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Question 11: Life Skills and Being a Shaman Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

From Andrew:

I know in my own practice that increasingly my work has turned to mastering skills of various sorts: I’ve been building pop-up books and working on my sewing machine, practicing calligraphy and geometry, and doing a fair bit of graphic design; the carpentry/cabinetmaking is rarer, but it’s there. And lately I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. Sometimes the work is phenomenally dull, other times it’s deeply interesting — but then the artwork and the mental acuity that comes from artisanship kicks in when I’m working for someone else. I find I solve problems better, sort out potential solutions more quickly, and settle on one faster. So, the topic I’d suggest is… write a series of posts about how your shamanic practice informs other specific parts or your life, or how skills like cooking or driving inform your experience as a shaman?

Crafting, such as with woodworking, leatherworking, and pyrography, has given me different avenues for channeling aspects of my religious life.  Whether in devotional expression, talisman and amulet construction, bag-making, or constructing Runes Themselves and the bags to put Them in, crafting put my religious life and magic into my hands in a concrete way.  Drawing allows to make Rune mandalas to connect to the Runes and make magic with Them.  This, combined with woodburning has allowed for powerful talisman work.  The 30 Days of Magic Talisman Challenge I participated in has been one such working.  Something I have been rolling around in my head for a little while is making a Rune set, sets of healing Runes or healing Rune mandalas on Birch wood disks.  Making Rune sets in special wood, I find, also brings a powerful character to Rune working.  The material one works with adds a layer to the readings, or the Runework one does.

The woodcarving project I am working on what used to be a garden stake, and slowly working on it to make a small godpole for Odin.  This is a very rough outline, but the idea of His Face is here.

Odin Garden Stake Godpole -Rough

Something that a friend of mine taught me when she first showed me how to carve, is that “If you can do this in small details, it makes the bigger things that much easier.”  That is very true, and was more of a life lesson than I thought of at the time!  Woodworking projects are an ongoing exercise in patience, a virtue I do not have enough of.  This is also why the godpole is taking me forever to carve.  Each strip of wood slowly brings me closer to the icon of Him, and at some point I will need to tell myself, or better yet, hear from Him, “enough” or “this is good”.

With many of my projects I tend to go in starts and stops, especially when inspiration wallops me over the head.  This is true of my writing as much as it may be of my leatherwork or pyrography.  There are nights I will bang out a bunch of Rune mandalas on paper or make a woodburned project, and the next day I will get relatively little in terms of anything done.  There are other days where I can just cut leather and make a bunch of bags.  Sometimes there are dry spells where I have left my crafting tools alone for weeks.  During times likes these this blog may sit without a new article.  Sometimes I need help to get started again, like here with the questions.  Sometimes something pushes me to write or draw or craft otherwise, like a good song, an article, or when I follow a prompt.  This has taught me patience, and it has also taught me that it is okay to take my time.  To let things come out as they will rather than trying to force them.

When I try to force wood or leather to go in a particular direction without paying attention to where the material is trying to lead me is where I make the majority of my mistakes.  That comes with listening not only to where I am, but where the project is, and assessing what I can really do in a given moment.  Sometimes when I am inspired, I have worked on Odin’s godpole for 6 or so hours without really realizing it.  The next time I sit down to work on it, I may be at it for half an hour.  Learning to be okay with that has helped me with my shamanic work; there is no need to do it all at once, but knowing when to put the gas on and when to coast used to be a deep struggle for me.  I liked to go, go! go! not that long ago  I am much more at ease now than I was then to coast, or to let the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir guide me.  Part of that is letting my desire to control go, whether it is a particular project or spiritual work.  Trying to control too much is stifling, and actually can make things take even longer.  Especially in pyrography, not working with the material can destroy all of my hard work.  There are more than a few projects where I was burning leather where I got impatient and tried to do too much too quick.  The edges ended up blackening, and in one case where I was crafting a spell all the way around the perimeter of the leather first, it ruined the uniformity I was going for with the piece.  I had worked on the piece for about four or so hours, and had to start all over again.  I had to step away; I was too angry and devastated to start again right there.  I needed time to calm down and come at things fresh.  When I had, going through all the steps of cleansing and readying myself for the Rune work, it took me awhile to burn, but I did eventually get it done.

Crafting teaches not only skill and technique of the craft in question, but patience, perseverance, and discipline.  Without these things even a sketch is just a few lines on paper.  Letting go of the need for something to look ‘just right’ taught me to apply this patience and understanding in my shamanic practice as well.  In appreciating what I did have.  Even if my work looks nothing like how I believe it should look.

 

 

Question 11: Life Skills and Being a Shaman Part 1

From Andrew:

I know in my own practice that increasingly my work has turned to mastering skills of various sorts: I’ve been building pop-up books and working on my sewing machine, practicing calligraphy and geometry, and doing a fair bit of graphic design; the carpentry/cabinetmaking is rarer, but it’s there. And lately I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. Sometimes the work is phenomenally dull, other times it’s deeply interesting — but then the artwork and the mental acuity that comes from artisanship kicks in when I’m working for someone else. I find I solve problems better, sort out potential solutions more quickly, and settle on one faster. So, the topic I’d suggest is… write a series of posts about how your shamanic practice informs other specific parts or your life, or how skills like cooking or driving inform your experience as a shaman?

First off, thank you Andrew.  This is a great question.

There are skills I have connected back to and brought into my religious life, like cooking, woodworking, leatherworking, pyrography, and drawing.  There are others which were part of it to begin with, such as raising my son, teaching, listening, and divining.  Where I saw raising my son as part of my duties not only as a parent, but especially as a Northern Tradition Pagan, shaman, and priest, I had to work a little bit to bring cooking into my religious life.

I am not a great cook.  When I first went off to college and lived in a dorm I managed to burn ramen quite well.  I have learned a bit since then.  I at least don’t set food on fire much anymore, and can make something halfway decent when I have good instructions and stay on target.  I was looking around at one point last year for recipes to connect with my Ancestors.  I had not made a full-on meal on Their behalf, and wanted to have a go at a recipe from on the places my blood relatives came from.

