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

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

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.

Call for Submissions: Ancestor Devotional Anthology

Hello everyone.  Given the interest and fantastic submissions that have started to come in, I am extending the deadline to October 31st, 11:59pm.  I hope that as word spreads there will be even more submissions.  Please, if you or anyone else you know does Ancestor devotions and/or work, or even has just started beginning working with their Ancestors, encourage them to submit their writing, or art to this project.  The details are listed below.  If you have any questions you can post them here or send them to Sarenth@gmail.com.

The Call for Submissions

Asphodel Press

Working Title:  Calls to Our Ancestors

Editor: Sarenth

Description:  An anthology of prayers, poems, devotional pieces, essays, personal experience, and/or artwork in honor of our Ancestors.  This anthology draws from a variety of sources and authors, and may include Ancestors worship in the form of spirits and/or Gods as well, for those whose beliefs encompass this.

What is not desired: fanfic, ego-stroking, self-aggrandizement.  It’s one thing if you believe you’re sired by a God/dess, it’s another to treat other humans as lower than yourself.

Word Length: 800-1500 words minimum for essays.  No specialized fonts, please.  All formats for written pieces should be in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file format.  Any devotional pieces, artwork, etc. in visual format needs to be submitted in no less than 300 dpi format, preferably .tiff or .png for lossless quality.

Contributors will not be paid for this contribution. This is a one-time publishing opportunity, so you retain all rights to your piece and can use it as you wish after publication.

Any contributors need to give their legal names and addresses in the email for a release form for their work.  However, we can publish you under a pseudonym or community name if you would like.

The deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011 at 11:59pm.

Emails for interested parties can be sent to Sarenth@gmail.com.

Wandering in a New Direction

I’ve known that Odin would want me to wander at some point.  He’s told me that since He started working with me.  I’ve asked Him, myself, other Gods, spirit allies, and friends, physical and not, what roads this could go down.  Now I finally have the first piece of that puzzle.  It was a relatively simple click to get it into place, but it took me hearing it and seeing it for it to fall into place.

I believe in living as sustainably as one can, from recycling and reusing as much as possible, to living as much on the land as possible.  Yet, I have no job, and no training on how to do a lot of the things necessary for it.  Sure, I’m learning to grow vegetables and herbs (I finally have my own space for herbs!) and I am willing to learn how to raise chickens, goats, and the like.  I’d be willing to learn every aspect of life that my folks grew up with on their farm.  Yet I didn’t even know how to start; I kept thinking “what about the price of having a home?  The utility costs?  The costs of getting everything around?”  Then, some friends of mine from my local shaman gathering told me about training they are taking this fall with the Earthship project.  I asked about it, and as they spoke, I could almost feel that puzzle click into place.  Holy shit.  It made sense.

Don’t get me wrong, at first I was skeptical as hell.  I thought How can you live so completely off-grid?  What about water, food?  Turns out the way the place is laid out you actually can grow food year-round in-house.  Water is collected from melting snow and rainwater, and electricity is made by wind and solar means.  There’s a lot more, but the website goes into more detail and gives it more justice than I can.  To put it simply, my fears were laid to rest.  These people built shelters that are designed to be earthquake resistant for the people of the Andaman Islands, and they built homes for Mexican families in the wake of Hurricane Rita.  The walls were built out of ordinary materials that we Americans have in plenty: old tires, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and cement, with plaster for the outward finish.  It seemed unreliable when I first heard about it, yet they stand tall and strong against even monsoon weather, as experienced in the Andaman Islands.

I wasn’t just skeptical for practical reasons, but spiritual too.  After all, it was kind of convenient that the answer fell in my lap.  That said, I don’t much believe in ‘coincidence’ anymore; more often than not, when I do pay attention to them, positive outcomes ensue.  I tend to kick myself later when I don’t pay attention.  I did a few readings to confirm that I wasn’t just listening to sock-puppets in my head, while the next was for the next as-important question: why?  The two Runes that I remember best from that reading (it was about a week ago) were Naudhiz the Rune of Need, and Othila  the Rune of Ancestral Land.  Naturally, there are other interpretations for these two Runes, but again, these two may as well have hit me in the face.  Of course, I could have just read it as NO from their Futhark-to-English rough letter translation.  I didn’t read it like that because neither were merkstave, and there wasn’t anything from the previous Runes to doubt the message screaming from them to me.  Still, I had another person who I hadn’t had any of this explained to her to read my cards just to check.  This time the message did club me over the head, and several times.  I needed to do this.  I needed to go for training, and it was part of my next step in my life in all its forms.  Okay, message received, stop the clubbing.

