Getting Out of My Own Way

Ah, the Ego, the enemy of us all. Okay, maybe not the enemy. But definitely a stumbling block.

One major change that’s been unfolding over the past month and change since I got back from Arizona is that I’m learning to get out of my own way. By this I mean learning to shove my ego out of the way more often. I am not an advocate of complete destruction of the ego; that is the tool by which we interface with the world most of the time. However, unfortunately we often forget that the ego is not all of who we are. I’m not just talking about Freud’s id and superego; I’m talking about a wide range of selves and states of consciousness that are more specialized, and which most of us in postindustrial societies have never been formally trained to access.

As I mentioned in my last post, I updated the FAQ page, which hadn’t been changed in literally six months, to the day. Looking back, I had to stop myself from being embarrassed, because it’s more constructive to accept your past and learn what can be learned from them (as well as appreciate that that’s where you were at the time). But what I see, besides the overemphasis on structure and MUST HAVE MORE BOOKS, is a not surprising amount of self-centeredness.

Why doesn’t it surprise me? Mainly because I live in one of the most individualistic cultures in the world, and one of my character flaws (no, I don’t get any nifty merits for it, no matter how I manipulate my character sheet) is that I have a tendency towards self-centeredness. It’s something I’ve been working with, but some manifestations thereof are things I’m not really conscious of.

I saw it a lot in my focus in therioshamanism; while I had a lot of focus on the animals, and to a lesser degree the U.S. culture as a whole, a good deal of it was about me. That’s not to say that the growth I’ve experienced during my training has been a bad thing; far from it. However, there was a bit more “I’m doing this for ME” in there than I’m currently comfortable with.

Fortunately, I get to change, and so does my focus. As I’ve mentioned in other writing tonight, my focus has expanded outward from animals, to the Land as a whole. And I’m starting to become more involved and immersed in my community here in Portland–not just the pagan community, but Portland in general. What I’m finding is that my sense of community is shifting quite a bit.

This is a healthy thing. It’s bringing the connections I’ve been making over the past several months closer to home, as it were. I think, for all my effort, that sometimes I’ve still seen my spiritual life as something a bit abstract and distant, in comparison to the more immediate physical things like a job, home, etc. Being more aware of Community in general has helped to close this perceived gap quite a bit.

I’ll still be taking a good long time to learn where and what my community is (or are). And the relationship that develops will be ever-evolving. However, one thing that my trip to Arizona really did was shake me out of my head, and get me out of my way. The positive effects of that experience, I think, will resonate in my life for some time to come.

“An Orthodoxy of Fear”

First off, I have updated the FAQ page; some things have changed since I last poked at it, and it’s worth taking a peek, if you like. Ever growing, ever changing, and all that good stuff.

My dear friend (and all around awesome person) Erynn wrote this wonderfully thought-provoking post on what she terms “an orthodoxy of fear”. She is one of the foundational folks involved in Celtic Reconstructionism, and the above essay details her thoughts on the growing trend in CR (and which can be seen in other recon religions) where certain tight-laced members will essentially bully anyone who is “out of line”, so to speak. Read it before you go on if you haven’t already; it’s a great set of thoughts, and this post is my rumination on what she said.

I’m not a reconstructionist by far, believe me. I know damned well that what I’m doing is my own creation, and not specific to any culture other than modern mainstream American. However, the concept of shamanism has become particularly contentious these days, especially within dialogue about cultural appropriation, and how much borrowing/inspiration is too much. As I wrote last month upon my return from Arizona, one bad habit I’ve worked to break has been worrying overmuch about proving my authenticity. What Erynn described hits home for me in that regard, because I think I really hobbled myself sometimes for fear that the cultural appropriation police would come along and scream “PLASTIC SHAMAN!!! OMG!!!” Now, don’t get me wrong–I do believe strongly that appropriation is something we do need to continue discussing, and taking into account in our thoughts and actions.

However, reading through what Erynn said about people being afraid to talk about what they’re doing for fear of destructive criticism reminds me very much of myself at times. You know why it took me so long to accept the calling to shamanism? It wasn’t because I was afraid of the hardships (though I know those are a very real possibility). It was because I’d heard so many times that because I was white, because I didn’t have any connections to any indigenous culture, and had no one to teach me, that I shouldn’t ever call myself a “shaman”.

And what did that get me? A lot of years where I could have been answering the spirits when they repeatedly asked me to take up this path, but instead got distracted by other things. Now, I don’t think that my time was wasted; I learned and did a lot of neat things in that time. However, I have to wonder what might have been if I’d answered sooner; would I have been able to make more of a difference? I’ll never know for sure; what’s important now is that I am doing what I need to be doing, and learning more about what I can do further.

I understand the need for accuracy, believe me. We don’t need more “Fiftieth generation family tradition witches” and “Atlantean Crystal Loa Celts”. We don’t need more questionable books talking about how nine million Wiccans were burned at the stake at Salem. And we don’t need more people taking New Age beliefs and calling them genuine indigenous practices. However, how far do we really need to go when making sure that good information is put out there?

