Art, storytelling, and shamanism my path

I have some half-formed thoughts about the recent integration of storytelling with my artwork, as well as the very deep, significant spiritual elements of the acts of creation. Yes, the coyote and wolverine are the most recent and obvious syntheses, given that each has a “new” myth to talk about its origin. But Anput was also a spiritual story, albeit one in which I featured as a main character, and which was not just a story that I created in my mind, but something that happened to me in working with that Goddess. Even Lady Red Riding Hood was story, rewriting the tale to better fit modern parameters, though maintaining its “once upon a time” feel.

I’ve long been a spirit-worker, evoking and invoking totems, animal spirits, deities and others. And the spirits have often spoken through my art, and not just the skin spirits that are in the remains themselves. I’ve even created numerous ritual tools and costumery over the years that could mesh with certain beings or energies in ritual.

However, this feels bigger. I feel like I’m adding to mythology, if that makes sense. The process of creation is simply the vehicle thereof. Perhaps it’s hubristic to say so, but it feels as though I am *adding to* these beings, with their consent and even invitation. Along with transforming the animal remains and their spirits, I feel I am also making a bigger transformation than before to the bigger beings, the totems and deities. If a totem, for example, is “made of” the natural history of the physical animal, its relationships with all other species, and the human observations as translated into legend, lore, and mythology, then I feel like I am making a bigger contribution to the ongoing, ever-developing mythology.

Like when I make a small pouch out of recycled rabbit fur, I am transforming the fur into something new, and I am rejuvenating the spirit with a new purpose–or releasing it from its container if it so wishes. But Domestic Rabbit stays largely the same; the pouch may be used to connect to Rabbit, but the change is only on this end. However, I look at my experiences creating the Anput headdress, and it definitely feels *bigger*. If you give me the generous allowance that my UPG is more than just something in my head, then I have been shown an element of this Goddess that may have been previously unknown, perhaps by even the ancient Egyptians. I don’t feel I’ve so much added something that wasn’t a part of her before, so much as I helped to shed light on it.

I’m not the only person to do this sort of thing; Ravenari has long been creating these inspired works. Her As Totems series largely comes from the individual totems pressing her into making portraits for them, or asking others to commission her (as with me and Steller’s Jay). She also learns more about the totems in the process of creating these works, hence her creating about the only totem animal dictionary I give any credence to. I give it more weight because I am aware of her process as well as her general familiarity with the animals and her shamanic skills, and I know how much effort goes into the contact with each. Whether she changes the totems, adds to them, or simply enhances the focus on certain parts, I can’t say. But it is very impressive to watch.

And it’s incredibly fascinating to be going through this process; the exchange of energy and ideas that I’m sharing with the deities and totems and spirits in this is beyond what I’ve done before. Whether you see me as connecting with independent beings, or being able to better access these archetypes and channel them through my work, I would appreciate your constructive feedback on what I’m trying to describe here. Anyone else been here?

20 thoughts on “Art, storytelling, and shamanism my path

  1. Funny you should mention this!

    This is something I’ve just written on recently, and it’s the subject of my essay that will be published in Mandragora. I think most creative artists–perhaps those who do narrative most of all, but potentially any of them–are the ones who are these deity-revealers and discoverers, who not only find new deities to introduce into human awareness, but also who illuminate new dimensions of them. As Philagrus (who I’ve been quoting endlessly lately in this regard) says, in this way (extending what he allotted to “the poet” to any/all artists), the sun is like an artist, allotting the placement and illuminating the details on all of the subjects its light touches…

    • Yes, I actually thought of that post of yours, and it was part of what helped me to figure out what the heck’s going on here.

      See, this is why I don’t really complain about pop culture as mythology, at least when it’s done well. Who says the process of creating mythos had to stop two thousand years ago?

  2. Yes. Years ago when I was working with Cailleach (I still work with her) I made most of the ritual items I now use (I don’t still do that). I worked with things from the landscape she told me to get them from in Ireland, and those elements feature on my alter now. Some are saved for very high ritual. I had the distinct feeling during the process not just of working with her but creating things under her ‘authority’ that I was re-manifesting her in a new way–a less tarnished way even, if you know the mainstream mythology of her. I felt in a way that it was an obligation of me to do that work. When I expressed that in close circles and in my LJ it didn’t go over well. People took it like I was saying I *was* her, and that wasn’t it. Or that I was attempting to rewrite the history that was, for my vision of what she now is the work she gave me to do. I hope the general understanding of that kind of expanded relationship and progression of story is accepted in a broader understanding of cosmology and totem work now. It took me some work to get through my own understanding of her, and that’s part of what I wrote about in GOTD. Their narrative grows with us.

