Monday, March 30, 2009
Mani is the Norse God of the Moon and Sunna is our Goddess of the Sun. Yes, you read that rightly: our moon Deity is a God, our sun Deity a Goddess. Until recently, They seem to be little worshipped amongst the Northern Tradition community but that is changing now and Mani especially seems to be developing a small, deeply devoted following.
My own interactions with Mani have left me utterly charmed (if not a little besotted) with this God and so I decided to compile an anthology devotional to Him and His sister as an offering. Actually, it's more like I was pushed to do so after a deeply intense experience with Mani and it's not in me to say no. heh. Story of a god-slave's life, not that i'm complaining.
anyway...I"m looking for prayers and articles especially, but also recipes, rituals, and even songs. Sadly at this time, i cannot accept illustrations, but anything else would be happily welcomed.
Anyone interested in submitting should send submissions to tamyris at earthlink.net. Please put "Mani/Sunna submission" in the subject header so I don't mistake your email for spam.
The deadline for submissions is May 1.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Hope to hear from you soon,
The editor (I love getting to say that)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Places have power. This seems to me to be a belief common to all denominations of Paganism. Even Heathenry, notorious for its ambivalence toward magic and mysticism acknowledges the holiness of site and space. Navigating one’s place, managing the energy in one’s space via cleansings and wardings is one of the first things a novice magician learns. Creating sacred space, through the usage of a plethora of ritual tools, is one of the first things a novice Pagan and/or Witch learns—at least it was twenty years ago when I was starting out! Places have power and how we conduct ourselves within those sacred sites has the power, by extension, to affect for good or ill, our spiritual life.
Of course, there are numerous ways to create sacred space. Heathens, for instance, often do it by bearing fire around the perimeter of the area. Wiccans cast circles. I’ve seen sound, herbs, aspersing, smudging, the bearing of ritual implements, physically marking off the area, and fire, to name but a few options, utilized in this manner. This is good. This is necessary. What I haven’t seen though overmuch is an awareness of space itself as inherently holy. We know it in our minds but for the most part, we’ve yet to adequately integrate it into our practice. Yet those places that we’ve walked, the places that we’ve been, seep into our bones. They affect us on a very fundamental level. They open us and grow within us in a very special way, changing who we are and how we look at the world, at least they do if we’re not completely head and heart blind.
I’ve traveled extensively in both Europe and the United States spending extensive swaths of time in Germany, Iceland, Scotland, France, Italy, Belgium and, most especially Switzerland. In fact, I’ve only just returned from a trip to Zürich where I went on an extensive ancestral pilgrimage. One thing has become clear to me over the past few years of travel: the land remembers. I learned this when I visited the small village and the attendant forests, roots, trees, and streams that my ancestors from generations ago had lived. The soil remembered the lineage. I learned this when I stood on the shores of the Rhine, where he borders both Switzerland and Germany and made offerings to the waters. The land remembers. We should too.
Now, I know that within modern Paganism and, to a lesser degree, Heathenry, city life is often viewed as somehow less sacred, less connected to the natural rhythms and cycles of nature than rural life; and in some cases, that may be true. Certainly I know that I struggle with my hostility toward the ways in which humanity has raped and plundered the earth, pouring over it like locusts and with much the same effect. The more aware and connected I become to the nature spirits that inhabit the places my ancestors walked, the more I fight that hostility. At the same time, I have found over the years that there is powerful magic inherent in cities – just as much as may be found in the most deserted of country dwellings. It is different, but it is there and so are land spirits. It actually took traveling to Europe to teach me that, first to Belgium and then later to Switzerland and Germany. Not only does each country have its own unique energy signature, but so does each individual city. Brussels does not feel (energy-wise) at all like Zürich, nor does Zürich feel at all like Berlin. It wasn’t long before I began examining American cities and while I personally find it far easier to connect to the land in Europe, American cities have their own unique charm and personality too and the energy can be just as powerful and useful. We may just have to search a little harder.
Let’s use Berlin as an example. I shall attempt to avoid singing the praises of this city. Suffice it to say, I fell in love with Germany’s capital. The first time I sang to Thor and blessed my apartment there and felt such an immense connection with the land and with my ancestors (who, on my maternal side, are German and Swiss), I knew I had something to learn whilst on that soil. It was as though the land itself rose up to meet me. The land spirits, certain ancestors (for those of us who have European ancestors) are much more immediately accessible in Europe and while I’m not sure exactly why that is (I have my suspicions) it made ritual, devotional and magical work much easier. I suspect this may be due to the continuity of culture, language and blood lines sustained by and sustaining each individual place. Regardless, it was an amazing experience and having had that experience once on foreign soil, I believe it is possible to bring that awareness of the power of the land, of the way in which the land itself can awaken one to the Gods and ancestors, and to the myriad ways in which the land energy can change and grow back to my work in the United States.
Because there is so much recorded folklore and history for the land, the people and the cities themselves, Europe is a treasure trove of magical places. Berlin, for instance, has a secluded pond in Tempelhof, a sub-district of the city. It has extensive folklore connecting it to the Goddess Hela and is in fact called Hella’s Pond. Ironically (and fittingly for this Goddess of Death), it is bordered by a cemetery and a craftsman’s shop selling headstones. Hela’s presence is quite palpable. Going there, which I did several times to make offerings, made me wonder why I had never bothered to find such special places in New York City. I realize that New York doesn’t have the Germanic folklore going back hundreds and hundreds of years, but it does have its places of power. Connecting with Hela at the pond in Berlin made me look at New York in a completely new way and that is one of the things that I would like to share with you: regardless of the city in which you live, there are sacred places, places of power, places redolent with the presence of the Gods. All one has to do is mindfully look for them. A good place to begin is with honoring and making offerings to the spirit of the city. Each city has a spirit associated with it. The spirit of NYC is called New York City. The spirit of Paris, is called Paris, etc. The name of the spirit is the name of the city. They can be contacted and honored like any other vaettir. When I realized this, I was ashamed at how long I’d gone without paying any attention or reverence to New York City spirit, especially given that this spirit had sustained me and looked after me for many long, hard, hungry years. It’s never too late, however, to begin honoring the major spirit of the place upon which one lives.
The most important item that I carried with me throughout my sojourn in Berlin and my travels in Belgium and Switzerland was my travel altar. Creating a travel altar is a devotional act and meditation in and of itself. I’ve written extensively in other venues about the importance of altar work but I’ve never before emphasized the altar as a portable devotional tool. It can be, nor are they difficult to make. Travel altars can be as individually unique as the person creating them. Mine started out as a stationary box. I actually bought a set of Japanese greeting cards because I wanted the pretty box they came in to use as an altar container. To that I added an image of Loki and Thor (by Grace Palmer, an amazing artist who is contributing to Asphodel Press’s forthcoming “Jotun Tarot”), a small carving of Odin, items from my main altar that symbolize the Goddess Sigyn for me, a statue of Nerthus in a pouch with red ochre and a few other things, including coins, old fashioned keys (symbolic of several Norse Goddesses), and stones. I was later gifted with an altar cloth and of course, I included a small portable candle. It was simplicity itself but when traveling in a foreign country for an extended period of time, when ‘doing time’ as it were in strange hotels, it really helped to have the stability and comfort of my altar (albeit in miniature) to turn to. To my finished travel altar, I added my northern tradition prayer beads. This was the first thing I set up upon arriving at my student apartment and the last thing I took down.
To make your own travel altar, first find a small, portable box that you like. Cigar boxes are ideal and can of course be decorated by anyone possessing more arts and craft skill than I (which is almost everyone!). I once saw a cigar box that had been padded and covered in lovely paper, satin lined and altered to include a small drawer. It was amazing. I however lack that skill so my poor little stationary box had to suffice. Once you have your box, decide upon a representational image of the God and/or Goddess with which you resonate most strongly. It can be a statue, if you can find one small enough, or a picture or a stone, or anything that fits in the box that speaks to you of that Deity. Then perhaps add elemental symbols: incense, feathers, stones, sacred oil, earth, a candle, etc. (if that is part of your practice). I also chose to add two pieces of driftwood for my ancestors. In Norse Cosmology, humans were first created by Odin, Hoenir and Lodhur out of two pieces of driftwood so for me, this symbolizes my ancestors. But if you want to include pictures of specific ancestors that is an excellent idea as well. Add whatever you like to make this a working altar for yourself. I have seen travel altars in cigar boxes and I have also seen them in small altoid tins. The size and contents are completely open to your own imagination.
