Will It Be Enough?

There are scary things afoot in these times. Someone I was talking to today remarked that the fruit crop in the Pacific Northwest is most likely screwed. The trees all blossomed last month and this, and while it’s been pretty, the patterns of weather have been such that we get a nice few days, the flowers bloom, but then the weather gets so cold that most of the pollinators won’t/can’t come out. By the time it gets warm enough for them, the flowers will have dropped off.

Many people here in Portland that I’ve talked to who have lived here for a good long while say that this weather is highly abnormal, and that it’s been getting progressively worse over the years. I’m firmly convinced of global climate change, and there are fewer ostriches with their heads buried firmly in the sands of denial. Something’s going on, and it’s not looking positive. I know some smartasses talk during the cold days about what a crock “global warming” is (because they assume that it should be universally warmer across the board). However, it’s more complex than that–warmer air overall changes the weather patterns; it doesn’t mean that the cold goes away entirely. Instead you get seriously screwed up weather patterns. We’ve had an abundance of “weird weather days” in 2008, where we get sun, rain, snow and hail in quick succession. Not that these never happen, but they’ve been particularly frequent.

I look at these situations, and then I look at where I am as a shaman, and as a sustainability geek. I’m at the ground level on both of these, really. I’m just now going out to the park to talk to the oldest trees who were there when it was still farmland, and figure out what they need as the “elders” of that place. I’m just now really learning to connect with the Land in a deeper way than “Ooooh, pretty!” As for the physical end of things, I have my first garden out there on the roof in containers of various sorts. Hardly enough to live on, to be sure. And while our downstairs neighbors will be collaborating with us to try to convince the leasing agency to let us have a trio of Bantam hens, that’s still nowhere enough to be self-sufficient. We still have a car, we still throw out too much garbage (though we recycle and compost religiously). We’re still not where we could be. And let’s not even get into the property ownership thing–I can only wish I had a yard I owned that I could completely dedicate to food production.

The thing I worry is that it won’t be enough. I can’t save the world, I know that. But I feel like these are things I should have been doing a decade ago. Granted, I didn’t have access to a lot of the resources I have now, in my defense. But I do still regret that I’m not further ahead, that I’m not where other people who have been doing this for decades are. What the hell have I been doing for the first not-quite-thirty years of my life?

I do have to go easy on myself. I have to honor my past, and accept that I was where I was. Ten years ago I was nowhere near focused enough to do what I’m doing now–and that’s okay. I do the best that I can. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have my regrets, and my worries.

I’m really pushing myself in a lot ways, physically and metaphysically, to try to counter the damage that’s being done on a daily basis. That’s central to my shamanic path, which permeates everything–I can’t just separate it out from everything else; I don’t exist in a series of pigeonholes. But sometimes I get so damned impatient with myself, wishing I could give more, do more, and wondering if my best is really enough.

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Reconsidering…

When I first started my shamanic path six months ago, I had the idea of creating a more formal practice involving the totems, skin spirits, and other animal spirits I worked with and who had been herding me towards the idea of shamanism. Therefore, I used the term therioshamanism as a convenient label, since in my mind to name something is to give it more form. “Therio” means animal, and I figured that since I’ve focused largely on animal spirits over the past decade and change, my shamanic work would follow the same trend. This idea continued as I developed a relationship with the Animal Father, protector and embodiment of all animals.

However, as my experiences have deepened, and I have begun to incorporate more sustainable practices into my everyday life, spiritually and otherwise, I began to find that my awareness was expanding beyond the animal spirits, that I was finding more connection to plants and the land itself. I didn’t think much of it, since I was still mostly working with totems and skin spirits. And wouldn’t environmental activism contribute to helping animals in preserving their homes?

