Pass this far and wide, folks. Share it with anyone whom you think might be interested and get the word out there.
We are only a few days away from the start of the DC40 initiative. Therefore, to combat this blatant attack on religious freedom, my colleague and friend Ukumbwa Sauti and I have started the Turtle Island 42 Initiative. Running two days longer, this initiative is a daily reminder to honor Turtle Island, the land that became called America, the land upon which we now live. Pass it on far and wide. We'll be making daily updates starting Oct. 2
Pass this far and wide, folks. Share it with anyone whom you think might be interested and get the word out there.
I was recently asked why I post so many non-religious links on my site. Well, folks, it’s my very strong belief that if your religion, if your connection to the ancestors and Holy Powers doesn’t push you to become aware of and engaged with the deep sickness of our world then something is very, very wrong. If we’re not being pushed to work for change then something is amiss; because in the end, it isn’t all about us.
So on that note, here are a few links of interest. None of them are religious and none of them are easy viewing. Do the unexpected: challenge yourselves.
First up are two links, an article and an excerpt from a film dealing with the attempted American genocide of Native cultures. The laws allowing the government to randomly remove Native children from their parents and condemn them to boarding schools that were little more than prison camps, or sell them into white adoption existed until the nineteen seventies. That is my generation. Had I been born to a Native family, one of these stories could have been mine. Here’s an article about the schools and an upcoming project http://metrotimes.com/news/chain-of-sorrow-1.1206358 and here is a clip from a movie already available on amazon.com http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDshQTBh5d4&feature=share.
Moving away from what our government did in the past to what it’s doing now, here’s a movie (it’s over an hour long but worth watching) on American propaganda and you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voel5NwIKpI&feature=player_embedded
For those readers who don’t think that we have propaganda in this country, think again: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150297287072282.331872.680962281 and http://www.politicususa.com/en/moore-occupy-wall-street-countdown or perhaps our most egregious example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOQqhvplwdY/. This last link is a brilliant mini-documentary by some very, very brave and socially aware filmmakers. Bravi.
My House held its last open ancestor ritual this past Saturday afternoon. This is something that we’ve been doing for the past year, every other month. While most of my House functions aren’t generally open to the public, ancestor rituals are different and anyone and everyone is welcome to attend. We had three new people at this particular ritual and everyone seems to have gotten something from it. The picture above (taken unfortunately on my cell phone), is of the altar a couple of hours after the ritual.
Preparations began early Saturday morning. I cleansed the space ritually and set up the altar. It’s a large altar, on the floor and part of ritual set up means divesting my household ancestor shrines of photos, various spirit-pots, and ancestral tokens. That can take quite awhile. Of course folks attending are also invited to put images or objects on the altar to represent their dead as well. I also made offerings to the land spirits outside and to the local mountain spirit. Then I set out large bowls to contain whatever offerings might be given during the ritual.
As always, once everyone had gathered, we began the ritual itself by making offerings to several of our Gods, that They might help open the roads of communication between us and our dead. Then we poured out a bottle of beer to the house-vaettir. My colleague L. sang a praise song to her Taino ancestors and I galdred a warrior-prayer of which our collective dead seem to approve. After this, we hailed our collective ancestors and spoke separate prayers to our military dead, the dead of the deaf community, the transgendered dead, Native dead, children killed by violence, and all those executed unjustly due to racism. With the exception of the songs, all of these prayers were extempore. Then, we took turns honoring individual ancestors by pouring out offerings of juices or alcohol, laying out food or tobacco offerings, and telling their stories.
The whole ritual took about two hours and we concluded with an extended litany of the dead that included names of poets, wordsmiths, generals, statesmen, revolutionaries, and many, many men and women who laid down their lives to change their world. It was an odd and unusual list but, the night before every major ancestor ritual, I and L. sit down and talk to our dead, pray, meditate and do our best to discern what they might want for the ritual to follow, which is after all, a time and a place for them. They indicated they wanted such a litany so I based it on a similar Litany that I had done during an interfaith service not too long ago. After the ritual, we left the altar alone for the ancestors to enjoy and spent some time chatting and debriefing and then all went out for lunch.
The next ancestor celebration will be at the end of October: a Day of the Dead party (a little early granted, but Day of the Dead falls mid-weak this year).
