Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(LATE) Musings Monday: On Shadow Work

The return of the bad cellphone pictures.

Hey internet. Today I'm going to talk about shadow work.

I've tried in vain to write posts for Musings Monday for the past few weeks, but they mostly dissolve into unintelligible wondering about the nature of everything (like everything else I post) so out of the desire to write about something I actually DO know some shit about, I figured why not cover shadow work.

First, no, I do not mean making your shadows work for you. That's kind of an entirely different realm of sorcery I don't feel like getting into right now. None the less.

Shadow Work (Hereby referred to as 'SW') is what I mean when I say you do the hard, behind the scenes messy un-glamorous magic of fixing yourself and working consciously on things you want to fix. Shadow Work is an ongoing process, and it probably will be past the point at which you depart this life. It's also about 95 % psychology and not a lot of spell or wand waving.

SW is kind of a big fucking deal in (my brand of) Shamanism, simply because the old adage of you can't heal others until you heal yourself is absolutely true. Some of you may have read my When Rituals Go To Hell Post. The reason that ritual failed was I was in no position, personally, to be able to lead others on something like that. One might reference the Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow) from psychology which is pictured below.

Basically, you can't really think about doing rituals to get close to the 'Divine' when you're starving and you don't really know where your next meal is coming from because you're unemployed in your mundane life. You can try, but your focus is inevitably going to stray because you are not meeting your basic needs, and furthermore Deity would probably understand if you're fucking dying that you can't exactly lead rites for them at that moment.

You might recognize this as the chakra system re-invented. You can't fix chakra issues, usually, from the top down. The Root chakra blockages have to be cleared first before one can move on to more intellectual things. This is where the Shadow Work comes in.

SW is you taking a giant broom to the gnarly innards of your emotional and spiritual self. SW is not the same thing as general cleansing, however. The difference is SW in my practice is much more targeted. You are not clearing outside energies from yourself; you are clearing nasty shit that you yourself have put in your own way that you are consciously aware of and feel the need to change. It's also decidedly more difficult and demands more, psychologically, than cleaning our your auric blocks.

For instance, most of us carry around baggage in the form of energy and mental blocks and emotional shit from past relationships, even if they ended on a good note. Once we have cleared ourselves and our homes of the other person's energy, a lot of times we still end up with blocks. The difference is you're now left with the nasty business of facing yourself and your own mistakes, and letting the person go within your own mind and heart.

We blame ourselves for a lot of shit, as humans. Shadow Work is the difficult, almost insane proposition that we sit down and routinely forgive ourselves and attempt to improve our personalities on a semi-regular basis. It's the process of sitting down and really working through a situation and learning from our mistakes so we don't make them again. It's the process of telling yourself, Hey man, so this totally horrible thing happened and it was our fault, but it's doing us no good pretending it didn't happen, so let's handle it.

Shadow Work doesn't have to be for major things. Some of us walk around with a lot of anger and a tendency to snap, and maybe we want to seek to change that. So we go digging around in our own souls to try and puzzle out why we're so angry with this person, or about that, and then we seek to make our energetic peace with the situation by calling it up on purpose. (Sometimes we have to call up our own demons in order to send them a proper goodbye.)

SW is difficult, and painful, and a lot of times pretty messy. But it's very, very necessary.

Humans like to avoid pain whenever possible. We're hard wired to think that way, so a lot of times our reaction is to bury painful and nasty things and let the emotions die there. Shadow Work means you consciously know there's a fresh scab over that emotional wound you have just sustained, and purposefully ripping the thing off.

Shadow Work asks you to re-live and experience every memory you had of that person, (to stay with the relationship metaphor) to re-live every good day and every bad day. It asks you to remember them, how they felt to you and with you, their smell, the clothes they wore and the places you went together. It asks you to purposefully dig up all of the memories you wish you didn't have anymore, and sit there and just live through them, again and again, until you trigger the release.

Shadow Work is not a mystic process. It's you, with yourself, sitting on the floor and just thinking, feeling, experiencing the past for a moment instead of letting it die. It forces you to give new life and energy to painful, potentially horrible things you would rather never think of again. It's you, sobbing uncontrollably and rocking on the floor with photos from the past everywhere.

But it's beautiful. You find that in the aftermath, after you've stopped shaking or clawing at the floor, something in you is calm now. You don't realize the weight you carry until you seek to release it. Somehow it makes it so much easier than it was before to reconcile with the situation. Shadow Work can take a long time, because once you really begin to dig, to focus on one aspect you want to change, you can find strings of events all linked together screaming for you to release them. It can take minutes or hours. The state one ends up in is rather like a trance state; an ecstatic state born of pain and emotion and loss.