We need to stop discouraging non-indigenous people who want to practice a form of shamanism. If any culture could use shamanism–as well as the belief infrastructure that comes part and parcel with it–it’s the U.S. We are the most wasteful, destructive, screwed-up society out there. We consume more resources than any other country, and since the current administration came into power, we have alienated more and more countries (though Bush’s predecessors were far from innocent). We are a society stuck in long-term adolescence, lacking in true rebirthing rites of passage (and no, getting drunk on your 21st birthday doesn’t count). The fact that so many Americans are seeking something beyond what we currently have is a good sign; that many of them “steal” indigenous beliefs because they feel those are the most spiritual is usually a matter of ignorance, not deliberate malice. I think sometimes the critics come down too hard on neoshamans as a whole; don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (no matter how dirty that water may be). I may have a personal dislike for core shamanism as a freestanding system, but this is for me alone–I can’t say that others can’t practice it or get anything out of it.

Discouraging people from taking indigenous beliefs without understanding their context–or the people they originated from–is a good idea. Telling them “Look to the culture of your ancestors” only does so much good–the ancient Celts, Slavs, and other such folks did not have the same culture that we have today. Encouraging people to create a shamanism for this culture–that’s where I believe the answer is. I think sometimes many seekers distance themselves from American culture because they can’t see past the strip malls, and maybe they’re afraid of the immense amount of work that’s needed. But telling them “You can’t be a shaman” isn’t the solution. Then you just end up with people who A) become sick with despair, or B) take what they want anyway.

Being a rabid critic doesn’t help the situation. Setting yourself up as an uber-authority, telling people what they can and can’t believe or do, just makes you look like an insecure wanker with a chip on your shoulder (whether that’s what you are or not). Destructive criticism just turns people away; one can only handle being told “You’re doing it ALL wrong!” so many times before they stop listening out of self-defense. Cultural appropriation is given birth by a sick society seeking healing; if you want to help put a stop to it, there’s a better way than intimidating people to the point where they take their ball and go home.

For that matter, if you are a modern, nonindigenous shaman, take a good look at your cultural influences. How are you interfacing with the culture you are a part of–not just one halfway around the world in a remote area that has unblemished secrets, but whatever industrial/postindustrial, techno-heavy culture you may or may not enjoy living in? How is your shamanism helping the people around you–not just the pagans and the New Agers, but the folks next door, or the people in the local homeless shelter, or the schoolkids down the street? For that matter, how are the local spirits doing these days? Have you even talked to them? What about the Land you live on?

If someone is criticizing you, how are they doing it? Are they being openly antagonistic and insulting? Then chances are there probably isn’t that much to what they’re saying. Are they being calm (if opinionated) and supporting their claims with various sources and commentary? Read it over, think about it, and draw your own conclusions. Consider the possibility that they may very well have a good point; it’s easy for us to get defensive when we perceive someone criticizing us “for no good reason”. However, the method of conveyance can be a major tip-off in how much you really need to listen to someone. Hurling insults just turns people off; making a measured, calm argument is more likely to get a constructive response (honey and vinegar, folks).

In the end there are more important things, I think, than worrying that someone will attack you for daring to use the “S” word; with all the problems in the world, a label doesn’t seem all that important, especially if you don’t attach someone else’s culture to it (one in which you are not actively involved in any way). And I have to wonder if time spent surfing the internet criticizing anyone who is wrong wouldn’t be better off put to more constructive uses. There are bigger problems out there than making sure people stick to the standard dogma. Yes, we need to be aware when we’re overstepping our bounds when it comes to factual claims, and we do need to be aware of the impact on others. However, those of you who feel the need to terrify anyone who doesn’t do things the way you think they should, perhaps you ought to be more concerned with the impact you are having on others, as well. Because in the process of intimidating others, you may very well be contributing to the hindrance of people who could be very instrumental in improving the lot of us all.

Ever a Student…

Sunday afternoon, my husband Taylor and I went for a seven mile hike out at Multnomah Falls. It was the first time I’d been out there since last November, and I really had missed it there (it missed me too, apparently!) We went on a trail I hadn’t walked before, though Taylor had been there on his own. The weather was perfect, and I felt rested and energized–I didn’t really feel tired at all until the last mile. Of course, such a long hike called for a post-hike trip to Burgerville, the Pacific Northwest’s regional chain of sustainably produced, not-full-of-ick-and-grease, burger joint.

But I digress.

It being the first really nice weather we’d had in a while, and being a Sunday, people were out in force; Multnomah Falls is a popular place, and you have to do some hiking to get past the touristy areas. It took longer than I expected, and I started to get grouchy. For me, hiking is a way to get away from most people, not hang out with them. I started getting snarly after a while.