May our collective ancestors always be hailed.
The following is a little article that I wrote for a group of seminary students who were learning to pray with people, in ritual, in chaplaincy work, one-on-one in crisis settings. The subject of prayer and its purpose has been coming up a lot in conversations with my private students too so I thought that some of you might find this useful. Keep in mind it was written for interfaith seminarians who will quite often be working as interfaith ministers with people outside of their own faith traditions.
On Prayer and Praying with People
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you cannot pray with others effectively if you do not have a prayer practice yourself. Prayer is a way of preparing yourself for the actual realities of ministry. It is the main and hopefully ongoing locus through which you nourish your own relationship with the Divine. Moreover, prayer is the spiritual umbilicus that nourishes us and brings us through our own times of doubt and struggle. It is that which helps us to be authentic, vibrant, and deeply engaged as ministers in our work and enables us to be clean conduits for the Holy. Prayer is the means by which we connect and remain connected and that is not only fundamental but crucial.
Over the years I have seen far too many ministers without any type of personal devotional practice. They have no direct connection to the Holy and they are usually not very effective. I have even seen harm done, all stemming from lack of spiritual connection. If we use the metaphor of a phone call, to speak of one’s call to the vocation of ministry, I have seen far too many people who have no idea Who was on the other end of the line, Who actually made the call. This is very troubling. It’s troubling because ministry is just that: a vocation. Vocation comes from the Latin word vocare: to call or be called. It implies a receptivity to the Divine, an ongoing conversation, a willingness to experience and engage with the Holy beyond the norm. It is not and should not be the starting point for one’s spiritual life. That starting point, if one is very, very lucky, should begin with prayer, and prayer is the thing that carries each and every one of us through.
Prayer isn’t something static either. It isn’t something boringly repetitive and flat. Nor is it just asking for things. It is a richly nuanced, ongoing conversation with the Divine. A conversation. One of the worst wounds that modernity has inflicted upon us as a people is the belief that the Gods no longer talk directly to us, that we can no longer have direct personal encounters. Yes, we can. Moreover, I believe that this is something we should prepare ourselves for and seek out with all our hearts all the more so because we are ministers.
Why? When you pray with other people, quite often you will be praying with people who are in crisis, in pain, recovering from trauma, grief, or a thousand other human hurts. You will be praying with people who are confused and hurting, maybe even angry. Even for people with ongoing prayer practice there are fallow times. St. John the Divine knew this and wrote about it in his seminal “The Dark Night of the Soul.” If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. That is the ground you will walk, sometimes yourself and sometimes as a guide for your clients. People will come to you because they are not able to connect themselves. They will come to you because to them, you represent the Gods. Think about that.
That is something that should terrify each and every one of us. Because of the weight of the word ‘minister,’ you will at times encounter people who (whether they realize it or not) invest you with a terrible authority. That puts the power to do tremendous harm in your hands. Whatever you say may unconsciously be interpreted as a judgment coming from God(s). So it behooves us each to keep our “signal clarity,” our clear sense of our own connection to the Holy open and clean.
When praying with people, I would give the following advice:
First, spend some time before you engage with the person praying by yourself. Ask your God or Gods to pour His, Her, Their wisdom through you. Stay open to that as you meet and pray with your client.
Keep yourself out of the equation. Keep your ego out of it. This is not about you. Any issues that arise in you during the course of your ritual work, prayer work with others, or active work as ministers should be tabled without fuss until you are able to either seek out your own quiet time in prayer, or seek out your own elders, teachers, mentors, or supervisors. A minister who lacks that emotional continence should not be working with others. Your clients are not there after all to minister to you, and your emotional baggage should not become the focus of the rite. It may seem odd that I mention this, but believe it or not, I have seen a lot of this in my time! I mention it here as a caution. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t allow yourself to laugh or cry…sometimes it can be very helpful for the client to see you paying witness to their joy or pain. But it should never, ever be about you.