I asked Him why this would be part of my Wandering.  He told me that I needed the skills before I hoped to set out on my own, that having all the spiritual tools were good, but I “needed to learn to live in Midgard”, and that is what has largely been missing from the past couple of years.  I’ve lived, by and large, on others’ resources, time, and good will.  If I am to live in the future as a person, father, shaman, priest, and Pagan, I needed to change my relationship to the world.  If I believe in sustainability as more than a pretty word, as a lifestyle and as part of my spirituality, then I need to live it.  By learning these techniques I hope to live sustainably.  By learning all I can, I hope to live closer, and in better relations with the landvaettir, the Vanir, the Jotun, and the Aesir, and other Gods who have called to me.  It’s my hope that by Wandering here, I am able to leave a land worth inheriting to my children, with a right relationship with the landvaettir, Gods, and people, who call it home with me.  This may not be the end of my Wander, but it certainly is the first of many steps.

Fast: Day Two

I confirmed the fasting with my whole medical team was safe.  My doctor called me today to tell me not to take the metformin (aka Glucophage) until the day before I come off the fast.  I’ll still be checking my blood every day and taking my vitamins and lisinopril, but my blood sugars have been stable around the 79-85 range so far.  If my blood sugar drops much lower I may need to drink something sugary or a small bit of protein to boost me up.  If it continues for greater than a day I may have to break the fast.  I don’t believe I will need to, but there is the chance.

This is something that I talked with Odin over, and He said “The fasting is not here to kill you, but get you into a purified mindset, to get you out of the ordinary.  Won’t do us a bit of good if you keel over or go into a coma on me.”  Which shouldn’t have come as a shock.  It does mean that until something like that happens I won’t slip up, and will be sure if I have to break the fast that I actually have to break the fast.  It’s actually a comfort to have my medical team behind me, making sure I can do this fast safely.

A lot of the work I did with Odin was going over relationships, this time, how I give myself over to women.  He noted that I almost disappeared in some of these relationships, how I subsumed myself under other people.  He said it was part of the reason why I was not His God-slave; He wanted to challenge me to be my own person, drive me to be myself for myself, and not for anyone else.  I think that was a lesson I missed from the myth of Him Hanging on Yggdrasil: He did it as an offering “from Myself to Myself” first and foremost.  Only after that did He give the wisdom of the Runes to others.  It was not until He was able to do that, that He was able to even give the wisdom of the Runes to other people, let alone use Them Himself.

I used to think that this whole “doing this for myself” thing was selfish.  But in a lot of ways it protects other people, and keeps any fallout to you.  It also makes sure that you understand what you’re doing before you pass on the knowledge, and that you have a firm grasp of what you’ve experienced.  Doing it for yourself also makes sure you actually take care of yourself, kind of like how the emergency videos always tell you to take care of yourself before someone else.  Doesn’t do anyone any good for two people to be down when one could be up.  I admittedly have had a lot of baggage from this ‘doing for myself’ idea, first from my parents and my Catholic upbringing, and the general attitude I’ve held towards people for years, a lot of it learned from being bullied.  The main baggage I learned from Catholicism and my folks is that this ‘doing for myself’ is selfish, and takes from others when I could give to them, and the stuff I learned from bullying is that I really don’t deserve all the good things in the first place.  In the situation I’m in, out of my personal community and without a significant other, I’m having to do for myself first.  It’s been pretty…good, actually.  I’m happier, I’m more ready to face the day, and willing to do more to make things happen.  I don’t feel anxious or run down, and my self-perception has improved since Nicole and I broke up.  I’m wanting to do things for myself; sure, my son does factor in, but I want to do Psychology and Counseling for myself as much as those I could help…the former now, even more so.  I want the fulfillment that comes from doing that work rather than doing it for other people.  Sure, the people matter, and are a large part of that fulfillment, but if I look to them to fulfill me, I will come out disappointed.  I know from pastoral counseling that doing that sets you up for disappointment and heartbreak, and that being there as a vessel for change rather than an agent is what is often needed and distancing enough that if things fall apart you won’t be destroyed.

