Personal Spirituality

I talk a lot on here about what I am doing, sometimes generically.  My horarium post was one such thing; a list with definitions.  I posted it because I wanted to have something out there about it; I haven’t seen many people post their devotional schedules.  Yet I was really missing the key component to it.  Why.  I talked with my ex-fiancee tonight, and that was something she rightly pointed out: that it wasn’t as much the how or what, but really why that she and others want to hear.  I chewed on this for a little while.  Introspection, if any word, is my catchphrase for now.  Perhaps I should show more of it in my posts.  So I thought about it.  Why would I do a horarium?

I’m not a monk; my purpose in life, and my Will aren’t oriented around what I see as the typical monk lifestyle.  Keep in mind I haven’t read much on how Pagan monks live, and that a good deal of my exposure to monasticism is through the Catholic Church.  So my perspective is that the person in question is usually cloistered away with a community of like-minded people who are merely there to worship God, learn as much as they can about Him, and devote more-or-less every waking moment to His worship.  Sometimes they express this through doing community works.  That said, my exposure to monasticism and its ideas has mainly been about being isolated from others and totally devoted to active worship and not a lot else.  I’m very-much a person who needs an active, diverse, and vibrant community.  So then, what do I see my purpose in life is?

I really do see my purpose for being here is my shamanic path.  That is, I am here to help others, to do the work of the Gods, mediate between humans and spirits, and do healing work.  I believe my purpose is to leave this world better than I found it, to leave people better than I found them.  I have lost sight of this at times, and when I do, I tend to get sent back to square one in some way or another.  This latest time has pushed me into a very introspective mindset, something I haven’t done a lot of in the past year.  I was a lot about doing; doing for the community, for other people, while ignoring a lot of what I actually felt.  It gets easy, putting yourself into other people so you don’t have to think or feel for you; just do.  Keep doing.  Then wonder why everything falls apart.  When I don’t pay attention to myself, when I don’t question or take criticism, I fail in my work as a shaman.  Everything in my life is supposed to be oriented around making me a better shaman, and this, by extension, should improve my life.  By being a more mindful shaman, for instance, I am a more mindful father.  By approaching other people in the same patience as I have for my son, I would be a better shaman.  The opposite is also true; by being a less mindful shaman, I am a less mindful father.  How I treat others echoes throughout my life, in all corners of my life.  Permitting an injustice against a friend may permit injustice against my son, or against a stranger.  A purpose, to me, is not saying “this is all I am” but “this is what I am here to do”.  A purpose is a calling, or something that inspires us to act, or something that motivates our lives.  It is the difference between saying “I am here to be a shaman” and “All I am is a shaman”.  I am not just a shaman, nor am I just a priest or just a father.  I am all of these things.

Yet all of them tie into being a shaman, because all my experiences, understanding, each part of me, brings an enrichment to that path, to my being a shaman.  It is when I forget this, or think “I have mastered this”, when I let ego take over and blind me to learning and to new ways that I don’t understand yet.  Sometimes the best part of learning is realizing “I don’t get this and may never get it, but I can take new understanding from this.”  For instance: I may never be a math whiz, but by the Gods I can understand the implications of where math can lead us.  I may not understand its use in quantum mechanics (hell, even some mathematicians don’t) but the implications if we can understand the science and math of it are profound.  I can grasp that.   I may not get my mind wrapped around how the math works, but why it works, what it means and why it does, are so much more important, and if properly explained to me absent of math jargon, I probably could get it.  Forgetting I have more to learn is one of the worst things to forget.  It stunts growth, cuts off understanding, and limits in so many ways.  How much better of a relationship could I have had with my friends had I just listened more?  How much more could others have learned if I had shut my mouth more, or been much more mindful when I spoke?  So many unanswered questions because being right or useful, because I was afraid of being neither, truly my accepting fear rather than vulnerability, cut short so many avenues of dialogue.

