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Question 11: Life Skills and Being a Shaman Part 2

July 13, 2014 1 comment

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

July 10, 2014 4 comments

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.

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.

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