Eclipse

This evening as the eclipse hit, I was walking home from the bus stop. I asked the spirits if I should take advantage of the rare full lunar eclipse and do any magic. Their reply was a very loud “No”. When I asked them why, they simply said “Bad energy”.

Whether that holds for this eclipse or all of them will remain to be seen; they’re being a bit tight-lipped about it. However, I’m glad they told me to stay indoors. Not long after I got home, I heard a bunch of shouting and noise on the next street over, followed shortly thereafter by sirens. Normally this is a nice, quiet neighborhood, but the full moon brings out the crazies…and perhaps people took advantage of the darkness of the eclipse to do something nefarious? Though it got nowhere near as dark as in a blackout.

Meh. I’ll bother the spirits about it later when they’re more prone to talking. Tomorrow is the beginning of my final month of my first six months, so I’ll have plenty to keep me occupied in the meantime.

My “Golden Rules” of Magic and Spirituality

A while back, in this thread on the Wildspeak Forums, I wrote this in response to “What if it [magic/spirituality] isn’t real?”:

For myself, there are a couple of checks and balances I keep in place.

1. Is what I’m doing negatively affecting my mundane life? If so, I need to evaluate very seriously.

2. Am I hearing only things I agree with? If so, I need to question what I’m hearing.

However, there also comes a point where I have to stop questioning, and accept that yes, this is real. Yes, the spirits have an objective existence of their own, though they interface with my subjective perception of them. And when there is positive change being made in my life, that’s proof enough that regardless of what the “reality” is, this is a valuable thing to me.

This also ties into some continued thought-chewing from my post a few weeks ago where I asked some questions about shamanism and service to the gods/spirits. And having thought about it, I’m pretty happy with my two Golden Rules. Here’s why.

#1: Is what I’m doing negatively affecting my mundane life? If so, I need to evaluate very seriously.

This rule pretty much came into play early on; it’s one of the first things I figured out to keep myself sane and grounded amid mysticism, spirituality, and magic. It’s easy, especially when you’re just beginning to learn about magic and other such things, to get carried away by the perceived Otherworldliness of the whole thing. I remember how awesome it was to find out that magic wasn’t just in my head, that it existed, and that there were explanations for it besides “It’s just superstition” or “You’re going to hell”. It was also nice to know that I wasn’t the only person who talked to spirits as a kid, who didn’t just see it as imagination, and who thought Nature was more than just resources to be used and abused by “dominant” humans.

When I talk about negative affects, I’m not just talking about the grandiose self-delusion of Apocalyptic Destinies, wherein you are convinced you and your friends are at the center of a great war to save the Universe or something similarly ungrounded but otherwise harmless. Nor am I talking about things such as BDSM spirituality and kink magic where consensual kink is utilized for ritual purposes. I’m referring to using your spirituality/magic as a crutch to excuse harmful patterns in your life. For example, if you spend all your time holed up in a ritual chamber and isolate yourself from the rest of the world except to get food and (if employed) go to work, something’s probably going very wrong with you. Spirituality and magic should enhance and be balanced with the rest of your everyday life, not replace it.

Being interested in a subject or having a bizarre belief (by mainstream standards) isn’t a problem in and of itself. When I was writing A Field Guide to Otherkin, I interviewed a therapist about her thoughts on the concept of Otherkin (the interview may be found in one of the appendices of the book). One thing she said that really stuck out to me was that, as a therapist, it was not her job to determine the validity of my beliefs. What her concern was, was how my beliefs affected my life overall. Since I function just fine in modern society believing that on some spiritual/psychological level there’s part of me that registers as “wolf”, I take it as a clean bill of health. In fact, the concept of therianthropy gives me a good structure on which to examine and understand this part of myself, and therefore is a benefit. On the other hand, if I had clinical lycanthropy (which is an exceedingly rare disorder) I would be so convinced that I was literally, physically turning into a wolf that I would be crawling around on all fours, trying to bite people, and be quite unfit for public consumption. Still, I keep a sharp eye on where my beliefs intersect with all areas of my life, not just in the ritual room.

It’s especially crucial to question what you’re doing when it negatively affects someone else, not just (or instead of) yourself. In certain religions, for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to marry a spirit or deity. Voodoo is a good example; marriages to the loa aren’t for everyone, but they do occur. In healthy situations, this does not prevent the person from having relationships and marriages with other people. An unhealthy example, on the other hand, would be if the spirit or deity told the person they wanted to marry “You must leave your present significant other and spend all your time with me!” This is different from, say, a deity or spirit telling a person to get out of a patently abusive relationship and seek professional help. If you’re using your spirituality to excuse something you wouldn’t otherwise be doing to another person, there’s something very wrong, and you need to take a step back and evaluate the mundane, woo-free reality of what you’re doing. Look at the situation as if you had absolutely no belief in spirituality whatsoever. Be brutally honest. If it sounds crazy or toxic from that perspective, if it’s something you would tell other people not to do, then there’s a good chance you need to really seriously consider your choices.