At one point I complained “I wish these people weren’t here. The sad thing is, they’re probably mostly just going to go back home and keep living their usual lives, never thinking about the connection between the pristine condition of this place, and their environmentally unfriendly actions every day”. To which Taylor (who is used to my rantiness on the occasions where my temper still gets the best of me despite my efforts to the contrary) replied, “So how do you know that’s what they’re going to do?” I think I sputtered something about the litter on the ground, and other such things. I tend to be territorial about places I like, even when I have absolutely no claim to them whatsoever (yes, it’s silly of me).

Tay then said, “You don’t know what these people will do. Maybe they are learning and gaining an appreciation for this place. And after all, if your role as a shaman means teaching people to appreciate the wilderness, maybe you need to remember that people need to have this opportunity. Maybe, like me, they’ll get it figured out in time”, and he had a point. When I met him, he wasn’t all that interested in environmentalism, though he wasn’t against it, either. However, I’ve had a pretty solid impact on him in our relationship, and he’s adopted a lot of the same practices and mindfulness I have. We’ve had some good discussions about it, and that’s gotten us both to think.

Then I decided to talk to the Land. I went on a side trail down to the river we were walking along, and opened myself to the Land. What s/he said supported what Taylor had told me. S/he said that hir role at this point was to teach people to appreciate what was still relatively clean, though a bit of pollution had taken its toll in recent years. S/he told me to bring people to hir and to help teach them that appreciation and to make that connection with their everyday lives, that places just like hir had been destroyed or were in danger from our everyday practices.

S/he talked to me further about the concept of teaching, and basically explained that I did not (as I had been concerned in the past) have to take on full time students at this time. Instead, I mainly need to be teaching various lessons through various means as I learn and become comfortable with them. So, for example, my Three Seeds workshop that I held a couple of weeks ago, wherein I brought paganism, environmentalism, and community building all together in the process of gardening, counts as one way of fulfilling this need. Another is a proposed series of animal magic classes I may be teaching later this year in Portland. I can start with relatively short-term, low-commitment things like this, and then work up to more intensive things as I go along. This is a huge relief, believe me!

So that was a good reminder to me, that if I am going to help other people to understand that the Land and all hir denizens are sacred, then I have to accept that they all have equal access, and that some of them unfortunately will still do dumbass things like litter, and break down saplings for no reason, and so forth–but others won’t. It’s a good reminder of one teaching of Wolf’s that really rings true to my experience–Wolf connects with all to connect with a few. One would hope, though, that more than a few would “get it”!

It is good to also be reminded that lessons come in many ways and many forms. (Another one of this basic things that is good to remember no matter how long you’ve been practicing!) Just another good reason to keep one’s ears and eyes open (and, sometimes, one’s mouth shut as well).

Later on, as we stopped at our usual crosstrails to rest before descending the mountain, I heard an owl hooting slowly and quietly maybe 200 or so yards away in the woods. at the same time, I felt the presence of the Animal Father. No, I don’t think it was a disembodied voice–I’d lay money down that there was a physical owl there. However, I firmly believe that deities, spirits, and other such beings may use physical phenomena to make themselves known. I do not think it’s nearly as common as people might think–just because a squirrel runs across your path, it doesn’t automatically mean that Squirrel is your totem. What separated this event from any other encounter with critters that day (including a chipmunk, a hummingbird, and a bunch of white butterflies) was that I definitely felt the Animal Father’s presence. He was pleased that I was there, out in the wilderness again. He likes being in contact with me there more than other places, and he simply dropped by to say so.

Since I’ve started my new telecommuting job, I’ve started my day with meditation. Wolf has made it clear that s/he wants me to start working with hir more intensely, so tonight I’ll go up and start working on a drumbeat and song for hir. I’ve been taking it easy because of all the changes recently, but the spirits are letting me know it’s time to get back to business, as it were.


First off, happy Earth Day! Here are some of my thoughts on this day, care of my Livejournal.

I’ve been thinking more, since I got back from Arizona, about my thoughts on what is being asked of me as a shaman. In the past month, my understanding of just what it is I’m supposed to do has deepened quite a bit. “I serve the Land” has become a good bite-sized summary. However, a post in a friend’s Livejournal sparked some thoughts.

S/he was talking about hir discomfort with the concept of “service”; hir personal interpretation of the word involved things that I’m also not a huge fan of–mostly having to do with unwillingness and feeling forced into situations and giving in to power-over. Basically, the idea that just because a deity or other entity is bigger than you, that you must give in, and that it’s a drudgery rather than a gift.

I’m pleased to say that my understanding of service has become more thorough as I’ve continued to develop my path and my relationships with the Land and other entities that I’m involved with. And I’m finding that it’s something I’m not opposed to, nor have I run up against any indication that I’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into virtual torture just because some god or another says I must or else.