The work with Loki tonight was brutal.  He started off the night by having me purify everything in the garage with a handy stick of sage, from the doors to the altar to myself several times.  Then I set up the protective wards making a Valknut of smoke in the air, and using a modified version of the Hammer Rite.  He had me strike a match, light the three candles I had representing Odin, Vili, and Ve, (purple, yellow, and blue respectively) and light the charcoal disk for my censer.  When everything felt safe, and the smoke was rolling out of the censer from the lit charcoal, He had me add Mugwort, (the purifying plant in the Northern Tradition), after I thanked the spirit of the plant.  When it started going He had me root around in my boxes of Pagan stuff for something, and I wasn’t sure what it was at first.  Then it caught my eye: a bit of tissue Nicole had written a cute message and a drawing, something I kept on my computer all semester and looked at when I felt lonely.  Looking at it now, I felt my heart come apart.

I heard Him say “That is what I want you to offer Me.  Offer it to Me, let Her go, and I will help you heal.”  I stopped cold.  I hadn’t expected to do any magic to separate myself from her, just doing healing work and talking with the Gods to help me separate.  I hesitated and He said louder “You say you want to work with Me.  This is what I’m demanding of you.  Give it to Me, or go back inside and curl up in bed and cry!” then He demanded of me ” You want to get through this?  Then let her go.  What the hell are you hanging on for?”  He let the question hang while my mind raced a million different places.  Old, fond memories, making love, the funny times where I or she would trip and make fun of each other.  Hell, “chicken”.  So many things my mind flashed to…the future we’d once wanted to build together- then He interrupted my thoughts “They aren’t going to happen now.”  That acid ate away at the fantasies that played in my head.  It isn’t going to happen.  The words echoed in my head for a while, and I said to Him, “Alright.  Alright.”  I had had enough, and I was on the verge of crying.  I wanted to let go, not just say the words, not just mime the feelings.  I really wanted to let go.

So He had me take the tissue and toss it right on the charcoal disk.  At first, it wouldn’t light.  I picked up a candle and was going to light the tissue on fire, when I heard Him give me a resounding “No.”  I looked at the candle and then at the censer with the disk in it.  “Well…what then?” I asked Him in my mind.  He told me to light the disk with the candle, and I was to watch the tissue burn down to ash.  I was angry at first.  It seemed cruel to me, to make me sit that long looking at something that had once given me a lot of comfort, silly as it might have been.  I did what He told me to anyway.

The tissue took several minutes before it even browned a little.  As I waited, He said to me “You have to want it to burn.  You have to want to let it go.  Help it burn; don’t use the candle.”  So I looked at the tissue, and flopped it around a little, trying to get it to light, but the disk wasn’t having it.  It had a little red glow on its outside edge, but all it was doing was browning the tissue very, very slowly.  Then I sighed, and the glow picked up.  I breathed again, this time right on the disk, and the glow grew, and the edge of the tissue that was lying on it started to glow.  I kept breathing, blowing long, concentrated streams of air, not consciously starting to say the mantra that grew in my mind: “I want to let go.  I want to grieve.”

The glow picked up around the edges, and it grew more intense as it ate up the tissue, and the smoke stung my eyes.  I felt in that moment, as tears came streaming from the smoke, like I could cry.  Like it wasn’t shameful or stupid, like it wasn’t me being melodramatic or anything other than simply grieving a loss.  That mantra kept going “I want to let go.  I want to grieve.” even as I cried, holding the censer between my hands, blowing long streams of what I realized wasn’t just my breath, but my spiritual energy, my önd.  The creeping orange slowly ate more, gaining speed as I cried harder, the air flowing harder.  At some point I started kneeling, and knelt, trembling with the censer rocking in my hands as tears rolled freely down my face.  I probably looked like a damn mess…but I didn’t care.  I was grieving, I was in that moment ignoring everything else but that.  I was letting myself feel, truly feel, all the release I could.  At some point I picked up a pair of crow feathers and fanned them over the smoking tissue, asking Hunin and Munin to help me think well, but to commit this work to Thought and Memory.  When I finally put the censer down and let go, the ashes smoldered and then, turned black each in turn.  I heard Loki’s voice tell me to put Stinging Nettle on the censer to protect myself from going back to those old feelings, thoughts, and had me throw more Mugwort on for purification.  As the smoke rolled up in front of me, I threw it over my body, praying to Loki in thanks, and thinking in prayer “Thank you Nicole, for all we’ve shared.  Thank you for loving me.”  Then Loki told me, in no uncertain terms, to say it.  I did…and I felt a peace roll over me.  A deep-seated peace.