After SW, it's so much easier to leave a situation behind. No, not bury it. It's more of a mutual nod, a tip of the hat, and a parting on equal footing. If you take nothing else from magical practice, at least take shadow work. There is probably no one more valuable thing for a person to do than this.

Shadow Work has a unique inside-out method of transformation. You find you've made your peace on the soul level, and it radiates out from there. Suddenly you don't realize you haven't thought about the person in 3 months. Suddenly you realize you're not angry at your family member anymore. It works slowly, under the radar, so by the time you realize it worked you're moved on entirely.

I will also say I think there is an appropriate time to do Shadow Work for a situation. For me it has consistently been a couple months to a year after the situation. Remember the hierarchy of needs? If your present needs are not being met, you are not stable enough to attempt Shadow working. You have to be fairly stable in your own life and your relationships with others and Spirit to gain from this practice. It takes a strength of character to face your own demons and actually gain from transforming them, and not having that strength immediately is not a weakness. It's just not having the stability yet to do the work. Sometimes you need to be far enough away from a situation to have the perspective to perform the Work without sustaining more emotional damage or becoming stuck in a bad mindset, and one needs to be respectful of themselves in this situation. Be honest with yourself when considering Shadow Work.

So if you want to try this--really think about something you want to change about yourself. Nothing physical like weight loss; shadow work is very intellectual and emotional. Start with something deeper, like anger or assumptions. Then call upon all the memories you have of when you've snapped or been an asshole to people. You might feel embarrassed, ashamed. You may want to stop, but don't. Shadow Work demands you push yourself to the limit and over it, and that's when the break and release happens. When you think you can't take anymore of the memories or else you'll start screaming, you do, and then the self breaks wide open and we become reborn as something better than we were.

Shadow Work is not easy. But by definition it shouldn't be.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Poisons Post: Daphne & Deathcaps

Daphne Mezereum

Scientific Name: Daphne Mezereum
Folk/Common Names: Lady Laurel, Spurge Laurel
Toxin Type: Mezerein (Skin burning resign) and Daphnin (Glycoside) Has also been said to be a co-carcinogenic.
Where is the toxin: Sap in the whole bark and the berries.
Toxicity Level: Even chewing a single berry can intensely burn the mouth, throat, and any mucous membranes it comes in contact with.

Symptoms: Small doses can cause nausea, vomiting and digestive tract issues. Larger doses cause convulsions, sight problems, and severe damage to the digestive tract. Fatal doses can put the victim into a coma in which death can ensue.

Interesting Fact: Daphne actually has no relation to true laurels, but humans just liked the sound of the story so the name stuck.

Folk Info: The name Daphne comes from the famous story from Greek mythology.

I found several versions of how Daphne was transformed and by whom, but I personally like the Artemis version the best.

The story briefly is that Apollo in typical asshat fashion decides to offend Cupid, who shoots him with a gold arrows (meaning love) and a lead arrow (meaning hate or disinterest) into Daphne, a nymph. Apollo then ran around trying to rape her (like he does with most womenfolk in the whole of Greece, seriously) and Daphne ran from him. Daphne soon became exhausted from running and beseeched the Gods for help. The version I like best is that, since Daphne was a dedicant of Artemis, the virginal Goddess, she turned Daphne into a laurel so Apollo could never get to her.

The other version is her father, the river god Peneus, saves her from Apollo by turning her into the Laurel. Either way a chick ends up as a tree.

BOTTOM LINE: Yeah I probably wouldn't eat those berries, at the very least you'll be in extreme stomach pain for days.

Deathcap Mushrooms

Scientific Name: Amanita Phalloides
Folk/Common Names: Deathcaps
Toxin Type: Alpha-Amanitin
Toxicity Level: Possibly the most toxic of all the Amanita species. Roughly 1/2 a cap can easily kill a human.

Symptoms: The fact that there is usually a significant delay between eating the mushroom and the appearance of external symptoms makes this mushroom a particularly deadly poison. Most people don't realize their internal organs are being destroyed until far past the point of too late. The first symptoms mimic the stomach flu and then they appear to resolve, so most victims assume they're fine. Following that, severe damage to the internal organs commences, including complete and utter destruction of the liver, seizures, cranial pressure, convulsions, and potential heart poisoning. Complications of this usually cause death, but survivors usually need liver transplants. Luckily if caught soon enough massive doses of penicillin have a fair chance of saving the victim.

Interesting Fact: Death Caps are the single most deadly mushroom in the world; it's responsible for the most poisoning amongst humans of any mushroom. This is largely because it resembles several edible mushrooms and is said to taste pleasant.