I think the best way to explain things is that the more I learn about what I need to be doing, the more Right-with-a-big-R it seems. Much of what I’ll be doing already coincides with things I’ve already been putting into place, or am not adverse to doing. And as I’ve grown in my path, the parts of me that are more attuned to what needs to be done–for myself and for others–are coming to the forefront more. I am becoming, more and more, the person I need to be.

This isn’t just about self-improvement; nor is it just about giving up everything for the Land. What I need and what the Land and others need from me–these needs are not contradictory. They parallel each other so neatly that at this point I may as well not distinguish between one and the other. I can simply say, “This is what I need to do”, and I can understand that this covers everything and everyone I am involved with, including myself.

Were I another sort of magician, I might say that I am following my True Will. And in fact someone dear to me once told me that if you follow your True Will, you will find that the Universe aligns to accomodate you. I don’t think it’s so much that, as it’s a matter of finding your True Place in the Universe. I recently finished reading Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul (which I strongly recommend) and very much resonate with his argument that part of healthy human development involves finding your soul work–the place that is naturally yours in this reality. So it’s not so much the Universe remolding itself to accomodate me, as it is the Universe and I finding just the right combination for each other. After all, I am part of the Universe–I am the Universe. As are we all.

This doesn’t mean that the way ahead will be smooth sailing. You don’t just slide into your spot and sit on your laurels. Shamanism isn’t an easy path, and while I haven’t been through a bunch of horrible challenges that stretch me to my limits, I’m also still relatively new to all this. Seven months isn’t that long a time, relatively speaking, though I’ve done a lot in that time. But I don’t feel adverse about potential challenges ahead of me. Scared? Sure. But I’m not afraid of the Land, or the Animal Father, or anyone else deciding that I must suffer needlessly for their gain. Their agenda for me and my agenda for me are one and the same, or so it seems the more I understand it.

Essentially, I feel acceptance and peace with my path. I’ll still question things as necessary–who’s to say that I’ll never misinterpret what I hear/feel/etc. again? Better to be alert and aware than to blindly follow and potentially walk off a cliff because you lost the trail in your stumbling. But I am not a slave. I am not a toy. I am a part of the Universe, and on a more local level, I am a part of the Land I live on.

I think sometimes we humans get so wrapped up in power play–power-over, power-with–that we obsess over it and perhaps sometimes forget the possibility that there isn’t a power struggle going on, that it isn’t about hierarchy. Look at what assumptions people make about wolves–if you read some accounts of pack hierarchy, you can see the military-flavored overlay that has been applied to that social structure, and how lupine behaviors have too often been interpreted through human filters. Yet more enlightened, recent explorations of wolf behavior takes wolves as they are, without trying to push them into human pigeonholes. While there is hierarchy, it’s much more fluid than was originally assumed; the Omega, for example, isn’t just some poor beaten-up wolf that nobody likes, especially in the wild (captive wolves often show exaggerated hierarchical behavior due to being confined). Rather s/he has hir own place in the pack, and is accepted as such. Yet there’s still obsession over “Oooooh, the Alpha!!!!” when humans talk about wolves–no surprise that I’ve seen countless wolf therians and other wolf enthusiasts describing themselves as “alpha wolves”.

If we project our power play this much onto wolves, who are our fellow mammals (and from whom we may have legitimately learned some social skills way back when we were still getting used to not being tree dwellers, though chimps also offer valuable clues to our past), what’s to say we aren’t projecting similarly on our interpretation of noncorporeal beings such as deities?

For that matter, what’s to say that I’m not projecting my feelings of harmony and working-with onto my experiences? There’s no guarantee that I’m not also biased and that my path doesn’t reflect that. However, I also tend to believe that reality is a lot more subjective than many people are comfortable with. I’m not a solipsist–it’s not all in my head. However, I don’t believe in an objective reality that’s universal–our perception of reality will always add in a personal touch, so to speak. Even if what we’re being told is the same, our interpretation of it can vary widely from person to person, and even in the same person from time to time.

Given that possibility, do you really think I’d want to give up a relationship with the various deities and spirits I work with that’s based on mutual cooperation and willing service to each other, for one where I am a lowly being who does things because she must, where obligation is the name of the game? I’d rather make a difference and do what I need to do in a life where life doesn’t suck, than do the same in a life where I resent what I feel I’m forced to do. I know in the former case I’ll be a lot more productive and effective. And I think that suits everyone a lot more.

I have my niche–I serve the Land. The niche may change as time goes on, but I have it, and I’m happy in it. I’ll be making the most of it for the benefit of as many as possible.

Will It Be Enough?

There are scary things afoot in these times. Someone I was talking to today remarked that the fruit crop in the Pacific Northwest is most likely screwed. The trees all blossomed last month and this, and while it’s been pretty, the patterns of weather have been such that we get a nice few days, the flowers bloom, but then the weather gets so cold that most of the pollinators won’t/can’t come out. By the time it gets warm enough for them, the flowers will have dropped off.