So where do I go from here?  Do I cease to be a shaman because I have failed my community?  No.  No more than a writer ceases to be a writer because they put down the pencil for a few years, nor more than a scientist ceases to be a scientist if they stop researching.  There is a whole wealth of things that go into making a person any of these things, from worldview to personal commitments, means of expression to even the way we grow up.  Not doing the thing that fulfills you does not make that thing fulfill you any less…it just makes you less fulfilled.  I accepted for a long time that I would never be a shaman, that it just “wasn’t in the cards for me”.  White men couldn’t be shamans, I was told.  You had to be initiated by indigenous elders, I was told.  There was little talk of the Gods and spirits in these pronunciations, just a certainty that, because of my heritage, my skin color, and my background, that I would never be a shaman.  Yet I had dreamed of it since I can remember.  Even though I have screwed up healthily, being what I am fulfills me.  It fulfills me to be a shaman, to interact with the Worlds as I do, to do the things I do as a shaman, from the little prayers to the long, hard journeys (albeit Odin has told me to do no journeying for the time being).  What I need, more than to, say, reject my path, is to rethink how I approach it, and to heal my relationship with it.  In doing that healing, in healing myself, my ego, and my relationships with the Gods, I can help others to heal, to reach out.  None of it works if I have not done the work necessary for myself as a shaman.

Do I believe in determinism?  Not strictly, no.  I think that our Ørlǫg (personal Wyrd) weaves our fate together with the Wyrd of all the Beings in the Nine Worlds and beyond, that the interdependent nature of the world pushes us toward certain things.  I was born into an American, Catholic, white, middle-class family.  Even that, right off the bat, affects my Ørlǫg significantly.  We are all connected by Wyrd, and together, we are woven into the tapestry of energies, views, ideas, actions, beliefs, and so many other things, many which we may never understand, or whose effects we may never see.  I may never see the effects the words I write here have.  The fallen tree in a forest may have no physical impact on me, or may, through the multitude of strands that connects our Wyrd, affect my Ørlǫg in ways I will never realize.  Yet events have in my life led me through all the many possibilities to this one point in time, writing in this moment in time.  Perhaps as I made choices I wound my thread tighter into the fabric of time, and space, through others’ Ørlǫg and my Ørlǫg, affecting the changes that have brought me to where I am today.  I have come close to death in this life, and yet, I am still here.  I could have never have been born, yet I am here.  I could have grown up to hate people.  I could have grown up to steal what I wanted when I wanted, but I don’t.  So many factors went into making me who I am today.  I see genetics having its part to play, but I lend far more credence to environment.  I lend far more to Wyrd, and how it can bring us to where we need to be, even if we aren’t sure where that is, or if it is where we want to be.

What do I believe?  That really cuts to the quick, doesn’t it?  And yet, I could describe everything I believe here and still not get it all.  But here goes.  I believe that my Gods are separate Beings from one another; I am unapologetically polytheist.  I believe that Gods of differing tribes and pantheons and nations talk to each other.  I believe that the elements can personify themselves to interact with us, as can many spiritual beings that lie beyond our true ken to understand.  I believe that my Ancestors desire regular contact with me, and that having a healthy relationship with Them is a good thing.  I believe the land itself has a spirit or multiple spirits, as the case may be, and their names are many, and among their signifying words are genus loci or, the one I tend to use nowadays, landvaettir.  I believe that the Gods, spirits, our Ancestors, landvaettir and countless other named and unnamed Being seek contact and especially relationships with us.  I believe that the Gods, spirits, our Ancestors, landvaettir, etc. can exist and do exist apart from us, can and do affect this world, and seek active integration into our lives.  I believe that these Beings all seek this active integration because we are interconnected in some fashion or another; the Gods fashioned us, the landvaettir live alongside us, the Ancestors birthed us or are related to us, and so on.  I believe in interpreting myths through a cultural understanding, and not taking myths as literal; in short, I do not believe I am descended from a tree as the creation myth tells us.  I believe that myth is a springboard, not the do-all end-all.  I believe that having an active relationship with those spiritual Beings one is involved with is more important than adherence to myth or cultural norms, though both are important.  I believe that myths may help us to inform our lives without sacrificing our appreciation of science.

I believe that science is a worthy pursuit, and it and religion do not need to clash since they approach the world from different views when religion is not trying to be science and vice versa.  I believe that science and religion are alike in that both should be evolving processes in a macro and micro scale.  I believe in miracles, yet I also believe this world works by certain ways and means and the two views need not conflict.  I believe that spiritual healing can occur by the use of Runes, laying on of hands, magic, etc., but I do not believe it should substitute itself for medical science and healing; after all my Ancestors used the two side-by-side.  I believe that healing can come through what is commonly seen as more mundane means, like doctors and psychological counseling, and that the medical professions may be far better at healing than by strictly spiritual means, and vice versa.  I believe that healing the whole person is more efficacious than healing a part of a person, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually.  I believe that my views on healing do not contradict the faith I place in medicine; after all, I take medicine for my blood pressure and blood sugar, but I also meditate, perform magic, and spiritual healing is part of my life.

