Question 11: Life Skills and Being a Shaman Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

From Andrew:

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

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

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

Odin Garden Stake Godpole -Rough

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

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

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

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



C is for Crafting

I may go back and do a full post for B, but for now my poem for Bragi stands.

This week I am looking at crafting. So many cues from our culture came from crafting, from the fashioning of our tools, to the subtle make of jewelry, to the carving of God/Goddess poles. With the demise of many of these trades alongside our indigenous ways, it is no wonder we have had to reconstruct, as well as find new expressions to connect ourselves to our Gods, spirits and Ancestors. Crafting can show our place in the world, our political views, our religious views, and of course, simply express our creativity. We can express our relationship with the world, family, and our own Self.

I have recentlly begun woodworking. I have a good carving set, and a couple different sized sticks of seasoned wood. This craft, if nothing else, is teaching me patience. It can take me about two to three hours just to clean the bark off of an arm-length one inch branch. After a Saturday in which a friend worked with me on a tree spirit.  Tree spirits in woodcarving are where you carve a face in a piece of wood; in my case I asked the branch to show me the face it wanted me to carve.  I still need to do detail work. So after about eight hours of work there is still more to do to get it right.  Perhaps someone back in my family line made woodcarvings.  Perhaps they were wheelwrights or toymakers, furniture makers, tailors, or artisans of another sort.  In putting my hands to work I can meditate, and I can reach back.

When I work with the tree spirit I can feel the life of the tree in the branch, can see the face it shows me.  As I carve, as best I can, I am bringing out the face the tree’s branch has been showing me.  The wood beneath my hands, while long separated from the tree, still carries a bit of the vitality the tree had within it.  It is my hope, and my work to give that vitality a face I can see without that I see within.  It is sacred work, long work, and something I am totally new at.  My hope is that the spirit is honored by my work when I am finished.

I first got interested in woodcarving when I saw these amazing God Poles out at Cauldron Farms.  To make one, if not many of these, is one of many projects I plan on doing once I am ready to do so.  I pray to have the ability to give honor to the Gods whose Images I would be making.  Working on this smaller scale with the branch is humbling in and of itself; I am giving my interpretation, my understanding of what this tree’s spirit has shown itself to me as.  Doing the same with one of my Gods is daunting.  I think of the God Poles, the Tibetan sand paintings, Lupa’s skin spirits, and hope that some day I can bring out such art that would honor my Gods in showing Them as I see Them, show my cosmology in vibrance and beauty, and/or honor the spirits with whom I work with a good home.  I look at larger crafts that I have deep interest in, such as organic gardening, permaculture, and forms of biotecture, as not only needed for our survival, but sacred as well.  Our outer expression in the world can be a sacred expression, and can take an infinite number of forms if we open ourselves up to it.  We can allow the Sacred into every part of our lives, even if it is not as overt as a painting.  The way we craft our lives, the way we live in the world can be that expression, our craft.  It is my hope to be able to do that: to let the Gods, spirits, and Ancestors as many windows and expressions in my life as I can give Them.