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.