So I looked around online for traditional German recipes.  That was when I found a potato leek soup with mushroom recipe.  I wanted to pair it with something else, but by the time I got around to cooking it, it seemed it would be enough on its own.

Here is what it looked like step-by-step:

Step 1 Potato Leek Soup with MushroomStep 2 Potato Leek Soup with MushroomStep 3 Potato Leek Soup with MushroomStep 4 Potato Leek Soup

When it was finished I took some of the soup out to the tree outside to share with the Ancestors.  Doing this not only put a good recipe into my hands and a good offering before the Ancestors.  Cooking pushed me to connect to my Ancestors in a very straightforward and simple way.  This process of cooking for my Ancestors also taught me something else: don’t forget one group of Ancestors or favor Them so strongly above one another.  I had done so much research looking for a recipe for my German Ancestors that I neglected my French Ancestors. They got my attention and let me know in no uncertain terms They were not pleased with this.  Mercifully, They were pleased and much happier when I made Them an omelette using the same kind of mushrooms as I had for the leek soup above.  I thought perhaps I needed to make a more complex dish, like on the order of the leek soup, but sometimes the Ancestors just want a simple staple that They would have had in life.

This life skill is a powerful way of connecting to our Ancestors, and the Dead in general.  Family cookbooks and recipes are, to me, precious heirlooms we pass on to our loved ones whether we have children or not.  It is one more link in the chain between one’s family members and its descendants, and can be as strong as family stories, genealogy, and history.  Above and beyond being a necessary life skill, one which I am grateful my Ancestors have pushed me to cultivate, cooking is a powerful way of keeping the connections with Them alive for all of those who come to our table.

To be continued in part 2.

Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest

April 18, 2013 7 comments

Another question from Valiel Elantári:

What difference do you make between “shaman” and “priest” ?

I had defined a shaman in Question 9 as ‘an intercessor between humanity and the Worlds of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.’  A priest may be that as well.  Where I see a marked difference is the kind of relationship a priest has vs. what a shaman has in their community.  A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods.  When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion.  A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity.  A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.

Some of the Work of a priest I do see as dovetailing with the Work of a shaman.  There can be very direct parallels between the two jobs’ requirements.  Both, for instance, need people to be spiritually clean, firm in their religious foundations, knowledgeable in their cosmology and in particular the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits they work with and/or worship.  Depending on the needs of the community, the two jobs may place requirements on the shoulders of a priest and a shaman that are similar, if not the same, such as blessing a newly birthed baby, weddings, fields before or after planting, etc.  The requirements of a priest may be wildly divergent priest to priest, tradition to tradition, the same with shamans, so saying anything across the board means somewhere I am getting something wrong.  The palette has too many colors for me to accurately paint with a select few.

In my own work as a priest and a shaman, my work as Odin’s priest is different from being a shaman in that He may ask me to deliver messages on His behalf as a priest whereas in my role as a shaman I may be asked to do a ritual action instead.  In a way, it seems to me I am engaged more in action serving Him as a shaman than I am as a priest, in which I tend to act more in the role of a passive message-passer.  Then again, as I am both, sometimes the two blend together in terms of my service to Him.  So the only thing I can say for certain here, is that I serve Him as He asks or demands of me.

In my Work as a priest of Anubis this is a bit markedly different from my service as Odin’s priest.  For one, Anubis demands very little of my time nowadays, but I can feel Him starting to really come back to the fore now that I have a new altar to the Dead, rather than, say, just the Military Dead or my Ancestors.  For another, Anubis’ requirement have been to offer Him offerings on occasion, but nothing like the dedication of Ancient Egyptian temple priests.  I have a small statue of Him that I feed offerings to, put water before, and occasionally bathe in similar fashion to how temple priests might have done.  However, that is more or less the extent of my historically-based practice.  Much of my work with Anubis is pure UPG, and when He calls upon me to help a Lost Dead or to deliver a message on a spirit’s behalf on His behalf, I do, and my services are rendered, and I go on my way.  My service to Anubis is more haphazard and as He needs me then I imagine other priests might serve, i.e. those who have permanent temple space.  Some of my Work with Him dovetails well with the Work I do for Odin, for instance, the consistent cleaning, grounding, and centering rituals.  Keeping myself clean, as well as keeping the altars clean, are part and parcel of my Work with Him.  So too, making sure the altar to the Dead is kept well, that offerings are laid out.  I must also be sure that the Dead are not insulted or treated ill in rituals, another place where my Work as a shaman dovetails with my priest Work.

In this way, priests, as with shamans, are intercessors in that those who come to us will learn that there are certain rites to be observed, and taboos to be avoided.  One taboo I have as a shaman is that whenever I do for another I must in some way, shape, or form, have Gebo from the other party.  Another, in my role as Anubis’ priest, is that I must not let the Dead be insulted or poorly treated.  It is on me to establish what requirements and taboos there are to working with these spirits, especially the person in question is coming to me for help or training.  That is part of the Work of any intercessor: you are, in some way, shape, or form, establishing and reestablishing the proper boundaries of and engaging in right relationship with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.  For those who know them, you are reinforcing the boundaries of and encouraging engagement in right relationship.

I think this hits on another aspect of the difference between being a shaman and being a priest.  As a shaman I am often required to traverse boundaries, whether my own personal ones, or in journey work, or in transgressing some unspoken cultural boundary, i.e. Ancestor worship.  A shaman is often a boundary crosser, may be an ambassador of some kind to other communities including other Worlds, and puts hirself at risk so they, their community, and the relationships they hold can flourish.  A priest is often one who reinforces the boundaries, who stays within the boundaries and teaches from that place of power on how to live well, to live in right relationship, and establish communities in the teachings from their God(s) or Goddess(es).

To put it another way: a shaman often must journey to the útgarð for their Work whereas a priest’s main place and Work is done in the innangarð.

 

“Using” Cosmology

December 9, 2011 1 comment

A while back, I wrote a post for Galina Krasskova’s blog.  Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

There was a response to it, which I only recently have seen.  One part of the response, specifically this part, which made me think:

There IS a cosmology, which is quite strong, SAFE and very useful: the upper, middle and lower worlds.

