Wicca and Neopaganism

Or, if you want to argue semantics, neo-Wicca. Wicca by way of Scott Cunningham, mostly. His Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner was another early book for me, and while I never really considered myself a (neo)Wiccan, the basic concept did affect my early ritual creations. To this day the broom and the athame (which I now just call a ritual knife) are integral parts of my ritual structure, and I still cast a circle, though I call on directional totems rather than watchtowers. And that’s really about the long and short of the influence Wicca has these days—a few ritual components.

Now, neopaganism in general is another story. I’ve been a neopagan for over a decade, and the eclectic combination of both old and new myths, rituals and other material has been a strong influence on the general “feel” of my path. Granted, I do take care as far as scholarship goes, and I’m not blind to the fact that we do have our fair share of nuts and flakes. However, I do sometimes think that “neopaganism” gets a bad rap, particularly by people who are doing their damnedest to try to prove their paganism is older, or more correct, or less flaky, or has fewer artificial additives and sweeteners, etc.

Personally, I like being a neopagan. I have no problem with it. I am under no delusion that what I’m doing here is some sort of paleolithic reconstruction–how much can you really rebuild out of a few cave paintings and artifacts and the mythological equivalent of a few burnt sticks? Additionally, since I’m not working within any culture except that which I live in now, I don’t have to worry about the constraints of any other culture or society.

I am, however, careful about what I apply to my path. I don’t accept just anything that sounds good. I realize that a good bit of what I’m working with here could be considered fluff by the uber-non-fluffies. Foo on that. I’m honest about my sources, and my personal spirituality and magical practice aren’t dependent on what someone says on teh intarwebz. I figure as long as I’m not running around saying “Hey, I’m a Neanderthal Pagan!” or some silly thing like that, then I can work quite safely within a neopagan (and neoshamanic) framework.

Neopagan Totemism and Animal Magic

This has been my primary focus in my path ever since I got started studying and practicing magic back in 1997. Ted Andrews’ Animal-Speak was my first book on anything even remotely pagan, though I have over the years read most of the books on the topic. Again, my path has been largely based on UPG, though I do use certain techniques that are common among totemists and pagans in general, such as the guided totem journey.

While totemism is a significant part of my practice, I’ve been known to experiment quite a bit with animal magic in general. For example, my first book, Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone, featured chapters on such topics as creating new species on the astral plane for magical purposes, work with a physical familiar in the modern day and age, a controversial but well-balanced (or so I’ve been told) chapter on animal sacrifice, and a chapter on working with animal parts in magical practice. (I avoided the dreaded totem animal dictionary as well.)

The animal parts are a particularly important aspect to my practice. About as long as I’ve been pagan I’ve been creating artwork utilizing leather, fur, feathers, bones and other animal remains. In my animistic worldview, although the soul of the animal has fled, there is a spirit that stays in each remain, and it is that which I work with. Rather than leaving them to be made into coats and taxidermy mounts, I “rescue” them and make them into more honorable things—ritual tools, sacred jewelry, and magical artwork. I talk quite a bit with the “skin spirits” as I call them (even though they reside in all the parts of the animal) to find out what they want to be. I also say a prayer over each completed project, and perform a triparte purification ritual with an offering.

I’ve also been working with more diverse totems. To me, a totem (in a neopagan totem sense) is an archetypal being that represents all the qualities associated with a particular species, both the natural history and the human lore. I’ve been working, for instance, with “food totems”, the totems of species that humans usually think of as food and nothing more, such as Chicken, Pig and Crab. I do this not only for my own enlightenment, but to create a stronger relationship with these totems, and to learn what I can do to help both them and their physical children. I have written a couple of offsite articles about this if you’re interested.

My current writing project (or one of them, anyway) is a sequel to Fang and Fur, called DIY Totemism. I focus specifically on neopagan totemism, address some of the problems with the current state of totemism in the neopagan community *coughdictionariescough*and approach the topic from some original angles. While it won’t be the sum total of my totemic work in the development of therioshamanism, the fact that a lot of the research I’ve done for it (practically speaking—I won’t write about things I haven’t actually tested in my own ritual space) parallels my personal path development creates a mutual influence.

Neoshamanism

Neoshamanism is, quite literally, new shamanism. It is derived from indigenous shamanic traditions, with the understanding that the term shaman originated from Siberia and was initially used by anthropologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to denote any sort of a holy person, mystic or other sacred individual who used trances and rituals to serve the community. Neoshamanism isn’t based in any particular culture (other than, perhaps, modern American mainstream culture, or neopaganism), though some neoshamans, particularly plastic shamans, may do their utmost best to convince others that what they read in a book makes them an authentic Native American shaman. Core shamanism was created by Michael Harner, an anthropologist who studied both theory and practice with shamans in a number of indigenous cultures. He took the techniques he learned out of their cultural context and made them into a bare-bones magical system. Ironically enough, many people who learn core shamanism try to plug it back into traditional cultures and say that Harner’s works are traditional.

I am a neoshaman. I wasn’t trained by any particular indigenous culture (or by anyone else, for that matter), and the techniques I use are primarily derived from core shamanism and from UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis). Harner is an influence, among several other sources (a bibliography of written source material can be seen here). Additionally, totem-specific techniques, such as those in Ted Andrews’ works on totemism were an influence. However, the bulk of my practice is based on intuition and conversation with the spirits. Since I am not the 2,000 year old (wo)man, I can’t really say I’m anything but a neoshaman.