Folk Info: Has been rumored to have been used in the deaths of famous figures throughout history, by mistake or assassination. (Such as Charles IV and Emperor Claudius)

BOTTOM LINE: If you eat this it seems like you're in the market for a new liver if you live.

Disclaimer: Info is not evaluated by the FDA, yadda yadda, and please don't eat poison or handle it without some sort of training or a good herbalist (although both would be best!). Thanks.


Monday, February 20, 2012

In Lieu of Musings Monday: Go Read This

In lieu of my musings monday which was going to be about transphobia and the whole Z issue, please go read my partner in crime's blog instead. She says it better than I could since she has personal experience to work from.

Thank thee.

Also, this says it well too.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

PBP 05: Duality (And Why I Don't Buy It)

(Image from breaking the spiders web)

So this week I decided to tackle the nice topic of duality, and systematically explain why I don't buy it via tying it into sexism and a lotta isms.

I was going to write about death at first, but then I realized I really don't have enough to say about death yet without tying that into a lot of things. So I guess it's rant time again. (You're used to this by now, humble readers, right?)

I don't buy into duality of any sort. Let's take a basic, common one. Day/Night. One can say day is opposite of night; Night is cold, moon-lit, and star-lit. Day is warm, sun-lit, and bright. Simple enough, right? Sure, I get that. This is where it gets all Aquarian.

But what about dusk? Is dusk day--or night? Sunrise? At what point does day dissolve and night begin? Can you pinpoint me a moment? Isn't it true, then, that I could claim there is a gradient--day to night, completely, in several thousand shades of those words?

Okay, let's take another big one. Life/Death. Opposites, but the same. You can't live without death and death begets life. I think we can (mostly) agree on this.

However...If you're in a vegetative state...are you dead? If you've been in a coma for 6 years, and are on life support...would you consider yourself alive? How about if I told you the same coma-patient is living a full, intense life on the Astral while their physical body lays around--is that same person dead or alive? Okay, if you're still following, what if I tell you the same coma patient has several soul parts, and some are alive on the astral and some are laying in wait, dormant, and some are for all intents 'dead' and passing through the death realms as we speak. Is this coma patient, as a unit, alive? or dead?

This is why I disbelieve in duality. I think duality infinitely simplifies reality into humanistic, easy to digest concepts. I think the perhaps most well known concept of gendered energy--yin and yang--is utter bullshit.

I ask this: Why is energy supposedly masculine or feminine? Okay, some might say, but that's an allegory for strong/weak, water/fire, slow/fast. My question, then, is...why gender it then? Why apply a duality of male/female? Why are females always weak, or watery, or emotional? Why, by being brash or hardheaded or sexual or firey are we said to exibit 'yang'/male qualities? Why can't they just be...qualities? Why, if a male exibits nurture or empathy or open weakness is he exibiting 'yin' or female qualities? (It goes both ways.)

Some may say, yes, but even a lesbian couple exibits qualities of yin/yang--has nothing to do with genitalia. Okay, I say, then: why apply a gender label AT ALL? Why hold it to a standard of male/female, and then conform two females to the male/female model? Or two males? Or a transgendered person? Or people? By creating a theoretical 'perfect balance' of yin/yang (male/female) aren't you inherently stating that the male/female model is, however covertly, the ideal? And then you're measuring other forms by said ideal?

The problem is the minute you differentiate "male" and "female" energy you are automatically subscribing to a gendered lens, which is implying things socially about what "male" and "female" are and should be. By accepting "strong, outward, fiery" as male and "watery, inward, understanding" as female, and characterizing energy as such, you are already being exclusive, both to those who do not fit those roles at all, to those who transverse those roles. I have no desire or interest in perpetuating gender roles, so I refuse to refer to higher levels of vibrational energy as "male" or "female". It just doesn't add up to me that we should observe the universe through a gendered lens filter, rather than just observing the universe. It's backwards ass scientific methodology.

I understand humans are pretty simple creatures. Our brains are literally hard wired to categorize things into easily understandable different categories so we don't explode/implode with information. But why should we accept that as the truth? Maybe my Zen background is showing but words can never accurately describe anything, let alone gendered words for energetic frequencies.

I'm no stranger to energy. I work with it on a daily basis, I perform Shamanic healing (quite different from reiki, mind you, I'm not certified in such) I've dragged souls back from many places, and I work with loads of crystals and animals and lightbodies. Not once has any other being, or my own sense, differentiated energy into male/female. I don't even know what that means. If male/female is a physical human body thing, why would one assume it would permeate the astral and the high realms? (Where most beings don't have physical bodies, let alone a gender?) Why would humanity assume that energetic patterns conform to a genitalia? The model falls apart when applied to the things I've experienced.