This weekend shook me out of my stubborn adherence to animal-centric practice. Over the past few days I have been introduced to the Land as a whole—not just the animals who populate it (most of whom were asleep or hiding while I made my diurnal sojourns into the desert) but also a wide variety of plants, stones, and the spirit of the Land itself. I have spoken with a cliff covered in petroglyphs left by the ancestors of the Hopi Snake Clan, and with ancient juniper trees. I have had prickly pears and crucifixion thorns as my companions, and I have conversed with caves as I sat in their depths. My encounters with animals were brief, though special—a circling vulture, a hummingbird following me down a path as I walked blindfolded, tiny lizards, a startled kit fox in a tree.

All of these came together to contribute to the Land, sustained by it and being a part of its very fabric. Yet I persisted in my single-minded focus. How could I, an animal shaman, divide my time among the animals, the plants, and the stones, never mind the spirits of Lands in numerous places? After all, hadn’t it been the Animal Father who called to me at the beginning of my path? Hadn’t the animals been the ones who kept me company and taught me over the years? Was I losing my focus?

But as I continued to walk the Land, and especially when I took my solo pilgrimage to a personal power spot on Friday, where I spent five and a half hours with no one but the Land to talk to, I found it harder and harder to ignore the draw that it had on me as a whole. And as I watched my instructor, James, calling on all manner of spirits who aided him, from mountains to totems to various plants, I finally began to open myself up to the possibility that perhaps I’d been a bit hasty in assuming that my shamanic path would just be a continuation of my previous animal-based practices.

Finally, I gave in. One of the main themes of the weekend for me was learning to open myself up more to the Land, not just the parts that I found most interesting; in fact I think it was intentional that my interaction with other animals was minimal compared to the plants and stones. And once I opened myself fully, allowing the Earth to embrace me, calling on the Fire and telling it my story, I became aware of a much, much bigger picture.

As I worked with the Sun, and the Wind, and the Fire, and Growth, and numerous other forces of nature, the Animal Father tossed me an idea that I’m amazed I totally missed before (and yet my lack of observation doesn’t surprise me). He explained that like the Sun and Moon and Earth and Wind, he himself is the embodiment of a force of nature, specifically the animal kingdom. This makes sense to me on so many levels, not the least of which being why he didn’t “read” like other deities to me, and why he struck me as more primal than deities I’ve worked with in the past. Not that deities can’t be primal; however, there’s not the amount of anthropomorphization that often accompanies many deities. He is to the various Horned gods what Father Sun is to Apollo or Lugh; while the deities may be associated with these natural phenomena, they have become somewhat removed from their roles as embodiments of the phenomena themselves, acquiring other traits along the way. While there may be myths and stories involving the Earth Mother, the Sky Father, and other such entities, their primary role is still within the natural processes themselves.

Or perhaps it’s just my perception, that I find my connection with them not so much in the myths and stories, as in the direct interaction with them on a daily basis. I’ve known of people who worship Odin, Zeus, and other sky gods, or deities associated with the wilderness, or fertility, or death, and then deny that their religion is even remotely nature-based. There’s no getting around that here; what I am discovering is less a worship of a pantheon of deities, and more a worldwide pantheistic animism in which the spirits may be much bigger than ancestors or plant spirits. Beings such as the Animal Father seem more to be like animal totems—archetypal embodiments of natural phenomena (or specific animal species in the case of totems) that have connection to all of their “type”, but are independent beings. It’s just that the Animal Father and others embody much larger, more widespread phenomena.

Either way the truth may be, this weekend has made my way much clearer. While I am going to continue my work with the animals, I’m also going to broaden my experiences to a great degree. And this feels right. Not easy, not a cakewalk—the desert made it clear to me, for example, that while it allowed my presence for a few days, it could also kill me if it wanted, or if I didn’t respect it. There’s a definite respect here that doesn’t allow me to just waltz on in without asking permission. I’m much more aware of my place in the natural cycles, civilization or no.