I also suggest taking a journal with you. Traveling in a foreign country, particularly if the Gods and Goddesses you honor have a history of worship in that particular country, can be a powerfully different way of connecting to those Deities. It can teach you things about your Gods and about connecting to Them that can be quite surprising. It’s a chance to see a different side to your Deities and to expand your comfort zone a little bit. Keeping a journal of prayers, meditations, insights, and experiences while traveling can both be enlightening and provide a valuable “souvenir” to take home with you. It’s an opportunity to bring sacred mindfulness into even the most mundane of journeys. Try to set aside time nightly to write about your day and then see what experiences and insights that day may have brought.
If you are traveling to an area that forms part of your ancestral map, then you have another wonderful opportunity to both honor and reconnect with your dead. Make offerings to your ancestors, even if only a glass of water set upon your altar. Take the time to re-establish your relationship with them, to invite them to come into your life again. If you have the opportunity to visit the towns and villages that your ancestors came from, all the better, but if not, the experience can still be immensely rewarding. Do be careful when collecting soil, water, or stones – all of which I have done in the past for various altars. Sometimes the spirits of the land are fine with this, but sometimes they want to stay exactly where they are. Be respectful and ask first—you’ll know. You’ll get a sense whether or not it is appropriate to take them with you.
Of course, one doesn’t have to travel abroad to have such a powerful experience with the land, the Gods, or one’s ancestors. With the right approach, one can experience just as powerful a connection right in one’s hometown. For those of us who work with energy, who work magic, or who practice a religion that believes in honoring the land, I think it is very important to be mindful of the land we inhabit here and now. It’s wonderful to honor one’s ancestral lands but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the place we’re living at the moment. Magic is as much about waking up to what’s right in front of your nose as it is about crafting the future or drawing from the wisdom of the past. I think this is something many of us often forget. Connecting with the here and now is as important as connecting with and honoring the ancestors. So, here are a few steps that you can take to learn to work with the energy of your own city in a mindful, vital and useful way. It will enrich your practice a thousand times over.
First, learn the folklore of your city. Every city, no matter how young has its story. Find a good book on your town or city’s history. What groups of people settled there? Was there a native presence? Are there places thought to be haunted? Are there interesting tales or urban folklore associated with particular spots? What is your own history within your city ( i.e. were you born there and if not what drew you to your particular town?). These are all good ways of getting to know the spirit and energy of your hometown and that is the first step toward incorporating that awareness into your regular work.
Next, visit places of interest to you, whether it be a museum or a park or even a specific neighborhood. Visit those places that have unique or particularly interesting folklore attached to them. Walk around your town or city and try to look at it in a new way: try to map its energy. Really pay attention to the flow of energy as you walk and see how it changes, where it’s blocked, what it’s like, etc.
Don’t just seek out magical places within your city but try to create your own. Find places that call to you and begin incorporating them into your meditations and ritual work. For instance, I know of a woman who has a special park in NYC, a very small mini-park set up in Morningside Heights. There is no particular folklore surrounding this park save that it was dedicated by the family of a woman who died on the Titanic. There is no history of magic or religious use of this site yet it speaks very strongly to my friend and for her has become a sacred place. She goes there often to meditate and it is her haven when she is exhausted or depressed. She told me once that she feels it easier to reconnect to the Gods there, when she needs to recharge her awareness of that connection. So don’t let yourself be limited to specific places noted in books of folklore. Go out and explore and find your own sacred spots.
Honor the spirit of your city. If there are specific Deities associated with your city, perhaps – if you feel it appropriate—make an offering to them. If there are not, or you don’t know those Deities, make an offering to the spirit of the city itself. In Norse tradition, vaettir (singular: vaet) are land and nature spirits. The spirit of a city is something like a large vaet. Honor it as an ally just as you might honor spirit allies or ancestors. Develop a working relationship with it and see where that leads. For one of my friends, a devotee of Sigyn and Loki, it led to her becoming seriously involved in environmental work within her town (Monterey, CA). For another, it merely led to him becoming far more comfortable at living in the city as a practicing pagan and magician. It varies but it can add depth and dimension to your practice either way. Explore how your Gods can manifest, how Their presence can be felt and known in the city. While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to make regular offerings to the vaettir too. Beer and bread are good as are milk and honey and in the New World, they often like tobacco. The important thing to remember is that being Earth oriented is a temporal thing. It’s about the here and now as much as it may be about the past.
Find a place in your city that is dirty, polluted either physically with trash, or magically with energy and clean it up. Never neglect the absolutely practical solutions. Pick up trash in a park, on the beach, wherever you find it. It’s a matter of very practical respect. My adopted mother once put it this way: “love isn’t some sentimental abstraction. Love rolls up its sleeves and gets to work.” So does devotion.
The other thing you can do has more of a connection to ancestral veneration than it does to the magic of city living. When I was first visiting Hela’s Pond in Berlin, I stopped in to see the cemetery that is right next to it. I had quite a shock. German cemeteries or at least this German cemetery is beautiful. It looked like a nature park. The graves were not only well tended, but there was the palpable sense that these dead were honored in their own way, that they remained vital members of their families. People visited them and took care of their graves beautifully and in so doing honored and fed the spirit him or herself. It was a startling contrast to most American cemeteries that I have seen. There is a saying in Lukumi that we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Therefore, honoring our ancestors should be a vital and valued part of any spiritual practice. Go to a local cemetery. Walk around and read the names on the headstones. Pour out offerings of water or beer. Clean up if the cemetery has trash in it or is dilapidated. Bring offerings to the dead, even if they are not YOUR dead and do so in the name of your own ancestors. Bring flowers, incense, alcohol—whatever you feel is appropriate (in American cemeteries, flowers are the most common gift to the dead) but extend a bit of care to the dead and consider making this an ongoing part of your devotional practice. Your own dead will thank you for it.
You may consider doing is something that was first suggested to me by a fellow gythia (priest). She is currently working on a year long project called the ’30 Day Altar Project.” The purpose of this year long project is “to help you reconsider the way you approach the Gods on a day to day basis by creating a public altar made up by simply living your life faithfully and taking the time to see the High Ones' influence all around you.” (www.altarproject.com). What do you have to do? Set up a public altar to the Deity of your choice after honoring that Deity regularly for a month. While the “30 Day Altar Project” is specifically for Norse Deities, there’s no reason that you couldn’t do this with any Deity on your own. Don’t rush out and buy things though, rather create the altar out of things you find while going about your every day life. Since the altars will be outside, try to make sure that whatever is included on the altar won’t harm the environment or any animals that may eventually come by and pick at it. Look at this act of creating a public (and albeit temporary) shrine as that of giving a gift to the God or Goddess of your choice. It is an offertory act connecting you both to that Deity and to the here and now of your own cityscape.
Better yet, if you have your own piece of land, set up an altar or shrine outside to the land spirits, a place where you can leave offerings. Put up a small cairn of stones, or any other thing you think they might like. Plant trees on either side or bushes or herbs. Keep it energetically clean and well tended. Make regular offerings. Make it a place of haven and sanctuary for the spirits of the land upon which you live.
I have created public altars in California, Berlin, and NYC and each time I have found the experience to be quite unique. Unlike creating and maintaining a permanent altar, where the energy is sustained over time, creating a public altar, an altar that you will then leave to the elements, animals and people, is a powerfully intense experience wherein the energy explodes in one act, one moment and then dissipates gradually over time, feeding the land itself. It is a new way of honoring the Gods within the framework of one’s city or town, of bringing an awareness of the Gods into the most mundane and temporal part of your life and of making a little doorway for those Gods through the creation of the altars, by which They may be experienced. Since materials for the altar are drawn from your daily travels, it also has the side effect of causing you to be more aware of where you’re going, what you’re seeing and what’s right under your nose! It is the perfect way to combine honoring the Gods with experiencing the energy and spirit of your city or town.
Don’t neglect the most mundane of actions either: recycling, composting (if you can), buying organic (if you can afford it), planting trees, picking up garbage, donating time or money to environmental organizations. These too are ways of tithing one’s time, energy, and attention in ongoing devotional practice. There is, after all, that well-known Hermetic saying: As above, so below. In other words, where the devotion of our minds and hearts go, so should our earthly time, efforts and attention follow.