Many people here in Portland that I’ve talked to who have lived here for a good long while say that this weather is highly abnormal, and that it’s been getting progressively worse over the years. I’m firmly convinced of global climate change, and there are fewer ostriches with their heads buried firmly in the sands of denial. Something’s going on, and it’s not looking positive. I know some smartasses talk during the cold days about what a crock “global warming” is (because they assume that it should be universally warmer across the board). However, it’s more complex than that–warmer air overall changes the weather patterns; it doesn’t mean that the cold goes away entirely. Instead you get seriously screwed up weather patterns. We’ve had an abundance of “weird weather days” in 2008, where we get sun, rain, snow and hail in quick succession. Not that these never happen, but they’ve been particularly frequent.

I look at these situations, and then I look at where I am as a shaman, and as a sustainability geek. I’m at the ground level on both of these, really. I’m just now going out to the park to talk to the oldest trees who were there when it was still farmland, and figure out what they need as the “elders” of that place. I’m just now really learning to connect with the Land in a deeper way than “Ooooh, pretty!” As for the physical end of things, I have my first garden out there on the roof in containers of various sorts. Hardly enough to live on, to be sure. And while our downstairs neighbors will be collaborating with us to try to convince the leasing agency to let us have a trio of Bantam hens, that’s still nowhere enough to be self-sufficient. We still have a car, we still throw out too much garbage (though we recycle and compost religiously). We’re still not where we could be. And let’s not even get into the property ownership thing–I can only wish I had a yard I owned that I could completely dedicate to food production.

The thing I worry is that it won’t be enough. I can’t save the world, I know that. But I feel like these are things I should have been doing a decade ago. Granted, I didn’t have access to a lot of the resources I have now, in my defense. But I do still regret that I’m not further ahead, that I’m not where other people who have been doing this for decades are. What the hell have I been doing for the first not-quite-thirty years of my life?

I do have to go easy on myself. I have to honor my past, and accept that I was where I was. Ten years ago I was nowhere near focused enough to do what I’m doing now–and that’s okay. I do the best that I can. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have my regrets, and my worries.

I’m really pushing myself in a lot ways, physically and metaphysically, to try to counter the damage that’s being done on a daily basis. That’s central to my shamanic path, which permeates everything–I can’t just separate it out from everything else; I don’t exist in a series of pigeonholes. But sometimes I get so damned impatient with myself, wishing I could give more, do more, and wondering if my best is really enough.

Back to the Drumming

Tonight I felt a strong urge/call to drum; Sunday nights are generally good times for me to work, since I’m relatively well-rested from the weekend (though after this week I should be better rested at all times, thanks to a lack of a commute–w00t!). So up I went; I cleared out my half of the ritual area (I really need to clean up the art-clutter!) and sat down in the dark to drum.

I started with a steady drumbeat of just a little faster than one beat per second, maybe one every 2/3 second. I let myself ease into it, and eventually found the beater going clockwise around the drum. As I continued with this, I began to feel something “open up” spiritually around me. I decided to keep going to see what would happen, since I wasn’t getting any feelings to do otherwise. The drumbeats began to form a pathway for the spirits to arrive on; I could see it in my mind’s eye, extending far into the Sky above me and also from the Earth below me at the same time (though I’m not sure if these were literal directions, or just how my mind chose to parse them). The path was filled with animal spirits of all sorts. I recognized a lot of my skin spirits, both the ones that are “mine”, so to speak, and those in my artwork bins waiting to be made into ritual tools and other such things. I also recognized Taylor’s dragon spirit, among others. They were all animals, though, and mostly “native” rather than “mythical animals.

I began to panic a bit. What was I going to do now that I had invited them all? I asked the Animal Father for his advice. He simply told me to explain what I was doing. So I stopped drumming once they were all there, and proceeded to thank them for their time and patience while I was learning to call them. That seemed to satisfy their curiosity (and confusion, in a few cases), and nobody seemed particularly miffed.

Then I began to drum again to give them a path to head back home to, wherever home might be–for some, it was the skins, skulls and other animal parts; for others, it was unknown realms. I had a faster drumbeat, maybe twice per second, and the beater went counterclockwise. I saw them retreat back up the path I had created, to wherever they went, and felt their presence diminish over time. Once everything seemed clear, I stopped drumming, and thanked the drum and beater for their help.

Once thing that stood out to me was that I was visited by individual animal spirits; there were no totems or deities of any sort, and no human spirits (though I work with very few of those)–there were a couple that I recognized, but they were in animal forms they sometimes used. This goes along with the strong suggestion I had prior to going to Arizona to start working with the skin spirits, and apparently now other individual spirits.

So it looks like I’m going to have to get started on writing songs and drumbeats for different spirits I work with, since they seem to want individual “calls” for me to work with them. The drumbeats I used tonight were apparently inviting and farewell “calls”, but the whole middle of the ceremony is missing. it makes sense–call the spirits, call forth specific individuals with their own songs, and then go to work. That’s what their expectation seemed to be as they were waiting for me to do whatever I was going to do once I’d called them.