I took up the chalice of water I had on the altar, and drizzled some onto my head, dabbed it on my forehead, and every other chakra point.  Purified and still feeling that deep-seated peace, I dabbed water onto the heads of my Ancestors’ representation, a circle of four figures interlocking arms, and dabbed water onto the mouths of my Lupa and Lycrous representations.  Finally, I dabbed water onto the mouths of the statue of Odin, first to Geri and Freki, then Hunin and Munin, and finally, to His own mouth and His horn.  I felt good, like I had finally let go of a huge block in my heart.  I thanked Loki, and He said to me to give offerings to Himself and Odin, and to Hel, to honor my grieving for dead things.  I asked Him what, and He told me in turn what I could give of myself.  It had been nearly a year since any of my statues had received my blood, and the skull I used as a representation of Hel on my altar had never received blood from me.  So I took a needle I use for testing my blood sugar,  and sterilized it in the fire of all three candles.  Odin asked me to prick my right forefinger, and shared it first with my Ancestors, dabbing each of Their heads with a drop of blood in recognition of my bloodlines, and then with each part of His statue as I had before, except His mouth as He asked me.  To Hel’s skull representation, I first asked Her if this would blood-bond me to Her, and She assured me not, and that She would view it as an offering of thanks.  She asked me, rather than having blood from the right forefinger, to take it from the left pinky, which I seldom use.  The pain was vivid when I pricked myself, which She said was part of the offering, and I smeared the blood across the foam skull’s teeth.  The teeth went from white to red, and the gold teeth in the skeleton were tinged darker.

I gave a low bow to the altar, let the burning herbs finish up, and thanked the Gods who had been there for the rite.  I blew out the candles, thanked my Ancestors, and the spirits who had been there, and put away whatever I wasn’t leaving on the altar overnight.  Even as I write this, I still feel that sense of peace.  My heart isn’t aching right now, and I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere with being able to finally grieve.  Thank the Gods for Gods that push me beyond my self-perceived boundaries.  Thank the Gods for Odin and Loki both, and all the Gods who know me.  Thank the Gods for Gods who will push, pull, and fight with you to get you where you need to go, but will also equally let go when you are being a stubborn ass.  Thank the Gods for healing and love, even at the price of pain.  Thank the Gods.

Landvaettir

I have heard landvaettir referred to be a number of names; some refer to Them as genus loci, others “the wee Folk” (although they sometimes mean Faeries), and a host of other names.  I experience Them as spirits of place, with faces that They have shown me as varied as the places They are found.  I have found that when I journey or spiritually have a dialogue with Them, the landvaettir on campus take the form of the school’s mascot while the landvaettir around my home are more nebulous, appearing as trees with faces or living earth.  When I travel to cities, sometimes the landvaettir sometimes take the form of what might symbolize it, such as a weathered blue-collar worker for Flint, or a bohemian twenty-something for Ann Arbor.  Then again, depending on where I travel in these cities the landvaettir’s ‘face’ may change.

I first came to work with landvaettir when I was first starting as a Pagan, mostly through the book Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tann Schwartzstein.  I was living in Flint at the time, and the landvaettir were loud, active, and stirred up.  The very thought of going out and talking to Them, that They could show me a ‘face’, hadn’t occurred to me till I read the book.  Then, I began speaking with the landvaettir of Flint, really getting to know it.  I didn’t have a car at first, and I was living on campus going to college at Baker.  The spirit showed me a kind of weathered blue-collar worker, which in reflection makes sense since Flint was the birthplace of the sit-down strikes and was home to a lot of production.  The city used to have a place in it called Buick City for Gods’ sakes.  Well, in my end of the bargain with the landvaettir around the campus, I kept up the campus by picking up trash where I found it and give to the homeless that would occasionally hang around campus.  In return It/They helped keep me safe and keep other spirits off of me.  It was with this spirit that I first learned how to bargain and negotiate, and how to scratch a spirit’s back so it would scratch mine in turn.  I also learned why speaking with the spirit of a place was important before you do magic.  I did magic on campus, ignorant that I should even ask the spirits prior to doing so.  When I finally did, it was much more effective, and came to fruition faster and with greater effect.  Through the landvaettir of Flint, I learned of basic reciprocation with spirits, how to actually do offerings other than leaving out food.  This turned out to be good, since I didn’t have a lot of food to spare, and it seemed the spirit(s) liked my offerings of doing stuff like cleaning up and helping out better anyhow.  It had enough litter and stuff floating around.  People used to throw carts from shopping areas into local creeks and leave food and wrappers around all the time.