Now we come to the hardest thing of all. Every single one of us has a framework, a lens through which we interpret the world. All of our lenses are different. For the majority of people, their lens will be deeply impacted by the religion and society in which they were raised. It is crucial, absolutely crucial that you become aware of your filter. There cannot be a ‘default’ setting when you engage with others in ritual or in prayer. Your framework is not an object truth. That is terribly difficult for just about everyone and it is the thing that is almost never addressed in interfaith work. You must confront how invested you are in the normative ‘rightness’ of your framework as objective. Interfaith work, at the very least, means learning to understand and engage with other peoples’ frameworks respectfully. It does not mean expecting others to fit themselves into your framework so that you are more comfortable. It does not mean expecting that they alter their framework to suit yours, or that they become part of your framework. The real challenge of interfaith work lies in this: Do you want to minister to people or to your own framework? Do you want to lift others up or do you want to silence them so they don’t challenge your paradigm and possibly make you uncomfortable? Can you step out of your own paradigm enough to meet them half way? What kind of minister do you want to be? It’s a question you may find yourselves returning to again and again and again.
Finally, please keep in mind that no matter what your intentions are, praying for people without their permission can be construed as coercive and psychic and/or spiritual assault. This is something that you will need to wrestle with as you develop your own code of Ethics. I really don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule here. Again, like so much of what we do, it’s something to keep in mind and for which we will each have to do our own discernment. I personally think it’s always better to get permission from the client him or herself.
In the end, it all comes back to prayer being a crucial part of spiritual wholeness. When you pray with people, you are helping them move one step closer to that desired healing and wholeness. Be humble, be thankful, and when you can, take joy in the beauty of your calling because it really is a magnificent thing.
Well, it’s time for another roundup of Links. I think I have some good stuff for you this week too.
First, the Autumnal Equinox edition of Eternal Haunted Summer is now available here: http://eternalhauntedsummer.com/issues/autumn-equinox-2011/. This is an online magazine edited by Rebecca Buchanan, a talented author in her own right and the current editor in chief (if I’m not mistaken) of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The journal is pan-Pagan or pan-polytheist however, and this issue has articles on things Hindu, Celtic, Hellenic and more. Check it out, folks.
I was recently reminded of an interesting article on polytheism and cultural appropriation that went up last year. It raises some really good points for those of us not living on our ancestral soils: http://thehouseofvines.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/local-focus-polytheism-and-cultural-appropriation/
The Catholic Arch-bishop of NY sent a letter to president Obama whining that LGBTQ equality erodes religious liberty. Someone needs to tell some Christians that hate, bigotry, discrimination, and homophobia are not Christian virtues. Someone also needs to drive home to people like this that, granting equal rights to a minority is not an infringement upon anyone else’s rights. I see this all the time with evangelicals and fundamentalists: the moment they’re not allowed to preach their hate, the moment they’re not allowed to proselytize or harass is the moment they start crying harassment themselves. Grow the f*ck up, people: http://www.irishcentral.com/story/ent/manhattan_diary/archbishop-timothy-dolans-gay-bashing-letter-to-president-obama-130346308.html
Here’s an article about marriage, polygamy, polyamory and the law. Regardless of where you stand on all of this, the article raises some very good questions: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/07/12/kody_brown_of_sister_wives_is_challenging_utah_polygamy_law.html?fb_ref=sm_fb_like_blogpost&fb_source=home_multiline
Finally, I want to share with you four videos that a colleague turned me onto last weekend. They’re amazing. Each video includes clips from science programs and documentaries set to music, which sounds insipid until you watch them. They’re a magnificent and glorious celebration of creation.
Worth watching, I think, especially as two of the three primary republican candidates today believe neither in science nor in evolution. On that note: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-morford/how-to-make-a-creationist_b_972687.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false
And finally, a reminder that through October, all proceeds of any of my Asphodel Press books will be donated to The Wounded Warrior Project. So if you’ve been waiting to buy one of my devotionals, now’s the time to do it. I encourage folks to take a look at the Wounded Warrior Project anyway, even if you don’t’ want any of my books and consider donating. They’re doing some amazing (and amazing non-sectarian) work. http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
In light of the recent article on http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2011/09/the-asatru-folk-assembly-and-white-nationalism.html, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions regarding Heathenry, Ancestor Veneration, and Racism. Let me start out by pointing out that these are three very different things.
Heathenry is the umbrella term for a body of religions that focus on restoring the pre-Christian practices and beliefs of Northern –the Germanic and Scandinavian parts of—Europe.
Ancestor veneration is a fundamental spiritual practice of nearly every engaged, indigenous faith including Heathenry. It involves honoring those who came before us and who paved the way for our lives today.
Racism is a vile belief that one race is better than another, that peoples’ capacities and talents are determined by their race, and that some races are more deserving of rights than others. Racism is total, unadulterated bullshit.
Could I be any clearer?
That one engages with one’s ancestors does not mean that one is racist. Everyone has ancestors. Everyone, everywhere has ancestors. We should all be honoring them in some way. It doesn’t matter where they came from (save that what foods and offerings one gives to them might be influenced by their countries and cultures of origin).
I will not deny that there is a percentage of Heathens who are racist. I think that there is a percentage of Americans who are racist and we’ve just inherited our fair share within the religion. This appalls me and I, like most decent Heathens, do my best to counter this and educate wherever I can. There is nothing within Heathen cosmology and lore to encourage any type of racism or white power crap. Our ancestors intermarried, traveled, traded, and were remarkably uncaring when it came to a person’s race. Our Gods certainly show no compunction about the issue either. There are not any surviving tales from the lore that show evidence of racial discrimination. For a religion obsessed as it is with lore (to its detriment I might add), you’d think these people would take note.
There are ignorant people everywhere. But those Heathens who espouse racism (and I would like to believe that they are few and far between) represent Heathenry about as accurately and well as the DC40 nut-cases represent Christianity…that is, not at all.
I recommend Kenaz Filan’s article on Race, Tribe, Family, and Clan for further reading: http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/2011/09/race-tribe-family-clan-difference.html.
The following link makes me, even on second and third reading, so incredibly livid and so utterly disgusted that I hardly know where to begin. It concerns the Military’s “Spiritual Fitness Test” and our brave men and women being subjected to the corrosive poison of evangelicalism and fundamentalist proselytizing. How much is bloody well enough? This is yet one more example of the disrespect and damage inherent in monotheism. Why are our military folk being exposed to this? I’m rapidly coming to the point that I fear violent opposition to this harassment is the only way it’s ever going to end. Anyway, read and decide for yourselves: http://rockbeyondbelief.com/2011/01/18/spiritually-unfit-soldiers-forced-to-see-chaplains-to-get-born-again/.
Here’s another link about the same horseshit: http://rockbeyondbelief.com/2011/09/03/millions-of-taxpayer-dollars-used-to-convert-soldiers-and-their-children-to-christianity/
Even more stupidity: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/09/memphis_teacher.php
And just to prove that we’re not the only bullies out there: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/rep-joe-walsh-palestinian-statehood-israel-west-bank_n_970793.html
On a hopeful note, thousands march for religious tolerance in rio: http://www.brecorder.com/world/south-america/28349.html#.TnfoRw7HewE.facebook
Here’s something entirely different from the above: an article on the unexpected aspects of being an animist by P. Sufenus Lupus: http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/its-so-hard-to-say-goodbye-to-old-shoes/
And to end on something amusing, this one is for all the diviners out there: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2372#comic
Now I’m done. There are days, weeks, and even months where reading the news almost isn’t worth the rage and disgust it evokes. Today was certainly one of those days.
I'm going to repost my Mabon/Autumn Equinox article from last year. It's been a crazy couple of weeks, even for me and I like being busy! So i haven't had a chance to write a new Mabon meditation and truth be told, I think my insights and focus for this partiuclar ho
I adore this time of year. There’s a crispness in the air, the herald of colder, darker things to come. The leaves are just beginning to change into what, in my region of the US, will soon become a riotous panoply of color. I live in the belly of the mountains, in the Hudson River Valley and fall is something to be celebrated here for its beauty alone. It’s as if the lines of varied color show, for a few brief weeks, the very and varied musculature of the mountains, rippling, stretching and preparing for the long sleep of winter. It’s an awe-inspiring sight.