I also spent some time meditating with my favorite tree at Laurelhurst Park. I was a bit distracted since everybody and their mother was there as well, and I was getting quite a bit of amusement at curious squirrels coming quite close to me as I sat motionless. (Though they quickly retreated up the nearest trees and got rather frustrated that I wouldn’t leave and let them come down!) I’m becoming more acquainted with the Land here as well; once it’s warmer I may do some drumming at the park, since the animal spirits would really like to work with me outdoors, and the Land would like that as well.

Believe me, I have plenty of reasons for wanting it to get warmer. That’s just one more.

Just Checking In

Yep, still alive and kicking.

The good news is that last week I got a job that’s 100% telecommuting; I’ll be starting at the end of April. This will give me several more hours a day, and I’ll be at home, which means I’ll be in a better environment for (among other things) continuing my shamanic work. It’ll also be a boon to my health, which has been suffering from not enough sleep and three hours of commuting per day. (The element of shaman sickness is no excuse to deliberately neglect one’s health–eating poorly, not exercising, and ignoring issues will not make you a shaman!)

Compared to my first six months, the time since I got back from Arizona has been relatively quiet. I’ve barely been upstairs at all; most of my time has been spent job hunting, recovering from long days at work, and trying to clear out some writing/editing projects. However, I’ve not forgotten what I need to be doing otherwise–no one will let me forget that!

I haven’t been doing much of anything active (other than daily prayers). But there’s been a lot going on anyway. My connection to the Land is growing stronger; there are times when I walk out of the house and the Land fairly “grabs” me, and my attention is fully focused on it as I walk. I am increasing my awareness of the world around me at all times–not just other people, but other living beings of all types, and the spirits therein. The openness that I first felt with individual elements in my first six months, and then with the Land in Arizona, has been a much more frequent companion of mine in the past few weeks.

It’s not always pleasant. There have been times where I’ve felt myself begin to “dissolve” into the consciousness of the Land which, although it is a state of consciousness that I’ll need in my work, is not so welcome when I’m out for a quick walk before heading back to a friend’s house to socialize. And I’ve become more aware of subtle, everyday interactions with other living beings on a more individual basis. I’m starting to look towards working not only with animal totems and spirits, but plant and mineral varieties as well. And my sense of place is becoming more acute as I open up more to the Land.

I am beginning to make a better relationship with the Land I live on, Portland and surrounding areas. She definitely knows I’m there, definitely recognizes me, and definitely wants my attention. She’s also most likely been helping me with arranging my life in a way more tailored towards my shamanic work. Once the job change occurs, I’ll be making better use of my time.

This does mean that my posts here will probably continue in the more recent frequency, since part of my goal is to reduce my time online. I have so much going on away from the keyboard that I want to–no, need to, really–be doing. I will still post here, and I’m going to shoot for once a week or so.

However, there’s a lot more going on under the surface that I really don’t feel the need to talk about right now. Which is fine. There will be time for talking at some point later. But now, I think, will be a cycle of more internal work, and thank-the-gods-I-can-get-away-from-the-internet-more!


Hooray! I’m caught up on comments! Feel free to go to Therioshamanism if you left a comment to see what I had to say.

I do want to say thank you again for the ongoing comments. It’s nice to know that there are people reading, and that there are people who are inspired, and who have been helped, and sometimes who just want to say “I agree” or “Have you thought of it from this perspective instead?”

More Thoughts, and Blatant Omnivorism

First, a bit of an addendum to yesterday’s post. Although I talk about drawing on the energy of the Land, it is an exchange, not just a feeding. Pore breathing is like lung breathing (at least in my experience)–breathe in, breathe out, not just breathe in. It’s an exchange of energy; for everything I draw in, I release part of my own back out. It was interesting walking to Laurelhurst last night; I’d had a particularly bad day, and was feeling really “ick”. Soon as I got outside into our neighborhood, even before we got to the park itself, I felt all that “ick” unloading. Bringing the energy of the night, of the neighborhood, and then of the park, felt like clear water flooding my pores, and my whole body. Exhaling flushed the “ick” out through the pores, so I felt that my skin was covered in rivulets of water stained grey with numerous particles of soot.

Despite this, the Land gladly took my energy. I knew that I meshed well with this place, but last night I felt utterly and completely enfolded and protected there. No one seemed to mind the trail of shed “ick” (which ended up pretty quickly absorbed or scattered). I’ll take this as further confirmation that the Land there wants to get to know me better–or, rather, vice versa. So I’m going to try to make it my goal to visit at least once every other day/night. Plus it’ll help once I can go hiking further out, too–I’m going to shoot for heading to Multnomah Falls next weekend.