This has made me think a bit on the ‘using’ of a cosmology.  When I came to my Gods, I was not ‘using’ their cosmology.  I was interacting with it, understanding my place in it, but not ‘using’ it.  When I became a priest of Anubis, I was doing so in the context of being His priest within the framework of what that means within the Egyptian cosmology, and specifically what He calls me to do in the role of priest.  The roles I serve in that cosmology are different than those I serve in the Northern Tradition.  The cosmology, expectations, and requirements of my priesthood are very different from one another.

As the Merriam-Webster dictionary puts it, a cosmology is “a theory or doctrine describing the natural order of the universe.”

I have no problem with varying cosmologies living side-by-side in my life.  By-and-large, I see the Work I do, and most of my world through the eyes of a Northern Tradition shaman.  Does this mean that my priesthood of Anubis has no bearing on how I see the Worlds around me?  No, but most of my interaction and my Work with Anubis is working with the Dead, and so, it doesn’t affect much of my everyday life.  Most of the Work that I do with Anubis tends to not be as upfront as my Work with Odin.  As time goes on my work with Anubis may intersect with more of my life, but my Work with Odin is first and foremost in my life.  Does this mean I ‘use’ the cosmology of whichever God/dess or spirit calls to me?  No, I interact with Them through that cosmology.  I must interface with it, understand it, recognize myself as part of it (although that is already a given; They have contacted me).  I do not see Gods as trapped in their cosmology, per se, but I think there is a respect due to Them to come to Them in Their fashion, understand Them as best we can through Their ways and cultures’ means.

Does this mean that when I worship Anubis I get up at a specific time every day, attending His statue as a priest would in ancient Egypt?  No.  This is simply not possible for me.  I have neither the social nor the economic networks that would allow me to do that.  I have certain ways, however, that I address His statue.  I do feed it, water it, lay incense over it, and pray to it as an embodiment of my God.  I treat it with respect, as if it was Him standing before me.  I pray to Him, kneeling before His statue, and give Him respect that He is due by being my God.

What about the Afterlife?

I am a hard polytheist, so I have thought from time to time on how I reconcile the Egyptian afterlife, for instance, with the Northern Tradition one.  I don’t see a problem with viewing them side-by-side, so I don’t really see a need to ‘reconcile’ them.  In my personal experience, there are many, many afterlives that are possible, and I still don’t know why a soul might go here or there.  I have seen a soul enter an afterlife by intentional recognition on behalf of the soul that this particular place is where they wish to go or belong, and/or the soul has received an invitation or is promised to come on behalf of the God, Goddess, spirits, and/or Ancestors of a particular afterlife.  Is this hard-and-fast as a rule?  I do not know.

I do not feel, however, that all the afterlives overlap one another or that some are even accessible side-by-side.  For instance, I do not think the Duat and Helheim link up directly.  Perhaps there are meeting places, or places where They overlap, like a Venn diagram, or perhaps there are passages between these realms that I simply have not experienced; after all, I’m not Hermes.  I’d like to other Pagans’ perspectives on this.  What I understand, is that afterlives are accessible based on a wide variety of factors, not the least being that particular cosmology’s rules on the soul, how the person lived in life, how many parts the soul has and which go where, and so on.  Then, that brings up the next question.

What about the Soul?

Beyond the actual places one’s soul may go to in the afterlife, there is also the idea of different parts of the soul.  In the Egyptian way, the soul is split up into, depending of course on the resources you look at and how you interpret them, into nine pieces.  The Northern Tradition has a couple of ideas about how the soul is put together, and what parts move on.  I understand the soul in context of the Northern Tradition by the Soul Map that Raven Kaldera received in his work as a shaman.  Are there parallels?  Sure, you could say there are parallels, but nothing terribly direct.  The idea of the ka might have some things in common with the hame, but they are not the same.  They do not mesh terribly well because they are very different by what they mean in terms of their own cosmology.  The hame is not the ka because these words mean very different things to the users and the cultures these words come from.  However, I won’t say that the hame and ka are not both talking about the soul.  I’m a priest of Odin and Anubis, and so, whether I am seeing the soul through ka, hame, or some other fashion, I am seeing the soul.  What I am seeing is different, however, depending on how I approach it.  What information I gather is quite different depending on the filters of culture, language, etc. that I apply to understanding the soul.

So is all I am looking at nothing more than filters I can objectively select?  No.  I have yet to see Alfar in the Duat, or an akh in Jotunheim.  For all that I believe the Gods, the Worlds, and Afterlives may have fluidity, in my experience, there are boundaries.  There are places where certain Beings belong, such as landvaettir to land.  I am not one to decide where these boundaries are, I just recognize that they are there.

Is there such a thing as a “safe” cosmology?

I have encountered this idea in different places, but I have never been able to accept it.  No cosmology that I know of allows us to escape risk of some kind.  No spiritual practice is without its downside should one take it to that place or be placed in a situation to face that downside.  The Upper, Middle, and Lower World or (as it is often symbolized), the World Tree cosmology, to me, invites no more safety than other kinds of cosmologies.  For instance, in the Siberian cosmology there are spirits that will spread disease and unrest.  These are known as chotgor and they originate from the Lower world.  The ozoor, ongon, and burhan spirits, spirits of the Middle world, may also cause problems for those who are flesh-and-blood humans in the Middle World.  My references in this section come from the book Chosen by the Spirits by Sarangerel and BuryatMongol.org.

While there may be cosmologies that are less obviously dangerous or outright threatening than others, I have yet to find a cosmology that is ‘safe’.  Whether one is interacting with beings from the Otherworld, nymphs and dryads, the alfar or even the ka of the deceased, there is risk.  The risk can be in angering the spirits of certain offerings are or are not given.  The risk can be, for instance, in the case of the Otherworld, being trapped if one eats food from the realm.  Crossing a nymph or a dryad might bring you hard times or even death in their domain.  Wronging the alfar or insulting them might get you elfshot, resulting in illness, pain, fatigue and so on.

Several realms of the Dead are known to be dangerous for travel.  If you eat of the food of the Underworld, in many myths, you are stuck there.  Even without this, there are spirits that may cause you grief during or after your foray, and will gladly follow you and make your life miserable until they are exorcised and/or their spiritual effects on you are removed.  A slip-up in the realm of the Dead may also invoke a God/dess’ wrath, trapping your soul or being forced to perform tasks for Hir.  Slip-ups with the Dead Themselves, such as your Ancestors, may invite negative consequences from Them as well.