I believe my purpose is being a shaman.  I believe that purpose can coexist with my calling to psychology and counseling.  I believe that together, the two disciplines are stronger, both informing and deepening each other.  I believe that being a good father to my son is part of being a shaman, and vice versa.  I believe that the Gods, spirits, and others whom I do not yet know do contact me, do communicate with me, and communicate through me on occasion with others, and this is not crazy.  I believe that the Gods, spirits, and others affect my everyday world as much as the large changes in the Worlds.  I believe that it is desirable and very possible to have a personal relationship with the Gods, and that They can still transcend our understanding despite showing us a sometimes-human face or facet.  I believe that I am spiritually descended from Odin, that I am His Son, and that this is a tremendous blessing, and brings with it many responsibilities.  I believe it is not my place to ‘lord over’ other people based on this belief, and that every person is in some way, shape, or form descended from Odin (see the Lay of Rig).  I believe that magic exists, and that the world can be affected by it.  I believe that there is a spiritual world around us, within us, and beyond us.  I believe in spiritual energy, and that Odin gave it to us; it goes by the name of Önd, the spirit that Odin bestowed on us all, and that each religion or spirituality’s creator in some way, shape, or form bestowed.  I believe that Wyrd and Ørlǫg are active forces in, around, without, and beyond the Worlds, that all parts are interconnected in some way, shape, or form.

I believe that it is possible I may be wrong, and that my spiritual beliefs are just that: beliefs with no basis in reality.  I believe that this view that I may be “wrong” builds integrity rather than destroys faith, encourages humility rather than hubris, and that belief should be challenge.  I believe that results matter in spirituality; why would I worship a God or Goddess who does not speak with me when I pray (even silence can be an answer) or whose Presence I can never feel?  I believe that critical thinking and exploration matters in spirituality.  I believe that a lack of critical thinking and exploration destroys spirituality.  I believe that forgiveness, honor, integrity, understanding, inquiry, and so many other facets found in both science and religion are worthy of emulation with or without either way.  I believe that piety, respect, debate, belief, healing, love, hope, happiness, and the many, many factors that go into spirituality and religion are, in their core, good.  I believe that these things are worthy to emulate and base one’s life around provided it is done mindfully.

Yet, the question why is still there.  Why do I believe?  My friend Sean, who is going to college to become a Christian minister, asked me this for his Apologetics class.  We talked about it for about four hours, so there’s a lot of factors as to why I believe what I do.  Really, when it comes down to it, I believe because there is a living, breathing relationship between my Gods and I.  The relationship we have is not so drastically one-sided that I have to wait in silence for an answer and simply accept it; sometimes there are no answers, but I receive enough responses to know that silence is a viable answer.  I believe what I do because my aspects of belief have, in some way or form I accept, demonstrated themselves to be so.  My faith is backed up by my experiences, and those experiences can be small and equally as powerful as those large, earth-shattering experiences, no less profound for how they manifest themselves.  Yet the profundity of those experiences is there, from the Presence of the Gods, to the smallest of words They give me, to the deafening silence I have, at times, received.  There is no mistaking Their Presences, no lying to myself when They make Themselves known.  I have spoken with the Gods in silent prayer, have heard Their voice in ritual, and have held conversation with Them while shopping.  No moment, no place is excluded; the Sacred is all around and us and within us as Wyrd and Önd, as Presences and energies.  I have experienced this; my beliefs are largely made up of my understanding and experiences.  To me, the experience of the Sacred is more important than intellectually understanding the Sacred, though that understanding may put the Sacred into a context we can grasp, give our own voice to.  It is the sometimes-ineffable experience of the Sacred that underpins the entirety of why I believe anything spiritual.  Without experience, the Sacred is really an intellectual exercise.  Even meditation, experiencing stillness in no-mind meditation for instance, must be experienced because at some juncture explanation fails.  Words themselves fail, so we develop metaphor and extensive ways to map, to understand the Sacred.  I do not believe my map to be any more valid for another person; it is my map.  Not everyone will see Yggdrasil as I do, nor will they have the same relationship with Odin, or the landvaettir as I do.  However, to me, a lack of same experiences doesn’t make me wrong or right, it merely makes it my experience.  I don’t put definitives on my experience like “this happened in reality” because when you say something like that, reality really does mean different things to different people.  I will say “this happened to me” because, objectively, it is true.  Something happened to me; we can disagree about what that something is, but something happened to me.  How we attribute that something is up to our interpretation.