In my wanderings and readings I’ve run across numerous definitions of “shamanism”, ranging from “anyone who likes animal totems” to “you do whatever the gods tell you to whether you like it or not, and you have no choice”. What I have discovered here, or rather, what James taught me, is the definition that a shaman serves the community. In terms of ecoshamanism, this includes (but isn’t limited to) being a mediary between the natural world and humanity—which is pretty much what I’ve been trying for the whole time. He’s just done it more thoroughly and eloquently, and with a hell of a lot more experience! While I’m not going to give up my own “flavoring” and the useful things I’ve learned, I’m going to be incorporating a lot more ecoshamanic techniques in my practice, because they are exactly what I’ve been looking for.

It’s not that I wasn’t aware of them before; I first read Ecoshamanism in 2006. However, there’s a difference between reading about something, and seeing it demonstrated. Having not only seen the ideas and practices in person, but actually being able to apply them practically for a few days, has made a huge difference, and made the impact that much greater. Now I understand more fully why you can’t just learn to be a shaman from a book; my own previous experiences showed me that to an extent, but this made a much more vivid point.

A good example of this is something quite simple—the titles Grandfather/Grandmother, Mother/Father, Sister/Brother as applied to the spirits of natural forces. I used to avoid using these terms like the plague, mainly because I thought that the neopagans using them were “just playing Indian” (especially since a lot of my exposure to them was through books that were steeped in mishmashes of practices presented as “genuine Native American”). However, I’ve spent the past few days working within a “nondenominational” shamanic path; James doesn’t claim that ecoshamanism is 100% genuine Huichol shamanism, though his training in the shamanisms of that tribe and shamanisms have influenced him to an extent.

What I found, as he referred to Brother Wind and Sister Water, Grandfather Fire and Grandmother Growth, and as I started to make my own connections with these great beings, was that these titles fit. The immense presence and power of these spirits didn’t require titles, but it seems almost inadequate to refer to them without the titles of respect and honor. I didn’t feel, as I used these titles myself, that I was “playing Indian”. Instead, I simply felt I was calling them by proper names; I felt humbled by them, and felt the need to give them respect—and this is one way of doing so. However, because they are familial terms, they also acknowledged my connection to the spirits, rather than distancing me even more. Some things are less about culture than they are about experience; as far as I’m concerned at this point, calling the wind my Brother is no more culturally-specific than being immensely grateful for a cool breeze on a hot day, or the power of the wind blowing on a mountaintop, or praying to a gale to spare you when you’re caught in a storm on the water. Being in awe of natural phenomena isn’t limited by culture; it is only limited by one’s perception which may or may not align with the perception of the majority of people in your culture.

So I have found a path that really fits, and I have found who and what I will commit to—the Land and all its denizens, whether that Land is the Sedona desert, or Multnomah Falls, or even a distant star. I think I can be comfortable saying “I serve the Land”, rather than “I am the slave of X deity and have no choice in the matter” or “Shamanism is all about fixing my psychological problems and all the spirits are there just to help me actualize my Higher Power”. Not that these can’t be valid paths, of course; YMMV. But this path, service to the Land, made a lot of things click into place for me this weekend. Of course, there will no doubt be more lessons to come, and more recalibration as I grow and experience more. This weekend offered me a lot of answers to what I’ve been seeking.

As to other aspects of shamanism, such as drumming, journeying, the Tree with Three Worlds, and other such practices that are common, I’ll wait and see what emphasis needs to be placed on each. While I will still most likely start spending more time getting to know the skin spirits and practicing journeying with drumming and other methods, my priority has become more about getting connected to the Land. I’ve learned some valuable skills that I’m taking home and applying in my own “territory” as it were; the Sedona desert was a good teacher, but that’s not my home. The mountains and forests and ferns, and the deserts on the east side of Oregon—those are my home, and those are the places that I will be trying to develop deeper relationships with.

Refocusing…

I have learned a lot over the past few days; it’s been an incredibly intense experience. Four days immersed in the Arizona desert, learning how to connect with the land in a deeper manner than I expected, and having some very powerful encounters with the land itself, has done me a world of good. I’ll probably be doing a series of blog posts over the next few days as the words come to me; there’s a lot to digest here. Needless to say, this has been a life-changing time for me.