I do not think this means that you need to walk around with the magical equivalent of body armor and shotguns all the time, but mindfulness is a must for any Pagan or shaman.  If the whole world is full of spirits then mindfulness of your place in this world is a must.  If the Gods are real, if the Dead are a presence in our lives, and if what we do is more than a thought experiment or a game, then mindfulness needs to be paid to ourselves, the world around us, and the Gods and spirits we interact with.

“Using” Cosmology

To be honest I find the idea incredibly insulting.  These Gods, spirits, and cosmologies do not exist because we think they do.  They exist independent of our recognition and, at times, awareness.  To simply ‘plug into’ a cosmology on a whim, to me, is foolhardy.  If nothing else you might insult the spirits or Gods of the particular cosmology or realm you seek to enter, interact with or ‘use’.  At most you may get the kind of attention that will make your life very, very difficult.  Of course you have to initiate contact with the spirits and Gods at some point, but to barge into a realm and call a spirit to your service, or call on a God you’ve never interacted with smacks, at least to me, of hubris.  Without this respect due to the Gods and spirits, and the cosmology itself, how can you develop a working relationship with Them or work within the cosmology?

When it comes down to it, “using” cosmology is a form of blasphemy.  It is using the Gods, spirits, and essence as things, as utilities in a ritual or outlook.  Sure, integrating a cosmology into one’s life is a lot more hard than simply looking at it as a tool, but it is a damn sight more respectful.  It treats the Gods, spirits and cosmology itself as a tool when each may be a Being unto itself, including, in some religions, the cosmology itself.  A cosmology is something you exist within, not something that you pick up for a moment then discard when it does not fit your notions of what should be.  A cosmology is challenging; it not only contains spirits that may not have your best interests in mind, but even more important is that it may contain spirits that do, and will challenge you in quite deep ways to do what is best for you should you befriend Them or They take interest in you.

A cosmology establishes your relationship to all things, including yourself.  It establishes how you interact with the spirits and Gods.  It establishes your relationship to the Earth, and your human communities.  Sometimes integrating your cosmology into your life does not upset things.  Other times, it may change things in your life in subtle ways.  For instance,  I pay far more attention now as a Pagan than I did as a Christian to the environment.  Things ripple from your basic standpoint in cosmology outward, and may affect each and every part of your life.

To integrate a cosmology into your life is to recognize your place within it, and you cannot do that purely from the outside.  It is also a lot more humbling, in my experience.  You don’t have anywhere near as much control (even if the control was your own imagining), but there can be the feeling of peace and richness in understanding your place in a cosmology.  My point is not that people should feel pressured into accepting this or that cosmology, but understand how revolutionary accepting a cosmology as real, as developing a belief in a cosmology is.  It is a fundamental shift in understanding reality, of one’s place in it, and perhaps, of oneself.  This cannot be done by merely using a cosmology, nor any religious belief.  When you accept your place in a cosmology it is accepting all that entails, including shifting one’s mindset away from outdated ones and accepting what might have once seemed odd.  I feel it also means exploring that cosmology and where you fit in it; not all our old lore and myths tell us the whole of how we humans fit into things.  Just because you’re part of a cosmology does not mean the exploring, and the seeking of understanding ebbs away.  If anything, in my experience, it calls you to dig deeper into it and see what you can see.  It is much more than a light overview in a book, or a small foray into a wood, it is stepping into a whole new way of relating to everything.  Explore, rather than use, and you may find your whole life changed.

Reestablishing Connection with the Ancestors

October 21, 2011 6 comments

One of many tragedies of our time is that we have lost connections many of our to our past.  Whether one looks to agriculture, to handicrafts, to the stories from the past, or even to just knowing basic information of our Ancestors, many of us have lost these connections.

Some of these connections we are happy to lose, and others we lose to our detriment.  I, for one, am happy that women are not considered second-class citizens, are able to hold a job, vote, and make their own way without a man.  I am happy that LBGTQI rights are in the forefront of discussion in America, and our society is, albeit slowly, moving towards adopting them into full protections that any citizen can expect.

I have lost many connections with my Ancestors.  I am only recently learning how to grow crops with my Dad, I am rediscovering handicrafts for myself, and I know very little of my family outside of the last generation or two.  I am missing some very vital ties back to my older Ancestors, from knowing how they were able to provide shelter, to how they grew/raised their food, to my own genealogy.

Why would I consider these vital ties?  Providing shelter is a basic survival tactic, one that many of us, myself included, do not know how to employ.  Providing shelter also brings together people, whether they are communities or families.  One need only mention a ‘barn raising’ and what instantly comes to mind is a community coming together to build together.  When I think of agriculture, I remember the stories my parents told me of how they got up every day before the sun and grabbed eggs, milked cows, and sometimes weeded the crops before heading out to school.  They did most everything as a group, as a family.  In short, my Ancestors were far more collectivist than individualist, and this seeped into everything they did, even after the Industrial Revolution.  It is only the recent generations that have really forgotten how to rely on one another,  and with the forsaking of these connections, we find ourselves in communities we barely understand, let alone with people in them that we know.

Handicrafts, whether sewing, leatherworking, woodworking, sculpture, etc. often provided ways of telling stories of the Ancestors, whether through stone sculpture telling myths and legends, or quilt-making that brings people together to celebrate the lives of AIDS victims.   They can be functional, as well as decorative, and losing these crafts has meant many stories are simply not passed on.  So many stories are told through the simple building of a thing, such as the Lushootseed people’s construction of their homes.   Losing these connections has sundered many people from their own creation stories.  We can recreate these with our Ancestors, and make new connections to our future generations.  We just need to reach out, learn, and do it.