That is the root of my faith, the root of my worship of the Gods, and at my core, my Gebo with Them: I experience Them.  The question, then, is do I believe that what I cannot experience is not real?  No, because I have a limited capacity of experience.  I don’t even think I experience my Gods in full, whether I am praying or being possessed by Them.  Yet I experience Them and Their Presence, what I can comprehend of it.  If I could not experience the Gods there would be little point in worshiping Them because all They would be is mental constructs.  A mental exercise.  This same root flows into my work and worship of other spirits, my Ancestor veneration, and any aspect of spirituality I have.  I have faith because I experience my faith as real.  It need not be objectively, mundane-world real.  It affects me in some deep, penetrating way that words fail.  I understand my Gods, my path, the spirits and Ancestors through the filters of my experiences, and what I can grasp, which is why the lore and books otherwise are important as a spring-board until it becomes an obstacle to understanding.  Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis (PCPG) can help make sense of a lot of what I experience through Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG).

Ultimately my spirituality comes down to my experience, and I have to evaluate it with the tools at hand.  I take comfort in that the Gods Themselves were once known exclusively by experience and the occasional story, and that each person understanding the Gods by their own experience, in our own ways, adds to Their lore, to differing ways of knowing these Gods.  Anyone who experiences the Gods takes a risk, especially when they set the experience of the God by lore and lore alone.  For one reason or another you may experience a side to a Goddess or God that is wholly unlike anything in the texts.  I know I have, and sometimes writing down my experiences has been hard because of fear.  That fear has gotten in the way of experiences, and has to be set aside.  For a long time I did not talk about being Odin’s son.  I thought people would not believe me, that people would say things about me.  I feared judgment, and that may have kept people from believing things about themselves that were true, because sometimes in sharing we find courage.  When I first heard about God/dess-children I felt relief; someone else confirmed my experience as ‘true’.  Now I do talk about being an Odinsson, of working with the Gods, because my fear stifled me when my experience could have given someone else courage to embrace their own.  I think that is part of why I share my spirituality; a lot of people preface their spiritual experiences with “this might sound crazy”.  Sometimes even I do that…but that’s because we are expecting judgment.  I’ve been hurt by judgment; fear of it lead me to develop an uncaring attitude towards others and to puff myself up.  If we can show that there needs to be no harsh judgment, perhaps we can all experience the Gods a bit more fully because our fear isn’t clamping blinders over our eyes, or mufflers over our ears.  I know fear has done that to me.

At the end of the day, I know the Gods, my spirit allies, and my Ancestors are with me.  I know my relationships with Them and the landvaettir are with me, even if I can’t prove it.  Some days having faith is the hardest thing to do because you have to strain to hear, and other days you have to shut up and listen to hard truths.  Other days you have to do things you really would rather not, and others you can experience joy so intense you cry.  All of these things, personal devotion, worship, work, and other experiences of the Gods, spirits, etc. help keep my faith strong.  I see faith as a choice, a decision to believe in the Gods, spirits, and so on each day, to believe They are real and not just mental constructs or a security blanket.  This outlook, this spirituality informs a lot of my life, and to a good extent, directs its path.  It informs my moral compass, my worldview, my conceptions of reality, and where I fit into this world.  It has helped me through the hardest times in my life, and has given me my greatest joys.  My personal spirituality endures because it has endured and grown with me through the years.

Thoughts on My Spirit-Horse Partner and Ehwaz

When I first met my spirit-horse, the one who travels with me through my drum, or who allows me to ride him in spirit, I was intimidated.  I knew that many spiritual traditions had spiritual horses that took them where they needed to go, and that alone made me uneasy.  I didn’t want to ‘gib’ other traditions’ practices.  When Odin introduced us that quickly fell away.  I felt an instant connection to the spirit-horse (he has asked me not to write his name) and he all but swept me onto his back, and away we went.  He made it clear we were to work together as partners, that though I rode him and occasionally directed him, that I had to put my utter trust in him in kind.  It was, at first, quite intimidating.  Over time it has become easier.  Where I once mounted him with worry or low confidence, I now slide on and we go.  Drumming-wise, it only takes a few strums until I am ‘down‘ and we are gone.  It used to take me about fifteen minutes to half an hour to get that far down.  I have only ridden horses on trails in my adult life, so riding through the Worlds at a full gallop took some getting used to.  I can only imagine what the drumming sounded like, as ‘gone’ as I tend to be when that happens.