Landvaettir have helped me a lot over the years, whether it has been to find my way when I was lost in a city (good thing; this happens from time to time), food, or even money when I really needed it for parking.  Being kind to the landvaettir and giving Them your ear can do a lot of good; you might find things you never would have otherwise, and They finally feel listened to, something a lot of people in general simply don’t do.  By paying attention, running some errands for Them, or simply helping to take care of Their space, there is a lot you and the vaettir can gain.  Imagine how happy it would make you to have a random stranger come up to you after a long, rough day, and ask “How can I help?”  The gratitude, at least for me, is immediate, and I want to know how I can help the person in turn when they’ve helped me.

Lately, my home’s landvaettir and I have developed a closer relationship given I’m now living back at home and am working in the garden.  This last Friday I harvested the first asparagus harvest.  I gave prayers to the landvaettir, thanking Them for such a beautiful bounty, and praised Them and Freyr (whom I associate with the vegetable due to its phallic shape and reputation as an aphrodisiac) as I was harvesting, thanking each individual plant’s vaettir and the vaettir of asparagus Itself.   I had given offerings of food at the oak that is a little ways from the garden the night before.  There is Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, in these things.  By taking care of the plants, and by being allowed to harvest, by giving offerings and prayers and accepting help from the spirits, the cycles of gifts continues to turn, and relationships grow even closer.  When I eat now, I pray to the landvaettir both here, and wherever my food comes from.  The former, I pray to in thanks for the home, for warmth, the ability to live in this modern world alongside Them, and the latter landvaettir, I thank because it is from Them that this food comes.  It is from both that I am able to type to you, to live a modern life, to go to school and better myself.  Yet I do not forget the people who harvested the food or cooked it; everyone deserves their praise in turn, everyone who allows our lives to be as they are is worthy of remembrance.  As Odin said: “Cattle die, kinsman die/but I know what never dies/He who gets himself a good name”.  How seldom do people praise the lands from where their food comes from; how seldom people recognize that other human beings grew, harvested, and brought the massive amounts of food we have to us.  We lionize combat but do not praise the growing of food.  I can tell you this: in my own experience it is far easier to throw a competent punch than grow your own food.  I also know which one will allow me to live longer, too.

This is not to denigrate those who choose to give their of their lives in military service; that has a place.  Yet I have heard relatively little praise for the myriad of people who bring us the food we eat.  It was only until I started reading Lupa’s blog that I even considered working with Food Totems.  From that I thought “Well, if I can honor the spirits of the animals who have died so I can live, I can do it with the plants, and I can do it with the people too.”  Though I haven’t started talking to anyone or thing analogous to the Chicken Totem from, say, the people who farm, the prayers I give and the prayers I teach my son to give don’t only praise our Gods, but the beings, from spirit, from root to flesh, from flesh to flesh, that make our meals possible.  This, in my view, resacralizes all the landvaettir, not just the ones that exist with us in our homes and properties.  Cutting ourselves off from our part, to thank those who make this life possible and doing what we can to make those spirits and lives better in the long run, cuts off Gebo.  They help to give us the gift of life; shouldn’t our return be more than words?

I say this as a person who is, as of right now, making no income.  Sometimes magic, prayers and my signature are all I have.  Yet all of these are powerful, and should be treated as such.  My signature can be the start or continuation of an avalanche of change, or a whisper of a promise to a future generation.  My magic can be a powerful catalyst, or progenitor of change.  My prayers can give word to the wordless, praise to the unappreciated, recognition and immortality to those who would die in ignominy.  So could any one person.