Agriculture and other forms of self-sustaining lifestyles are ways that many Americans have simply never connected to.  There was a time when most Americans farmed.  There was a time when most of the human population farmed, foraged, or hunted for their sustenance.   Cutting ourselves off from food production has put many of us, myself included, in the thrall of whatever is cheapest to buy and/or make for our meals.  By reintegrating our Ancestors’ ways, perhaps alongside ways that work better with our modern world, such as permaculture and transition towns, we can reconnect not just to Them, but to the landvaettir as well in a deep way.  As much if not more than barn raising and similar practices, the growing and harvesting of food brought communities together.  It helped to feed the heart as well as the body and soul.

There are many reasons to despair of this loss of connections to our Ancestors, but so many more to reestablish these connections.  In my experience, when you come to understand your Ancestors you can better understand yourself.  We are Ancestors-to-be, the iteration of all our families bloodlines.  Our Ancestors are part of our makeup, from DNA to soul.  In addressing our relationship to the past, and to our Ancestors, we can be better equipped to not make their mistakes, and to take strength from and in their strengths.  In addressing our Ancestors, we can also better address ourselves.  In addressing our Ancestors’ wrongs, we can heal old hurts, and teach our children and those who share this world with us better ways of being.  By reaching back we can relearn old skills that will help us survive both in our everyday life, and in times of trial.  One of the best things, in my view, that results from reintegrating one’s Ancestors into their life is all the learning you can do.  For the Ancestors, in my experience, it is the relationships they forge anew with you, and the ways of passing Themselves onto the next generation in ways that may have long been denied to Them.  Whether you are doing basic genealogy research, or integrating Ancestor worship and veneration into your everyday practice, each reach back brings Them that much closer.

I am not for a moment saying that those who have left from abusive family situations must reestablish those connections in the flesh.  I am not even saying that they should do that in the spirit; that decision is between them, their Ancestors, Gods, and other spirits with whom they work.  Yet, it may be helpful to perform elevations with their Ancestors, helping Them rise out of past pain and anguish.  Again, that is a decision up to each person, their Ancestors, Gods, and spirits.  For more information on this kind of work, please look to Elevating the Ancestors by Galina Krasskova here.

Losing our Ancestors’ connection creates a hole in our lives.  It is not knowing where we come from.  It is not knowing where we’ve been, or how we came from there to here.  It is a vacuum which will fill itself where it can, in a search for identity.  Taking nothing away from all humans having the same Ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve, our more recent Ancestors, even those from a thousand or better years ago, inform our lives in deeply intimate ways.  How has your ancestry shaped your life?

My great-grandfather came to America during WWI when he could hear boat guns off the shore.  He could have stayed in the Netherlands, and rather than become a citizen of America he could have stayed a Dutch citizen.  I can’t begin to think of how very different my life might be if he had not gotten on the Rijndam on April 14th, 1916, leaving the only home he knew, and sailed into Ellis Island on May 3rd, 1916.  Yet this is only one of thousands of stories that distilled into me.

Each and every one of us is a distillation of these stories, legends, myths, truths.  Reconnecting to a story helps to fill a hole in my memory, my understanding of where I come from and what has happened so that I am here.  Listening to my Ancestors in meditation and prayer has helped fill others, brought lessons on how to do things, such as making a fire, into my life.  The Ancestors can reach out to us, as surely as we can reach to Them.  Whether we recognize Them reaching out to us is another story.  Some of the many ways Ancestors can reach out to us is by giving us a feeling of Their presence, reaching to us through dreams,  working with us in our magic and other spiritual work, helping to effect change in subtler ways (i.e. ‘coincidence’, coming into contact with their graves/things by chance, etc.), a story of Theirs being told, or even inheriting things from Them.  Our Ancestors can use each of these ways, and more to grab our attention, give us a clue, communicate with us.

The biggest challenge I faced when I started seeking out my Ancestors was reaching out at all.  In most of America, even mentioning you want to speak with your Ancestors will get you odd looks, if not outright anger.  In this Protestant-dominated discourse on religion, it is sometimes difficult to talk about mystical experiences, let alone actively seek them.  Yet, seeking our Ancestor’s is a mystical experience, even if it is not Earth-shattering.  It leads us back, and by following the paths back to Them, we can follow new paths forward.  We can invite Them along, or They can come as They will, with us on our journey through life.  Simply sitting and meditating, perhaps with a photograph, or looking through old records can be connective.  It can be a walk through the forest in contemplation of our Ancestors, it can be building a fire.  There are innumerable ways to invite our Ancestors into our lives.  We just need to invite Them.  Even if we don’t recognize all the faces, voices, or figures, They will come, and They will work with us to understand Them.

Critique of Harner’s Shamanism: Guest Post on Gangleri’s Grove

September 19, 2011 3 comments

I wrote a critique of Harner-style shamanism in response to a blog commenter post on Ms. Krasskova’s Gangleri’s Grove.  It eventually grew into a long post that had to be reposted in several places.

Ms. Krasskova was kind enough to ask me to finish my thoughts, and has it up as a guest post on her blog.  Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

I am interested in hearing others’ views on this topic.

All-Father

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Life flows from lips to bark

Heart beats with reddened sap

Limbs creak and groan

Bark softens

 

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Knots open

Brown cambium turns grey

Rings coil and wind

Lightning leaps and plays

 

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Husks become hofs

Trunks flush with colors

The trees move

Uprooted limbs sway

They breathe, breathe, breathe

 

Keeping Faith and Science

Given I am in the B.S. Psychology program and Counseling will become my M.A., science is very relevant to my field.  That said, so is spirituality and religion.  Science, to me, help provide the framework to understand data, track trends, develop treatment methods, and so many other greatly beneficial things that it would take too long to list here.  Spirituality and religion, though, also has a place in understanding clients.  It helps frame the references potential clients will come to me with, and it may provide a window through what the client may feel, and what may be, a much more useful, and beneficial approach for them.  The current recommendation at my school is that everyone who goes into the Psychology field should minor in Sociology.  I feel this is wrong-headed, and belies the usefulness that understanding people from a more personal perspective is not as useful as understanding people from a macro perspective.  I have had Psychology majors look at me, confused when I tell them I am in Religious Studies as my minor, to have them tell me that to be more distant in terms of understanding clients, the better off you are.  I have even listened to lectures where subjective experiences are entirely discounted, and remarked on as useless or of little value in telling us anything about the state of the client, or of humans themselves.