I’ve read a post by Kenaz Filan, Jalkr TempleKeeper, and Galina Krasskove on Ehwaz and horses today, and that is how I got the push to start this article.  In my own experience,  is the Rune of Fast Travel, a Journey Rune (usually short, though that depends on other Runes that may be around it), speed, virility, and natural grace and power.  My spirit-horse has me use it as a kind of signal, especially if I need to be away from a place quickly.  As a spirit, the Rune seems very horse-like to me, perhaps like a stallion or matriarch of a herd.  It’s a Rune that communicates leadership and confidence as much as it does swiftness, resilience, endurance, and power.

I’d certainly say that my spirit-horse partner has these same qualities, but he has a kind of gentleness or patience about him that I don’t feel as much from the Rune.  I’m thankful for it; he had a timid partner at first, and I’m sure that was frustrating.  I’ve worked with him for almost a year now, and it is amazing to me how far we’ve come in trust, and how many places we’ve gone.  It’s  a powerful partnership, one I’m happy to have.  In his own way, my companion has pushed me to grow.  Before I accepted my work as a shaman, I was very-much a “go-it-alone I need no help” kind of magician; I was very used to just making my own way.  I’ve had to unlearn a lot of that, and see that while I poured on the armor, spiritually speaking, it was a tremendous waste of energy.  If I just trusted my Gods to have my back, or a spiritual friend, I would not have had to be as keyed-up anywhere near as much, and could have focused on the work I needed to.

I wasted a lot of energy watching my butt and doing continuous cleansing work; some of it was needed for the work I did then.  Most of it was because I didn’t ask for Anubis’ help, nor did I ask for a ridealong partner from any of the totem animals I knew, or spirits I worked with.  I didn’t want to inconvenience, but I also did not want to trust that deep.  I liked the working relationship Anubis and I had, as well as the genial brotherhood relationship, but I took care of my own stuff and that was it.  When Anubis eventually pushed me on to work with Odin (I had it in my head I would be working with the Egyptians the rest of my life), I was taken entirely outside of my comfort zones.  I was placed into a magical and spiritual practice where spiritual alliances, such as with my spirit-horse partner, were part of my path and comprised close bonds where trust was paramount.  Where I had once trust my Gods to watch my back for big things, I now entrusted my Gods with the little things.  I once thought my Gods were too big to care about my problems, big or small to me; it turns out most of Them (though some do have that attitude) just wanted me to trust Them enough to let Them into my life.  The same with my spiritual companions.  My spirit-horse companion follows me most anywhere, and my Gods speak with me on a regular basis.  For me, it was allowing that connection to be, whether at first between Odin and myself, or later with my spirit-horse companion and I, that was the challenge.  It was a lot of working through self-doubt, and especially self-esteem issues (i.e. “My Gods have better things to do than listen to me”, or “I don’t want to be an inconvenience to my spirit allies”), something that  has taken dedicated work and opening to the Gods and spirits that I didn’t do four years ago.

In becoming a Northern Tradition shaman, I have realized that, at least in my path and work, this opening is necessary.  Without it the Gods can’t use my body for communicating with people, spirits can’t get their messages across through me, and the magic of the Runes I have come to know, both in knowing them through Hanging on Yggdrasil, and as spiritual beings, would be reduced.  If I were not spiritually open, I would still be seeing the Runes merely as tools.  A large part of my life that I now lead would be shut to me, and my journey as a shaman would have gone nowhere.  That’s what Ehwaz also speaks to me: trust, implacable trust.  If I do not trust my spirit-horse, I could drum for hours and go nowhere.  If I do not trust my Gods, all the prayers in the world will not matter if I give Them nothing to work with.  If I do not trust my friends and family, how can I say I love them?  Inviting spirits and the Gods into my body requires a large deal of trust.  I have to at least trust that Odin, being my patron, will have my back if the spirit or God/dess begins to do something foolish, illegal or immoral.  I have to trust myself, that I can and will go down far enough for the spirit or God/dess to use my body, and trust that my assistants will support me.  I have to trust that when I mount my spirit-horse, that we work together as one, trusting him to carry me where we need to go.  This has taken healing, but it is healing I sorely needed.  So in a way, becoming a shaman and following this path has healed my heart, psyche, and soul.  It has helped to put me into a better place.  Perhaps they were broken so I could come to this path and find that healing.  Either way, I am here.  The growth has been slow, but very-much worth it.

I should have the entry where Odin introduced us up soon.