Horsing and Introspection
Something I’ve learned as I’ve gone along the path of the Shaman is that when I say part of my job is to serve the community by being a conduit between Gods and/or spirits and the community, it may not always be the Gods or spirits I’m comfy or “in” with. Case in point, last night. A member of the group I’m part of is being heavily called to the Lwa, spirits I don’t work with unless I’m part of a ritual being put on by someone else. I don’t know the Lwa, don’t have training in the way of Vodoun, and have had no intention of working with Them. Yet, all the same, They came. The first came through my fiancee, and we wondered for awhile why the spirit wouldn’t use her voice, just embracing the member, smiling, and nodding to the member. Then, She signaled to me to step forward, grabbed me fiercely on the neck and spun me toward the member. Then, I felt a large presence come up to my spine, and WHAM! I was gone, hearing only a chuckling, old Haitian voice as I left. I was wondering who the hell this was as I sat outside my body, watching.
When I am possessed by spirits I don’t know, I alway stick around just outside my body, so that even if I don’t remember anything I can work with a spirit that needs help translating or doing something, or in extreme cases, ejecting it if needbe. There is at least one to two other people outside of the possessed who are there to work with the spirits, run and get things, or help the possessed go into trance state or come out of the possession, or alternatively to help the person being worked with/on. I don’t remember much, but it did take me some time to figure out who the hell had possession of my body. Turns out, to my surprise, it was Papa Legba, who had been around the member all day trying to get her attention, and just decided to make Himself known in the ritual we were putting on, inviting our Gods and spirits to share space with us, and any wisdom They had. We hadn’t called Him, but He showed up just the same.
I had to be told what happened after, as I don’t tend to remember what happens during possessions. If I do, it tends to be fragmentary unless the God/dess or spirit specifically wanted me to observe something. I chalk this up to, “This is between the person and the Gods/spirits. If they want to talk about it with me, they can.” Turns out it was Erzuli Dantor that had possessed my fiancee, and rather than have Her daughter possess me, Papa Legba decided to use my body since He’d been trying to get the member’s attention all day. The discussion and magic worked is between those who had it done and the Lwa, so I will say no more.
What this has done is challenge the idea that I only will have “x” Gods or “y” spirits use me for spiritual work. I had thought that since I don’t work with Lwa or Vodoun at all, then I wouldn’t be tapped to horse for Them. I’ve thought that about Goddesses too, but that illusion was shattered some time ago. It seems to me that if a God/dess or spirit needs to talk to someone, it will use the closest/most efficient means of contact if dialogue with the person has gone nowhere. I know that in my work that there have been times where I have ignored spiritual instructions, sometimes thinking “Oh, this is just me being dramatic/silly/high-minded etc.”, only to have someone that has not been in our conversations or had the situation explain to them bring in the God/dess or spirit in question tell me otherwise, or rip me a new one or provide me guidance as I needed and as They wished.
I think that as an eclectic Pagan Shaman, this possibly the hardest thing about being a Shaman. I have no real restrictions regarding the Deities I am willing to contact for others, and the reverse is true for Them it seems. My spiritual framework is diverse; I work with Gods from a great many pantheons. I was initiated as a Priest of Anubis before becoming a Priest of Odin, and I still do work for Anubis in that capacity as He asks me. That isn’t something you just drop. So, my mind has to understand and exist in a multitude of mindsets, being able to see things from Egyptian, Norse, and other perspectives as needed. This is sometimes challenging in trying to figure out the spiritual landscape I walk in. I have no problem walking in multiple modalities, but depending on whom I am working with, or for whom I am working for, it can provide different interpretations and understandings of a situation. This also can make it difficult in trying to explain to others, especially when on the one hand, I have the understanding in the Egyptian way the that the soul is fivefold, whereas in my Norther Tradition practice, the soul has multiple layers, up to 17 in the Soul Map reading as I have been shown by Raven Kaldera’s Wyrdwalkers and confirmed by the Gods and spirits with whom I work. This alone produces very different interpretations for what I see with people who come to me for help. Nowadays, I normally work strictly from the Northern Tradition Shaman perspective, but I need to be sharp on these other methods of understanding, as that may not be what the person in question needs.
Extrapolating this into how one can see the spiritual world, and the modes of understanding become more complex. I may look at a spirit in a certain way in my capacity as a Priest of Anubis, i.e. how to work with the Dead, where as a Northern Tradition Shaman I may have a wholly different approach. Where I may see the ka or ba of a spirit, such as a land spirit as a Priest of Anubis, I see the spirit as landvaettir as a Northern Tradition Shaman and Priest. Sometimes these views may overlap each other, or one may supersede the other as the situation calls, such as interpreting why a spirit is contacting me or communicating a message. The nuances the different overlays provide is at once challenging sometimes to figure out, but also deeply rich because it gives me so many more layers to work with in understanding the spirits. At one point I thought this was very distracting, even denigrating to the work I was doing because I wasn’t working with just one system of understanding. Part of this was issues with self-esteem; I wanted to be seen as a ‘serious Pagan’ and a ‘serious Priest’. So I tried fitting my spiritual experiences, once again, in boxes that didn’t fit them. When I came to work with my Father, Odin, He helped me work through this. He has helped to show me, through experience rather than discussion, that there is not controversy between my service to Anubs and to Him, and that the two perspectives and callings They give me can be quite complementary.