Certainly, we can’t take a single case study and project it onto the whole human race, or even a population of a region.  Certainly, quantitative and qualitative studies and methodology tend to be different, and are definitely looking for different pieces of data.  Yet, at least as far of my understanding of modern psychology and especially my neck of the woods is concerned, there is a dehumanizing element that is growing.  It discards the subjectivity of many well-done research projects and experiments and merely discards them.  Not everything can fit into five easy columns, or even a couple hundred question and answer surveys.  The way I see it, the qualitative, and alongside it, the subjective, needs to stand alongside the quantitative and observable.

I understand that there is a place for discernment, and I think it is a good thing to have skeptical, and especially informed, inquiry.  I definitely understand why outliers are not counted in quantitative studies, though I feel that some outliers may tell us things that we often overlook, merely by dint of them being outliers.  Why are they outliers?  Are they useful in exploring some question about the experiment or survey, or whatever it is, at hand?  I am finding critical questions such as these simply being discounted, sometimes before even being entertained in classes.  I am not saying that qualitative studies are any better than quantitative; they both are looking for very different answers to the questions they pose, even if they pose the same questions.  I am also not saying that quantitative studies cannot provide us useful answers that qualitative studies seek to answer.

What I am saying, is that qualitative studies, and by extension, understanding a client from a qualitative standpoint, offers the opportunity to engage the person.  This engagement requires we listen to the person in their own words, withhold our judgment as much as possible, and seek to understand them.  Quantitative studies do not need to engage with a person to get the data they need.  Qualitative studies require you to dig into a person, even if from the outside in a distanced way.  It requires you to get to know them so you can distinguish between different features of the study.  Keep in mind I’m talking in great generalities; there may be a study I haven’t seen or don’t remember that goes completely against either way that I’ve portrayed these kinds of studies.

In the end, what I hope Psychology eventually gets to, regardless of specialty, is more towards addressing the whole person.  From where a person lives, their past, their present, to even what they eat, I hope that all that data is embraced and looked at.  It may tell us a lot that looking at things individually does not.  It may give us insight not  only into how the person relates to themselves, but to the environment around them, and the data there is only really just beginning to be mined.

I enjoy science, and I enjoy my religious path.  The two aren’t at loggerheads.  My pursuit of a science-based career doesn’t impugn my religion, nor does it need to.  Neither does my path as a shaman or priest, impugn my pursuit of science.  My practice as a Northern Tradition shaman, in my view, can be enhanced by training in Psychology and Counseling.  It does not take away from it.  Science can inform my path, give clarity to it.  It gives me more tools for my toolbox.  I also see my path as a shaman giving my Counseling tools from its own toolbox.  More Counselors are recognizing the benefits of alternative states of consciousness, mindfulness exercises, and similar things as positives for their clients.  Some Counselors, such as one that I was seeing at one point (though for different reasons), use Tarot cards to help people figure out their gender identity, or guided journeys for actual counseling work.

Keeping faith in both my religious path and the sciences I do pursue does not require some kind of twisting, either of logic or of my faith.  It does require me to be open-minded, observant, honest, and willing to reconsider old ideas, reject methods based on poor results, and most of all, learn and apply the new knowledge to what I know.  This is far easier for me to do with science than it is with my spirituality.  After all, by the time new data gets to me, its often been vetted by the scientific community, and is being contested or accepted, sometimes with new experiments or archival reviews to prove or disprove the conclusions reached in the process.  Yet, I find myself still having to have faith in the science: I have to have faith the study was done in good conscience, that the conclusion reached is not only viable but verified by the evidence, that the methods used to gather data were reliable, and so on.  With my spiritual paths, I have to receive, then vet the information first, and sometimes I am able to get direction from another person as to its reliability.  From there, I have to either choose to follow the advice, pick up the new spiritual tool, etc., and take a lot more on faith than what I do with a scientific study.

In both cases, my faith is really built on results.  If I pray, get an answer, follow through on it, and a situation is resolved or an end is reached, I tend to take that as a positive affirmation.  It won’t pass scientific muster, but science and religion, as I see them, really operate in largely different areas, especially as far as their basic questions are concerned, and where the roads they lead to go.  I approach my psychological studies differently because, given that I am not in my M.A. program yet, I won’t see the result of this or that theory’s impact on counseling a client.  However, I will admit I have preferences, and these are based on how I understand the theory, how I have seen it or it is used in practice, and the desired end or implications of the theory.  There’s a lot of parsing I do, regardless of which path I’m talking about.  It’s necessary; if I accept all religious experiences without critical thinking, I may not be following a God/dess at all, but a spirit who just wants my attention and energy.  If I accept all scientific studies without critical thinking, I may not be accepting good, reputable science at all, but a sham conducted by a company to show a desired end.  To me, you don’t leave critical thinking at the door with religion or science.   Good science, and good religion too, is gained by critical questions being asked, and sometimes, having the answer blow your mind while others, the answer is obvious.

Credentials

Since the trial for James Arthur Ray has ended in his conviction for negligent homicide, something that has really popped up in my mind a lot is the idea of credentials.  They can keep people safe, establish who has proper training in a discipline, art, science, etc., and who does not, and can communicate professionalism in an instant.  When I think of credentials I think of licensing, such as what happens with counseling, or with medical disciplines.  Having an M.D. or some other recognized credentials communicates a certain trust between the community and you, that you have had the training and experience necessary to qualify in the field you’re practicing.  How do we establish such a thing in Paganism or modern shamanism?

Some places, such as Cherry Hill Seminary for Pagan ministry, and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies for neo-shamans, are trying to fill this requirement by giving classes, workshops, and a variety of training in disciplines and techniques for their path.  I have many criticisms of core shamanism, as well as misgivings regarding the practice of shamanism without a core cosmogony or cosmology.  That said, I find it laudable that someone is helping to set a standard of expectations, that neo-shamans to be answerable to some standard of expertise and training.  Still, there is something that bothers me about the setting of standards regarding shamanism.  I think it is something I was reminded of in this post by Kenaz Filan, that I worry regarding “the desire to reduce everything to one happy nebulous one-size-fits-all Truth.”  I’m not about to say that people should not have standards regarding their spiritual workers; quite the opposite, in fact.  The worry I have, is that we reduce the role of a Pagan priest or a modern shaman to a “one-size-fits-all-Truth”.  Community standards, and standards of practice are one thing.  Expecting the same thing out of every priest or shaman is quite another.  That, perhaps, is my main point of contention with core shamanism itself: that it reduces a good deal of practices, techniques, and so on, down into a distilled form of core shamanism that is billed as shamanism without culture, when it merely replaces a mishmash of cultures’ spiritual tools and practices with its own culture.