In my last post, I talked about how there were going to be some major changes in how I do things. (Never fear, I’m not going to delete this blog, though the nature of the posts may change somewhat.) One of the most important realizations I came to was just how strongly neopaganism and the community have impacted how I go about things. Working with someone who is coming from a primarily shamanic background, to include extensive experience with indigenous practitioners, really pinpointed some very neopagan things I’ve been doing. This was further demonstrated when I took the lessons I had learned and put them to practice on my own. When I say “neopagan habits”, I don’t mean that every single pagan does things this way; rather, these are habits and patterns that I picked up from neopaganism in general, and which are an interpretation of my experiences thereof, not neopaganism as a whole. Additionally, they may be found outside of neopaganism as well–but this is where i picked them up, personally.

One of the “neopagan habits” I’ve picked up has been wanting to try to put things in too a structured manner. I look back at the first six months, and while working with the elements on a month-by-month basis did help quite a bit, I can see where I focused too much on expecting things to go in a particular order, and to learn certain things. Not that I didn’t learn a lot; however, from here on out my approach is going to be more holistic—less compartmentalizing, more approaching the All of what I’m doing.

For instance, rather than expecting that the next six months will be spent getting to know my guides better, and then move on to other things, from here on out I’m going to let things be more free-flowing. I think I’ve been trying to direct my progress a little too much, breaking it up into easy-to-digest pieces. However, while it’s useful to be able to break things down, I’m finding that in practice it’s going to be better if I simply allow the lessons to come on their own terms. One very good reason is that, while my former way of doing things was well-intended, it was pretty slow. I would have to learn about each thing separately, and then try and put it all together. The techniques I have learned are valuable if for no other reason than they have a more complete perspective—instead of learning about Earth, then Air, then Fire, then Water, and so forth, I was immersed in the land, and all the elements, entities and components thereof. I found this to be much more effective. Granted, if I were a rank newbie to magic in general, I would probably want to learn some basic correspondences, just to get my bearings. However, I’m well past that point, and though my first six months were a good reminder, I think that the approach I have picked up this weekend will be a lot more effective and efficient going forward. “Let go and let gods.”

The other habit I picked up that I’ll be altering deals with books and expectations. Being in the pagan community since the mid-1990s, I’ve seen the tidal wave of fluffy, poor-researched source material that overran the big box stores, and I’ve seen the subsequent backlash of nonfluffiness. While I do completely support better research where historical and other verifiable information is concerned, I also have seen a rather unpleasant attitude that has arisen in conjunction with the “nonfluffy” movement. It isn’t universal among all “nonfluffy” folk, to be sure, but it exists among a minority.

Essentially, it’s an attitude of superiority, and an attempt to be more-correct-than-thou, no matter what. There’s also an obvious sense that the people get some smug satisfaction out of their destructive criticism, even if it’s couched in Authority and Experience. A healthy attitude, IMO, is one that corrects misinformation and disseminates good information, particularly in factual issues. (It’s not perfect, and may need to vent and bitch now and then.) However, I have seen in a minority of pagans a tendency towards mean-spiritedness and huge chips on shoulders. It’s not enough to offer naïve newbies good information, or to herd people away from known sources of bad information and internet trolls. These people, instead, seem to have taken it on themselves to try to be as right as possible, and anyone whom they disagree with is automatically WRONG. They go the extra mile to prove themselves, even going to the extreme of personal attacks and harassment. I’m not even talking about “bunny hunters” who chase “toxic bunnies” with their horrid misinformation across the internet, though I have my misgivings about that practice. I’m talking about stupid interpersonal politics and going out of your way to attack anyone you disagree with at any chance you get, without even considering the possibility that they might be right, and that you just might be–gasp!–wrong.