This is, in no small part, because I see that the Gods of all the pantheons do not exist in a vacuum. I see no reason why, despite Their differences, the Gods of this world would not come together and make conversation, work together, or otherwise interact. Yes, the Norse Gods do come from a drastically different background than the Egyptian Gods, but I do not see my Gods as being landlocked. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be working with either pantheon here in America. I also don’t see my Gods as being ignorant of one another, or being secluded from one another. Odin traveled, taking on the name Gangleri while He did. The lore doesn’t tell us every single place He may have traveled. Why not see the world, and ones beyond this one? If Odin does take a portion of the honored Dead warriors, then why would He not run into any number of psychopomp Deities, i.e. Anubis? I have heard it said that spirits came over on the boats with the peoples that immigrated here to America. Why would our Gods not follow us?
Beyond these questions, there is the shear experience I have had of what I believe to be a spiritual truth. The Gods do communicate with each other, and there need be no animosity between Them, despite differences in cultures. If we humans can commune with our Deities from different pantheons, then They can surely do the same. This does not dilute my spirituality. My eclecticism is not a ‘pick and choose’ kind of spirituality; much of my spiritual progress has been made with me, at least initially, being dragged onto a path by a Deity. When I was a Priest of Anubis, and almost exclusively focused on Him, I expected to need no one else, and wanted to go nowhere else for spiritual instruction. When it was time, Anubis all but shoved me into working with Odin, all but dictated to me that was what I needed to do. At first, I was scared. I didn’t know Odin that well, and only knew one person at that point in my life who had been said he was devoted to Him, and that person made Odin seem a grim, implacable, even somewhat murderous character. The only other exposure I had to Odin was through myth, and I had not even cracked the Hàvamàl or the Eddas yet. It did not take me long to warm up to working with Him, given Anubis all but ignored my prayers during this transition and Odin seemed much gentler, even welcoming than the aforementioned person portrayed Him. So I immersed myself in studying the Runes, the lore, and working through the early teachings and assignments Odin gave to me.
In the two, coming onto three years since that time when I was first entered into Odin’s service as a Priest and Shaman, I have had to learn a lot. Mercifully, there are more books being published on experiencing the Gods than ever before. Raven Kaldera’s works, as well as others by Asphodel Press, have been a priceless companion on this journey. The first book I picked up on Northern Tradition works at all was Freya Aswynn’s Northern Mysteries and Magic. It turns out this was a pretty good choice; when I was transitioning into the Northern Tradition, my work with the Egyptian Way was heavily involved with ceremonial magic. Aswynn’s comparison between the two systems, and picking up on occult themes and drawing on practices I already knew helped me move into understanding the Northern Tradition. Another helpful book in this way, especially for finding where I want to be, are the books Essential Asatru: Walking the Path of Norse Paganism by Diana L. Paxson, which I read after Aswynn’s book for a guide on where I may fit into Northern Tradition Paganism. While I gleaned from my reading through it that I may not fit at all into Asatru, it did help me form a better understanding of the community, and give me the lingo to work with it. From there I looked for a more Shamanic route, and this led me to Wyrdwalkers by Raven Kaldera, which has proved indispensable as both a way for me to move into the Mysteries Odin was moving me into, and as a way for me to check on and give words to my experiences. The next book was Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to the Gods, Lore, Rites, and Celebrations from the Norse, German, and Anglo-Saxon Traditions by Galina Krasskova, which helped me establish further where I wanted to be in the Northern Tradition, as well as giving me quite a bit of background detail I didn’t have on where things came from and what I could incorporate into my own practice. The book Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner: A Book of Prayer, Devotional Practice, and the Nine Worlds of Spirit, also by Galina Krasskova, truly helped me solidify my place in where I was, what I wanted to do, and where I would go, and helped me develop some of my early devotional practices and spiritual practices that built on what I’d gleaned from Northern Mysteries and Magic. Alongside all of this, working through these books and the like, I was plumbing different translations of the old myths for the Eddas and Hávamál.
I feel lucky to be surrounded by so much literature. I don’t think there’s been a time as this in Paganism, where people detail their spiritual practices in depth, or share their devotional materials. Even when I first became a Pagan, there was so much then in 2004 that I didn’t have access to, so many things that even in the last two years have finally found their way into print. There is now at least one photography book on altars and devotional spaces, there are many more to devotional works, techniques, and crafts. There are dedicated online communities providing feedback and support for those unable to find a group, and the functions and conventions have continuously grown, bringing the larger Pagan community together. Gods we are blessed.
Mind you, I have had a helpful community and a very supportive lover throughout this, things I did not often having during my work during the Egyptian Way. A helpful, informed, competent community has been more help than I have words for. While I have worked as a solitary Pagan, I don’t recommend it if you can find a supportive community. Having others there as a helping force in my life has encouraged such positive growth that I don’t feel I would have made on my own. The companionship alone can help you through the toughest challenges you may face, and the sounding board a community can give is some of the best criticism and course-correction you can receive. A community can heal you when you’re down, bring you to stark realizations when you’re lying to yourself, and if called on, can communicate from your God/dess to you when you won’t listen. There are many benefits besides, too many to list here, that I have been blessed with.
There have also been unique challenges in my community that I have had to face, within and without myself. How do I communicate better? How do I be an effective Priest and Shaman? What spiritual disciplines gives growth to the community around me? What is an effective ritual? How do I become better as a ritualist? How do I work with a multitude of people with different needs? All of these questions, and their answers, lead to more growth that helps the community, myself, and pleases my Gods.
Each new experience I have brings me deeper into my practice, each new step brings me further into my path as a Shaman and Priest. In experiencing what I have, I hope to bring others closer to their own path, their own understanding. Even if I can’t do that, I hope that through posts like these and my works besides, I can encourage growth and development in those around me. It’s part of what I am called to do.