This is why I worry about, but am not completely opposed, to credentialed spiritual leaders, mentors, and the like.  That said, I have none.  I am not certified by any body, religious or otherwise, to conduct the rituals I do, or to deliver the services I offer.  I have only the blessings of my Gods, spirits, Ancestors, and those who believe in what I do.  I have only the experiences I have had as a shaman, and priest of Odin and Anubis as my spiritual background.  In a very real sense, it is a leap of faith for people who come to me for spiritual help or advice to trust me.  I have no training from an accredited seminary, nor do I have a certificate from the modern neo-shamanic organizations.  Am I still a priest and a shaman?  I emphatically say “Yes”.

I am of the mind that, while you can go through all the varied and well-made training workshops and classes, the Gods and/or spirits are what designate you as a priest and/or shaman.  Without the Gods and/or spirits, while you may have all the earthly credentials in the world, what does that matter if, when the time comes, you are called on to be a Divine mouthpiece and you cannot perform your function?  When someone needs to hear the guidance of their God/dess, and you cannot communicate it, what did the seminary lessons matter?  When a person is being bothered by spirits or Ancestors, if you cannot intervene and/or guide effectively, what good are all the workshops?  Anyone can screw things up as a matter of simply being human, and no spirit-worker, priest, shaman, or oracle I know of does what they do without screwing up.  I certainly have not.  That, however, is not my point here.  What is, is that the Gods and spirits with whom you work, in my view, are the ones that bestow the meaning, the core, of what it is to be a priest or a shaman.  If you don’t have Them behind you in your function, while you may be a great facilitator or organizer, you are not a priest or shaman.

There is also, to me, a large difference between being a priest or shaman of a community, and being a priest or shaman of specific Gods or spirits.  While the two need not be exclusive, they can be very different in their roles.  Having been a priest for a community for a small time, the role required me to fill a lot of shoes, and do a lot of working with others’ Gods, successes, failures, and times of trial, as well as times of joy.  There was a lot of work on communication, answering questions, writing lessons, and training that was done as part of that work.  A lot of my daily work during this time was community-based, from daily work with people on their relationships with Gods, to working on rituals, classes and presentations.  Being a priest of Odin and a shaman apart from a dedicated community, a lot of my work for the larger Pagan community consists of giving messages from Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, intervening when needed in spiritual crises, and being a go-to for people looking to contact Odin and other Northern Tradition Gods, spirits, and Ancestors.  A lot of my work is individual-based, and I do a lot of more self-focused work, such as taking more time out for relaxation and meditation, and give more personal attention to the Gods and spirits I work with, whether it is working with my Ancestors, or working on deepening my relationships with my Gods.

Are credentials necessary?  In some cases, yes.  If you want to legally marry people, for instance, you need to have credentials that back up your ability to sign the marriage license.  However, I and a very good friend of mine, performed a wedding for a wonderful couple, and though it is not legally recognized due to the laws in my state, it is a strong marriage blessed by the Gods.  Are credentials beyond those for legal reasons a necessity?  I’m still out on this.  As someone who has dedicated his life to serving my Gods, I would say no.  Yet, at the same time, I see how credentials provide comfort, a sense of security, and communicate professionalism.  After all, I’m getting my degree in counseling for that reason, and when I’ve finished with that, I will go for licensing so I can practice what I’ve learned.

At this point I’m taking a middle road because Pagan priesthood and modern shamanism do not, by and large, have the background that professional counseling does, and beyond the two resources I’ve mentioned above, anything resembling professional training in either field is scant, or is specific to certain pathways, i.e. the Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s seminary.  If we want more professionally-trained priests and shamans, whether for the wider Pagan or shamanic communities, or our own little branches in their trees, we will largely have to either a) support what is already there and increase its ability to be used effectively by its adherents, or b) invent these courses and methods of accreditation ourselves.  I find that accreditation can be a powerful, stabilizing force, but it can also be one that can strangle peoples’ ability or willingness to explore, find new ways, be touched by the Gods or spirits, or respond in ways that establishments may find chaotic, destabilizing, or unwelcome.  Here is hoping that as we move forward we can develop courses and accreditation that encourage individual and group responsibility, personal and transcendent experiences of our Gods, spirits, and Ancestors, while also providing a solid structure to build our faiths, roles, and communities on.  Here is hoping that if credentialing gets in the way that we have the bravery and wherewithal to help it evolve with our communities’ growing needs, or if it will not, then to discard it.

Personal Work

It’s been awhile since I last posted, and a good chunk of that time has been to work on personal stuff.  Some of that personal stuff has been screwing around, relaxing, and finding a job.  My spiritual life has become a lot more low key, becoming more integrated in ways I didn’t think would be so effortless.  The work with the herb garden, which now has one of my Dad’s tomato plants in it, has drawn me closer to Freyr, Gerda, Angrboda and Eir, and in little ways they are showing me lessons.  The closer I pay attention, but to Them and especially to the plants, the more I learn.  My work with Frigga comes and goes, but She is a quiet, patience presence in my life that I am still feeling out.  A lot of my spirituality has gone away from my altar and now walks with me.  The volunteer work I am doing, the empathy model I have learned, pushes me to listen a lot more than I have.  A lot of time when I did spiritual counseling over the last seven or so years, problems were brought to me that were pretty clear.  Yet, with the empathy model I am learning to be a more effective shaman and priest; I’m relearning not just how to listen, but a new mindset in listening and engaging conversation.  The ‘intensity’ Odin promised me this summer for spiritual has been delivered in spades.  Sure, I’ve done a good deal of spiritual work with and for others, but the intensity doesn’t come from that as much as the down time.

