Okay, okay–I know I’ve been damned quiet lately. I’ve actually been taking a temporary hiatus from “active” shamanic work (e.g., journeying) the past several weeks. Between returning to school, and a few other significant shakeups in my life that have required me to adjust my equilibrium, I’ve taken a break from active shamanizing. The spirits haven’t been particularly upset about this; considering it’s my belief that they’ve had their hands (paws? wings?) in on at least some of the changes, it’s not surprising that they’ve been patient while I’ve gotten my bearings. Shamanism is still on my mind, though, and once the time is right I have a whole slew of things I want to do. I was pretty active for an entire year, so a break isn’t such a bad idea anyway.
One thing I have been thinking about is my approach to magic. Many pagans think of magic as only something you do through a specific ritualized process, whether it’s a simple spell, or pulling out the stops for a high ceremonial explosion. Either way, it’s an action in which to some extent you step out of your everyday process of doing things, and do something you normally wouldn’t do–how many of us, for example, routinely stitch together little poppets of herbs, or utter intonations in various languages while walking down the street? (I fully expect some smartass answers to that particular question.)
While I do very much enjoy the process and art of ritual, I’ve found that the older I get, the less ritual work I do. However, I’m still working a good bit of magic. Let me see how I can explain this best–it’s hard to find words for something that more makes sense to me in visual images in my head, and quasi-tactile sensations. A metaphor that I use for explaining reality is currents. Basically, a movement/energy/recurring pattern of a particular, unique type. All currents weave together into what we know as reality. A decision may change the current one is in, even if only slightly.
Magic, for me, has become a process of trying to live my life with the greatest possible awareness of the current I am in, and the currents that intersect it to create possibilities. What ritual work has done is trained me to recognize these currents, to the point where I don’t need a full ritual to be able to work with them. Instead, it’s a process of “tasting” (if you’ll forgive the inaccurate sensory comparison) the currents to see which one will work best for my purposes. I then act–in my everyday life, not in a ritual format–according to what my observations tell me. It’s worked quite well–in fact, I’m often getting better results for less effort this way.
See, what I’m doing is instead of dictating how I think reality must be, regardless of what the extenuating circumstances are, I am getting a sense of the extenuating circumstances, and then acting based on the information I have. Instead of trying to bend reality to my will, I am learning to harmonize myself with it. This allows me to take into account not only my own needs, but the needs of other beings/intelligences/etc. that are potentially affected by my choices. That is the information that the currents carry; they are interconnection.
How does this come into play with shamanism? Well, for one thing, magic is not the primary focus of my practice. It’s still important, but the single most important element is the relationships that I am developing with the spirits. Apart from the everyday current-surfing I do, the ritual work that I do is dependent upon healthy relationships with the totems and other beings I work with. It’s not that I couldn’t do other forms of magic; if I wanted to, I could pull out some good old Chaos magic and work from a purely psychological perspective. However, because I have a specific aim with therioshamanism, it best behooves me to stick to the spiritual model of magic and to focus on the relationships with the spirits.
See, that’s the thing about shamanism. Core shamans have this tendency to elevate the techniques above all else–open most books on core shamanism, and you get a bunch of how-tos. You might get a few techniques for how to meet your power animal, and maybe a few other guides, but there’s precious little material on how to actually develop relationships with these beings–and why it’s so important. In my experience (such as it is), the techniques come out of the relationships with the spirits, not the other way around. If I work with a particular totem, for example, I want to get an idea of how s/he best operates. I don’t want to just come in with a bunch of preconceived notions and hope s/he’ll agree. (A well-rounded magician of any stripe has a wide array of techniques in hir arsenal to begin with, and this is one reason why–what if your one-trick pony doesn’t work?)
Current-surfing allows me to get a sense of when it would be a good idea to work ritual magic, take a journey, etc. It also helps me to keep tabs on the spirits I work with, since my relationship to them includes aligning my own current to theirs. (Hmmm–this sounds a little like an RSS feed 😉 ) I then already have a good idea of what sort of context I’ll be working ritual in, as well as what I perceive to be the best way to focus said ritual. I also find that I don’t do rituals for things that simply require me to make everyday decisions in a conscious manner.
Less effort, better results. Works for me.
“the techniques come out of the relationships with the spirits, not the other way around.”
This is something my teacher has been stressing with me in my own work. Since I’ve never been one for formal ritual (in any of my spiritual paths) I’ve been learning some basic ceremonial magic techniques. But when it comes to how to put them together for a purpose, I’m constantly referred back to my deities and allies to find out what they would like me to do.
The element of partnership, of relationship, is very important.
Very interesting post here. I’ve never been much of a formal ritual person myself, and I almost envy those people who do ritual on a regular basis. However, I am more in that latter category you’ve come into–the current. I have worked very hard in my own beliefs, knowledge and practices to make it more holistic (and here comes in the syncretic part) and permeate my entire life. So even when I sit at work and do rote tasks, somehow it still figure into my greater Work.
I like it that you strive to avoid getting caught in the trappings of ritual, which seems a pretty easy thing to do. I think I’ve already noticed a tendency in myself to do this. What drew me to shamanism wasn’t any ritual but rather the relationships I might cultivate, whether with spirits, nature or whatever. Thanks for the reminder.
Your description of “current surfing” reminded me of how a salmon must feel traveling from the ocean to its birthplace, tasting the changes in the water to find its way.
I also liked the emphasis you put on the relationship with the Spirits over the “how to” part of the equation.