When all this is said and done, consider making a pilgrimage to sites either of ancestral importance, or to sites sacred to the Gods you honor. For instance, I went to Bubendorf, to make offerings to my ancestors in the little village they came from and then I went to the Rhine, to make offerings to Father Rhine, Andvari, and Loki. We don't have a tradition of pilgrimage in Paganism or Heathenry, not like in Christianity, but maybe we should. I've found that going to these places, making these offerings, connecting with the Gods or spirits in such a manner gives one's spirit roots. It opens, changes, and connects us to who we are, where we come from, and why we do what we do like nothing else.
In closing, I think the main thing to remember when learning to work with the energy of your city is that no matter where you stand, no matter where you are, you’re standing on sacred ground. You’re standing on the body of a God or a Goddess (Ymir, Geb, Gaea, Erda, depending on your religion). Wherever you walk is holy.
Auf Wiedersehen and Viel Glück!
1. The 30 Day Altar Project: http://www.altarproject.org/
2. “The Urban Primitive” by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein
3. Northern Tradition Prayer beads: http://www.cauldronfarm.com/prayerbeads/index.html#north
4. Grace Palmer’s Artwork: http://www.necropolisstudios.net/
Monday, March 23, 2009
Actually everyone I know has some form of the flu or is out of the country. Damn you people and your lives. You should all be staying at home 24/7 and writing for me! There that told them.
Winter would especially like to note that the next installment in his series of essays "Marking a Journey in Flesh" will be up shortly, as soon as he can stop coughing long enough to type it.
So if there are any readers out there who have ideas as to things that they would like to write about, or seen written about here on Gods' Mouths, now would be the time to chime in. Provided that you can stop coughing long enough to type as well.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I think that Odin's world conquering eye is my favorite character. The first comic is about Baldur's pants, but it continues on for quite a while.
here is the link to Brat-Halla.
Monday, March 16, 2009
The idea of microclimates is not a new one, but as this article shows, it is one scientists are barely beginning to understand.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I know that I have a tendency to look at my relationship to my Lady and any other gods that I am working with more as a job than as a privilege. I have to make a constant effort to see myself and what I do for Them as a positive effort, rather than divine busy work. One of the ways that I do this is to ask myself a few questions, and if I don't have or don't like the answers, then I try to look as what I am doing again.
When I am having trouble finding meaning in what I am doing I try to puzzle out what the rationale behind jobs that I am given, often a losing proposition. I look for a common thread, or a theme, or even a commonality in clients that are sent to me.
So here are the set of questions that I ask myself, and hopefully they will be of use to others in the same situation.
What does this work do to change my life?
What have the gods brought into my life for the better or worse?
What service am I doing for Them, and does my current attitude detract from that service?
Do I care if my attitude makes my job harder? Do they care?
These questions sometimes help me to put everything that I do in perspective, and narrow down what is bothering me about what I am doing enough to address it or not, as appropriate.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
This week's article is in the field of archeology, and deals with a new discovery by a group in the UK. Given that the horse is the sacred animal for so many of the deities that we work with, I found this article about the earliest known evidence of horse domestication fascinating.
Here is the link to the article in the Science Daily.
While I’m a relatively new spirit worker, I have had my share of trials bumbling down the “What the hell is talking to me?” path. By God-Bothered, I mean the feeling that something divine or otherworldly is trying to get your attention. This can happen in a myriad of ways—dreams, omens, strange encounters, visions, meditations, etc—in incidents ranging from the gentle to the brutal. If you feel that this describes you, please reach out to others for help and clarity, even as a seasoned practitioner.
Based on my own experiences, here are the steps I recommend, in this order:
1. Determine if this is indeed a god
If you do nothing else on this page, please—for your own safety—follow this step. Many things can mess with the human realm besides deity, including ancestors, angels, demons, and wandering spirits. If you are susceptible to spirit communication—for example, if you have the gift of mediumship—you especially need to confirm this. Spirits can latch onto us for benevolent and not-so benevolent reasons. They can feed on our energy, particularly if we have been less than vigilant in our basic psychic hygiene (centering, grounding, shielding, warding, and cleansing).
Spirits are incredibly adept at deceiving us. They can masquerade as gods or other spirits quite convincingly. Recently, myself and two other spirit workers were all duped by the same dark spirit, despite our combined experience. It affected our behavior and our judgment to get what it wanted. It can and does happen.
Fuzzy signal clarity can also cause less dangerous mixed messages. I missed the fact that my ancestors were trying to contact me by mistaking them for Odin. While Odin is a huge presence in my life, the visions I saw of running with the wolves in the woods were actually my blood brothers calling me rejoin the pack.
So how can you know for sure? The best bet is outside divination, preferably from multiple sources. Even if you practice yourself, it is vital to seek a respected, objective source. Sometimes we see what we want to see, or we simply don’t have enough distance to perceive the big picture. Divination cleared up both of the cases I cite above. When I felt Odin around me, His presence was confirmed by 3 separate spirit workers, two of them Odinspeople. I would not have opened to Him without this check.
Do not proceed to step two until you’ve had the divination done. Really. If this is a god, they’d want that.
2. Who is this? And what do you want?
If this hasn’t been cleared up during step one, you will now face the task of figuring out who this is. Sometimes the signs could not be clearer—every time you turn around, you see their name or their image. Books jump out at you from shelves.
This too, however, can be misleading. I have mistaken gods for other gods or saints on several occasions, particularly when they have similar iconography or qualities. Eleggua, Mercury, and Loki have blurred together for me in the past. For months, I mistook Lilith for Santa Marta. They both were fierce, non-traditional women with snakes. In that case, I knew Lilith was a figure in Judeo-Christian myth but had never thought of her as a goddess or heard of anyone who worked with her. Your perceptions may be clouded by the pantheon you traditionally work with or whatever happens to surround you. During Lilith’s arrival in my life, I was frequenting botanicas in Harlem. The Santa Marta candles that kept calling to me were probably the closest thing she could find to clue me in.
Some people have found the use of PPG useful in these situations (Peer-collaborated Personal Gnosis). You might want to check in how a god has appeared to others and see if this gels with your experiences.
As for what they what, again, this is something you will want to confirm with an objective reading. However, you can also start asking questions or requesting that guidance be given. Talk, listen, and be on the look out for answers in unlikely places. This is where knowing a bit about you deity can be useful.
The terms of this relationship may or may not be negotiable. Find out if you have a choice, and think long and hard about it.
3. Know that there are many different types of human-god relations
You might experience your arrangement with this deity as parent/child, teacher/student, master/slave, or owner/tool. You may be lovers. You may be spouses. All of these are equally special and valid – none is higher or better than the others. This also may change or develop over time.
Like identity, this is also something easily mistaken. In my relationship with Odin, I moved over a number of months from thinking he was my Father to my Master to finally my Husband. Moreover, this final stage came as a complete surprise to me and was only revealed by another Odinswoman.
Odin is my husband, lover, master, boss, and my god. I relate to him in a variety of roles, which require a variety of actions and training on my part. Nothing is simple here.
4. Know that you can have multiple relationships with gods in different permutations
Odin owns me, but Lilith and Loki have appeared as teachers for me. Because of this, I owe them both a debt of obligation, for the rest of my life. Odin, however, will always come first. Adding my ancestors to the mix makes things even more complicated. I have a huge obligation to them, nearly rivaling Odin’s claim on me. I make and share a homemade meal for them weekly. I visit them through meditation weekly. I have changed my diet for them. I follow rules of behavior for them. Even Odin had to haggle with them to secure the terms of my marriage. I envision them as hard-as-nails Polish grandmas, slapping Odin’s hand with a wooden spoon to keep Him in line. One obligation does not excuse you from the rest.
5. It’s not all fun and games
If you are lucky enough to have a “honeymoon” period to your relationship, cherish it while it lasts. They will hook you with whatever it takes to get you. For some people, this is sex, attention, or romance. For others, this is power, knowledge, or new abilities. For others, this is a near-death experience or mental instability, both of which strip away that which distracts you from them. This initial tactic is not their main interest in you – they will want you to do some kind of meaningful work for them.
