amaterasu, Susanowo, and Tsukiyomi, from a completely different pantheon, have helped me with some aspects of myself, as well as has Quan Yin. In return, I give them thanks and a place of honor where I work. When I skied actively, I worked with the spirit of the mountain, did minor things in his honor, and he helped me in return (and when my friends got hurt racing, we were all happy in that the injuries, though bad, were not as bad as they by rights SHOULD have been with the ways that they fell.

    Again, these are my experiences in my own path…

    Perhaps it is a good thing that the primary spirit that I work with is considered a guardian in regards to the function he serves for my family and I (well, when we aren’t being stubborn gits that insist a babysitter isn’t needed). I’m not asked to go out and fight, or to give all my goods away. I am asked to do what I can for my family, those around me, and the lives that I touch. I sometimes goof up pretty good too…

    So basically… once again Lupa and her commentors managed to help bring up to the surface words for my thoughts.

  16. I may be repeating what others have said here, but I want to do this without reading others’ replies first.

    “Being a shaman will ruin your life.”
    If there is anything that might “ruin” your life, it would be blatantly ignoring a call. Or at least that is how I interpret it. I know there are many stories out there from various cultures about what happens to people who ignore vocational callings.
    I will also add in a comment Diana Paxson has made on this subject, or a paraphrase at least. She says that this kind of work should be an enhancement for your life, not something that pulls you more away from life. While I do realize that for some it does inevitably mean being put on the edges of society, that doesn’t also mean that your life should regularly be falling apart.

    “The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.”
    Bullshit. Gods and spirits LIKE to see spine, and hel, I’d be wary of any who wants a devotee who just lies back and “takes it.” At the risk of starting up controversy, I’ve seen a subset of people claiming to be “God slaves” and whenever I do my hackles go up. I also don’t like seeing bdsm terminology entering in to the spirit worker community.

    “There’s no way out.”
    Depends. If you make the oath to do this work, then you better have a damn good reason if you ever can’t do it anymore. Also note that, can not, not a “don’t wanna do this anymore moooooooom!” I also worry about spirit workers getting its own group of trendies coming in and claiming to do it for a little while. I know I want to be FAR away when the shiny wears off. I realize this goes far off what you said, but that’s just the first thing that came to mind.

    “If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.”
    Again, I refer to Paxson’s comment above–I think any magic worker of any stripe whose life is completely out of control is the one doing it wrong. When you’re more tied into that general magical current, it’s going to reflect your life even more strongly. I have no respect for supposedly great witches/magicians/spirit workers who can’t have any stability in their life. (And yes I understand life throws curve balls. It’s how you handle them that counts.)

  17. Also, if you can find it, watch the film An Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman by Laurel Kendall. It’s an extremely fascinating window into a world with a fairly unbroken line of mansin and a woman who’s had a host of “mental problems” and in the past ignored the calling.

  18. Raven–First, thanks for the book rec! It’s interesting that you mention your vampirism; while I don’t think therianthropy is inherently shamanic, I do have a tie between my shamanic path and my therianthropy. Additionally, shamanism has given me new insight to understanding myself as a therian; I’m glad I’m not the only one who makes the connection between shamanism and ‘kin stuff without going utter fluffball. Your perspective on working with the spirits and gods, and the balance thereof, seems to be spot-on with most of what else I’ve seen, and makesmore sense to me than what I was fearing.

    Sara–No offense taken 🙂 You tend to have a good way of putting things, and I like hearing what you have to say. Your thoughts on compassion in the shaman’s role rings true on a number of levels–if you haven’t been there, it’s tougher to empathize with someone’s experiences and therefore you may not have as much of a connection to what’s really wrong. You hit the nail on the head with what’s wrong with a lot of Western traditional medicine, too–give it a pill and hopefully it’ll go away. As for serving community, I’m beginning to see a concept of mediation between the natural world and the destructive things people do becoming more prominent. As nice as it might be on some levels to sequester myself away and just worry about the critters, there’s got to be interaction with people–including those who are doing a lot of damage. Not an easy thing to do, to be sure, and something that will probably ask a lot of me. Course, there’s also the balance of making sure that humans caught in the crossfire are tended to, too. We get harmed by pesticides and other pollutants, too. And you’re right about not being able to separate things out; I really need to get over that dichotomy.

    Elizabeth–Fortunately, from what people seem to say, my initial worries are largely unfounded, and while the powers that be may push us some, there’s generally an ultimately beneficial reason for it.

    Estara–That resonates with a lot of what folks have been explaining to me, and it’s good to have your confirmation as well!

    Theokleia–You’re quite welcome! People sometimes wonder why I blog this out in the open. Part of it is because I’m not the only one who can potentially benefit from the discussions here. Glad it helped!

    Amanda–1. When a simple “Ahem” doesn’t work 😉 2-4. Sounds like you have a good balance going there. I think that’s something I need to remember–that ultimately this is the relationship that I personally make with the powers that be.

    Solo–Mua-ha-hah! 😉

    Baphometis–Good perspectives and things to keep in mind. I’m under the impression that before I go and sign the dotted line, so to speak, that I will get a decent explanation of what’s expected of me. The biggest issue will be whether I can (and am willing to) handle that, and how much wiggle room I’ll have. I am not the most disciplined practitioner in the world, so this may be a “shape up or ship out” situation, though the tools for the former are certainly there. Any improvements in me and my life will undoubtedly be mutually beneficial–the followup post I’m writing will address that in more detail.

    Janet and Danmara (since you both said very similar, complementary things)–I think a lot of the problem is the concept that truly religious people (regardless of religion) must always submit to higher powers just because they’re higher powers. Granted, the responses I’ve seen have shown more backbone than that, but it’s a definite theme in American religious culture overall. So sometimes it’s good to have a reminder to not be a doormat.

  19. weds–Good point!

    jenett–Some really good things there. I’m seeing the more I read that it’s okay to bring my own agenda to the table, that I don’t have to only do what is asked of me, but that it can go both ways within reason. Also, I agree on the being changed as a way of improving yourself for mutual benefit–I think, as I’ve mentioned to others, that one of my biggest worries has been that all the suffering would be for no real reason. So it’s good to have more confirmation that this isn’t the case.

    dogemperor–replied on LJ


    Ash–I really like the “hand” analogy. That makes quite a bit of sense!

    Amehana–“Shaman, heal thyself” indeed! Someone else mentioned the concept of illness/wounds as being necessary for compassion as well. The shaman is not all-powerful, and I think in our society of rugged individualists it’s a good reminder that we all depend on each other to an extent. Also, it really sounds like you have a healthy, fulfilling relationship there, and I think I need more examples of that, just as a reminder that it’s not all terrible and stressful and exhausting!

    Soli–Being on the fringe I can deal with. Having a chronically dysfunctional life is something entirely different. And I agree on the potential trendiness of spirit work–when the shininess wears off, and nothing is getting done, it ain’t gonna be pretty! With regards to the god slavery thing, I can certainly see the parallels in there, but I can also understand that it’s not for everyone. Being familiar with the one does help me make sense of the other, but that’s just me.

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