Working with the landvaettir is part of my work as a shaman and priest; I am able to live by Them, and They are able to have greater impact in this world because I listen to Them and do things with and for Them.  I hope it is something that more people, whether or not you’re a priest, or someone who just likes to garden, will take up.  Having a vibrant relationship with the land makes it come even more alive, makes the Sacred that more immanent because you truly are finding it because you’re looking for it everywhere.  Our Wyrd ties into all things, and vice versa; by feeling those threads and acknowledging them we can allow understanding, healing, or simple recognition for its own sake to come into our lives.  Sometimes we do not need to do anything, except acknowledge something or someone, be thankful for it, and honor the spirit or person for their undertaking.  Sometimes we don’t even need to do that; sometimes the hardest thing we can do is simply get the hell out of the way and let things happen as they need to.  In harvesting to asparagus recently I had instances where the landvaettir asked me not to cut down certain stalks, but to simply let them grow.  To leave them be.  Sometimes I thought I knew better, and harvested a stalk because “well, I think that’s long enough and I probably didn’t hear right” and found out later the stalk wasn’t ready to harvest.  Mercifully it was only a few; the landvaettir sometimes up the ‘volume’ for me to hear when my head is chattering.  Other times, They wait for me to get the clue and take a breath and listen.

Sometimes receiving a message from a landvaettir vastly harder than it is from a God or Ancestor.  The latter two are much more ‘close’ to myself as a human being, whereas I find that landvaettir are sometimes composite spirits or overarching spirits that comes together from the energy around an area, like Flint’s blue-collar person or Ann Arbor’s bohemian.  Other times, the landvaettir are a single sizeable spirit of an area, such as an old oak or swath of grass, and can be rather alien in their imagery or symbols, or hard to understand because They use mental language and metaphor that is far different than what I am used to.  Sometimes, as with the first type, it is that the composite isn’t quite sure what it wants to communicate, or there is a cacophony effect that occurs because there are so many voices.  Sometimes, as with the second type, the message is jumbled because we’re operating on different frequencies where thought and understanding are centered.  Other times, the landvaettir and I just don’t have a deep or strong enough connection to have a decent rapport like my Gods or Ancestors do with me.

There is a lot of feeling out that gets done when I first have contact with landvaettir in meditation or journey work.  At least a third of the time I tend to spend figuring out the symbols or communication methods the landvaettir use, another third to establish rapport, and the last third to actually hear the message.  Of course, this varies with differing vaettir; I find it easier to ‘get’ city landvaettir because They are more used to human concepts, whereas landvaettir of wild can be hard to interpret due to differences in perspective or downright hostile due to other humans’ treatment of an area or its inhabitants.  Sometimes just thinking about Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings helps put this in perspective for me.  You’re communicating with a Being that may be pretty old comparative to you, and/or who may have seen a lot of change, chaotic and sometimes pollutive change, wrought by our species for the last hundred or so years.  Yet you might be talking to a relatively young spirit, one that’s grown up with the town around you, or the street.  One that could be empowered by the attention, or devastated by the blight, or alternatively feeding on it and causing it to grow.  Sometimes you simply don’t encounter landvaettir that want to play nice; sometimes you do, and They’ll not only be willing to talk, but really help you.  By treating these spirits with the same respect as I, an individual would want, I tend to have a better rapport and time in the places where They live and I frequent.

In my view, thinking of yourself as a guest in Their homes helps put things into a healthy perspective.  In the Northern Tradition hospitality is one of the watchwords.  If I act a fool and trash the place (i.e. breaking limbs off trees just because I can and littering) why would They want to know me any more, or work with me, or allow my magic to reach its intended destination?  I sure wouldn’t.  Again, this all come back to Gebo.  The gift of respect is the gift you often receive.  A lot of books tend to treat Nature spirits, and landvaettir as these cute little beings who are just so happy to help you and achieve x, y, or z.  More often than not I find that a lot of spirits around me just want to live in relative peace, as opposed to conflict.  It is in their self-interest to have a good relationship with us, just as it is for us to have the same with Them.  It isn’t that They can’t be cute; some are, and others aren’t.  Not all Nature is pretty, and not all Nature’s critters are pretty.  I happen to deeply hate mosquitoes as a specie, while They seem to absolutely love my blood.  I can barely walk around in summer without having little mosquito bumps creep from my toes (if I don’t wear shoes) all the way up and down my body in clusters of little bite-bumps.  I despise these vaettir.  They may be part of my Wyrd, and I can respect Them for that, but I don’t have to like Them.  Yet it is in my interest to have a good relationship with Them.  After all, if I can cut a deal with Them my bites may not be as bad.  Our Wyrd may be tied together, but I believe there is wiggle room for negotiating the threads between us.