Let me give you some of the words I have to describe energy fields I have felt: strong, watery, fiery, grounding, spikey, radiating, wave-like, sound-like, ripping, painful, peaceful, calming, and chaotic.

Notice the lack of "this rock is female and this rock is male". Maybe it's because I'm a lesbian and therefore by my existence outside of the gendered paradigm I notice these things--but I have no fucking idea what this male/female energy is supposed to be. No idea. I have felt a thousand types of energy from a thousand beings and never have I thought 'WOW THIS ANIMAL FEELS PARTICULARLY FEMALE-ISH TODAY!'

So. Energetic duality, if you ask me, is bullshit. Energy is a thousand things, but dualistic is not one of them. Dualistic implies there are two types, two categories, and they are separate but the same. (I have to assume my Quantum hat here and say if you expect energy to separate into male/female it probably will. Since I make it my job daily to not differentiate anything into male/female, the energy probably responds accordingly.)

One might bring up the food chain and that nothing exists in a vacuum. I study Shamanism. I see the World Web. I see an infinite number of connections from one being to another, and so forth, forever. There is no dualistic relationship; that's simply not describing it accurately. Imagine a thousand intertwined strings, from a million beings. That's more accurate. I'm not saying things exist in a vacuum. Just that instead of two things, I see 2 million things.

For balance to exist, the entire web of everything has to be in balance. There is no male/female strong/weak light/dark good/evil paradigm. There are astral beings, and within that there are Lightbodies, Shamanic realms creatures, various Deities from those realms, various 'Demonic' beings, various humans who live half on the Astral in this life, and a thousand other creatures...

I would argue to promote a simplistic duality is to actually place reality in a vacuum.

You could say I'm arguing semantics, here. But this is partly the reason I realized I was hard polytheist. I can't see two male/female deities as a perfect duality. (Especially not as a lesbian, you understand...for...obvious reasons. There are some ways I simply can't relate to that paradigm.) And frankly, if you ask me I shouldn't have to relate to that ideal of male god/female goddess, if I'm not inclined to. Why should my feelings have to be compromised to fit the male/female ideal? Why shouldn't I invent a new theology, that better fits me? (Uh oh, my Chaos Magickyside is showing...)

The very thought of gendered deity bothers me more than I can state. Spirit often takes on a sex to relate better to humans. I've seen them switch sex as if they change clothes. (I have guides that make a game of it.) Why should anything in the universe, which is not confined to a gendered/sex paradigm, be confined to one by humans? It baffles me. Does Deity perhaps conform to a human gendered expectation (Goddess, God), just so we 'accept' them as they are in appearance, as 'normal'?

Just something to think about.

(Does the water move, or the bridge?)

Feel free to share your thoughts on duality as well, I'd love to hear other opinions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poisons Post: Calotropis & Cowbane


Scientific Name: Calotropis
Folk/Common Names: Dogbane
Toxin Type: Toxic glycosides: calotropin (very dangerous), uscharin and calotoxin
Toxicity Level: The "milk" the plant exudes is a highly corrosive toxin that can burn skin and is particularly bad for the eyes. In higher doses the effects on the heart and body can lead to death.
Where is the Poison: Mostly the milky "sap".

Symptoms: It has been said the ingredients in the latex in the sap can act like "vegetable mercury" when ingested. Calotropin, an isolated toxin in the sap, can cause cardiac arrest and an exhaustive death. In high doses the person suffers uncontrollable convulsions until the heart and lungs fail from exhaustion. If the latex comes in contact with eyes or mucus it can burn right through it and cause excruciating pain.

Interesting Fact: This plant is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicines, to treat everything from ulcers to heart problems.

Folk Info: This plant has strong ties to sun worship in many places, and was used in offerings for various deities. It was offered in garlands of flowers in Vedic times.

The juice of the flower was also used to induce abortion for unwanted pregnancy, and for tanners to better tan hides.

BOTTOM LINE: Should you be worried?
Sounds like a pretty nasty death to me, considering the toxic soup in the sap is considered 6 times more deadly than Strychnine.


Scientific Name: Cicuta Virosa
Folk/Common Names: Cowbane, Water Hemlock
Toxin Type: Cicutoxin (poisonous alcohol)
Toxicity Level: Considered maybe THE most toxic plant found in the United States
Where is the Poison: The entire plant but highly toxic in the root system.

Symptoms: The Cicutoxin specifically targets the central nervous system. The plant literally causes the brain receptors to become overactive and so induces seizues. The cause of death is usually directly derived from the seizures, but can also be from the plant increasing or decreasing heartrate, swelling of the brain, problems in the blood, muscle breakdown, and respiratory failure. The plant can be ingested or just rubbed on the skin for the same toxic effect.