A good example is the issue of UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis), a topic I’ve seen a number of good, thoughtful posts on recently. There’s no rule that says everyone has to accept your UPG, or that you have to accept theirs. However, I’ve seen through the joys of the intarwebz a number of occasions where disagreeing with someone’s UPG wasn’t enough—the Righter-Than-Thous went completely Dalek in their attempt to EXTERMINATE! And their targets weren’t ungrounded flakes pulling things out of their asses and accepting it as holy writ; they were fully functional, experienced pagans who could show where the UPG they’d had had a positive impact on their practices, and who displayed a healthy amount of skepticism and reflection with regards to their UPG. For their attackers, though, if it didn’t match something in a book, it couldn’t possibly be real.

Most of the examples I’ve seen are less drastic than that. Still, there seems to be an underlying current of sneering at UPG, especially where it deviates from “known quantities”. There’s also a strong adherence to books and established traditions as being superior, to the point where I think sometimes experiential evidence is downplayed to the detriment of all involved. After all, having seen what happens when someone else claimed that, after one meditation, they had determined that the Native Americans actually came from Atlantis, not across the Bering Strait, who wants to chance being seen as equally weird and subject to ridicule? Because it’s not just the Atlantean Native Americans that get attacked–it’s people with things that may deviate a bit from traditional lore, but aren’t completely out of the question.

Where this ties into my recalibration is that the “you must back this up!” attitude has unfortunately rubbed off on me to the point where I think I’ve been a bit afraid to stretch my wings with my own experiences. Modern shamanism in the neopagan community is particularly contentious, because on the one hand you have people who read a few books and declare themselves real-live Native American shamans, and on the other hand you have pagans who opine that if you aren’t a part of a tribe, there’s no way you can call yourself a real shaman or function in that capacity, no matter how you work with the spirits. Scylla and Charybdis, indeed! And I think I’ve been listening to the latter people too much. Not that cultural appropriation isn’t an important topic to discuss, and not that I shouldn’t be aware of what I’m doing and what I’m calling “shamanism”; however, I think I’ve been trying too damned hard to prove that I’m not Fluffy McRunningWolf.

It’s time to stop trying to prove my authenticity. I’ve stated that I’m not a member of indigenous culture, and I’m learning from a variety of sources, from books to personal interaction with the spirits, and now some training in Ecoshamanism. I’m aware of cultural appropriation, and I have made my own decisions regarding my boundaries with that. And you know what? That’s all I need to say. Polite questions can be answered, experiences can be shared and notes can be traded. Constructive criticism is welcome, and I’m open to healthy dialogue. The rest can go stuff itself. What’s more important? Not being wrong on the internet and trying to convince some ass-umptions by people who don’t even take the time to ask what’s up? Or creating a healthy relationship with the land and showing others how to do the same so hopefully we can try to curb the path of environmental and human destruction we’re currently on? Somehow, what someone says on their Livejournal just doesn’t seem so important any more.

And I’m tired of working within the constraints of expectations, either my own or others’. I’ve spent too much time worrying about whether what I’m doing matches what others are doing, and not enough time simply experiencing. (More on that in a later post.) If you study shamanism in indigenous societies worldwide, while there are some common threads, there are also numerous differences and approaches. Shouldn’t this hold true with neoshamanism as well?

I do want to make something clear—I am not saying that structure and scholarship are in and of themselves bad things. However, what I am finding is, that for my own purposes, and the path I am walking, these are two elements that will need to be toned down some in lieu of more experiential and organic growth. It is part of my recalibration of what I’m doing. As always, YMMV.

Realizing…

I’m halfway through my weekend o’ work; today’s my day to rest before I go dig a hole in the ground tomorrow. I’m not going to say a whole lot; I’m still processing what I’ve experienced in the past two days, and preparing for the next two days. I’m also not sure how much I’ll talk about, and how much I’ll keep to myself.