Of course I would celebrate Autumn anyway. I’ve never been a summer person and I greet the cooling days with immense joy. They bring me vitality, a renewed sense of purpose, and the feeling of an immense burden being lifted (i.e. the paralyzing heat of the summer!). Fall provides a feast for the senses: the smell of burning leaves, the sweet chill of cooling nights, the spice of Thanksgiving-time sweets, the rich tapestry of color inherent in the trees and harvest vegetables, and above all the transformation of nature’s green into the reds, golds, oranges, siennas, and browns of autumn. What a glorious relief! What a joyous sight! Moreover, these seasonal changes remind me that we’re rapidly passing out of the time of Harvest and moving instead into the time of internal reflection and quiet that can, ideally, be part of Winter. That is no small thing to honor.
With the feast of Mabon, the fall Equinox, we acknowledge the balance of light and dark, life and death, growth and rot. We honor all those things that enable our world to grow and restore itself. On this holy tide, we hail the hunter and the hunted, the predator and the prey, the plough and the scythe, the blessings of growth and of decay. We honor our resources, and the frugality and careful planning of every ancestor whose careful household management got their families safely through the cold constraints of winter. Mabon is a time of remembrance and of culling away, of honoring what we have, what we need, but also what we can provide to others. It is a time to look clearly at where we are weak in spirit, where we are strong, and where we stand somewhere in between, a time to take stock of our portion of gratitude and blessings for the coming season.
This is the season of the Hunter, who takes the old, the weak, the infirm. It is a season preceding those dark nights before Yule when the Wild Hunt is said to ride. It reminds us that the holy walks hand in hand with terror. The message of Mabon, when the land begins to wither, to hoard its resources, to slow the rhythms of its growth down, is that we too must, at some point in our lives slow down, cast off those things that are brittle, withered, and weary; we too much look within, because for us also, physically, spiritually, emotionally there are cycles that we have no choice but to obey and within those cycles may lie both terror and beauty, gain and loss. Within those cycles, we prepare ourselves for both the holy and the terror that lies within.
Contemplation on the rhythms of the seasons, the turning of summer into fall, shows us that just as the earth has its temporary fallow periods, so too we may sometimes enter into periods where our faith seems to lie fallow; but if we do the necessary work, if we engage mindfully in right action, if we do not let loss and pain, or joy and celebration pull us too far astray, if we work hard to maintain -- to the best of our ability-- right relationships with ourselves, our ancestors, the Holy Powers, and the world at large, such fallowness can blossom into a rich and worthy harvest.
Tilling the hard and rocky soil of one’s own soul, ploughing deep furrows into which one can plant the seeds of faith, nurturing that faith, waiting out those painful fallow periods for those carefully planted seeds to grow is the hardest thing we will ever do. So many of us have been taught that faith is its own self-contained sphere, that it is for Sundays, or ritual days, or those times when we specifically set out to say a prayer and make an offering, that anything else is for mystics and those not really connected to the regular, mundane world. In reality, faith is very much an every day thing. It’s an awareness, a way of being in the world, of relating to the Holy Powers (Gods, ancestors, vaettir all), our friends and families in a very specific and very mindful way. It’s the lens through which we interact with the world and most of all with ourselves and everything that we are striving to create and build for ourselves and our future. Sometimes we have to work very hard to keep that lens in focus because faith isn’t just for the occasional ritual, or holy tide; it’s an every day, every moment thing even in the midst of the most tumultuous change or wrenching emotions. Life is challenging after all, and faith all the more so.
One of the most painful but also the most necessary ways of keeping faith vital, vibrant, and strong is going into our own darkness, dancing with our own shadow, fighting with our own demons. Through the blessings of the Hunter and His prey, we are invited to engage in the powerful process of self-evaluation and exploration. We are offered a key, a way to walk through that most terrifying of doorways. We are offered a knife, a cleansing, flensing blade whereby we may look within and slowly, painfully cut away those brittle masks, external distractions, and false sentimentalities that prevent us from engaging in any truly meaningful way not only with our Gods but with ourselves and each other as well. We are offered a chance to put aside the self-absorption and pride that so often keeps us from developing as whole beings. We must be for ourselves both predator and prey. We are charged to seek these things out within the complex labyrinths of our souls so that there will be room for the grace of awareness to flow. This is the sacred Hunt with which we can all engage.
What are the skills necessary to a good Hunter? The hunt demands patience, keen vision, and solitude. So too, does faith, at least sometimes. It demands efficient preparation and skill hard won through much practice. So too, does faith. In the end, a good hunter brings his or her bounty back to share with community and kin. That’s what faith is about too. Let the good Hunter be our model as the wyrd of our lives unfolds before us. Let His skills, become ours.