Symptoms can come on in minutes and potentially last for months.

Interesting Fact: I actually found a written account of water hemlock poisoning. The problem is it looks QUITE similar to various edible look-alike plants, so it happens a lot.

On October 5, 1992, a 23-year-old man and his 39-year-old brother were foraging for wild ginseng in the midcoastal Maine woods. The younger man collected several plants growing in a swampy area and took three bites from the root of one plant. His brother took one bite of the same root. Within 30 minutes, the younger man vomited and began to have convulsions; they walked out of the woods, and approximately 30 minutes after the younger man became ill, they were able to telephone for emergency rescue services.

Within 15 minutes of the call, emergency medical personnel arrived and found the younger man unresponsive and cyanotic with mild tachycardia, dilated pupils, and profuse salivation. Severe tonic-clonic seizures occurred and were followed by periods of apnea. He was intubated and transported to a local emergency department. Physicians performed gastric lavage and administered activated charcoal. His cardiac rhythm changed to ventricular fibrillation, and four resuscitative attempts were unsuccessful. He died approximately 3 hours after ingesting the root.

Although the older brother was asymptomatic when he arrived at the emergency department, he was treated prophylactically with gastric lavage and administered activated charcoal. He began to have seizures and exhibit delirium 2 hours after eating the root; he was stabilized and transferred to a tertiary-care center for observation. No additional adverse effects were reported.

The root ingested by the two brothers was identified as water hemlock (Cicuta maculata). In October 1993, postmortem samples of frozen liver tissue, blood, and gastric contents from the man were analyzed by high-pressure liquid chromatography for cicutoxin, a poisonous substance in water hemlock. Cicutoxin, a neurotoxin, was not detected; however, the toxin is labile and may have degraded during storage.

Reported by: K Sweeney, MD, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner; KF Gensheimer, MD, State Epidemiologist, Maine Dept of Human Svcs; J Knowlton-Field, Damariscotta, Maine. RA Smith, Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center, Dept of Veterinary Science, Univ of Kentucky, Lexington. Health Studies Br, Div of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

(From the CDC)

Folk Info: The name Cowbane comes from livestock, specifically cows, having run-ins with the roots of this plant.

BOTTOM LINE: Should you be worried?
Sounds like a pretty horrific death if you ask me.

Disclaimer: Info is not evaluated by the FDA, yadda yadda, and please don't eat poison or handle it without some sort of training or a good herbalist (although both would be best!). Thanks.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I debated writing about this at all but this blog is my way of working things through, and this needs to be worked through.

February 2nd was not just Imbolc for me, (I didn't celebrate because I don't have a relationship with Brigid and Spring does not come in the middle of winter for me) it was my birthday.

It was also the day in which someone I briefly knew took their own life, publicly, on my campus.

There were no warning signs, there was no hesitation. He just walked to campus and did it.

I've been somewhat fortunate in that I haven't had to deal with suicide in my life on a close or frequent basis. This is really the first time I knew someone (however briefly)that unfortunately was driven to the point of taking their own life.

The problem I have is with how my college is handling (read: not handling) the situation properly.

When the suicide occurred, my college sent out an 'alert' to the effect that a male (non-student) had just shot himself on campus, publicly, around the center of campus. No other details were provided.

I would have liked a letter to be sent out, campus-wide, explaining that the campus had lost a former student and our thoughts and prayers are with the family. I would have liked there to be a public acknowledgement of the suicide occuring. I would have liked a letter to be sent out detailing the warning signs of suicide, what to look for, and a list of counseling services or phone numbers for those who may be considering suicide or need help dealing with this person's suicide.

None of the above was provided, and worse, the campus took it a step further.

A small impromptu shrine was set up for the person at the spot where he took his life. Friends and friends of the family laid flowers, candles, and notes at the spot. 2-3 days later the campus removed all trace of his mini shrine, and swept the entire thing under the rug.

It's been like a campus wide cover up. Not a single peep out of them on twitter, facebook, or their website. Not a single email of compassion sent out. The only reason I know anything about the suicide is the STUDENT-RUN newspaper reporting on it. Thankfully there will be a suicide awareness vigil next week (ALSO STUDENT-RUN) and a vigil for the kid today, which I will be attending (AGAIN STUDENT RUN) but the campus's utter silence on the issue is extremely offensive to me.