One thing I will say though, is: there’s so much that I don’t know. I knew that before, but it really hit home this weekend. There will be some significant changes to the way I do things, to my expectations about myself and shamanism and what shamanism supposedly “is”; there will probably also be some major changes in my focus. I look at what I’ve been doing in the past six months, and in a way I feel like I’ve been sort of blindly stumbling around, looking for something and refusing to open my eyes–or, to be more accurate, my heart. Over-intellectualizing something this experiential doesn’t quite work, though I’ve always tended to slant more towards the cerebral side of things. Let’s just say that being immersed in experience has brought about some much-needed calibration

However, one thing I am learning is being humble without feeling humiliated. The former is an opening, a trusting vulnerability, and an acceptance of self. The latter is used to forcibly drag someone down, to force vulnerability on them and an ill-intended attempt to make someone accept things as they supposedly are. My initial reaction, when I realized that I needed to be going in a different direction, was to panic and think “Holy crap, I’m doing it all wrong! I must really be an arrogant fuck to think I was doing anything right; why the hell am I even doing this? What was I thinking? Maybe I should shut down my blog, because I didn’t enter into it the right way, and maybe it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing. Maybe I should quit entirely, because I obviously don’t know what I’m doing!” And so forth.

But then I was told, by one of the spirits I was involved with, that I don’t have to throw it all out. Instead, I need to take what I’m learning and apply it to what I already have when I go home. Sure, I may discard some concepts and ideas that no longer really fit my experience (especially those due to over-intellectualizing), but I was already in the process of streamlining and realigning. Just because the process continues doesn’t mean that I’m completely screwed up. I need to honor what I have learned, and where I have come from, because it has led me to where I am now. It’s too tempting, I think, when people hit upon a major life-shift, to completely scrap everything from the past and have a “clean start”. Yet we can’t entirely divorce ourselves from our past; it’s a part of who we are. And I think it’s also a mistake to try to get rid of everything from “before”–baby and bathwater and all that.

The thing that I have to remember is that I wasn’t wrong, or bad, or stupid, for not doing things “right” prior to this weekend. Rather, I need to accept that that’s where I was at that point in time, and I hadn’t yet had the experiences that opened me up to what I’ve learned. Why beat myself up for not realizing something I’d had no exposure to? Instead, I’m learning to be more forgiving and understanding of myself, and accepting that I’m still learning; I don’t have to be perfect just yet (if ever).

And that goes along with the general theme of “opening up”. There’s a time and place to put up your defenses, but if you never learn to take them down when the time is right, then you miss out. My experience is deepening, and I’m finding that the amount of openness and trust that I had before won’t cut it, that I need to learn to give more. And that’s alright. I’m not a failure for not having realized this before. I’ve realized it, and I am putting it into practice–and that’s anything but failure.

So I’m off today to do a bit of solo hiking; Sedona has some beautiful places. I’m not so much interested in the tourist traps and the more popular “vortexes”–but there’s a lot of wilderness out there that’s calling to me…

Well….This Is It…..

First, a quick note, partly for my own organizational purposes–my column in the most recent issue Rending the Veil ezine deals with the importance of cosmology in shamanic practice; it’s the first link at the top of the page. It deals with some of what I’ve learned in the past six months; feel free to click and take a peek.

This will most likely be my last post before I head off for my ecoshamanic work tomorrow. I’ll be doing the first two initiations that are offered, back to back. I’m looking at it more as one big long experience with a day break in between for personal reflection, which is just fine by me. Wednesday and Thursday will be the first initiation, which will involve a lot of exploring the local area down around Cottonwood, AZ, working with power spots, and really getting a hands-on experience with working with the land. While I’ve done some of that, from what I’ve read in Ecoshamanism, James has a very particular way of relating to the land, and I’ll be curious to get his take on it.

The second initiation is going to be even more intense. I get to confront my claustrophobia while being buried in the ground! There’ll be a lot more going on, too, but confronting that fear will be one element of it. I can’t say for sure everything that will happen (such is the nature of a personal rite of passage) though this will be part of my therioshamanic work as well; basically over the next few days I’ll have to make my decision whether to put up or shut up–keep going, or give up. And with some of the things that have been coming to the surface in my private internal/introspective work, I get the feeling that there will be a lot happening between now and next Monday.