What about the prey? Efficient prey is fleet of foot, it knows it must traverse dangerous ground swiftly and well to sustain its life. It knows it cannot stop until, or if, by the power of the predator it is brought down. Then, and only then, does it yield and cease its flight. So too must we seek out the integrity of our souls with the fierce survival instinct of an animal engaged in this primal dance. So too should we yield ourselves only to the final blow of our own divinely inspired hunt for from that submission, the grace of spiritual power grows.
Mabon marks a time of transition. The potential hunger of winter lurks just around the corner, if we are not careful, if we are not lucky, if we do not do the necessary work. The grace inherent in the harvest is that we’re given the opportunity to evaluate and prepare for that hunger, and the same holds true for the hungers of our hearts and souls. Hail to the Hunter and Hail to the Prey. Hail to the terror and hail to the season’s rejoicing. Hail to the coming darkness of Winter: the winter without, and all the little winters within, because Mabon tells us that from the darkness new blessings can flow.
As promised, here is part 2 of Sarenth’s article on Harner “shamanism.” Enjoy, folks. --Galina
On Harner ‘Shamanism” Part II
8) Interacting with the spirits, using a drum, and other accoutrements of many shamanic practices does not make you a shaman.
The spirits and/or Gods make you a shaman. Collecting paraphernalia does not make a person a shaman, nor does using entheogens, nor does working through every book and workshop available to you. Only the Gods and/or spirits can give you this path. It is something that you are given or put through, something that you suffer through and may be saved through, but it is not something you can simply claim with any amount of honesty unless the Gods and/or spirits have given you the right to. Perhaps the 'spiritual technology' is available to everyone, but anyone can try to pilot a boat; a very few can do so in gale force winds and choppy waters.
9) The Gods, Ancestors, spirits, etc., are not just thoughts in your head.
If you cannot treat the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as real, then you are playacting, or bullshitting yourself. I cannot say this any other way. I don't know any diplomatic way to put this; I have tried in so many instances, but it comes down to you needing to have a basic belief that what you are dealing with is, in and of itself, REAL. I am not speaking to validity of one spiritual outlook to another. What I am speaking to, is treating the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as if they are thoughtforms or mental projections. If you are calling yourself a shaman and are treating the Beings you interact with in this way, you either need a hard reset in your thinking or to stop calling yourself a shaman. The role of a shaman requires regular contact with these Beings, and that They be treated as real, and are respected, not treated as some figment of the imagination or projection of the inner self.
If you are a shaman then you are being called to not only interact with these Beings, but to perhaps interact on someone's behalf with Them. What do they need you for if all these Beings are, is mental projections? Why come to you when there are psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals? Why bother learning to do soul retrieval if it doesn't really involve the soul, but just some part of a person's psyche and that's it? If there is no spiritual component to it and you're just doing a trussed-up form of psychology without a license then be honest about it, and don't call yourself a shaman. While I feel that understanding psychology IS of benefit to a shaman and that it is another tool in the toolkit, if you are merely taking the road of a shaman as a mental exercise or completely in-the-head, then you are completely missing the point. This journey is spiritual, and ongoing in each part of a shaman's life. The Gods, the spirits, the Ancestors are, in some way, shape, or form are real, and have an impact on this reality even if we don't always see it. This comes back to something I touched on earlier: If you strip away cosmology from your shamanic path you are wandering without a map. If you strip away or don't even engage the belief that any of this is truly real, you're wandering a path blind, deaf, and without sensation.
I am finding more of Harner's students indulging in a kind of half-assed approach, in which one can treat these Beings as thoughtforms or self-projection, the spirit world as analogous to one's inner world, and even one's path as just something they can put down when it becomes inconvenient. You learn the techniques, you learn to work the spirits, but the requirement to believe in Them is never really there. At some point, the belief that it is real needs to be there if a person is going to walk this path. Whether that belief is built from experience, faith, or something else is an entirely different story. Without that basic belief that the practice of shamanism is real, that the spirits and Gods, the Ancestors and the spiritual world is real, then there is no point to approaching any of this at all.