Pretending a death didn't occur is probably the worst thing you can do for the soul and for the family. People need closure. Dead souls need closure. They receive that through fully acknowledging a death occurred. People need a safe place to put their flowers and their thoughts, at least for a few weeks. Sweeping away a shrine as if it never happened within 3 days is so offensive to the soul and to me I can't adequately express my feelings.

As someone who works with death all the time, I feel it a travesty that my college is pretending this didn't happen. How very offensive. How very victim-shaming. I've heard students joking about the suicide, all over campus. I can't express here how very distressed I am by the situation. The suicide itself and the lack of proper handling by the campus, both.

It feels surreal to know I had talked to that person, he was over my house just last year, he attended my art school, and now he's gone. I would have liked the opportunity to pay my respects, but now that's been dashed by my campus. Instead I'll go to the candlelight vigil tonight and pay my respects there.

Souls and people need a grievance period, and I don't feel the campus is allowing students to grieve. Only one of my teachers even mentioned the suicide at all, and many of my friends don't even know it happened. I am astounded that this is acceptable practice for a soul.

I contacted the soul as best I could and it really seems he was lonely up til the end. I feel like he just wanted somebody to know. And the campus is most definitely trying to cover its own ass.

This kid was the gentlest kid you could ever hope to meet. He was geeky in the best way possible, and a really animated soul. Even if my campus doesn't, I'll remember him.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Musings Monday: When Rituals Go To Hell (And That's Okay)

(From TAP)

No, not literally. Though I have stories about that, too.

Today's Musing is actually not a rant, which is rare for me, I know. Today's Musings is about something I remembered the other day. A ritual I conducted, to be specific.

It was in my Freshman year at my College, and we have this gorgeous spot on campus that's literally a slightly below-ground circle, containing lovely trees, flowers, and walled on 3 sides with walkways in and out. It has little benches and such too. In the center of the circle is a well placed storm drain, which seems a tad too convinient for me, but whatever.

Back in my Young Pagan days (which is only actually 3 years ago, which is scary) I hadn't really developed a path or ideas on Deity or the world to the extent I have now. That is the only defense I have to offer for the next paragraph. In short, I hadn't been involved in Shamanism too much yet, and though I had Many Signs to do so I was being an idiot, and the Spirits let me know. At the time I was more eclectic witchy than anything.

The idea was that I would formulate a Valentine's ritual calling on Aphrodite and utilizing various elements/things sacred to both her and Greek ritual in general. (Washing of hands as a form of purification, lots of flowers, mini processionals, etc) The idea was to plan and conduct this ritual with maybe 6 people (my eclectic working group of pagans, who all lived on Campus) in the dead of night on Valentine's, outdoors, in the circle, and hopefully avoid being gawked at.

Yes, it seems ridiculous to me now, too. But I was hell bent (pun) on doing this thing.

So I wrote up this ritual, I planned all these invocations (in the original greek, too) I bought some roses and prepared ritual vessels to bring water out to the circle.

Everything was good and all, but then, a week beforehand, my Uncle surrendered to his long battle with Colon cancer.

To be short, I was in no shape to conduct a ritual of any sort, let alone a ritual celebrating Love--an emotion which I had no yet felt for another human at the time, celebrating a Goddess I had no real relationship with, utilizing water and candles outside in the dead of winter.

It was probably a recipe for disaster before we even began.

But, like I said, I was dead set on this stupidity. Sometimes we have to be, you know?

I live 45 minutes away from my Campus and I live here during the school year in an apartment. It just so happened I got called away on Valentine's day because my Uncle's funeral was that very day, around 11 AM. I had to spend all day there, then get dropped off back at school around 7 or 8, then conduct this carefully constructed ritual for love that I had made 3 weeks ago.

So I gathered everyone who was ready and we got all the prepurchased goods and candles, and we gave it a good try, despite the fact I had spent all day at the funeral and was really shaken and upset.

We got to the circle, and things immediately went wrong. I stupidly forgot we would be outdoors, so the water for hand washing was fucking FREEZING to the point it was painful, which will jolt anyone out of ritual. Everyone had paper scripts to read for invocations, and nobody could read theirs, and they began blowing away, or people began reading other's lines and it was a general cluster-fuck of terrible. The candles would get lit and blow out within 3 seconds due to wind, and it was really a lost cause. We dropped some roses down the storm drain by accident, and the rest were losing petals as we held them. People's hands froze to the bone due to the wisdom of the water. We had grape juice offerings and they spilled everywhere.

And you know what? Somewhere along the line, we all got the joke and realized this wasn't happening.

And something magic happened, then.

We all began to laugh.

Some of us, including me, laughed so hard we cried. Nothing was going right, but that was OK, because quite frankly all I needed to do that day was laugh. Not conduct some serious Love ritual, but laugh. I had spent all day at a funeral, watching my family bawling, and this was the best thing that absolutely could have happened.