Not having a community to look after took away a lot of the excuses I used to distract myself from thinking about how I feel about things, relate to things, understand things, and where I am emotionally.  When I lost the group, and my relationship with my fiancee, a lot of the barriers that I kept up that stopped me from relating to myself, from being empathetic with myself, broke down.  I was stuck inside my own head with my own thoughts.  For weeks, Odin forbade me from any astral travel, utiseta, seidr, and similar kinds of mind-altering work.  I was stewing in my own juices, at times in guilt and other times in anger, and at other times sheer sadness.  I was feeling real emotions without covering them up, allowing myself to put a veneer of bullshit over them, or tamp them down.  Who was I not going to express them to?  Myself?

This went on for awhile until I hit a breaking point, mercifully, among supportive friends who had a good idea that it was coming.  They both let me do something I had, up until that point, really denied myself full expression: grieve.  I had just sucked in all the mixed feelings I had from the week I left the group  and my fiancee and I broke up, and ran with it.  At that point, it was more about surviving exam week.  Afterward, it was because I didn’t want to deal with the feelings I had stuck inside me.  When I finally let everything out, it was a clearing point for my emotions and my head.  I’ve been able to look back with a clearer head, see where I made mistakes, where others made mistakes, and accept that I screwed up without skewering myself with guilt trips and emotional lashings any more.  I may not remember everything (I don’t have the best memory) but I clearly can see where I screwed up, and have changed how I do things.  I think that of anything, that’s really the important part.  That, and I’m more forgiving with myself than I used to be.

Part of the reason I lashed out at group members was because I held myself to very high standards, standards that I sometimes wasn’t able to meet.  So I’d push myself and push myself until I hit them, and expect everyone else around me to rise up to my standards.  Not only did I tend to have high expectations that were impossible to meet, I also reacted a lot to my fear that I was not good enough, didn’t know enough, wasn’t a good priest or shaman, and I felt I needed to help people because if I wasn’t useful doing something for someone then I wasn’t worth anything.  I put people down to feel better about myself, an insecurity move if ever there was one, and my insecurities about myself ate into everyone around me.  When I had more emotional highs, or when I wasn’t feeling the insecurities, I could be smug, glib, and condescending.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t mean to; I did it.  That’s really one of the big lessons I took away from all this.  It does not matter what you intend; it is important, but what happens from the impact of your choices, that is what really matters.  If I can say this about spellwork and spirituality then it is applicable to the practical and emotional realms as well.

A lot of my emotional work the last few months out of the group has largely been around my feelings of self-worth, which, from what I have seen, is at the root of a lot of the problems that erupted.  Constantly talking about it with close friends and family has helped a lot.  I get a new perspective each time that I share it, a new way of seeing it, and different ways of expressing my fears, anxieties, and other emotions I’ve largely buried or ignored.  By relying more on the Pagan community, I’ve come to appreciate not just the larger Pagan community, but my place in it being one of value, even if I was totally silent, because I am in it.  Something that Bona Dea’s workshop at Paganfest, Weaving Community, really drove home for me was that once you intertwine the threads of yourself and your community you’re together in the tapestry.  It reflected a deep truth I’d forgotten in and of myself, both in terms of my impact on people, and my value in it.  It also drove home the reason the group asked me to leave: when you weave in the workshop, you need to be mindful of others’ threads, of where they are, and be sure that your own respects theirs and the overall tapestry.  I didn’t respect the group’s tapestry; I talked a good game about Wyrd, but more often than not I wanted people to go this way or that way because I looked at people, saw a lot of raw potential, but didn’t respect where they wanted or in some cases, needed to take that potential.  In short, I didn’t listen to them, their Wyrd, or how I came off or sounded.  I was trying to have people fill up something in me I wasn’t filling up myself, something that other people couldn’t give me in the first place: self-esteem.  Self-respect.  Love.  People can’t fill you with those things.  They might trigger those things in you to show up, but they have to be there first.  I didn’t know how to take praise; it never seemed good enough because I didn’t respect or love myself enough to think I would be worthy of those things.  I didn’t know when enough was enough because I kept setting standards higher for myself, and then for others, thinking “this is what I have to do to earn respect in the community”, but I didn’t have enough respect for myself or others to see the limitations I or they had.

In my goofy way of thinking, I thought that by being silent and leaving people be this long, that I was doing right by them.  By not ‘bugging’ people, rather than speaking to them about what happened, and what has been happening, but just having them read this blog, I was encouraging healing because they didn’t have to ‘deal’ with me.  The other, then, is at least touching base with people from the group.  I told these people they were my family…and in my experience, you don’t just stop talking to family over disagreements or blow ups.  Things may or may not be able to be fixed, but at the end of the day it is my choice to leave things frayed or at least try to put the loom back together.

Since I began to hit these points of understanding, it has been a quick shove back into intensive spiritual work.  A few hours after my grief period I had my first trance possession for the first time in a few months.  I may have screwed up, and refused to do spirit possession for a long time, but at the end of the day I am still a priest and a shaman.  I had a job to do.  I’d talked with various people for a few weeks before this about fixing what I did about spirit possession work, and started to put that into practice.  Namely, telling the person to double-check statements, advice, and other things the spirit said in me with a trusted diviner, and approaching the practice as a sacred act, not like a regular occurrence, but something to be treasured and treated as holy rather than casually.  To me, this, coupled with a healthy respect for boundaries and using the empathy model after the God left me helped me avoid a lot of the problems I made or ran into with my old group.

A lot of my personal work right now is really geared toward learning to be comfortable in down time, to be happy in it.  To not have to push myself to ‘do something’ to feel productive, and through that, useful and worth a damn.  The ‘intensive’ work Odin promised me has been a lot of down time and relaxation.  I haven’t taken a summer off of school in a long time, and it has been a rather nice vacation so far.  Being comfy in my own skin is a test, at times, and to have so much down time, to ‘not be productive’ for so long, has been a challenge.  I’m finally able to actually relax, though, and for me, that’s a pretty big step.  Couple that with finally having self-esteem and confidence that comes from myself, and I’ve come a long way from where I’ve been.  To not have to need other people to prop up my ego is pretty big.  I may not be perfect at it, but I’ve made a lot of strides, and that alone is worth the work.

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