No matter whom you work with or how sweet they seem, they will always ask you to face the deepest fears and insecurities you have. Otherwise, no dice. They may have little tolerance for bad behavior, resistance, or being ignored. They will take things from you to teach you a lesson, get your attention, or just because they think you’re better off without them. This could mean your job / partner / health / sanity / home / bank account / sexual freedom. Like monastic life, they may require vows of poverty, chastity, and absolute fidelity to their wishes.
I once found a crucial tidbit about Lilith in an otherwise unremarkable book. Lilith does not show you your path—she destroys everything that is NOT your path. Rather than fighting this destructive energy, it’s best to accept it and learn to see its usefulness.
They may require you go to school or learn a trade. What they ask you to do might not be something you’d ever do otherwise. Their morality or values may not match your own or your expectations of them. The people they ask you to serve may annoy the hell out of you. Before you make any decision in your life you will need to consult them and then follow their wishes. You no longer call the shots in your own life.
6. Their interactions with you may not match your expectations or desires
If you’re meant to serve, they don’t care that you don’t like your job or think something’s unfair. There is no fairness in this phenomenon. No matter what your permutation, none of these relationships are equal power. While you might be permitted to yell, cry, and otherwise vent your displeasure, you WILL be doing what you are told. You cannot threaten them or tell them what to do. You can, it’s just incredibly stupid.
They may or may not care that you’re happy, lonely or it hurts. They may punish you disproportionately for messing up or cheating on them with humans or neglecting them.
I don’t mean this to be the voice of cynicism, just reality. Yes, the rewards are countless. But never, ever take for granted the serious weight of this relationship.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
There are times in every shaman or spirit worker’s life when he or she wonders if what we do is worth it. There are times, where the frustration, exhaustion, and constant work overwhelm. There are times, many of them, when burn-out threatens; and there are times when we wish for nothing more than a normal, quiet, un-magical life. There’s no shame in any of this: it happens. It’s part of being human. There are also times, however, beautiful, magical, breathtaking moments where the Gods send us the immense gift of showing us exactly why we’re doing this and exactly how it’s touching those we interact with and by extension, why it is important that we persevere. Those moments can make all the pain, frustration, and exhaustion worthwhile. They are small gifts of grace and more precious than any jewel. I received just such a gift this past Sunday.
Like most shamans, I regularly see a plethora of clients for everything from counseling to divination to the teaching of specific skills. This past Sunday I was meeting with a woman in order to teach her basic psychic hygiene. She is a strong empath and in her work as a social worker, the untrained gift was giving her some trouble. Now for the past couple of weeks, I had also been praying to Odin, asking Him to show one of His women (another client of mine) how deeply He loves her, to give her a bit of positive reinforcement as she embarks on a very difficult and grueling part of her Work for Him. I never expected that through a client, He would give me that self-same gift.
During the course of our work this past Sunday, my client shared with me something that had been bothering her in her own work for some time. She counsels a woman who had lost an eye in an accident (Her client, whom I shall call X. had actually been stabbed in the eye several years ago) and due to poverty had never been able to have any reconstructive surgery done. My client mentioned that even some of the other counselors and social workers at her job respond badly to this woman and are very derogatory (it’s a difficult thing to be a woman with any type of unusual appearance in our society, most especially in the eyes of other women). She said “X has one good eye and…” and I interjected with “and one good eye.” And then I told her, moved to tears by the image of the woman X. that came to mind, that in her scarred face, X embodied the God that I love and serve above all Others. For me, to look upon her was to see the face of Odin beautifully, powerfully, exquisitely reflected in human form. There is nothing more beautiful than that. As the image of X’s face dominated my mind all I could say is “how beautiful she is.” Even now, I am nearly moved to tears recounting this experience. It’s a simple thing, but an immensely powerful thing to see one’s Love reflected in the most unexpected of places.
My client began to cry and expressed how very much that meant to her and how much it would help her give X. the assistance that she needs. She said they often “go to places” where such things can be discussed. As we continued with her lessons, going over the basics of psychic hygiene (cleansing, centering, grounding, shielding) that would provide the foundation by which she could learn to control and use her gift of Empathy better, tears flowed freely as my own client experienced for the first time a sense of comfortable wholeness in her body, a sense that she had a right to be in the world just as she was. I saw what my commitment to the Work entrusted to me can do. I saw why, in the form of a crying, joyous woman curled in a chair in my workroom, it really is all worthwhile.
There are times our work royally sucks. Then there are times like this where from the most unexpected of places, at the most unexpected of times, simple graces are poured like jewels into our open hands.
I was recounting this story today to an academic colleague who was asking me about my religion and spiritual practices. She looked at me surprised and said, “So…your religion is really an every day thing?” The question surprised me, but I realized yes, yes it is: every moment, every breath; and there are times, like today, when I am immensely grateful for that. Gratitude enhances our practice. It, like prayer, helps us hold the line when everything in our hearts and minds and very tired spirits says “just give up.” I have said before and I will say it again: if you do the work, the Gods will provide. Recognizing that and allowing your heart to be filled with gratitude for that care, for that love, for those most unexpected of blessings, well, that’s part of our work too and it’s the part that can benefit us the most.
Monday, March 9, 2009
By Wintersong Tashlin
A week ago I posted part one of Marking a Journey in Flesh, a four part series about my shamanic death ordeals and the specific body modifications I got to mark each one. Where last week I wrote about my fire ordeal and the branding that accompanied it, this week I'll be describing my water ordeal and the tattoo that was done to commemorate it. I would strongly encourage you to go back and read part one and before you go ahead and read this essay.
Part one of Marking a Journey in Flesh can be found here.
Water ordeal: Tattoo
My water ordeal would be my other timed ordeal. It would also been one of the places in my ordeal cycle where I felt I really screwed the pooch. My Lady spelled out the requirements of this ordeal soon after the fire was over. I would need to do a vigil from sundown to sunrise in a body of water. This automatically meant a respite for a period of time as it was still far too cold for anyone to survive that. Summer in New Hampshire however, is still not exactly the Caribbean, and I kept putting the ordeal off. Finally one day I went to the lake with my family for a swim. When it came time to get out I've found that I was unable, and I was informed that it was now time to do the ordeal.
Unlike my fire ordeal there isn't a lot to say about my water ordeal. Even on a warm summer evening the lake saps your and heat and strength surprisingly quickly, and I alternated between huddling up in a fetal position wrapped in a space blanket underwater to keep warm and dancing in the water to keep moving. I learned how to move and dance with the water as opposed to against it and I spoke to the spirit of the lake about what it meant to be a lake. Around 3.00 AM, when I felt I was really starting to understand and "get" what I needed to the police arrived.
Fireheart had agreed to stay with me at the lake through the evening to make sure I stayed safe. She quickly and deftly spun a story for the officers about us testing a new underwater life saving device. Although the police seemed to buy her story they informed us that we had to leave. She asked for half an hour to get our supplies together, planning for us to move to a different part of the beach. However, I took the time to ask the spirits if I had gotten what I needed to get out of the ordeal. Since I had already gained what I needed to I was told I could end the ordeal early.
It was hours and hours before I was warm again, I had underestimated how much the lake had sapped my energy and my strength. As with the previous ordeal I came away with little more of my Life Energy gone. In its place in my heart there is the cool, graceful, flowing energy of the lake.
The body modification:
Just as branding was used to mark my fire ordeal, it only seemed appropriate that water or liquid be used as the modification to mark my water ordeal. The most logical way to do this with a tattoo. When one thinks about it, a tattoo is about taking ink into your body and in doing so change your body's appearance forever. Just as I procrastinated with the ordeal itself, I waited for far too long to have the tattoo done. The problem was that I couldn't find a design that felt right. My perceptions of water changed during that ordeal, and I felt that I needed to express that in my tattoo.
I also felt it was important that the tattoo honor the lake itself. Part of what I had experienced during the ordeal was a personal and intimate connection to this body of water. In a sense, the lake had been the facilitator of my ordeal.
For this reason, the imagery needed to be evocative of freshwater rather than the more common ocean imagery. One obvious way I could have done this was with a koi tattoo. However, koi imagery is very popular at the moment in the tattoo world. This journey is one that few people will ever make, and I wanted that reflected in some way in the tattoo, if only by the selection of less ubiquitous imagery.
The final design featured about 15 lake or aquarium fish in silhouette spiraling up my right calf with blue and green wash following them in the spiral. As with many of my tattoos, Fireheart did the initial design, and then worked with the tattoo artist to make it a design suitable for inking.
Getting the tattoo itself proved far more unpleasant than I had anticipated. Worse, despite going to one of the more reputable studios in New England, two days later I found myself with a severe infection in my entire leg, which swelled dramatically. It took over a week and 1/2 and very powerful antibiotics before I was doing better. It somehow seems too appropriate that the water ordeal body modification should end with my leg full of fluid. More than once I asked myself if I was making up for the time I missed in the lake by leaving early, or perhaps for the intervening years when I kept not getting the tattoo that I knew I needed.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
When someone gets claimed by the Gods to be in Their service, it can be a troubling thing. We live in a host culture that is essentially post-religious, and the dominant paradigm does not allow for experiences such as talking and other activities with the Gods, and having Them intervene/interfere directly in one's life. Even if one is a Pagan polytheist, often sharing with one's "coreligionists" can provoke reactions from skepticism to harassment and shunning. It is seen as a sign of mental illness, or at the very least self-delusion and wanting to be "speshul". We don't have many analogs in Western civilization for this. Studying Siberian, Asian, and African spirit-workers can make sense, but their belief systems and worldviews are still quite different from ours, and so their brands of shamanism are not always comparable.
However, it does seem we do have an analog, albeit a fictional one.
I am about to show what a real geek I am, but lately I've been watching old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and it started to occur to me that Captain Benjamin Sisko is, for better or worse, a spirit-worker.
Sisko starts off taking over Deep Space Nine after the death of his wife. He goes to Bajor to meet the alien race he'll be working with most closely, and their Kai calls him "emissary". Sisko then discovers the "Celestial Temple", the wormhole where the Bajoran "Prophets" live, and they take an active interest in him. For the first couple of years Sisko refers to the Prophets as "wormhole aliens" and adamantly does not want to be their emissary. However, they talk with him and intervene in his life enough times that he begins to believe in them, and accepts his role as their emissary. This is much to the dismay of the new Kai, Winn Adami, who feels cheated because the Prophets have never talked to her, and you see antagonism between Kai Winn and Sisko because Sisko, a non-Bajoran, has been touched by the Prophets, and the religious leaders of Bajor have not. Sisko does things like take artifacts to study and understand the will of the Prophets better, rather than leaving them in the hands of Bajoran people who have dedicated their entire lives to the study of their religion, which causes controversy. Periodically there are individual Bajorans who seem to receive favor from the Prophets, such as the devout Kira Nerys, but only Sisko is their emissary. Working for the Prophets causes Sisko to make unpopular decisions and frequently have his judgment and sanity questioned by his crew and those close to him, and in the end Sisko sacrifices his own life for them.
While, again, Deep Space Nine is fiction, it is clear that Sisko is the archetypal spirit-worker. He goes from doubt to acceptance, working for the Prophets even when others question him or resent his status, because he can do nothing else. He gives himself for them, and while it is for the greater good, it is still his life at the expense of the greater good.
I used to be OK with talking about things like journeying or visionary experiences, and stopped after friends of mine complained they tried to do these things and couldn't and they wanted what I have. I have become a lot more reticent because people really don't know what they are asking for. My ability to journey through the Otherworlds or receive messages from the Gods is not something I do as a game or for laughs. I do this as part of my Work. The average devotee of the Gods can do votary practices and get an "all is right with the world" feeling and indeed, there is nothing wrong with this. When you are claimed by the Gods to do Their work, your life is no longer your own. There are different degrees of ownership, but all of us get re-wired with the compulsion for service. Other people get the option to believe or don't, to do a ritual or don't. The life of a spirit-worker is so completely inundated with Divine presence that we don't get that option of disbelief or just deciding to do our own thing. That doesn't mean we don't have any autonomy, and most of us will get some leeway if only to make sure we are still functional and thus able to serve Them. But you don't get what I get without the deconstruction and rebirth/re-wiring that comes with it. Frankly, you don't want it, and you're better off without it. If everyone was just like me, the world would cease to function. Because we are the walking dead, everything takes a back seat to this Work.
So the question remains why this happens to us. I think the Gods are invested in this place, and though They are not dependent on our worship to exist, They do draw energy and power from our offerings and devotion. I mentioned the average devotee of the Gods, who may be "headblind" or may only get a little "ping" once in awhile, but otherwise has a feeling of rightness and is getting something out of their religion. One of the reasons why spirit-workers exist is to serve the general populace of worshippers, to intervene and mediate between Gods and man. Another reason is to minister directly to the Gods, and manifest Their presence in this world. Many of us find ourselves being called Gates or Doors or Bridges by our Deities, and this is not just an epithet to be cute, it is a label of what we are to Them, in our Work. I myself am a Light-Bringer. This does not mean that every single person I come across gets the full 1000-watt Frey energy, but it does mean that even in perfectly mundane situations I try to align myself energetically to be the force of calm and good, to still strife and comfort those around me. This is easier said than done, as someone who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but several spirit-workers have noticed "mods" in my energy field which assist with this process and Frey Himself has said it is just as much for my own benefit as for others.
It is not popular or comfortable to think of our Gods as Beings who love Their people and their home so much that They would take a handful of people and break them apart for the greater good, yet that is exactly what is happening. Too many people give lip service to the Gods without knowing the beauty and terror of Their presence, even people who claim to be hard polytheists and claim to truly believe in the Gods as individuals. It is perhaps better that most people do not experience the deep and overwhelming holiness of the Divine, but that is ultimately what They are. They create, and They destroy.
I leave you with a verse from the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, which says it better than I can. One of the old words for "temple" was ealh, and in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, the verse usually thought to be one about an elk is very particular about describing the energy within an ealh, or temple:
The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh;
it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,
covering with blood every warrior who touches it.
The presence of the Gods wounds us so we can be healed, and heal others. That is all.
When we as spirit workers need perspective on our lives and our clients, it's good to know that there are others looking into the unknown with us. While we work with the forces and embodiments of our homes and gods, they are always looking for the next step, the next challenge. I find that inspiring.
Here is a link to an article about the latest step in that journey.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Lady of fire, You stripped me bare.
With fire and searing heat You opened me,
Mighty Warrior Goddess,
You have devoured me,
torn the flesh from the withered reliquary of my heart,,
gnawed at the battered bones of my spirit.
You have nourished Yourself on my pain
until I could not run,
could not flee,
could not beg, or plead, or cry.
And in doing so,
You have gifted me
I have always been attracted to the warrior arts. It is a deeply ingrained passion that over the years honed me and honed my spirituality. Picking up a sword for the first time when I began my study of Iaido as an adult was like coming home. Closing my hands around a Glock 9mm when first learning to shoot even more so. There is a peace in the warrior’s abode, a calm serenity unsought after, unexpected that comes as a natural consequence of the discipline and intensely powerful focus needed for mastery of these arts. Not for me when I became Pagan the Maiden, Mother or Crone. No, I instinctively knew myself to be drawn to a far different type of Goddess.
From the very beginning, I sought out Warrior Goddesses: Sekhmet, Kali, Morrigan (especially Sekhmet)—Goddesses who revel in the bringing of death at weapons edge, at conquering the knife edge terror of impending mortality, of tempering the chaotic playground of one’s emotions and of living a life of single-minded purpose; Goddesses who understood violence and the unrelenting mastery of it. Of course, in those days—easily 15 years ago—no one really spoke of the war-Goddesses. It was a verboten subject as though the path of the warrior was diametrically opposed to any spiritual path at all. For me it was never so. For me, it was an ongoing path of harsh clarity. Of course, I learned very early on that not everything that is harsh is bad.
I was taken up by Sekhmet very early on in my Fellowship of Isis days, eventually becoming Her priestess. Eventually, She led me to Odin and Loki and handed over the reins if you will, but even so, She will always and forever remain my Mother. Her lessons were harsh and Her training implacable. In many respects, She readied me not only for Odin but for the work that He would have me to. She made me a warrior, broke and honed me and I emerged the better for it. Every night for a year I prayed to Sekhmet. I prayed that She burn me, purify me, strip me of everything that might interfere with my spirituality. I prayed that She make of me the most useful of tools. (That is a secret most warriors won’t think to tell: the highest compliment we can give is this: to say one has been of use). She took me at my word. I discovered rather quickly that it is one thing to pray to a Goddess or God. There is no necessary responsibility in the mere utterance of words. There is hope. There is wishing. There may be commitment but if one’s prayer is not immediately answered it is easy enough to back away, safely, secure in one’s own world. But when one receives a definite answer that entire world shatters. Nothing is ever the same again.