Speaking of connections, I’m working on being more mindful of the living beings whose bodies become my food. Night before last, my husband Taylor and I went on a date after I got off work (Jim Butcher book signing FTW! Yes, I am a geek.) For supper, we went to an American-Chinese-Japanese buffet. This, of course, equaled utter and complete heaven, as among other things I could have unlimited quantities of two of my favorite foods–crab legs, and sushi. However, there were a number of other things I’d never tried before–clams and crawdads being among them. So I took the opportunity to exercise some neophilia.

I was doing great until I got to the crawdad–which was whole, face and all. Now, rationally, I realize that pork, beef and chicken meat all once had faces, too. However, in a society where even shrimp routinely end up decapitated before hitting the market, to come literally face to face with my food was a different experience. (It didn’t help that I had no idea how to eat a crawdad, and there were a lot of legs…) I almost didn’t eat him, but then I realized that if I ate faceless mammal meat and got completely squicked by a very complete crustacean, there’d be a definite note of hypocrisy in there.

I’m not going to go into great detail about the experience. Needless to say, Lupa figuring out New Food is almost always an entertaining experience (Taylor can tell stories of the first time I cooked a whole duck and found the neck in the body cavity while I was cleaning the bird.) What more concerns me is the interaction between the crawdad spirit and me during this process. He didn’t seem particularly upset about being dead; however, he seemed rather amused by my squeamishness. “C’mon, don’t feel so bad–I used to dismember and eat my food when I was alive, too!” and gave me a good mental picture of the average crawdad tearing up and eating a minnow.

I did eventually figure out that the tail was the best part. However, I also carefully picked my way around the guts, too, for random little pieces of meat. This was largely due to the fact that many of the spirits of the animals whose flesh I was eating insisted that I try to eat as much of it as I could, especially the shrimp, crabs and crawdad. Maybe it’s a crustacean thing, but there was the definite sense that the more of them I took into my body, the more I honored their deaths. And that’s something that isn’t limited to crustaceans–or even animals.

As I’ve mentioned in other places, I am an animist–everything has a spirit. I’m also a pantheist–the spirit is the spark of the Divine in all things. However, unlike most people in the U.S., I do not see myself as an inherently superior being just because I’m human. Unique? Sure. But so are all beings. Acorns, goldfish, boulders, yeast, and so forth–they’re all fascinating and can do things we can’t.

I know some people are vegetarians or vegans because they refuse to eat anything with a face. Personally, I find this view to be too anthopocentric–and anthropocentrism is what got us in our current mess. It’s an improvement, to be sure, because it acknowledges that beings other than humans are worthy of regard. However, it’s still anthropocentric to only give regard to beings that are like us–beings that have the same kind of body, nervous system, etc. We regard them because they’re like us, not because they are unique beings. If they were regarded for being unique, then we’d regard plants, too. Of course, even some vegetarians show selective regard–sure, trees are impressive and amazing and maybe even house dryads (who, surprise surprise, are often depicted in humanoid form)–but that carrot is just food. Dead food at that. If it doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t have value. Or so it would appear. (I know that’s not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for all veggie folk, just FYI.)

I come at things from a spiritual perspective. If it has a spirit, it deserves regard. Just because a plant’s body doesn’t have what we recognize as a nervous system doesn’t mean that its spirit doesn’t suffer when it is injured or killed. Anthropocentrism can go jump off a cliff for all I care. The spinach in my salad deserves regard as much as the crawdad on my plate. I admit a historical bias towards animals, but more recently I’ve come to actively honor other spirits, too, though I don’t have nearly as strong a relationship or long a history with them.

Why do I honor them? Well, let’s look at my body. Other than a few chemical traces picked up from earth, water, and air pollution, and some residues from processed food (which were once more recognizable as animals or plants long ago), every molecule in my body came from a natural animal or plant that I ate in some form or another. I carry in my body pieces of cows, carrots, baby octopi, dandelion leaves, spaghetti squash, rabbit, cocoa beans, Cornish game hens, buffalo, rice, and numerous other living beings. They may not be recognizable as such now, but that’s what they once were before I consumed them. And before that they may have been grass, clover, plankton, corn, tiny fish, and other smaller bits of food. Someday when I die (and hopefully have a green burial) I will dissipate in the stomachs of thousands of earthworms and countless bacteria, and in the roots of grass and trees. Where do “I” end? Does it really matter?

The point is that without the plants and animals, I die. Face or leaves, feet or roots, lungs or stomata, they all deserve my respect. So I’ll be doing my best to get food that’s humanely raised as possible (including organic produce), clean my plate, compost what I can’t eat, and maybe get a digester for things that are bad for a composter’s diet.

What’s Been Happening Lately

I think this is the longest I’ve gone without posting in this blog. (Which has been what–a week? Okay, more like a week and a half.) I promise I haven’t forgotten about the comments–I will reply at some point sooner rather than later!

