Spirits and People
Something I watched Galina Krasskova talk about in a Youtube video on Devotional Practices (check my previous entry for the video) made me think about how we approach spirits. A lot of texts on anthropology, history and religion will note that often there is an intercessor of some kind or another that does special rituals for the members of their community (i.e. shamans doing healing, priests invoking God/s, etc.) but there is not as much mind paid to everyday practices of people in these communities. This is where I see a lot of the depth and breadth of the community’s work is; often a shaman is called to do rites for crises, priests called upon to do daily rites (although sometimes shamans fulfill this role too), or some other societal role that they fill by their station. Yet where are the reams of notes on daily rituals that people do for their spirits, Gods, Ancestors, community, landvaettir, or even self? Is this not just as important, if not more so, than the role of the shaman, priest, or other spiritual guides?
I would argue that easily half if not two thirds of the problems that people contact shamans, priests, witches, etc. for are easily resolved if they would have simply done right by the parties involved, whether that is a person’s God/dess, spirit allies, Ancestors, or landvaettir. Sometimes these troubles arise because people don’t know how to interpret energy, other times they interpret the energy incorrectly, and yet other times, the spirit in question is angry because they have been ignored, or wronged, or there is something between the parties that needs to be resolved. Even in terms of the Self, if the person is warring, as I have, between what their Calling is (whether they take this on from their own Will or a spirit bestows it upon them is beside the point) and what society says is correct, or even to what they have accepted is their limit of what they can do, mediation is needed.
Our modern psychologists help the Self negotiate this terrain by what methods they have available, whether that is helping us through cognitive therapy or medicine is up to the individual. As someone who has gone to professional counseling, I can say that it was incredibly effective for me. I would advise you, if you are thinking about counseling, is to be open-minded about it, willing to do the work the counselor helps you design, and be willing to improve your life. I would give the same advice for someone willing to go to a priest, shaman or spirit-worker about issues they are facing. On the face of it, the work of a psychologist and shaman is very-much the same: helping people correct their world through ritual action. Regardless of whether this is correcting thinking as it may be in cognitive therapy, or making offerings in direction from a shaman, both are about embracing a new way of looking at, and interacting with the world, for the better. This is not to say the two are the same thing, or that their jobs are interchangeable, but they do similar services in very different fields of operation.
Coming back to the everyday person, the question remains about the other part of the time in which correcting one’s actions, opening communication with spirits and redressing grievances, honoring Ancestors and similar work does not fix the problem. Are there evil spirits? Are there curses that can ruin our lives? Are there things that are out to get us? First off, I do not think there are ‘evil spirits’ in any kind of black/white kind of way, and to say something is evil is to very-well miss what may be a legitimate gripe. Did you happen to cut down a tree without asking its spirit for permission (regardless if the tree was already dead)? Did you get a new piece of property and not introduce yourself to the house spirits, or the spirits of people who may have died in the house? Well, in either case, you’re being ignorant if not downright rude. Think about it: to the spirit, the former scenario is like someone harvesting your body after you’ve died (or perhaps are still living!) without your consent, and with giving nothing back to you for the parts. In the second scenario, it is like someone invading your space and messing up the place while you are still living in it.
For people who are conscious and conscientious about situations like those above, they probably won’t have these kinds of problems. Leaving out offerings when you take, or if leaving out offerings is not able to be done or simply not as good where is concerned, then doing something for the spirit(s) as an offering can be the way to show thanks, appreciation, or exchange for what you have taken. Leaving out offerings, engaging in dialogue, or otherwise engaging the spirits around you can make for a far more peaceful household. Respect, in my experience, is one of the qualities that spirits expect if not demand the most, and when spurned in this will “help you” to understand it. When I was living with members of the Pandoran Society about a year or so ago we had an apartment spirit that made itself known. Despite having an entire cadre of Pagans living there, we all summarily chalked up our keys going missing, forks and other odds and ends showing up in truly bizarre places as happenstance. Then some of us began to perceive something in the place, something that was irritated if not angry. At first my reaction was to banish it, seeing as how it seemed aggressive towards us. After talking as a group, we decided to open up dialogue with it. It turned out the spirit was angry because it had been displaced by our presence, and no one was paying attention to it or honoring it. We eventually made it a home, what would have been a wooden bird house. One of us painted it, another cut a whole, and it asked me to make it a weapon to defend itself with. So I whittle down a small piece of wood into what eventually became a smaller-than-a-toothpick spear with wire wrapped around where the ‘blade’ came out of the rest of the wood. Things stopped disappearing (or randomly appearing as the case was) and the “angry feeling” came down not long after, and it seemed happy to have a place of its own high on a wooden shelving unit looking over the living room. We called it our “house gremlin” from then on. On occasion we gave it offerings, but it seemed most happy just having its space left alone, and dusted when needed.
These kinds of simple recognitions could easily fix a great many situations of bad blood between spirits and people. Although not all relationships will be so easy to work with, and may require a great deal of sacrifice on humanity’s part to fix, I feel the more we do this work the better our world will be. I know in the short amount of time that I have been a shaman, the work I do with this is needed, fueled by problems like these. There is a practical reason for establishing the ways of respecting and honoring spirits; if nothing else, it makes the lives of the community easier, especially those of the priest and shaman. This also keeps the people who do the little, powerful rites of respect and honor in a continuous interaction with the world around them, spiritually as well as physically and mentally. Overall, in my view, this makes for happier, healthier people because they respect the world they live in, their spiritual neighbors who make give back to them for their respect and honor, and those who respect and honor the spirits can learn to respect themselves better if they do not do so already. It lets relationships with the world around us be easier negotiated, helps us to heal ourselves and the world, and can unlock the potential of partnerships much of humanity has forsaken or forgotten.