    As modern shamans we are in a special place, in that we are still connected to these beings but in a very different way. We can only express their narrative through what we are and what we have, which is also our own personal narrative. It can only be repurposed, for lack of a better term. But the uniqueness of that perspective is rich and must be given life, as much as any factoid we think we know. That is how the story continues to be relevant, as much as the experience.

  3. This is a very large part of my own spiritual path. I bring forth the knowledge of things long past, long unknown, and well ignored by humans; I also channel, or speak with the words of, spirits and dieties of various kinds.

    One may accept everything I say as entirely unverified, but to have the knowledge that comes forth would occasionally be impossible for me. It’s clear enough to me that these are entities outside myself, speaking with voices which are heard within my mind — even if those voices are an interpreted metaphor sometimes, rather than specific words spoken with intent to verbalize a concept.

    I accept your wisdom regarding Anput, and have asked and verified it to my own satisfaction. As far as stories, well, sometimes a story is just a story; Coyote in particular seems to like tales with as much fiction as truth in them, though I’m sure others may have similar enjoyment. It’s a bit like telling a loved one a fairy tale where they are the hero. You and they both know they didn’t necessarily live that out, but it’s the myth and the shared expression of how you feel about them that’s more important. The story becomes more important than the facts, because story can take you places and show you truths that are as important as raw, factual data, and which help you as a person to integrate that data into your life in a meaningful way.

  4. I have worked like this for years as have others (Robert Simmons in stones, Raven Kaldera in Northern Trad for example). Different folks call it different things in their trads. I come from a Roman Recon trad. and think in terms of Lars (Local Spirits), etc. If you listen closely, you may hear what is being said. If you honour Them, They will respond to you. If you willing to record their voices, They will speak.

    What I have been doing with my Totem dictionaries is give voice to the animals. I started with Mammals (self-published on Lulu) moved on to Birds and ended up starting out with Reptiles/Amphibians when I was wonked on the head for extinct animals. I do mean wonked as in – you give voice to the Others, why not Us? I was in the midst of speaking to various Lizards, when the Extinct Ones came to me.

    I don’t do shamanism for mental health reasons. However, my brain injury does have me go into fugue states from time to time, when I hear the voices. So I write them down, after studying the animals and pondering them. They end up on my blog “Nature’s Meanings” amongst my other writings.

    So what you are doing is not that out of the ordinary. It comes with those who are of a certain mind and listening. There are stories to be told and songs to be sung. And you and I and others are the ones doing it. We are not alone in this endevour. Hope this answers you. I see these as separate beings since I am a hard polytheist.

    • *nods* I really, really need to get your books. I’ve enjoyed reading your experiences with the various critters over on LJ, which don’t so much read as “dictionary” as they do “journal”–there’s more life to them. And I can see the process in your writing, which gives more weight to them, as well as more spirit.

      Not at all surprising that the extinct critters started in with the ancient reptile line–the roots are further back, and although birds are dinos, we don’t recognize them as such so easily.

  5. Hmm, no one mentioned Alan Moore?

    Art as Magic is one of the most fundamental understandings.

    Then again, I’ve been told most practitioners of different backgrounds don’t play well. I come from a very interesting background of Neopaganism and Hermeticism in my early teaching, so I see no gulf existing between the two forms of magic and do my best to learn everything and see how it all correlates.

    • Heh–I’ve a background in Chaos magic myself. However, that approach always felt rather noncommittal to me, and this feels more tied-in than what I was doing as a CM. But yeah–Moore, Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, and so many others give us modern mythos–and why not? Did mythology die?

  6. Adding to mythology is an ongoing journey, and a part of shamanism. I actually think it’s far more fundamental to ‘traditionally’ understood forms of shamanism (i.e. the kinds that involve journeying and soul work, and serving a physical community) than is often given credit in the books. What is the point, after all, of being told all these stories, or having this wisdom shared with us, if we don’t transmit it to others? Part of the job – I think – of some shamans and shamanists is to bring back reframes and retellings of stories alongside more traditional ones, and offer these to others, so that communal meaning can be found and growth and expansion combats against possible stagnant understandings of totems, gods and spirits.

    When there was that backlash against UPG some years ago, I was mostly confused, because bringing back UPG and sharing it as a way of encouraging growth of understanding is so important, imho. Not only that, but no matter how people interact with the story; whether they agree, disagree or somewhat agree, it encourages them to reconsider their own relationship to those gods, spirits and totems and confirm for themselves (i.e. it promotes spiritual practice), or reaffirms.

    Perhaps it is hubristic of us to think that this is what we’re doing; but I tend to think we’re not so much changing the totem as experiencing a mutual growth that comes from repeated interaction between two beings who are not static, and not stagnant in nature. I also think as long as we’re of the understanding that it’s possible to grossly misinterpret stories and UPG that is shared with us (it’s happened, I’ve had to drastically change two totem files because I had complete misfires in my own understanding of what I was being told/shown/experiencing, and I will have to change more as I keep going), and share anyway, then… how could this not be important work?

    And in some cases, it’s just necessary to have any working relationship with spirits at all. Where I am locally, there’s almost zero Indigenous knowledges remaining of local plant and animal spirits. I have to interact with these without the assistance of a collective of knowledge to fall back on and check up on; and likewise, I think my information could help others so I share it, but I’d hope they check first with their own experiences. It actually makes me happy if someone says ‘your totem write up on X animal doesn’t match my understanding at all, for me, this totem is X,’ because a) it means they’re doing the work, and not just relying on books, b) they are demonstrating that each animal has multiple and often contrasting meanings and stories attached to it, I’m sure Wolverine has stories where its gluttony has saved people and nations and the moral is something like ‘may his gluttony be always growing’, and others where it’s bad and something to be cautious about, for example, and c) because it creates discussion and interaction. So I think this sort of sharing, coming back and sharing new knowledges and stories, is really crucial in a way that makes me wish even more people would be willing to share knowledges and stories like this.

    Anyway, I think it’s awesome that you’re doing this. 🙂 And exploring this more often. It’s a powerful process, and you’ll probably find that it gets more nuanced and developed with time. Although, hitting the ‘too many stories, not enough time,’ point isn’t always much fun!

    • I think the big problem with UPG is that a lot of it isn’t taken critically. As I mentioned to Kelly above, there was the flavor of the week syndronme, and I saw it both with various pagan practices, as well as things like otherkin. Part of why I’m so cautious to claim this as modern mythos-making is that I want to be sure that I’m tapping into more than just my own imagination, whether it’s actual beings, or simply the collective unconscious. It’s easy to make stuff up; it’s harder to weave it into something else with thought and intent and deliberation and inspiration.

      So far I’ve only been doing this as part of artwork; I need to see what happens if I journey specifically for it. Though journeying tosses me so far out of my comfort zone that going in with my own agenda rarely goes as intended!

      • It depends on where you discuss UPG. In groups like ADF, they prefer that you try to find it in the literature for that culture. But if you don’t, they will simply accept that you have the view but not the whole group.

        Also, it is difficult to figure what is you and what is not you. Some of the spirit-bothered such myself have grappled with that question for a long time. Where does this stuff comes from. I usually have to check with what I know or find someone who does know. But with enough practise and honesty, it becomes second nature to figure out how to do it.

        I also grapple with it with others who claim special closeness to various Gods. Are they delusional or real? I have no idea whether it is a meme passed between individuals of a certain group (which is easier with the net) or actual contact. I could compare my experiences with theirs but who is to know who is correct. I guess the questioning is where the divide is. Keep questioning and you will get the answers.

  7. I have a *lot* of thoughts about this, probably because around 80% of my practice is tied to building a mythos for mine (you may have caught some of my mutterings about it under lock in ~klgaffney before I started this one. I should really transplant all of those).

    UNFORTUNATELY, I’m all tied up in said practice (hence the lengthy silence except for brief outbursts on twitter) but I hope to have my head back soon.

  8. *is super late*

    My own practice is young, especially considering that I haven’t had much faith in my ability to do much more than lightly meditate until very recently, but I have definitely felt this same sentiment. Primarily I’ve felt it with the shorter stories I’ve written about deities in the past couple of years. To what degree I’m adding to the mythology or helping to shed light on different aspects of these beings, I’m not sure, especially since my connection with the deities thus far has been light and fleeting. I have much more hope for/faith in upcoming projects, considering that I generally have more faith in myself. Like others have said, I definitely think it’s an important aspect of this “business,” especially considering that most of us are working with fragmented mythologies which have been heavily impacted by time, cultural bias, and all that jazz. We’re all trying to make our own way, and rebuilding the mythology, be it through UPG or some other avenue, is important to that.

    At this point I feel like I’m rambling, but it’s an aspect of my own spirituality I’ve always been curious to further explore, and it’s cool to learn about other people’s experience with it. 🙂

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