I will say I’m nervous. Despite the fact that yeah, it’s going to be cool getting to go to Arizona, and getting to meet someone I really admire–there are some potentially really tough things I’m going to have to face, both about myself and about the path I may be further committing myself to. I have a choice; I can say yea or nay, and there will be later turning points as well. But that doesn’t make it an easy thing.

Beyond that….I’ll just have to wait and see. See you in a week.

Ecoshamanic Training

So I’ve alluded to doing a rite of passage at the end of my six months, which will be the full moon just before the Spring Equinox. I’m pleased to say this will actually include a special treat for me.

If you’ve ever looked at my bibliography page, where I list the various written resources that have been a major influence on me in creating therioshamanism, you’ll notice that James Endredy’s Ecoshamanism is among them. It’s actually one of my all-time favorite books. It isn’t traditional shamanism; rather, it is a modern form of shamanism that is specifically focused on increasing not only awareness but action with regards to the natural environment and the damage that’s been done to it. Unlike some “green pagan” books that talk more about herbs, and crystals, and other such things, this one is full of dozens of practices and rituals that are specifically designed to bring the environment the reader is in into sharp focus, and make a very real connection between the abstract symbols many pagans work with, and the gritty, beautiful reality the symbols spring from. Basically, it’s a great “walking your talk” book.

Due to some creative budgeting on the part of my incredible partner, I will be able to go through the first and second initiations through Endredy’s Earth Spirit Foundation over a long weekend. It just so happens that these are going to happen right when my six months end–in fact, the first will be happening on a Wednesday and Thursday, the second on a Saturday and Sunday, and the full moon when the six months are up will occur the Friday in between. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Granted, I’ll be dedicating time and other resources to this endeavor that a lot of pagans either A) wouldn’t pay, or B) would invest in training with an indigenous practitioner to learn indigenous practices. However, I have very good reasons for what I’m doing. In regards to A), I believe in paying people for their spiritual services when payment is asked for. This isn’t Siberia, and I don’t have land that a shaman can borrow to use for grazing for hir personal herd of reindeer, so currency will do. And I know a lot of pagans have kneejerk reactions to money in spirituality in general, the whole idea that “You shouldn’t have to pay for spirituality!” However, as far as I’m concerned, this person will be dedicating four out of five days to intense instruction and guidance, using his own property and taking me (and whoever else may be there) to his personal power spots. For the second initiation, he’ll be staying up all night Saturday night while I go through the vigil, making sure everything goes right and no one gets hurt (it’s a mock burial). And a person’s gotta eat and pay bills, never mind however much he may have invested in his own education. So I’m not going to begrudge him what he asks, especially when a fifth of it goes into charitable causes.

As to B), I’ve said it before but I’ll explain again–I’m not interested in shoehorning myself into someone else’s culture where I’m not wanted. Therioshamanism is tailored to my cultural context–modern mainstream American with a neopagan influence. Ecoshamanism is right up my alley–it addresses some of the problems I face in my culture, without trying to push someone else’s cosmology on me. While I think that there’s value in learning indigenous practices, it’s not my personal choice. To me, being able to go through Ecoshamanic training is my version of learning that particular shamanic practice in the cultural context it was developed in. I may be a solitary, but I know that there’s a difference between reading someone’s teachings in a book, and learning about them from the author hirself. Sure, I could go dig a hole in the back yard and throw a blanket over it and bury myself that way–but then again I could also shove bone spars in my pectorals and call it a Sun Dance. I want to experience Ecoshamanism in its original context, which means going down and training with the person who developed it. That has a lot of value to me.

I’m quite excited about it, to be honest. Granted, the Friday in between when I do my more personal therioshamanic work will be….interesting. I’m going to be taking the beads and findings for my prayer beads and creating the actual necklace that Friday. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Animal Father or other entities made cameo appearances during the second initiation ritual. I have plane tickets and transportation, and time off at work. So now there’s only the time to wait, and in the meantime prepare through the rest of my Water month and the final month focusing on all four elements again.