Now, the concept of negative effect is open to interpretation. For example, a gay person who is out of the closet could be said to be negatively affecting family members who are embarrassed and scandalized by hir choice to come out. However, there’s also the consideration of what staying in the closet does to the gay person. Having been stuffed in a few closets myself, I know just how screwed up it can make a person, and how much healthier it is to have the room to come to terms with who and what you are rather than hiding it. Is the other person’s embarrassment worth my depression, stress, anxiety and ill health overall? Is it worth spending my life feeling like I’m a mistake? Sometimes it’s a delicate balance between being aware of the effect on others, and on yourself.

However, if the concrete, mundane, physical effects of what you’re doing are running counter to your spiritual justifications, either in regards to yourself or others, it’s time to take a time-out and have a realistic, detached look at what you’re up to.

Let’s look at the second Golden Rule:

#2: Am I hearing only things I agree with? If so, I need to question what I’m hearing.

This is a later refinement based on the first rule. Every person relies, to one extent or another, on Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). Even in religions with a well-established set of dogma and rules, such as the various denominations of Christianity or the various types of Judaism, there are disagreements and individual interpretations. For example, one church may be fully in agreement with the idea that “God hates fags”. Another may say that God says to “Love the sinner and hate the sin”. A third insists that “God is love”, no matter who you are. Even so, individuals within each church may disagree to some extent on the details. Having a collective of people who back up your beliefs can be seductive–no matter how many people agree with you, it’s still important to have an amount of healthy skepticism.

And this is something that fundamentalists of all religions (yes, pagans have fundies, too) don’t want to hear–that our relationship to the Divine may be more subjective than we initially believed. I believe very strongly that deities and spirits are much “bigger” entities than we are, or at least live on a more multifaceted dimension. Therefore our understanding of them is the understanding a two dimensional world would have of a three dimensional being. Since we can’t comprehend them all at once, they show us each the face we most need to see. It’s like a more complex version of the faces we put on for different people; you probably act a bit differently around your boss than you do around someone you’re flirting with!

I also don’t believe that deities and spirits communicate to us in words. When I communicate with the totems, or the Animal Father, I don’t think they’re speaking English to me. Rather, whether they communicate through energy or emotions or some other force, the best way for me to interpret it, at least initially, is through words and, to a lesser extent, images. Sometimes, though, with an entity I have a good connection with, I can open myself temporarily to pure stream of consciousness that transcends the limitations of words–but still makes sense. However, even then, that information is filtered through my tunnel vision, my experiences and my headspace. In other words, as an anonymous person put it, “You know you have created God in your own image when your God hates the same people you do”.

And this is why we need to be wary when we’re only hearing what we want to hear. It’s very easy to misinterpret things, or to selectively use them to justify our position on something. Religious fundamentalism comes about when a person of any religion insists that the way they understand things is the most correct way to interact with that deity/spirit/etc. and anyone else is doing it wrong. While simple disagreement is more common, everything from murder to war has been justified by “God told me to….”. When your belief tells you it’s okay to negatively impact someone else’s life (especially if you think “It’s for their own good”), there’s a damned good chance that you’re actually using religion as an excuse to further your own personal agenda, even if you don’t consciously realize it. As numerous tyrants have learned over the years, religion is a great veneer for political and social agendas–it gets people emotionally riled up, and their rationality goes right out the window.

But remember the last part of my post?

However, there also comes a point where I have to stop questioning, and accept that yes, this is real. Yes, the spirits have an objective existence of their own, though they interface with my subjective perception of them. And when there is positive change being made in my life, that’s proof enough that regardless of what the “reality” is, this is a valuable thing to me.

Caution is good. Questioning is good. However, if what I am doing is overwhelmingly constructive, and if it isn’t being used as a justification for screwing someone (myself included) over in a way I would not normally do, then I’m more likely to move forward. One way that I know therioshamanism has been good for me is that I look back over the time since I started my initial training in September, and I see where what I have done and learned has provided me with very useful tools that I’ve been able to use to improve situations in my life overall. I have become a better, healthier person through it, and I feel more confident in my ability to help others do the same. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep a watchful eye on any negative “side effects”, but I can point to very concrete, physical ways in which my spirituality has had a positive effect on my life. If other people point out blind spots, then they can be dealt with.

However, overall I can say that the path I have walked for over a decade, and most recently therioshamanism, has contributed greatly to my overall health and happiness, and to making me a better person. It has also helped me to become more aware of the world around me and my impact on it, and while I haven’t yet achieved perfection, I have many tools at my disposal to help me get a little closer. My Golden Rules give me the focus and grounding I need to continue in this endeavor.