I’ve pulled away, not because I don’t like it any more (though I still feel a little weird reading some of my writing which, until two weeks ago, made a lot more sense, and not so much now that everything’s been shaken up). Rather, I’ve just needed some space. (Well, and my day job has gotten busier since I returned; I think they decided to save everything up for when I got back from my Arizonan Odyssey.) In the week and a half since I got back home, I’ve been taking a break. Some of it is a need to rest; some of it is also allowing things to process. I really pushed myself at times in my first six months, and the Ecoshamanic training was even more intense.

However, a lot of the time has been spent adjusting. My experiences brought on a lot of changes in a relatively short period of time, and in addition coming back to my everyday life, my day job, and my schedule created a bit of a shock. Right now, I spend an average of twelve hours out of the home every day, Monday through Friday–nine hours at work, and three hours of commuting by bus, train and walking. I work in a cubicle at a computer all day, and have very little exposure to the outdoors except evenings and weekends. The fact that it’s been winter has made me even less inclined to go outdoors, though one of my goals is to make myself less cold-phobic.

I’ve been living in cities since the summer of 2001, though I grew up in a rural area, surrounded by wilderness for most of my life. I’ve always been sensitive to energy, and have been particularly comfortable in natural areas because of this. There’s less “noise”, or at least discordant “noise” in the wild than in the average city. It’s not that cities are all horrible, terrible places; they have personalities, too, and not all urban energy is unhealthy. But even in the nicest cities, it’s just not a substitute for regular exposure to the wilderness for me.

I think, over the years, as I’ve spent less and less time in wild places due to numerous factors–lack of accessibility, lack of time, gas prices–I’ve begun to try to shut off that need for wild energy, to try to ignore that part of myself, without really realizing I was doing it. I can look back at my magical practice and my spirituality and see where that detachment even filtered into that part of my life. Now that I’m on a path that’s made me more aware of, among other things, my health, I’ve been paying more attention to that need for wild energy. Being broken open again in Arizona brought this home even more acutely.

In the week and a half since I got home, I’ve been very aware of the energy of the Land where I live, and where I work. For example, Portland is a livable city because, more than other cities I’ve lived in, the natural world and the manmade city, while not in perfect balance, are closer to symbiosis. However, I still need to go to Laurelhurst Park or even Mt. Tabor Park a few times a week to feel better, and I notice now more when I haven’t been there for a few days. I work out in the suburbs, where the damage to the environment is more recent–what used to be farmland less than twenty years ago is now strip malls and condos. The attitude towards the land is less respectful, too–a commodity to be used. Most of the plants there are cultivated–grass, domestic shrubs, etc. Chemical pesticides are the norm. There’s no urban growth boundaries in the suburbs. When I go there, I feel the energy of the Land; much more fragmented, because unlike the land in Portland proper, it hasn’t had time to heal. Portland feels like a hybridized ecosystem; the suburbs just feel like sprawl.

Due to my re-opening, I’ve been feeling decidedly uncomfortable. After spending four days and nights in a very wild place (once you’re outside of Sedona it’s nothing but desert and a few houses and ranches–and Sedona’s not that big) coming back to a much larger urban area has been a bit of a shock to my system. On top of it I’m finding that I’m just not very happy working in a cube farm. Granted, it’s a contract, so it’ll end eventually, but I really wish I worked someplace where i had easy access to a window. I don’t even know what it’s like outside unless I leave my cube.

I know that with some time I’ll find a good balance, though I don’t want it to be through shutting myself down again. Still, right now my shamanic activity is mainly limited to doing things to try to adjust–walking more, and energy exchange with nature wherever I find it, even in the hacked-up land of the suburbs. (A side note on the energy work–I’m finding that what I’m doing is essentially the same as Franz Bardon’s pore breathing, all over my body. I’ve done pore breathing before, but this is the most I’ve noticed it happening on a not-quite-conscious level, more like the programmed instinct of lung breathing.)

As for more “stereotypical” shamanic work, that may have to wait a bit. A couple days after I got home, I went upstairs to the ritual room to do a little artwork, and realized how LOUD it was with the various spirits chattering in there (it’s where I keep my skins, plus a couple dozen animal skulls, and so forth). I think at this point I’m mainly going to be concerned with “volume control”, so to speak, learning to be aware without listening to every single thing in Dolby Surround Sound. Once I get a little more used to this, my first task is working more with the skin spirits, since I promised them I would (they’re being patient, though really eager to get working).

I’ve also picked up a copy of James Endredy’s Earthwalks, which has a lot of exercises which should help me to incorporate getting used to all this with one of my favorite things–going for walks. He already demonstrated a couple of them while I was in Arizona, and what I saw when flipping through the book before buying it also looked really promising.

Fortunately, nobody’s pressuring me to do more than this, which I appreciate. Right now I’d just like to get used to the changes that have already occurred, and learn to make a healthier relationship with the Land where I am, before embarking on more complicated things.