We all gave it up, thanked Eris for her services, and left the circle much lighter than we had entered.

Usually there's a good reason your well planned ritual goes to hell, and sometimes, that's exactly what we need to remind us of the good things.

Friday, February 3, 2012

PBP 04: Core Shamanism, Callings, and Community

My C post is going to be about Core Shamanism, as compared to Shamanism, and why that distinction needs to be made and what Core Shamanism really means for the Shamanic community at large (both Native and non). Notice I don't claim to be an expert on the issues at hand here as I am not an Academic or Ethnographer of any sort, but I like to read what I can.

I realize this may be a pretty special interests topic for those following a Shamanic path, but I think it's important to keep talking about this issues so those in the Pagan community at large can think through them, and so those called to this path are better informed on what that means.

Okay, firstly, what do I mean by Core Shamanism? (And how is it different from "Just Shamanism?")

Core Shamanism is the term coined by Michael Harner, who wrote The Way of the Shaman. You've probably seen it. Looks like the pic above. I myself have read it a few times. In fact, if you've read a book on Shamanism supported or authored by The Center For Shamanic Studies, you're probably dealing with Core Shamanism. (Harner founded the Foundation as well)

Core Shamanism basically proposes that, at some deep unexplained level, all Shamanic systems are the same. The proposition means a Shaman in Siberia and a Shaman in the Eastern US are essentially doing the same things, and so we can remove Shamanism as a practice from its origins and apply it universally as a system for self transformation.

Now let me tell you why the thinking behind that statement is completely wrong.

Shamanism is NOT just a practice you can divorce from the peoples that practiced it. Each Shaman, in his or her community, was acting and reacting in response to their Cosmology. What I mean by that is an Inuit Shaman would be trained and taught to expect to journey through a specific pathway, through the ocean floor and to bypass Sedna the Ocean Queen to get into the land of the dead without harm. The Shaman would not be able to practice his craft without knowing the lore of Sedna, how to appease her by brushing her knots out and all the proper ways to practice. (This is generally why young Shamans were tutored very closely and put through multiple initiations before they could be considered trustworthy to practice correctly.)

(If you want proof of the vast distinctions inherent to ANY spirituality, and not just Shamanic practicioners, look to any comparative religion text, or Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy by Mircea Eliade.)

If we, in America, copied an Inuit Shaman who was singing and chanting for Sedna, we would frankly be getting jack shit out of the experience. Why? For most of us, Sedna is not part of our Cosmology. We would have NO IDEA why the Shaman was doing what he was doing, only that it worked, apparently, so we should just copy it because why not.

Basically, this is what Harner did. He observed (mostly) Native medicine men/women, took their practices without understanding that Practice has everything to do with Cosmology, wrote them up in a book with NO context and published it. (He seems to justify this by claiming he "studied with" Amazonian and Peruvian shamans. I must say I am skeptical of the difference between "studied with" and "studied.") He also made the grand mistake of NOT distinguishing between Native tribes. This is a mistake many authors make, especially around this era (as if Native tribes are some ancient race and no longer alive), and one that frankly irks me because of its blatant ignorance. Native American communities are not, and never were, some monolithic being of people that practiced the same things the same way.

One tribe's medicine man/woman would NOT do the same exact thing as another's. A Shaman in Siberia has access to completely different materials, animals, plants, practices, and Cosmology than a South American Shaman. You can NOT claim, except out of complete ignorance, that both of those Shamans are doing the same thing, because each of those Shamans has a VASTLY different Cosmology and therefore very different ways to interact with their Gods/Spirits.

Are you beginning to see the problem with Core Shamanism? It's essentially blatantly racist, ignorant, and culturally appropriating to claim Shamanism is some monolithic universal system that every culture practiced, because you can't separate Shamanism from its place. To give a more digestible example, most people in the community know the difference between Witchcraft and Wicca, right? Witchcraft does not require a Cosmology (or really, for one to be a Theist at all), most would argue, but Wicca is basically a Cosmology, assuming belief in certain tenets of that faith. Attempting to practice Shamanism without a Cosmology is like practicing Wicca without agreeing to the basic tenets of Wicca, or even knowing or caring about the Wicca-centric deities. Do you see the problem here?

