I have learned a lot over the past few days; it’s been an incredibly intense experience. Four days immersed in the Arizona desert, learning how to connect with the land in a deeper manner than I expected, and having some very powerful encounters with the land itself, has done me a world of good. I’ll probably be doing a series of blog posts over the next few days as the words come to me; there’s a lot to digest here. Needless to say, this has been a life-changing time for me.
In my last post, I talked about how there were going to be some major changes in how I do things. (Never fear, I’m not going to delete this blog, though the nature of the posts may change somewhat.) One of the most important realizations I came to was just how strongly neopaganism and the community have impacted how I go about things. Working with someone who is coming from a primarily shamanic background, to include extensive experience with indigenous practitioners, really pinpointed some very neopagan things I’ve been doing. This was further demonstrated when I took the lessons I had learned and put them to practice on my own. When I say “neopagan habits”, I don’t mean that every single pagan does things this way; rather, these are habits and patterns that I picked up from neopaganism in general, and which are an interpretation of my experiences thereof, not neopaganism as a whole. Additionally, they may be found outside of neopaganism as well–but this is where i picked them up, personally.
One of the “neopagan habits” I’ve picked up has been wanting to try to put things in too a structured manner. I look back at the first six months, and while working with the elements on a month-by-month basis did help quite a bit, I can see where I focused too much on expecting things to go in a particular order, and to learn certain things. Not that I didn’t learn a lot; however, from here on out my approach is going to be more holistic—less compartmentalizing, more approaching the All of what I’m doing.
For instance, rather than expecting that the next six months will be spent getting to know my guides better, and then move on to other things, from here on out I’m going to let things be more free-flowing. I think I’ve been trying to direct my progress a little too much, breaking it up into easy-to-digest pieces. However, while it’s useful to be able to break things down, I’m finding that in practice it’s going to be better if I simply allow the lessons to come on their own terms. One very good reason is that, while my former way of doing things was well-intended, it was pretty slow. I would have to learn about each thing separately, and then try and put it all together. The techniques I have learned are valuable if for no other reason than they have a more complete perspective—instead of learning about Earth, then Air, then Fire, then Water, and so forth, I was immersed in the land, and all the elements, entities and components thereof. I found this to be much more effective. Granted, if I were a rank newbie to magic in general, I would probably want to learn some basic correspondences, just to get my bearings. However, I’m well past that point, and though my first six months were a good reminder, I think that the approach I have picked up this weekend will be a lot more effective and efficient going forward. “Let go and let gods.”
The other habit I picked up that I’ll be altering deals with books and expectations. Being in the pagan community since the mid-1990s, I’ve seen the tidal wave of fluffy, poor-researched source material that overran the big box stores, and I’ve seen the subsequent backlash of nonfluffiness. While I do completely support better research where historical and other verifiable information is concerned, I also have seen a rather unpleasant attitude that has arisen in conjunction with the “nonfluffy” movement. It isn’t universal among all “nonfluffy” folk, to be sure, but it exists among a minority.
Essentially, it’s an attitude of superiority, and an attempt to be more-correct-than-thou, no matter what. There’s also an obvious sense that the people get some smug satisfaction out of their destructive criticism, even if it’s couched in Authority and Experience. A healthy attitude, IMO, is one that corrects misinformation and disseminates good information, particularly in factual issues. (It’s not perfect, and may need to vent and bitch now and then.) However, I have seen in a minority of pagans a tendency towards mean-spiritedness and huge chips on shoulders. It’s not enough to offer naïve newbies good information, or to herd people away from known sources of bad information and internet trolls. These people, instead, seem to have taken it on themselves to try to be as right as possible, and anyone whom they disagree with is automatically WRONG. They go the extra mile to prove themselves, even going to the extreme of personal attacks and harassment. I’m not even talking about “bunny hunters” who chase “toxic bunnies” with their horrid misinformation across the internet, though I have my misgivings about that practice. I’m talking about stupid interpersonal politics and going out of your way to attack anyone you disagree with at any chance you get, without even considering the possibility that they might be right, and that you just might be–gasp!–wrong.
A good example is the issue of UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis), a topic I’ve seen a number of good, thoughtful posts on recently. There’s no rule that says everyone has to accept your UPG, or that you have to accept theirs. However, I’ve seen through the joys of the intarwebz a number of occasions where disagreeing with someone’s UPG wasn’t enough—the Righter-Than-Thous went completely Dalek in their attempt to EXTERMINATE! And their targets weren’t ungrounded flakes pulling things out of their asses and accepting it as holy writ; they were fully functional, experienced pagans who could show where the UPG they’d had had a positive impact on their practices, and who displayed a healthy amount of skepticism and reflection with regards to their UPG. For their attackers, though, if it didn’t match something in a book, it couldn’t possibly be real.
Most of the examples I’ve seen are less drastic than that. Still, there seems to be an underlying current of sneering at UPG, especially where it deviates from “known quantities”. There’s also a strong adherence to books and established traditions as being superior, to the point where I think sometimes experiential evidence is downplayed to the detriment of all involved. After all, having seen what happens when someone else claimed that, after one meditation, they had determined that the Native Americans actually came from Atlantis, not across the Bering Strait, who wants to chance being seen as equally weird and subject to ridicule? Because it’s not just the Atlantean Native Americans that get attacked–it’s people with things that may deviate a bit from traditional lore, but aren’t completely out of the question.
Where this ties into my recalibration is that the “you must back this up!” attitude has unfortunately rubbed off on me to the point where I think I’ve been a bit afraid to stretch my wings with my own experiences. Modern shamanism in the neopagan community is particularly contentious, because on the one hand you have people who read a few books and declare themselves real-live Native American shamans, and on the other hand you have pagans who opine that if you aren’t a part of a tribe, there’s no way you can call yourself a real shaman or function in that capacity, no matter how you work with the spirits. Scylla and Charybdis, indeed! And I think I’ve been listening to the latter people too much. Not that cultural appropriation isn’t an important topic to discuss, and not that I shouldn’t be aware of what I’m doing and what I’m calling “shamanism”; however, I think I’ve been trying too damned hard to prove that I’m not Fluffy McRunningWolf.
It’s time to stop trying to prove my authenticity. I’ve stated that I’m not a member of indigenous culture, and I’m learning from a variety of sources, from books to personal interaction with the spirits, and now some training in Ecoshamanism. I’m aware of cultural appropriation, and I have made my own decisions regarding my boundaries with that. And you know what? That’s all I need to say. Polite questions can be answered, experiences can be shared and notes can be traded. Constructive criticism is welcome, and I’m open to healthy dialogue. The rest can go stuff itself. What’s more important? Not being wrong on the internet and trying to convince some ass-umptions by people who don’t even take the time to ask what’s up? Or creating a healthy relationship with the land and showing others how to do the same so hopefully we can try to curb the path of environmental and human destruction we’re currently on? Somehow, what someone says on their Livejournal just doesn’t seem so important any more.
And I’m tired of working within the constraints of expectations, either my own or others’. I’ve spent too much time worrying about whether what I’m doing matches what others are doing, and not enough time simply experiencing. (More on that in a later post.) If you study shamanism in indigenous societies worldwide, while there are some common threads, there are also numerous differences and approaches. Shouldn’t this hold true with neoshamanism as well?
I do want to make something clear—I am not saying that structure and scholarship are in and of themselves bad things. However, what I am finding is, that for my own purposes, and the path I am walking, these are two elements that will need to be toned down some in lieu of more experiential and organic growth. It is part of my recalibration of what I’m doing. As always, YMMV.