Metamorphosis (Part II)

Last night I finally found time and energy to do the ritual I promised to Artemis, to say a temporary farewell to her so I could allow the Animal Father to have a more pronounced effect in my life. A little later than I thought, but better to do it when I’m actually feeling up to it.

I started by putting on the ritual gown I’ve worn for years, and which I’ll be retiring for the time being other than for one pre-scheduled exception. I then began to talk about the night we first “met”, so to speak. She asked me to dance, simply dance, as I had ten years before. So I started slowly pacing back and forth around the room in the moonlight–just like before–and let the energy slowly move me into a dance. Once I hit the rhythm, though, I let myself go once again, ecstatic. As I danced I spoke with her, telling her that there was no way I could ever repay her for everything she’s done to help me over the years, and that I appreciated everything.

Artemis then asked me to sit before my altar and simply listen. She told me she was proud of me, even with the rough spots over the years, and she seemed really pleased with how I turned out. Then she told me that at some point in the future, she would come back, and she would call me to her again, but for something more intense. She asked me to kiss her, and I saw her before me in my mind’s eye. I did, and I felt/saw an archer’s bow made of silver enter me when I inhaled, through my lips and down into the center of my body, shining like the crescent moon overhead. I could feel her essence in it, and felt it as her promise to return.

She told me that the shamanism was the Animal Father’s gift to me, and that later on she would return to give her own gift, but for now I should focus on my shamanic practice. She didn’t indicate when that would be, other than that it wouldn’t be a conflict with the shamanism. Nor did it seem she would replace the Animal Father, either. So it may be that, long after I gave up on the popular “I must have a God and a Goddess to be complete” newbie stage, it looks as though I may end up with just that!*

After that, we said our goodbyes, and the Animal Father came in. He greeted me, and sat down to talk to me a bit about what’s to come. Should I choose to continue to walk this path after my first six months are over, his tasks for the second six months are thus:

–Dedicate each week to a different one of my skin spirits, to get to know each one better, and to come up with a drum rhythm, dance and song for each.
–Practice journeying with the drum at least once a week.
–Use the prayer beads once a day (this one has a bit of flexibility since it can take a while, but daily is preferred).

If I do well with these, I may get even more asked of me (ack!) For the time being, though, in addition to my daily prayers/etc. this seems manageable for where I am now.

I’ll be curious to see where the next six weeks take me as the spiritual changeover happens. It’s not going to be huge, instant ka-blammo or anything like that, but change nonetheless. And while I can feel Artemis’ presence has diminished a lot, I’m okay with that now, I have a sense of closure, and I’m ready to move on. She’ll be back eventually, but for now, I have this path to walk.

* Though they’re not a “matched set” as some people feel a God and Goddess must be. Nor is this “shamanic Wicca”. Though (neo)Wicca seems to be the open-source neopagan religion of choice, I actually am trying to distance myself from more general neopagan practices and more towards something resembling traditional shamanism but tailored towards my own cultural context.

Metamorphosis

It is February 8, 2008 (just barely–53 minutes left).

Ten years ago tonight, I was nineteen and home after a date with my then-boyfriend. The relationship was just beginning to deteriorate; by September it would be over after two and a half years. I had been studying magic and paganism for a couple of years, but hadn’t really focused myself. I was a sophomore in college, and still living with my parents to try to get through college without student loans.

Little did I know that I was on the verge of a change. While I spent most of my teen years rather isolated since I didn’t have much in the way of friends until college, my twenties ended up being roaring, to say the very least! On the cusp of that incredible decade, I met Artemis for the first time. I think she had always been there, but hadn’t really had a good opportunity to introduce herself. I remember being vaguely dissatisfied with my relationship with my boyfriend, and so it shouldn’t have surprised me that what would happen that night would help me to break out of some bad patterns, including with relationships.

There I was in my room, with the moonlight streaming in (the moon was not quite full). And then I had the sudden urge–to dance. I had never danced before. I had always been that one at the school dances who sat on the sidelines, scared to go out there. I had been so out of touch with what was popular I didn’t even recognize the music. And I was terribly self-conscious, so the concept of dancing was alien to me. Yet there, alone in the moonlight, I danced, and I danced freeform. Back and forth around the bed I danced, exulting in the beauty of the light, the feeling of my graceful body, the sheer joy of not giving a damn what anyone thought. And in that moment Artemis made herself known to me, and told me I was hers.

I don’t remember what she told me, exactly. But from that moment on, I began to change. I became more independent and self-assertive. I became more bold in my relationships. I stopped hemming and hawing about paganism, and decided to just dive on in. And over the next decade I would do my best to emulate this goddess I admired so much, and who taught me a lot just through her example.

She never demanded strict worship from me; all she asked was that I come and talk to her every February 8 in remembrance of that first night. And so I have done so every year. Sometimes I did a formal ritual; other times we simply took a walk together. This year she came and chatted with me as I walked from work to the train station. She told me that the reason she never demanded a lot from me was that she wanted me to grow with my own mind and heart, that she wanted me to be wild, not domesticated. It left a lot to be desired in the discipline department, but she felt I honored her through my freedom and growth as an individual, something I needed a lot more than living by rank-and-file.

Today, though, was different. A year ago, when I spoke with her, she told me that a male god would be coming into my life soon–she didn’t tell me who, but she told me to prepare to work with him more closely. Not that she would go away entirely, but she would step back and let him take over for a while. And it turns out that that god was the Animal Father, with whom I’ll be working more closely for the time being. While I still haven’t made the final decision to take the shamanism route, I will be working with him one way or another. So this weekend the change will happen, and start a new phase.

The changes in me and my life won’t be immediately apparent, of course. Nothing like that really happens overnight, no matter how big the catalyst. But I am changing my life-role, so to speak. I’m going from the young maiden running wild through the woods, traveling hither and yon on her own, learning to be herself, but ultimately rootless, to the one who protects and sustains the tribe, maintaining good relations with the land we rely on for life. My need in the past year or so to start settling down, my marriage a year and a half ago, my growing interest in sustainable living–these are all things that are necessary to this new stage of life, and adhering to the archetype that is presented as a role model for me. It’s time to take the things learned in the past decade, and make something new of them. My most immediate “tribe” may consist of me, my husband, and our cats, but there are numerous people and other living beings that I can help.

I’ll admit, I am a little scared, and sad. I think I just got so used to Artemis’ constant presence that I never thought of being without her. It’s not that I can’t still talk to her; it’s just that her influence will be a lot less, and the Animal Father’s much more. While I’m exciting about continuing to grow, there’s still sadness that this phase of my life is ending, one that was really important to developing who I am. This November I’ll be turning thirty, but I’m less worried about that than about this marker of time.

But she’ll still be around; I’m not losing her. And I know she’ll let me know if I’m in need of her guidance (if I don’t think to ask!). I was going to do a ritual tonight, but I’m just too damned tired. So tomorrow will do. Believe it or not, this is pretty incredible for me. Before I started on the therioshamanism path, it was not at all uncommon for me to put off rituals for weeks or even months (a couple got postponed for years), or not done at all. So a delay of a day is pretty good. I still want to be more consistent, but this will do.

And I know she’s proud of me.

Apparently, Answering Questions is Serious Business, Too!

Wow! Between the comments here and LJ, I had about four dozen replies! I’ve done my best to reply in turn, though here I’m going to address some of the common themes I saw in people’s replies. But I do want to thank you all again; this has really helped to give me food for thought, and readjusted my perceptions of Intense Paths to something more realistic. (I also have about eight billion more books to look up 😉 Devious people, recommending even more books I can’t buy right this moment!)

So here are a few things I saw running through a lot of the responses:

–The big, bad changes are actually for mutual benefit (with a few exceptions).

This is actually in alignment with a lot of my experiences in the past. Let me give you a brief lesson in the history of Lupa. In 2002, I was living in Pittsburgh with my then-fiance with whom I had an increasingly unhealthy (for both of us) relationship. I quit a rather miserable job at a veterinary clinic and ended up working for Clean Water Action, an environmental nonprofit, as a field canvasser. I started in July, and in September I and three other people from that office got shipped out to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to A) help Democrat Tim Johnson win the senatorial campaign and B) inform the people of Sioux Falls that the Big Sioux River, their main water supply, was so filthy that there were measurable amounts of pig waste and pesticides in their tap water.

I’ll spare you the details; needless to say, having three months away from Pittsburgh was a major catalyst and broke me out of a bunch of stagnation in my life at the time. Upon my return I broke up with my fiance, took over our apartment, and proceeded to live on my own for the next three and a half years, with a couple of relationships along the way, as well as a fling or three. I also overhauled my spiritual practices, completely rediscovered myself more than once, and in short did all the self-searching and streamlining I hadn’t been able to do when A) living with my parents, including all the way through college, and B) living with a significant other. This included some pretty disorganized times, such as the eight months in 2004-5 where just about everything in my life changed. Then, more recently, 2006 had me move across the country, get married, go into an entirely new profession, get published, and a few other more minor changes.

So pretty much the entire time since the Autumn of 2002 my life has been in a state of flux to one extent or another. Looking back, while there was no doubt some pointless flailing along the way, I also did a lot of learning and cleaning out of things I didn’t really need. In a lot of ways, the events of the past five+ years have prepared me for where I am now. I can’t say I liked every change that occurred, but I can see where a lot of the major ones were learning experiences, or ways of clearing things out of my life that I no longer needed, but was loathe to let go of.

I’ve had some recent shake-ups, too, that have helped me to realize what’s necessary in my life right now, and what I can stand to let go of for the time being. I suppose my anxiety with the prospect of having even more things taken away “for my own good” is that I wonder how much more I really need, and also that I’m finally finding some sense of stability in life. For example, while my marriage isn’t absolutely, totally perfect and without flaws (whose is?) and we’ve had some shake-ups, a lot of the recent occurrences have shown me the strength in it. I suppose what I really want is to have something in my life that won’t change to the point of being lost to me, and that while it may evolve, it’ll still be there. I know change is normal, and particularly normal for this sort of dedicated spirituality, but I’m ready for at least some settling down, too. Buying a house in the next few years would be nice, for example.

On the other hand, I’m open to constructive change, too. I wouldn’t mind being self-employed, and being able to do so in a way that still lets me have a comfortable life would definitely facilitate my path. (Working two jobs, on the other hand, would not so much.) And that’s a related theme I’ve seen a lot–that it is okay to come to the table with my own agenda. There are certain things that I want within reason, and certain things that are off-limits. It’s been very reassuring reading about others’ experiences with this sort of thing, being able to negotiate rather than just taking whatever’s handed to you.

Just for the record, I haven’t had any indication, for example, that I’ll lose everything. I think the main concern is that I’ll dedicate enough time to shamanizing, and that it’ll be less about my life collapsing again, and more about shifting around priorities. Given that I don’t have children (nor do I plan on them), my husband is quite supportive of my spirituality, and I’m getting better at time management and self-discipline, the only things that would need to be removed are those that have become irrevocably harmful. In retrospect, that’s what’s been removed in the past, anyway.

–The false dichotomy of mundane/spiritual

This is something I’ve struggled with some. In my experience growing up in the U.S., you keep your spirituality distanced enough from your everyday life that you form a dichotomy between spiritual and mundane. Otherwise you risk becoming that person who only does what the Bible says no matter what, or refuses goes out of the home without a fifteen card tarot reading every day. In other words, it’s not cool to be Ned Flanders.

Additionally, being pagan, there’s that whole mentality among some, not all, non-pagans, that if you let your paganism permeate your life, you must be in a cult and you’ve been brainwashed and therefore your religion is bad for you. Or, alternately, you must have been one of those weird kids in school who read books on Wicca and you just haven’t grown out of it (because everyone knows that Christianity is a more grown-up religion than believing in all those gods and goddesses!)

Finally, in “conventional” neopaganism, there’s the much-flogged idea that you do your mundane actions before your magic–you send out resumes to get a job, and then do the job spell.

This perpetuates that dualistic perspective that I still deal with. So I really need to find ways to marry the two without either A) becoming completely out of touch with “reality” (however you want to define it, and B) accommodate the increased amount of spiritual woo I’ll most likely be dealing with. So it looks like a paradigm shift is in order. I’m already somewhat in the process of doing that what with making changes to my life to be more eco-friendly, as well as increasing the amount of daily communication with the powers that be that I have. That’s still not quite the same as being “on call” 24-7, though, and being ready to have my routine disrupted as necessary.

–Shamanism isn’t necessarily a permanent condition

First, I agree with the concept that we do get a few chances to opt out before taking the big plunge. I know one of these will happen at the end of my six months, where I’ll get to decide whether to move forward or not (though whether, if I refused, I’d get called again later is another question entirely–depends on how badly I’m wanted, I suppose). But another thing that brought up is the idea that one’s path can evolve even past shamanism, such as into another form of spirit work (some folks consider shamanism to be a type of spirit work) or other calling. This seems to be different from just backing out entirely; instead, it’s finding that shamanism no longer “fits”, and finding what fits better for who you are at that point and what’s needed from you.

–Remember, it’s not all horrible and terrible!

I think this reminder comes because so much of the modern material on shamanism is…well…fluff. Things like claiming the Native Americans are actually from Atlantis and making everything about crystals, etc. Part of why I’ve been focusing so much on traditional forms of shamanism is because I haven’t had that much exposure to it, and I don’t feel that a lot of neoshamanism goes deep enough, just based on my previous experiences as a magician. However, I think I sometimes veer too far into the “shamanism is not fluffy–it’s scary and dangerous and it’ll eat you alive!” stuff, and forget that there are good parts to it, too. I have to remember that just because my relationship with the totems intensifies, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become more distant or harsh all the time. And for all the Animal Father may scare the hell out of me at times, he’s also been quite supportive at times, too. And I have to remember that while my training does help me become a better “vessel” for shamanizing, there are also things that benefit me personally as well.

These are the main thoughts I’ve had from reading over peoples’ responses. Again, I really appreciate the brain food, and people setting me straight on what the things I brought up are actually about. Y’all are awesome 🙂

Quick Addendum to the Last Post

Just to make it clear, I’m also, of course, going to be trusting my own experiences in this regard, as well as what the deities/spirits I work with tell me they want from me. However, I do very much appreciate other peoples’ perspectives speaking from their own experiences. I know in the end that I have to work out the relationships that I get, and that what works best for me may not be what works best for others. But I do appreciate the clarification; I’ve gotten some good food for thought so far. Again, being solitary on a path that’s I’m creating myself (with the aid of the Powers That Be), it’s incredibly helpful to toss ideas at other folks so as to add in an extra caution against walking off a cliff, so to speak.

I’ll reply to comments later; the Plague has knocked me out, and I’m home sick, staying (mostly) away from the computer. Cheers 🙂

Asking Questions is Serious Business!

Alright, I’m going to be asking for audience participation on this one. I’ve got a few questions about shamanism and the actual day to day effects thereof that I’d like some clarification on, if folks are willing to answer.

First off, I want to make it very clear that I’m not intending disrespect with any of these. There are some things that I’ve heard from people who have practiced shamanism that, quite frankly, I question. And although spirit work isn’t exactly the same, I hear similar things from spirit workers about the effects of their own relationships to the gods and spirits. Over the past half year or so–pretty much since I started heeding the pushing and shoving towards shamanism–I’ve run into more modern shamans and spirit workers who have the attitudes I’m going to discuss, and in the interest of trying to figure out what to expect, I’m asking for clarification on the whys of these perspectives. Additionally, it’s better than sitting here and making assumptions about thigs I haven’t yet experienced.

–Being a shaman will ruin your life.

I know some of this stems from the shaman sickness, the illness that comes of ignoring the call to be a shaman. I can’t say I’ve ever been deathly ill. I occasionally get asthma from acid reflux, but I do that entirely to myself through stress. The most impressive surgery I ever had was having a benign tumor removed from my hip when I was seventeen (it took all of ten minutes, or so I was told). I don’t have any immune disorders, and I outgrew my allergies once I became an adult (and even at their worst they just gave me sinus infections a couple times a year). Mentally, the most I deal with is depression from time to time, and nothing severe enough to warrant drugging myself.

As far as my personal life, it’s pretty good. I’m happily married; we’ve had our differences, to be sure, and there were times we really wondered what the hell we were doing, but we got through every situation and came out the better for it both as individuals and as a couple. I won’t say I’m the absolute bestest friend you’ll ever have in the whole wide world, but I do have a decent social life. I have a good job (though the schedule sucks right now) and I don’t have much trouble finding new contracts. Plus I have a good side career as a small-press author and editor, as well as artist.

So should I expect to lose all of that once I get into the meat of shamanism? Should I count on getting divorced, losing my job, going into debt, and having my health fall to pieces? Or do the trials I’ve been through count towards my total amount of suffering (like the eight month period in 2004 where I got dumped twice, moved three times, totalled my car, went into one of my worse cases of depression, and otherwise had my life explode?) Is it possible to be a shaman and still have a healthy mundane life? Or should I just give up on trying?

–The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.

I see this a lot in classic mythology–the gods can be real bastards. However, this view of the Divine tends to be a minority in modern paganism. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but if the deities are living beings who are aware of the changes in the world, at least to the point that they understand that 21st Century United States culture is not the same as ancient Greece or paleolithic France, would they not also understand that how humans approach deities has changed as well?

My perspective on the Divine is very similar to this, written up by my husband. It’s a more egalitarian perspective, and it more accurately reflects the relationships I’ve had with both deities and spirits/totems over the years. Granted, I also haven’t been a practicing shaman over that time, so that probably affects my perspective.

Now, being involved in BDSM, I’m well aware that, for example, a Master/slave situation is more intense than a scene in a bedroom. However, both/all parties also consent to and want to be in that situation. So it would make sense to get into a similar role of sacrifice and devotion and giving up of free will to a deity–with one’s consent. However, I have to honestly ask, what happens when the deity-devotee relationship becomes abusive? Do we allow gods to do things to us that we would never allow another human being to do, just because they’re bigger? If a person is in a relationship with another person that makes hir miserable, hir friends tell hir to get the hell out. But do we do the same with deities or spirits?

And that leads me to my next topic:

–There’s no way out.

Shamanism has been described as something one MUST do, and if you refuse, the spirits make you sick. This isn’t just in modern shamanism, either, but in traditional shamanic societies worldwide. What if shamanism ruins your life? What if it makes you miserable? What if the deities and spirits leave you destitute in a hole somewhere, cursing the day they ever called you? Are you stuck? Or do we have room to negotiate? Again, in my experience, I’ve always had room to negotiate; however, again, I haven’t been a practicing shaman in that time.

–If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.

Just like it says. How can something that a person complains about on a regular basis be worth it? If you aren’t complaining regularly, does it mean that you aren’t listening, or you aren’t really doing true shamanism? Should I look forward to being Our Lady of Intense Suffering?

Again, I’m not trying to be disrespectful; I’m exaggerating a bit, but I do want to know why these beliefs are in place. I won’t lie and say I don’t sometimes suspect dogma, but on the other hand the people I’ve met don’t strike me as blind fanatics, either, so I figure there are good reasons for these things. So I’m asking folks, if you will, to kindly fill me in however much you wish, so I have an idea A) of how accurate my perceptions above are, and B) what, realistically, I may or may not want to prepare for.

The thing is, I’ve got two months until I decide whether to continue to pursue this path or not, and whether I want to dedicate myself more fully to the Animal Father. The totems will stay regardless, but the relationship to this particular deity and this path is what’s at stake here.

One of my biggest rules in magic/spirituality/woo/etc. is that it’s all well and good until it starts negatively affecting one’s mundane life–at that point, it’s time to take a step back and look at the situation with a detached eye, especially if it’s negatively affecting someone else. Now I know there are numerous self-professed shamans who have never had a problem, who seem to bask in Universal Love and Light, and while they may face dangers when journeying, their lives are otherwise healthy. Are they less shamanic than those whose lives have gone all to pieces?

What the heck am I getting myself into?

(Thanks in advance for perspectives, even if they end up not being easy to hear.)

Waiter! There’s a Spirit in my Drink!

Ravenari made an excellent comment to my bunny hop post from the other day. This part in particular got me thinking:

I wonder as well, if that sort of familiarisation with each animal spirit (even onces you’ve danced with before) is also a method to broaden your base of animal helpers. Because I feel that as you become more familiar with the energies as you skin dance, more will come through as clear helpers.

It’s one of those moments where I smack my forehead and say “Geez, why the hell didn’t I see that before?” This is sort of a continuation of our conversation a couple of weeks back about spirit helpers in general–and how it’s not a great idea to go journeying with just a power animal. I’ve been more aware since then of how the various spirits in my life interact with me, particularly as I walk along this particular path. I’ve been particularly focused on the totems, since they’re at the center of a lot of my elemental work in my six months. But I haven’t been too sure as to what would happen after March when the six months were up.

The Animal Father telling me he wanted me to work with the skin spirits on a daily basis after my six months was my first indication, along with him making it clear that part of the transition from the six months to the next stage of my training would involve dedicating myself to him. However, Ravenari’s comment above made it hit home to me that I’ll probably spend the second six months (at least) just working on strengthening my relationships with the spirits and determining who’s willing to help me and how. These first six months have been a process of cosmology building, creating the setting for the work to happen in, and next I’ll be figuring out who’ll be walking the path with me the most, at least to some extent–spirits may come and go as they please, as the relationships change, etc.

So this helps me make some sense of what’s going on. This is why I believe it’s crucial for those of us who work on a solitary basis to talk shop with others regularly. Other people can have perspectives on things that we may have totally missed. Ravenari is a practitioner of a traditional Russian form of animism/shamanism, and her viewpoint gives me something besides the neoshamanic/core shamanic/etc. material that’s a lot more common in neopaganism. It’s not so much that I think I should be a practitioner of Vilturj, mind you–it’s that what she says makes sense to me in a way that core shamanism and its derivatives haven’t, at least not on the subject of spirits. Most of the neoshamanic material deals a lot with the shaman doing most of the work, with little “interference” from the spirits. And, as she noted in her original post on the topic, it’s not a great idea to go journeying with only a power animal, because a power animal only has so much influence in certain places. (Granted, it’s dangerous to go alone, too.)

My point is that while I may not personally draw on every single thing Ravenari has in her practice, in both her original post, and her comment to my post about her post, she was able to offer me a unique perspective based on her experience. It may have gone against conventional neoshamanic wisdom in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean it can’t ring true to me, a neoshamanic practitioner. We don’t always have to toe the party line, and when something works with what I have, I’m going to run with it. And it does make a lot of sense that the various spiritual relationships I’ve been cultivating over the years–not just the skin spirits, but many others–would come into play as I started on my shamanic path. I think there was part of me that was expecting to have to find a whole new “set” of spirits for this work, and perhaps I will meet some new faces along the way, but it is quite comforting to realize that some of my best allies have been around all along.

All this does make me feel better overall about what I’m doing. I think there’s a certain amount of uncertainty that comes from “creating” your path rather than working with one you’ve been raised with. It’s so easy to be led astray by one’s own UPG; I’ve been exceptionally cautious about my discoveries. There are things that I’ve discovered but haven’t yet talked about or accepted because I’m still waiting to see if they pan out into something more substantial or not. But while I don’t expect to have everything I do verified by someone else before I accept it, the external validation I got in this case was a nice treat. Obviously, if the second six months end up being entirely different, then I’ll of course change my views. But the idea that cosmology comes first, then comes learning how to work with the spirits more effectively, makes perfect sense with what I’m doing.

One final thing I do want to make clear, on a bit of a tangent. I am not yet a practicing shaman, though I may refer to myself as a therioshaman for short. Therioshaman-in-training is a better term (but it’s a mouthful!). While I’ve made a few practice runs journeying with the drum, and done years of trance-dancing and shapeshifting, I won’t start with the actual shamanizing for a while yet. It looks as though the spirits want me to have at least a solid year of training in the basics–cosmology and working with spirit helpers–before I even get the bike with training wheels, never mind taking the training wheels off! Occasionally it’s frustrating, because I realize how much work there is to do once I am practicing. However, mostly it’s a relief, because I know I’m not going to get sent off unprepared. I know that shamanizing isn’t safe, that not all spirits are friendly, and not every journey will be successful. But I do feel that I am being directed through effective training, and it’s things like the experiences above, as well as the fact that both I and the spirits have been seeing a lot of very concrete progress come out of the past few months, that show me that I’m on the right track.

Lupa Does the Bunny Hop

I was a little late in doing my skin spirit work this month, but today I managed to spend some time with my rabbit skin, a rather small brown pelt from a domesticated rabbit. Right before I went to choose a skin to dance, I kept thinking about El-Ahrairah from Watership Down, who is somewhat of a pop culture version of the totemic Rabbit, as well as a useful depiction thereof. So I chose the rabbit skin to dance today.

He was a little unsure before we went into things; he’s the first skin from a domesticated animal I’ve danced, and he told me that as he’d spent his life in a hutch, he really wasn’t sure how much like a wild rabbit he was. I told him, “Well, I’ve not worked with Rabbit much myself, so maybe he’ll give us a little help and we can figure this one out together”. Indeed, El-Ahrairah gave us the boost we needed!

I draped the skin over my shoulders like a cape, tied with two leather cords around my neck. Then I got down on my hands and knees and attempted to lollop like a rabbit–and got about two inches ahead of where I’d been before. I’m used to large, striding animals, or at least those that walk in a four-beat pace. The two-beat lollop of the rabbit is another story entirely. It probably took me a good ten minutes at least to figure out how to get more than a few inches forward at a time. I ended up with a rather ungainly, probably ridiculous-looking quasi-lollop on my hands and balls of my feet. In fact I know it was silly to watch–even the rabbit skin was laughing, though having a good time.

I then got up to try to mimic the lollop in a more bipedal fashion. I really didn’t want to have to rely on the infamous “bunny hop” with two feet together (with or without the “right, right, left, left, jump forward, jump backward, jump forward three times, repeat” pattern!) That would annoy me entirely too much for me to hit a good trance, and it didn’t remind me of the movement I’d done before. I finally ended up with a two-step dance, where I would dip my torso and arms forward when stepping with my lead foot, and come back up when stepping forward with my hind foot. I also kept the characteristic “lub-dup, lub-dup” rhythm from the lollop, which bound the two moves together really well.

Learning to move in an entirely new way was pretty exhausting–not to mention hard on my back. But both I and the rabbit skin had a great time figuring it out together. I didn’t even try approximating a run; I figure I should learn to thoroughly lollop first.

The Animal Father nudged me while we were dancing. He told me that once my six months were up that he wanted me to dance a different skin every night for a week each week until I’d danced them all and gotten to know them. I’m sure the skins will appreciate this; I don’t dance as much as I’d like since my job takes a lot out of me, and they always seem so sad when I get done dancing and they realize that no one else will be dancing that day/night. I am looking forward to it, though.

Shiny objects! (And PRESENCE)

I fully admit that I have magpie syndrome, that tendency found so often among pagans to collect shiny (colorful, has Celtic knotwork, etc.) objects to decorate one’s home, person and ritual area with. While I’ve cut down on a lot of the shinies, I still occasionally get excited over something new.

After I made my post about prayer beads, I ordered the pendant I wanted for my necklace/prayer beads that I described in the post. Well, it arrived in yesterday’s mail, and was sitting at my place at the kitchen table when I got home last night. To be honest, it showed up a lot quicker than I expected–not that I’m complaining!

It looks awesome–shiny, not quite copper colored, and I love the primitive look of the Sorceror/Animal Father image. The tree on the other side came out well, too. Very nice weight, too. I definitely recommend Quicksilver Mint for metal pendants!

The pendant was on a black cord, and nestled in a small plastic ziploc bag. As I was about to take the pendant out, the Animal Father told me not to touch the pendant itself, and to take it up to the ritual room and hang it on the altar. So I did, and I draped the cord over a clay jug at the center of the altar. As I did so, I felt the god ARRIVE in the ritual room, and I felt the distinctive PRESENCE of Something Much Larger Than I Am fill the space and weigh my head down, for lack of a better term.

“Are you ready to welcome me into your life more?” he asked. Well aware of at least some of what’s ahead, and even knowing that it won’t necessarily be easy–but will be worth it–“Oh, yes, definitely”, I replied. With that answer in hand, the Animal Father left, and the room returned to its normal state.

I’m pretty sure that once the six months are up he’ll be a much more frequent presence in my life. As to how that will manifest, well–I’ll find out after the next two months and change!