The landvaettir in my life have been great teachers, even the openly hostile ones.  Many have taught me different aspects of my spirituality, from connecting to the Earth, to what happens to the vaettir when humans trash and energetically drag an area down.  Some have brought me to spiritual teachers themselves, whereas others help to provide for my physical needs.  There is always something to be learned in our relationships with others.  There is always some balance that needs to be struck, and when it is, the ripples of that balance can be felt through the threads of orlog (personal Wyrd) through to the universal Wyrd.  Landvaettir are the spirits of the land; They are at once part of and closest to the land we walk on, the food we eat, the clothing we make, the world we change.   They are part of Midgard as much as we are.  If we are to live side-by-side, then treating Them with respect and dignity, being hospitable to Them and expecting the same in return is part of us living together in this world.  Healing where we can, helping where we can, and having the same done in turn generates the gifts all of us can continue to give and receive long into the future.  To me, living incommunion with this world and all its Beings is so much more rich than living apart.  My relationships and work with the landvaettir, though a part of my life, is an important part that stretches into my everyday life.  Hopefully, as time goes on, more will honor our spiritual cohabitants and treat Them with the respect They deserve.  In healing our relationships with the world around us, we can more effectively heal our world.

Negotiating with Your Gods

Because I live with my folks and Mother’s Day was coming up, my folks asked if I could pray to Odin and ask Him to work with me and pushing back the time for the Nine Day fast.  After I got over my initial shock, I prayed to Odin.  He made two requests:

1) I have space indoors to pray and make offerings and the like.

2) I finish composing a Hávamál-style poem for Him within now and the Nine Days, and make it about as long if not longer than that poem. This is in addition to what I already will be doing with Odin and Loki during these Nine Days.

Negotiating with my Gods, up until a year or so ago, was something I did not even contemplate.  Even then, until lately, I have only sparingly negotiated with my Gods.  It was something previous teachers of mine never broached or actively pushed against.  It was as if the words of the Gods were Divine Mandate and that was it; any negotiating was an insult to Them.  So, when a God or Goddess or even spirit came to call at 3 in the morning, it was “What can I do for you?” not “Can we do this when I’m more awake and able to commit myself to what you want to do?”  Not even allowing myself to negotiate took a lot of autonomy I could have had and gave it over, when perhaps what needed to happen was me standing up for myself.

This has been a lesson long in learning, to value myself enough to say “Hold on, I need time to sleep” or “Can I honor you at a better time?” or “I’m not sure I have the skills to do that.”  It’s one thing to outright refuse a lesson, or a charge.  I’m not about to say I’m going to go back and renegotiate everything I do on a regular basis; what I am doing is embracing a co-creative outlook, one in which the Gods and I actually have dialogue about why things are good to do now, or where or when to do it.  Sometimes I simply won’t get an answer, or an answer I like.  This goes with the territory of being a shaman and priest.  However, the option for negotiation is and in my view, always in some way should be on the table.  Even though it may seem small, having the day to be able to talk and eat with my folks for Mother’s Day is worth having to bang out a poem and do some hard work for my Gods, even if it is harder than if I was just going through it tomorrow.

When I went to ask Odin for a stay in the ordeal, I stood before what is more or less my home altar.  On it is a sacred pipe, a candle, an incense holder, some incense, and herbs.  I packed the pipe, prayed to the Four Dwarves to bless me and blew the mugwort smoke to each of them in an offering.  When I first started combining smoking and praying, I first prayed to the Four Dwarves and then lit the incense.  After a few times of this, I got a tap asking me to share the smoke with all present, including Them.  So, when I smoke in ritual I tend to try to share it with everyone so all are included and honored with it, or restrict it to certain Gods and spirits within the rite who appreciate it.  When I began to pray with Him, at first I was fuzzy.  I took a deep inhale of the pipe, blew it out slowly, and let my eyes relax.  I felt this need for music, so  slapped my iPod onto some meditative music and listened for Him to respond.  I did not need to wait long; He told me what He wanted.  What surprised me about it was how quick and direct He responded.  Negotiating, from what I’ve experienced, is a kind of interaction building that stretches some and while reinforcing other boundaries.  You start to develop a feel for where the person’s limits are, and they need to say nothing.  In negotiating with Odin I used to be afraid He would be terribly angry.  Now, I realize this is something He and other Gods have simply been waiting for me to do, to encounter and confront Them not as equals (after all, They are Gods and we are people for a reason), but as people worthy of respect, each in our own right.