Sekhmet destroyed me.
She took an impulsive child and stripped me bear. She made of that child a devotee and a priest. She readied my heart for devotion, for service, for love. She took from me my profession, my apartment, those around me who had been friends and spiritual guides. She left me barren and bereft and anguished. And I am grateful. She took me to a place of desolation so profound that I had only Her to sustain me, only Her to turn to. I needed that. I needed to be reduced to simplicity, humility and raw, unhoned desire. I needed to be broken.
I served Sekhmet for many years. To this day, I pay homage to Her for setting my feet upon a warrior’s path, for naming those things I knew lay within me, for giving me the courage to live as She wished. Those things I learned at Her feet prepared me not only for priesthood but for a life of centered devotion. Of all the gifts I learned, both from Goddesses of war and my study of warrior arts the most invaluable one was this: when I chose to commit to my Gods, I did so fully. When I set my feet upon the path that eventually led me to become inextricably bound to Woden – as my life now is-- it was those lessons learned at the edge of a warrior’s blade that prepared me for the commitment.
Ah, Sekhmet seemed so cruel at the time. She took me in hand early on and stripped me bare. I who had played at being a warrior for so long, who had hungered for the starkness of the training learned soon enough what it meant to belong to such a Goddess. The compassion of a Warrior Goddess is the most ruthless compassion of all. It leaves no room for emotion or sentiment, no room for doubt or fear or regret. All of these things must be sacrificed. All of these things are given over to the duty of unending puja. From Her I learned the value of conflict. I learned that within me at my deepest core lay a beast of rage and fury, a killer that would devour all I held dear in my life if I let it. Oh, I had a temper. I still do though I strive hard not to give it free reign. My rage would boil up in word and deed eating away at my integrity, reputation and friendships. No one else could calm that beast. It was for me reign it in. And that was a duty I was failing at. I saw myself in the mirror of Her fire as I never hope to see myself again. She shattered me in that first year and then slowly began the process of rebuilding. Looking back at a process that began years before I ever consciously uttered Her name, I realize that She was giving me exactly what I needed. She was tempering me like a blade is tempered in the heated forge: being beaten, hammered, molded and beaten again, subjected to annealing flame over and over again. I’m afraid I was very stubborn and it took me a very long time to fully accept the precious gift of self-discipline that She offered.
Eventually, I learned to rule (at least a little more) that beast of rage that lay inside. I who had a vicious temper and a physicality and training enough to be dangerous, I learned restraint. I so deeply passionate about everything I did for good or for ill learned to govern my passions. I learned to examine emotions carefully and then to set them aside. “A warrior acts from duty first”, She taught me. “And she does not fear to live.” There are no facades with these Goddesses, no room for sentiment, no hiding from truths however painful. Most of all, there is no safety. She and She alone taught me to love my Gods without condition, to step into the fire of ecstasy and inspiration that They bring and willingly court immolation. It was the Warrior who made of me a mystic.
I learned to pray with a sword in my hand-or a gun for I find pistol shooting to be extremely calming and meditative. It is ice to the heat of the sword’s song. I learned through strict training to seek an unerring center, to allow nothing to deter me from my goals, not my own ego, my own stubborn resistance to change, my own laziness, emotion upset and certainly not anyone or anything outside of myself. I learned to seek the Gods with an unswerving surety that scares even me when I think back on it. She made sure I would never be a slave to my own fear, my own desires, my own pride or ego or hubris. I was painfully young when I came to Her, and so hungry for knowledge. Sekhmet, upon taking me in hand had pushed me pretty quickly into serious study of the martial arts. This of course, was no hardship. My only difficulty lay in deciding what to study! Of all the weapons in the world, the katana has always held the greatest fascination for me. It presents clean almost stark lines and must be wielded with a ruthless precision that causes my spirit to rejoice. After observing one class at a local dojo, I knew that I had found the martial art for me. The only exhilaration comparable was the moment, a few years later, when I learned to shoot a gun. Through the years the Gods used my study of Iaido as a very visible parallel to my spiritual health. My work in the dojo came to reflect sometimes to frightening proportions, the work that I was doing spiritually and what progress (or not) I was making.
Best of all, at the dojo, my aggressive nature is considered a virtue, though one in need of direction which the physical discipline of training itself provided. The very first class I took, on one of the hottest days of summer, I nearly passed out. I truly thought I was going to die. But one adapts and a little pain is good for the spirit. It is an uncomfortable thing, however, this process of stripping away. For that is what I have committed, by virtue of my commitment to my Gods, to continually doing. When I entered the dojo, I was taken me back to the beginning, and forced gain those skills and self control that I should have been trained in years ago well before I ever became an adult. I am a child again fumbling for understanding. My meditation and magic came to lie on the material plane, in a stark training hall and endless repetition of kata; my ritual garb hakama and gi; my libations sweat, bloody hands and aching muscles. (Those initial classes during the summer proved the first time in my life where I’ve been so sore I just sat down at home and cried). This was all to Sekhmet’s liking. When She relinquished Her hold on me, passing me into the arms and auspices of Woden (a God known for His penchant for strong women) I was a completely different creature than the one that had first reached out for the Gods.
Through Her, I had been forged into something, someone that could be of service to the God that I love beyond breath and being. Oh, I fell deeply in love with Woden and service to Him soon began to govern my life. To love a God so deeply that you willing seek out the sharing of Their pain requires a will strong enough to endure proximity with the terrifying reality of the numinous. It requires a will and a sense of self forged in stone, one that will not break under the weight of duty, nor seek the safety of imagination and personal comfort. I have many faults (my temper for one remains a constant reminder that I am FAR from perfect!) but one small thing I have learned as only a warrior can: when there is nothing else to be done, in the midst of the most tumultuous of storms, hold fast and endure. I like to hope that this one quality has enabled me to be of some use to Woden and the other Gods that I adore. At the very least, I think it ensures I am not too much of a burden.
I worry when I encounter people who are drawn to the idea of being a God-servant or becoming a shaman. Those of us who have been through the breaking, the dying, the reforging answer those innocent queries with “no, you really don’t. You don’t know what it entails. Run now, while you still have the freedom to do so.” Watching novices jumping headlong into “shamanism” without any preparation, without any idea of what ‘shamanism’ really entails chills me to the core. They don’t understand that they may not survive the journey. Those who do this without a strong devotional practice, without a strong connection to a specific Deity (who will also look after the person in question) makes it that much more difficult. Devotion may involve openness of heart, and surrender of spirit but with that it calls for tremendous courage. Rather than explore ‘shamanism’ I’d encourage any would be spirit worker to first get their spiritual “house” in order. Begin with devotion. Allow devotion to lead to strength, discipline, and other essential training. This is a fundamental all too often neglected. It’s not the only thing one needs to survive, not by a long shot, but it certainly ups the odds.
Warriorship is not a metaphor for me. It remains incomprehensible to me that one could grow on one’s spiritual path without ever exploring and embracing the qualities traditionally associated with warriorship. In my life, both daily and devotional, they remain foundational, however disturbing that may be in these politically correct times. Walking this path has enabled me to grow in devotion and love and commitment to my Gods. It has impacted the ways in which I relate to the world and the ways in which I serve my Gods. It has made me a better person. I owe that to Sekhmet.
Nearly every night for over a year I have found myself sitting at my computer in the hours after midnight, scouring the World Wide Web, looking for something. I have to confess, I don't really know what it is I'm looking for. I scan article after article from various news sources trying to build a picture in my mind of what is happening to our world.
Nearly any time you get together a gathering of spirit workers you will find that there is a big elephant in the room that doesn't get talked about. More of us then I can count have been told by our respective gods to "Get really. Get ready faster, you need to be prepared in time. Something's coming." Pressed for details, the gods get reticent. Many of us have been told "we can't tell you what is coming; things are still too much in the air for even us to know for sure."
For some of us this is a bigger deal than for others. My Lady is a deity of productive destruction. I am a diviner, who also has a strong pre-cognitive gift. That combination means that this question is always in the back of my mind, like a song you can't quite remember, but you still have stuck in your head.
The Lady and Var, her not -quite -servant, have told us several things that would happen over the course of the years. I am ashamed to say that we ignored many of her predictions because so many people were telling us that they were simply wrong. Per Var's instructions for instance, we had converted much of our savings into silver. My relatives, who are commodities traders, finally convinced us that this was foolish and that hard metal would never increase in value and in fact could only go down. Today the price of silver is four times what it was then. The spectacular collapse of the stock market was also something we were informed of ahead of time, but again we ignored what they had to say because people who were considered to be greater experts were assuring us that it couldn't happen. We also ignored the Lady's ever increasing insistence that we learn how to use and own firearms, an issue that gained immediacy when a neighbour started shooting at us.
While the Lady can't or won't tell us exactly what is coming down the line, there have been specific times where she has said "Look at this thing, this is a piece of the puzzle." Changes in historic weather patterns, Global warming, the world's financial crisis, political instability in the former USSR, these are a few things that I've been told are pieces of that puzzle. I have many others, but far too few to know what the picture looks like.
And this is how I end up sitting here at my desk at four in the morning, scanning the immensity of the Internet and trying to feel for shifting patterns in the wyrd. MRSA infections are on the rise among children, and it's clear even through the technical jargon, that doctors are terrified of what's going to happen once the last of their antibiotics stop working. Is this relevant? Does this matter? Several former Soviet nations have decided to form a unified military. Puzzle piece, or not? How about China landing a lunar probe?
There are times when I feel like we as a people are standing in a tunnel. We know there's a train coming because we've been told, and those of us with really good hearing have heard its rumble for some time. But now we are starting to see the glimmer of its headlight, and I worry that by the time we can see the body of the train itself it'll be too late to jump out of the way for any of us.
Monday, March 2, 2009
This weekend I went to a Pagan conference in a different part of the country. I noticed that there were a lot of workshops with the “shamanic” word in them besides mine, and I wasn’t particularly sanguine about attending any of them. That term has been slapped onto all sorts of things, to the point where it’s laughably meaningless in some contexts. The last thing I wanted to do was to suffer through some fake Native American-ish ritual with a lot of rattle shaking and you-create-your-own-reality New Age guided meditation salted with self-help language. (I’m not saying that those meditations aren’t useful for people, cultural appropriation aside, but they aren’t shamanic and they aren’t useful for me.) So I resigned myself to avoiding the workshops in general, because there wasn’t much else that I wanted to see.
However, something - or Someone - kept poking me to go to a workshop taught by two shamanic practitioners. You need to learn about these sorts of people, the voice said - it wasn’t so much a spirit-voice as a spirit-memo, a slip coming down from the Head Office telling you that it would be good if you took a class in Italian because there’s going to be a branch opening in Rome soon. So I went, reluctantly.
The couple who ran the workshop called themselves shamanic practitioners, a courtesy which I appreciated. They spoke about their many students, and how sometimes those students ran into the “dark side” of shamanism, which included being freaked out by spirits who might want to have sex with you, or running into parts of yourself that weren’t very nice, or running into spirits who might not be made of sweetness and light. OK, so all these things were true; while I might not be fazed by spirits wanting to fuck (including when it’s those not-sweetness-and-light ones who want to fuck!) But it seemed small in comparison to the fears that I had when I was in the worst early part of my path, and the fears that I hear from people on similar paths, and I couldn’t help mentally comparing it in my mind.
Mind you, these folks seemed actually to be in connection with real spirits of various sorts. Their magical items - their lovely skulls and handmade rattles - were actually charged. They actually journeyed themselves. They did take clients and they did help people. We had that in common, and I am not trying to say that they advertised themselves falsely. They were, indeed, real and competent shamanic practitioners. They were good at what they did. It just wasn’t exactly what I was doing.
The difference between us was both cultural and practical. Once, during our conversation, I tried to describe bloodwalking. (That’s a journey that the practitioner takes through the genetic bloodline of a client in order to give them information about it.) One of the couple asked, “So, is it always just you doing the journeying and telling them what you see? Don’t you ever teach them how to do it themselves?”
I remembered a journey where I slogged up a frozen mountain in north Jotunheim to see a snowy goddess about being more capable at bloodwalking, and how she stuck something inside me to do the job, something for which I will be paying emotionally for years to come. Teach them to do it themselves? The idea seemed as far away as asking a surgeon, “Why don’t you teach your patients with brain tumors to do operations on themselves or each other?” …or, more chillingly appropriate, “Instead of performing competition-quality piano music for an audience at Carnegie Hall, why aren’t you teaching other people to play that well themselves, so they can do it in their own living rooms?”
All I could think to say was, “In this tradition, the shaman does the work for the client.” They seemed to accept that as a cultural difference, but it sharply underscored the divide between us. Maybe I’m just a hard case, and not nearly as initially talented as I like to think, and all the deity-modification is to make my otherwise hopeless astral form into something that other people can achieve with a few months of wandering around various unnamed spirit worlds. I don’t know … but I doubt it.
See, I’m not sure that I like the idea of dragging other people into the sort of thing that I do. In the tradition I work in, in the various areas of circumpolar Eurasia which surround it, there’s an acceptance that the shaman’s call is not necessarily consensual, and that the initial period of illness is possibly fatal. I’d give shaman sickness, the way that it manifests in my tradition, a 10-30% chance of being fatal. I don’t know how many “students” would sign up for “shamanic knowledge” if that kind of fatality rate was advertised up front.
Granted, were I to do this, most of the people I dragged through the Otherworlds would not be grabbed up by Gods and spirits … but some of them would, when their wyrds might otherwise have been their own. That’s one reason why indigenous cultures avoid spirit-places - they don’t want to get chosen. I’ve fought off two fatal illnesses so far, one culminating in a near-death experience. I’ve had major surgery and recovered without painkillers, in a four-day Sun Dance of agony, on the orders of my Patrons. I’ve given up everything I had, and I live a life prescribed by narrow rules that I did not choose. This path may yet be the death of me, quite literally. Is this something that I want the karmic responsibility of handing clueless people over to?
That, to me, is the real “dark side of shamanism”. Being sacrificed for the good of others. Risking death and pain and madness, again and again, for their sake, bound to help them even while you are the outsider. Because going through experiences like mine prevent you from living any kind of “normal” life, and you will be an outsider. You will. Trust me on this.
I will, of course, teach those who have already been grabbed up, who are staring down the barrel of that divine cannon and who may not know how much at risk they are for getting their heads blown off. I’d do that in a heartbeat, were any sent to me. I’ll happily teach all manner of “arts” as well, the hundreds of tools in my working toolbox, to any that are interested and can give me a bit of payment. But spirit-work? My experience of it was so different from theirs that their basic assumption - that part of the job is to teach any interested seekers to do what you do - left me in a kind of dizzy revulsion.
And yet … I’d been sent there to make connections, that was clear. It wasn’t the first time that my Bosses have pointed me towards the neo-shamanic community. There’s no sense of “go and learn”, it’s very definitely a “go and network”. Why? More to the point, how? I’ve resisted that before, because I do not know how to translate my experience into their world view. Our rituals, our protocol, it’s different. Some of our underlying assumptions are different as well. On my end of it, it does look something like an uncrossable divide.
On the other hand, we have some assumptions in common - the underlying animistic spirit(s) in all things, the existence of spirits and Otherworlds (for the real practitioners, anyway), the sanctity of the Earth. (I was certainly able to connect with these folks as fellow homesteaders.) In many ways, we are both further from the world views of mainstream society than we are from each other. There’s got to be a smaller divide there than between me and a rich atheist investment banker in a condominium on the Sunset Strip. Surely there’s a line we can use to bring this together. I suppose, if my Bosses had to aim me at a community and attempt to use me to fire some diplomacy, I could have been given worse ones.
It seems that the neo-shamanic community and the small group of spirit-workers that I know personally have been developing entirely separately, with no cross-pollination at all. I can feel the time coming, though, what that has to change. If nothing else, some people in that demographic may get too close to the Gods/spirits in away that makes them Lawful Prey, and they may well have nowhere to go with it.