Shamanism is not some strange new age system to be used for self transformation, despite what Core Shamanism books would have you believe. You owe as much service to the Spirits as they do to you. You are in a working partnership, dealing with harsh realities of this earth and this life and the issues it has, guiding the departed, negotiating between Spirits of Place who are being thrown from their homes via deforestation, calming the spirits of animals we slaughter without dignity for food by the millions every day, and simultaneously looking backwards and to the future to see if we even have a chance on this planet anymore. It is not a happy, easily applicable system to our safe, business-centric lives. Will it change you? Inevitably, yes. But it's not to be used as an ends all be all way to get your dream job; it's basically a job you need to attend to, every day, just like your "real" job.

Shamanism is NOT a one-way mirror, either. By being called to this path, you are volunteering your time, energy, and very soul over to the service of the Spirits and your Community. Note your Community does not have to be a physical, living one. Historically it was, and I would argue if you're not aiding your community in some way on this path you're still practicing in a vacuum.

Shamanism was never meant to be practiced in a vacuum. Walking this path will likely end up improving your life, if by the sole virtue you regularly face your darkest habits and insides, but that is NOT the goal of Shamanism. Shamanism exists in THIS world, in THIS earth, in this reality (and several others besides). You cannot pretend environmental issues and widespread animal slaughter and needless abuse/exploitation does not happen and walk this path. Maybe you do know but are called to work with issues other than that. That's a different situation entirely. But you can't bury your head in the sand and pretend humans are not destroying the earth and the creatures upon it, and propose to walk this path with any success.

This is also why not everyone is called to be a Shaman. By NO means is this an easy path. This is not me being arrogant or feeling special that I was called. I am telling you like it is. Shamanism is a demanding, terrifying, wonderful path to walk and there is generally a good reason Spirits call you to this path, and why so few walk this path, comparatively. It's not a walk in the park with the goal of self transformation. The goal, if anything, is worldly transformation and communal guidance and aid. Even that's a stretch, assuming Shamanism has some higher goal in the end. When you take on the Mantle of Shaman, you now come second to a variety of beings who are now under your care. It's like becoming a parent except you don't much get a choice in the matter. Oftentimes you also face an Initiation that is put forth by the Spirits/Deities themselves, and that is not a walk in the park. And Gods help you if you try to ignore the calling, because it usually doesn't end so well.

For those of you who may have been practicing Core Shamanism--knowingly or unknowingly (Many people don't know there is anything besides "Just Shamanism"--and that's not anyone's fault; most books published on the subject today are "new agey" and do not give notice to history and appropriation)--I'm not saying you need to stop that right now. If it works for you, by all means, carry on. But please be conscious of the larger Shamanic community at large and that there are thousands of types of Shamanism. There is no specific "one way". And instead of appropriating from other cultures, why not build our own? Another culture's Cosmology isn't going to do you any good if the place in which you were born and raised has nothing to compare it too. Honor the Spirits in YOUR place, first, and if you're called to this path strive to build it from a personal, direct-from-spirit place. You don't need to appropriate other Native practices to build your own, personal style.

Strive to learn about other types of Shamanism, if for no other reason than it's very helpful to have a context to discuss what you do and why. I don't practice Inuit Shamanism the way a Native of that community would, because my climate is drastically different and I am simply not a member of that community and so don't have that training/allowance. We have completely different worldviews, and I am aware of that. I still study the practice because when Sedna tells me to do things, it's nice to find historical confirmation for that action, but I'm not lifting practices right out of it to try and force it to fit my condition. Be respectful of the cultures Core Shamanism is combining and making assumptions about. You can't just take a class and get certified in Shamanism. It doesn't work that way, and furthermore who supposedly has the authority to declare ANYONE a Shaman??? (Besides the spirits, if you ask me.) Especially a random guy from the US.

Shamanism is not a system of weekend classes, not something you can pick up in a few hours and dabble in. If you're Called, you know it, and I can tell you with certainty your entire worldview and life will change, even to a small extent, to accommodate your new responsibilities. But at the same time, the Work is rewarding. It fills some void in those of us who can't sleep at night in this world, or those of us who need to do something intangible to restore some of the balance humanity constantly throws off.

Unfortunately, the "good" solid academic texts on Shamanism are often out of print by now, so it's no wonder Core shamanism is everywhere. One really has to know what to look for to find some legitimate scholarship on the issue. I don't claim to be an expert on the topic at all, but I've included some links I find helpful.

Further Reading:

Lupa, one of my favorite Pagan/Shamanist authors, talks EXTENSIVELY about appropriation, racism, and core shamanism. You can find her words at Therioshamanism. She is also about practicing what she preaches in terms of environmentalism and counseling.

Here are some resources on Shamanism (academic):

Sacred Texts Shamanism Archive

The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan

Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon

Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing

Just a book I enjoyed (non Pagan, but interesting in terms of psychology)

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Mircea Eliade's book again: (I love this book)

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy