Why I Blog Here

I originally wrote this up on Monday, but wanted to take a little more time to chew on what I was saying. So here, slightly belated, is my post.

Over at the Wild Hunt blog, Jason Pitzl-Waters has been taking a much-deserved vacation. In his place he’s invited a group of other pagan bloggers to guest blog. Monday’s guest blog is by Cat Chapin-Bishop of Quaker Pagan Reflections. She brought up a good point:

So why is nearly everything we write in the form of a recipe book? Why so little in the way of lived experience? For a religion of direct, personal gnosis, we have remarkably little writing about what happens when we set out to practice rather than preach.

Now, let me say this first and foremost. Every person has hir own comfort zone when it comes to talking about spiritual experiences. Even I have things that I won’t talk about publicly, or even to anyone save my husband (and even then there are still things that are for my ears only). So I’m not going to say “YOU MUST ALL TELL EVERYTHING!!!!”

However, I think Ms. Chapin-Bishop makes a really good point in regards to what’s actually been written down, whether in print or online, regarding neopagan and related practices. There’s a lot of protocol, and formality, and “Do this this way because that’s the way it’s supposed to be done”, and there are also scads of pre-crafted spells and rituals. Granted, there are also personal accounts, but they’re not as common. The books and sites I like the most are the ones that have a good balance of theory and practice–they explain the theory in good detail, but then use personal anecdotes to further illustrate the points made, and follow up with exercises (not precrafted spells and rituals) to help the readers put the ideas into action for themselves.

I don’t talk a lot about myself-as-author or myself-as-editor here. I save that mostly for my Livejournal, which is more of a catch-all blog where I share links, keep in touch with people I know scattered around the world, and do the bulk of my promotional stuff. This blog here, on the other hand, is more focused, and with rare exception is meant for recording and sharing what of my shamanic work I’m willing to let others read about.

However, one thing I particularly look for as an editor (and as a reader) is people showing their work. Part of that is on the theoretical end, citing sources, etc. However, I want to see practical work. I want to see anecdotes that show that the writer actually did what they talk about. I want to get some idea of what I may be getting myself into. And as an author, that’s something I try to convey in my own writings. Some of what I write is pure theory, and that’s fine. But that’s also why I tell the stories of what’s happened to me here.

Would this blog be as interesting if I didn’t share the stories of myself? If I just rambled on and on about shamanism as a theoretical practice, but without ever sharing anecdotes, either my own or others’? Would you have as good a sense of what’s going on in my corner of the woods? Probably not. I know that for some of you being able to read them has helped you, either by showing you that you aren’t the only one having such experiences, or by inspiring you to do more with your own path. And I know that that’s been true for when I’ve read the works of others, including folks who have commented here.

So while I’ll continue to keep some things to myself, things that are just between the spirits and me, I’ll continue to share the stories I’m willing to tell.

On a little different note, one line in particular from the essay really struck home for me:

Tell me about how hot your sweat lodge was and how thirsty you emerged from it, when you explore whether or not Pagan sweat lodges are cultural appropriation.

I’ve changed a good bit in my perspectives on cultural appropriation, especially since accepting the call to shamanism. When I first started thinking about it, I was more of a hardass than I am now. Not to the extent where I called all white shamans “wannabes”, but I tended to put a lot more emphasis on “doing it right”. My ultimate decision at the time was still “You need to make your own educated choices”, but there was still more judgement on my part than probably was healthy.

I can look at this article from two years ago and see where I was beginning to question the more hardline opinions I had. However, starting shamanic work last September contributed to a further chipping away of my stubbornness that anyone who did X was obviously Y. What really clinched the deal was my experience in Arizona, where going through two of the ecoshamanic initiations with James Endredy, as well as my own personal rite of passage on my “day off”, demonstrated just how overcerebral I was being about the whole situation. I was so concerned about doing it “by the books” and trying so hard not to offend people who might *gasp* assume I was a plastic shaman that I wasn’t really letting myself sink into the experience itself.

And that’s been a really valuable lesson. These days, I still don’t look favorably on people who claim to be of an indigenous culture that they aren’t really affiliated with at all as a way to get money and power. However, I’m less critical of people who may be more on the New Agey end, just because they’re, well, New Agey. I’m learning more and more that what really matters, as far as I can see, is what the person is actually accomplishing with their works.

The way I see it, it’s getting tougher and tougher for people to deny that as a species–hell, as a world–we’re in deep trouble and sinking fast. Even if you don’t believe in global warming, it’s hard to pretend that there aren’t numerous species being negatively affected by our actions. Every day in the news it seems I see articles and reports about some chemical being linked to cancer, or another species on (or over) the edge of extinction, or another wild place devastated by pollution.

And that’s just the environmental end of things. That doesn’t even get into issues that often tie into the environment–famine and wars caused by short resources; crime perpetrated by desperate people raised and living in unhealthy environments, or with serious psychological issues that go untreated due to a lack of health insurance or social support; increasingly poor public education and more expensive higher education, as well as education that continues to promote the division between humanity and the rest of Nature.

I am less inclined to judge someone just because they live in suburbia and call themselves a shaman. In a situation where we can use all the help we can get, healers of all sorts, people who act as intermediaries between the spirit world and this one in part to help find solutions to our problems (as well as placate those we’ve royally pissed off), and those who teach a healthier way of living are all welcome as far as I’m concerned. Sure, there are probably some folks who are more motivated by their egos than anything resembling altruism. But what criteria can Some Random Person On the Internet really use to judge someone they’ve never met in their lives, and whom they’re mainly assessing via personal or professional web site? Just because someone charges for services doesn’t mean they’re in it for the money. Is my mechanic who charges fifty bucks an hour in labor costs in order to pay for rent and other costs an egotist just because s/he doesn’t give it to me free out of the goodness of hir own heart?

Can we really afford time wasted bitching about who’s not doing things in a perfectly acceptable way? One, unless someone is making a claim about themselves that is verifiably false (such as tribal affiliation or Wiccan lineage or some other such thing), in the end it’s really none of my business. Two, even if I think someone’s methods are on the fluffy side, if they’re actually DOING something constructive, then that gets them points in their favor. I’ll be honest; my tolerance for what other people do went way up once I started spending less time fussing around on the internet, and more time actually doing what needs to be done. And as the signal-to-noise ratio continues to get skewed on the ‘net, I’m going to continue putting more weight towards those who are making constructive things happen, even if I don’t happen to agree with them entirely. We may not be in as dire straits as the creator of the Gaia hypothesis recently opined, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be rolling our sleeves up to get the work done.

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3 thoughts on “Why I Blog Here

  1. Well, to be honest, I don’t believe books to be a proper medium for expressing personal experiences. There’s a lot to be said for meeting people face to face or more intimate and informal like a podcast/netcast/radio show and sharing the stories they want to share, and others having the opportunity to build off those experiences. Perhaps one person can share an embarrassing experience and someone else can be like “well, you think that’s bad – let me tell you about this time…”

    However, I will say there’s an overall trend towards the personalization of communication in mundane society. It started with that call center/ticket system metric of mentioning the customer’s name but has expanded beyond that to employees being permitted (if not encouraged) to share personal experiences (positive or negative) as they see fit. This adds an additional level of personalization. I find it odd that this is coming full circle into the Pagan community. After all, Pagans are typically the “think outside the box” “down with the man” “get away from corporate uniformity” rebels, and it’s this philosophy of being different that companies have in recent times attempted to embrace.

    I’m not saying all Pagan/Occult books are this way. I have a book written by an Indian (as in red dot) author about Chakras. The book is “Working with your Chakras…” by Ruth White if you’re interested. Heck, who better to explain Chakras than someone raised in the culture where such ideas originated and still permeate the culture. The book was interesting because it was written in a very personal way. Not only did she cover case studies but she discussed how her being true self (being otherkin, though not using that term) affected her workings.

    While she did manage to convey her story… at the end of the day, it’s far less touching than something I would have heard with my ears or some other more intimate medium than artificial ink printed on dead trees.

    You do some QA stuff with software/web design, so I’m sure somewhere you have or will come across some usability stuff. One of those principles is making sure you use the proper medium for the information being conveyed. Granted, this metric was created to keep people from abusing relatively bandwidth/CPU-intensive video to do what could much more easily be presented in a manual or in a web page.

    Maybe these personal experiences are out there, just in different media. After all, it’s not like even the mainstream occult authors don’t share their personal experiences. However, I’ve heard more personal details from folks that went to Pagan and occult gatherings than I’ve ever read in any book. Perhaps because some of it is embarrassing, perhaps because books are just an improper or inherently unemotional medium.

    Heck, seemingly every Pagan podcast out there ties into personal experiences. It comes as close as you can get to the atmosphere of interaction one gets at a gathering, while being spread across the world.

    My main gripe with environmentalism (well, besides me being one of those weird pro-Wally World folks) is that it has a global focus. All we keep hearing is Global warming, climate change bla bla bla. Not that it’s not happening, but it’s very impersonal.