I think it’s more than that, though. As the Earth slowly sinks further into polluted disarray, more alliances have to happen, perhaps across difficult lines. We need to think about who our allies are, and how many of them we can collect. After all, that’s a very shamanic way of thinking: can I make an ally of that plant? That animal spirit? That piece of woods? That stone? That ancestor? That deity? Unlike the stark simplicity of monotheism, tribal shamans were judged by their having a lot of spirits, not just one or a handful. We can think in the same way for human allies.
What would it take to ally to other communities, even if there are some things we don’t see eye to eye on? Neo-shamanic practitioners? Neo-Pagans? Wiccans? Reconstructionists? Mystical Christians and Jews? New Age folk? Reiki people? Ecologists? Body modification spiritualists? One could spread the net even wider.
I think that the first thing, though, is that we have to accept that we are likely going to be the weirder ones in any partnering, and that it’s best if we can try to communicate from their world view whenever possible (or at least stick to things we have in common) and wait patiently for them to take their time coming around to understanding our world view. Because, let’s face it, our world view is hard to understand. We’re used to it, because we’re immersed in it, but it’s not an easy thing.
So the first exercise I’m going to set for myself in this endeavor is to imagine what life is like for them, and figure out how to speak from that perspective. I’m going to work on communicating commonalities before I shove the bitter reality of the difference between our paths at them. Alliances aren’t made by punching someone in the face; they’re made with slow, patient steps and some sacrifice.
May you all have patience and persistence in the search for embodied allies as well as numinous ones … because we’re all going to need it. The work that you do today lays the groundwork for the generations to come.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Several years ago I underwent a transformative shamanic dying period in my life. Many classical shamans experience a singular death event or crisis that marks their spiritual change into "walking dead men." One of my mentors for instance bled out in a hospital and had his heart stop. He was never fully alive again, and if you are gifted with a good sense for energy and you are around him, it is possible to see the magical bonds the gods placed to hold his spirit to his body. This isn't how things worked for me.
In some ways the journey started out as many shamans' do, with my health situation in a steadily worsening state. I suffer from a chronic pain disorder related to an old injury. I was already a spirit worker and a magician, but this journey began when my Lady informed me that I would become Her shaman. Having known several classical shamans at this point I was far from pleased, and I will freely admit that I fought with Her for over a year before inevitably acquiescing to Her demands.
For me the spiritual dying process would be a slow one, taking close to two years, and marked at four intervals by transformative ordeal rituals. Each ordeal was tied to a particular element, and was designed to further the transformation. I will not go into any great detail here about the time between these rituals, but let me say that it was a difficult one for me emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Over the course of the next several weeks I will post four essays, one for each of my four shamanic ordeals. I will be sharing descriptions of each ordeal, followed by an explanation of the permanent modifications to my body I received to mark that ordeal. Each modification has been done in a different art form, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the broad field of body modification, I will give some detail as to the how and why of the particular art used for each design.
This week we start at the beginning, with the ordeal of fire.
Fire Ordeal: Branding
The first, and in some ways most complex ordeal ritual I did was oriented around the element of Fire. In mid February I went to Cauldron Farm, which is in Massachusetts, and built a fire in the fire pit using only my flint and steel. The ritual was to run from sunset to sunrise and I had to be alone for that entire time, which in itself was an ordeal. As my health had steadily worsened I had become progressively more dependent on other people, and the ideal of being alone was, itself, terrifying. In addition to maintaining the fire I had built, I knew that at some point in the evening I would need to travel across the field to where a Northern Tradition stang had been erected and make a blood offering to the Norse lady of death, Hela. I had been instructed that this would need to happen sans clothing, a challenge in thirty degree weather with seven inches of snow on the ground.
Once I had built up the fire so as to ensure that it would still be going strong upon my return, I set off for the stang. I will not go into any great detail as to what happened there, but let me say that a measure of my life energy was taken forever. Weakened, by the magic and by standing in the snow naked for over ten minutes, I struggled back to the fire, pierced by the agony in my frozen feet. Once I nearly sat down to catch my breath, and today I know that had I sat down naked in the snow I might never have stood up again and no one would have come down looking for me until dawn at the soonest, still hours away.
The Body Modification:
The modification to mark this ordeal was an electrocautery brand performed by a Penelope, a piercer and body mod artist in the Northampton MA area. For me the brand was not about having skin burned away, which in fairness is what a brand is, rather it was about taking the fire into my flesh. There is an expression that says you can't play with fire without getting burned. During my ordeal, fire had warmed me when I was chilled and had been a beacon that guided me back to the world of life. Part of the point of the brand was to make an offering of myself to the element of fire in thanks.
It wasn't very hard to decide on a symbol for the brand. In many ways the fire ordeal marked the beginning of the end of who I was. Becoming a shaman in this sense of the word is a process that changes your life and your identity forever, assuming you survive. That is a pretty big assumption really. My mentors and my gods had made sure that I was well aware that this process could kill you or drive you crazy. Just as they had made sure I knew I didn't have any say in it. There was the chance in each of the four ordeals that I might die. To mark the beginning of this destructive process, having the rune Cweorth, the ruin of the funeral pyre, burned on into my leg made perfect sense.
Even though I had the brand done in a crowded studio, I still felt it was important to keep to the requirement of doing this ordeal by myself. As such I went to have the brand done on my own. You can imagine this was a bit of a risk; Penelope's studio is quite a long drive from where I was living at the time. When I found that my left leg was able to depress the clutch pedal in my car with little difficulty I was quite relieved. By the next day however, I had almost completely lost the use of my leg, and would not regain mobility for another five days.
It has been several years now since that night by the fire and Penelope's brand has gotten more difficult to see. The strength I gained during that ritual and the fire I took into me carried me through what followed.
We all have our job. The gods hand them out to us like the worlds biggest and oldest New Deal program. We get on-the-job training, often from the bosses themselves, tough they rarely provide retirement benefits.
Well I shouldn't say that, they often provide for us in one way or another, just not usually in a manner or to a degree that we would choose. I often wonder if perhaps poverty as a virtue is touted by so many religions world wide, not because it teaches us something really valuable, but because arranging for us to become wealthy takes time and energy that the gods that we work for would rather not spend.
Now, the details of my job and the identity of my Lady are inextricably intertwined. This is largely because she has, as of yet, declined to identify herself. I and my fellow clan mates each have our jobs that she has given us. Not the Clan, you know the white pointy hat dudes, lots of yelling and fire. Generally that clan won't take ex-jewish, polyamorous, pagan, pierced gay people, that's not really their target demographic. Our clan has all you need to fill out the ranks of a spooky organization, but always with a twist, maybe of lime, lemon always make it taste to much like desert.
I am, among other things, a priestess and while some of you may be saying “but who's priestess?” I would then answer, wouldn't I like to know. You see, in not knowing who our Lady is, I and my fellow clansmen/women/whateveryouare's, are without a pantheon or religious structure beyond doing what what our Lady tells us to. While that may seem simple, just do what you are told, it can be very difficult when operating in the greater community. Why, for instance, doesn't our clan shaman and diviner tend to use the more conventional Norse runes or tarot cards? Because she said he couldn't anymore, and then told us to use a system completely different, and somewhat more complex. Don't get me wrong, I love our system, I think that it garners a much greater level of detail than other divination systems that I have used in the past. But when a client asks for a reading, and you whip this thing out, you do tend to get some really odd looks.
Not having a pantheon as a priestess, as someone whose job is to be a speaker and representative of the gods, now that's where things get a little hairy. You see, I don't speak for my Lady alone. Instead, I speak for whomever has no one to speak for them at the time. I have done work for Artemis, when her servant needed to speak to another Artemis person, but there was no one else in her area who could do that. I have done ritual for Kali Ma, because she outlined it for me, and who else was going to do it? I have spoken for Ereshkigal, Atropos, Odin (the young one, the one that no one in the Asatru like to talk about, because it was when he was still tight with Loki, very tight...) Not having the affiliations that come with a pantheon frees me to work with Whomever I need to, without having to worry about whether or not my patron has bad blood between them in the lore.
Of course it would be nice to have some lore, any lore, something. Otherwise, what will I write my book about that will sell millions of copies and provide the cushy retirement that I have yet to figure out how to provide for myself. Lacking that, poverty may well prove to be a virtue.