    Worse, this global focus on environmentalism can cause otherwise nature-friendly individuals to become anti-environmentalists. On our podcast, we’ve been doing continuing coverage of the Plovers in North Carolina and how the Audubon Society is trying to destroy the local economy to preserve these birds in the outer banks. Sure, it’s an endangered species. However, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, these things reproduce more prolifically than rabbits and only 1 (ONE !) has died in the past several years (run over by a car IIRC). Yet, the Audubon society wants to have the entire island shut down and destroy the economy to protect these prolifically reproducing critters.

    I’ll admit, they probably are of limited populations in other parts of the world. However, this global focus that ignores local issues is causing locals who either 1) would be completely indifferent to the existing protective measures or 2) support the existing protective measures to start putting up signs like “Fried Plover Baskets.” Naturally there are rumors about hunting these birds off the island if the local economy becomes imminently threatened. Good job Audubon society, you’ve successfully made people hate and seek to kill the very thing you’re trying to “protect.” Congratulations!

    Environmentalism works when there is a local focus and doesn’t try to be absolutely perfect (as the Audubon Society apparently attempts to do in their endeavors). Look at New York City. Not exactly environmentally friendly in the early 90s but people go “Ah crap, we ran out of landfill space!” and all of a sudden they’re recycling everything (of course laws being passed requiring such things and those laws actually being enforced likely contributes substantially). As for New Yorkers being nutjobs, studies have suggested any number of sources including lead in the air and the incredible noise pollution of the city.

    However, environmentalism is sane when it is economical. Where I used to live in PA, it cost money to throw out garbage – but recycling was free. What do you think we did? We learned to only generate a single drum bag of garbage every 4-6 weeks. See, that makes sense. Trying to ruin the lives of hard working people for the sake of “protecting” some ultimately insignificant bird… not really worth it.

    When environmentalism is both sane and local, that’s when all sorts of good stuff happens :). In PA, our community recycling center recycled dang near everything. The money made from selling the scrap metal etc. paid for the salaries of the employees and stuff like twigs and grass got tossed into a (very large) community compost heap. Need free compost? Go to the recycling center. Thus everything was kept local and the landfills in the area are not being filled by the county’s residents… just the trash being imported from New York City.

    I’m glad to see my little corner of PA is not alone. Granted, Houston’s recycling program leaves much to be desired, there’s a community re-use center at the main recycling plant. Anything left over and still usable whether it be paint, household cleaners etc. that you do not want to store, drop it off for free and someone else can pick it up for free. Less trash and a practical way of curbing waste, even if it is only a tiny dent.

    There’s my rant. Probably should have posted it to my own dang blog but ah well :).

  2. I read Cat’s post and it helped me deal with some struggles I’ve had over shamanism and paganism in general. I’m still struggling with whether any of this is “real” or not. I “know” that it isn’t any different than claiming to hear from Jesus, but at least most people don’t look at you all that strange when you talk about an experience with the Holy Spirit. So I liked Cat’s post for its call to come out of the theory and into the real world. In essence, that’s party what had soured me on Christianity. I wanted something more visceral, more relevant to my every day life. I know, I know—how exactly is shamanism relevant? Well, that’s what I want to find out. So I’ve had some powerful experiences, but I’ve been afraid to share honestly. Why? I’m afraid I’ll be declared a fraud, or told I’m doing it “wrong.” I like Cat’s call to speak honestly. And after all, if we can’t share honestly, then what’s the point?

  3. Kreyas–Every medium has its limitations. A skilled writer can convey at least some of their experiences and feelings through words; this is part of why, say, good poetry still has followers (whether as song lyrics or on its own). Nothing, not even an in-person storyteller, can truly replace the experience of going through something yourself. Maybe the storyteller can put more emphasis in their words–but that’s also because they have the benefit of vocal intonations, gestures, and other things that text really doesn’t have access to.

    Podcasts are limited themselves, though. Not everybody is online at all, let alone for more than checking email. In the case of these people a book may be a better option because they don’t have to turn on any electronic device to read. And they may prefer the written word to the spoken one, being able to go at their own pace.

    I think it’s a false comparison to try to say one medium is inherently better than another. There are numerous factors to be kept in mind, and I think individual preference has a lot to do with it.

    As to environmentalism–nobody’s perfect. Using some errors to try to prove that the whole system is flawed is short-sighted. It is a huge problem that needs to be approached both locally and globally, and all manners in between. People miss a lot if they adhere to only one way of viewing the problem. It’s an enormous, multi-faceted thing, and we make mistakes because we don’t entirely understand it. If you only focus locally, then you miss the interconnection among all places; if you look only globally, you miss local needs and problems.

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