You cannot put something like the path of a shaman down. If you are doing it, for real, it is not something you can walk away from. If you try, it is something that may, at first call to you, then come for you, then claws at you until you die, become mad, or return to the path you were meant for. This brings us to point 10.
10) Once this path is entered, you do not leave it.
While there may be extreme exceptions to this I am unaware of, and I will allow that I may be wrong on this, I have yet to hear of a society in which a person who walks away from the calling of being a shaman without suffering madness, illness, simulated (or temporary) death until they come back to the path they swore to follow. If, after all the warnings, punishments, and entreaties, they still refuse to come back to the path, more often than not, the price is even more steep, and may result in the loss of one's possessions, whether just the prized ones or all of them, the loss of one's home or homeland, or even one's life. In short, there is no walking away from the path of a shaman. Even if you forsake the path, it follows you till death.
11) There is more to shamanism than just the peak spiritual experiences.
Something a lot of people seek in shamanic techniques is connection. I can appreciate that; you're looking to connect to an animal spirit, a lost loved one, or something else. However, that is not being a shaman, just using the techniques one might happen to use. Being a shaman is not always about the Aha! points of connection to a God/dess, the whisperings of a guardian spirit in your ear, or helping to heal someone in a powerful ceremony. Oftentimes, in my experience, being a shaman is about screwing up royal and doing the hard, slogging work to get back to where you fell from, and doing the hard, everyday work, as well as constantly disciplining yourself to be better than you were yesterday. It is about looking like a fool in front of your Gods and being told to start over despite how hard you've worked, just to get it right the first time. This path does not come easy. It comes through hard experiences that lead to those moments when you hit a peak spiritual experience. If you do not do the hard work, you can't handle the peak moments. Oftentimes, you may not get to partake of that incredible Aha! moment because you're facilitating it. You have to live between the worlds, and sometimes other people get to see the fruits of your labor and profit by them. But that is what you do. You're a servant of the Gods, the spirits, and if your community has such a role for you, of them as well. This brings me to my next two points.
12) You cannot do this work without some form of compensation or help.
In my path, I call this Gebo, gift-for-a-gift. If you can't give, you can't take, and vice versa. I have a taboo laid on me by Odin: for my services I must, in some way, shape, or form, be paid commensurate to them. Whether it is having a place to eat and crash after a ritual, or money changing hands, offerings of food or help, or an open ear and heart, no shaman can get by without being helped. I used to think I could take of myself, by myself, and that I was weak for accepting others' help. This is ego, pride and hubris talking, and it cost me dearly. Not only did I get a big head from the "I can do it all!" but I gave myself a nice cycle of "I can do it!", "Why is no one helping me?", "I can do it!", a vicious cycle that drained me, and everyone around me who I worked with. I was asked to leave the group; I hurt people with my words and with my spiritual actions. If you cannot get compensation peacefully, through gifts or payment, in some way, your spirit will reach out to compensate itself for the work you do. If you do not allow yourself to be paid or receive gifts, your spirit will reach out to compensate itself for the work you do. Allowing negative cycles to continue, whether your time, energy and hard work being disrespected, or your community, group, or client's contributions being disrespected, or even halting the cycle of reciprocity itself, this is an insult to the Work, yourself, and especially the Gods, spirits, and other Beings you serve. It will serve as a hindrance to everything you try to do, if you cannot accept gifts in good grace, or give in kind to the people, Gods, and/or spirits you serve.
13) Being a shaman is a role of servitude.
The role of a shaman is in service to the Gods, spirits, and one's community. At the end of the day, the everyday work you do, the life you lead, all of it, is in service to others. Your continued health and happiness, even, is part of your service because you need to be at your best if you are called on. The extent to which this servitude extends, into what arenas it extends, and what comforts of yours are taken into consideration depend on your relationships with the spirits, Gods, and sometimes, the community you serve. Being a shaman is not about you. It is about fulfilling the role you have agreed to with the Gods and spirits. It is not about your enlightenment, happiness, fulfillment, or desires. It is about fulfilling your role, even if there is no community to serve; there are, always, the Gods and spirits.
14) The Gods and spirits will challenge you and shape your life.
Something I have not heard emphasized at all, if barely mentioned, in many Harner-shaman texts, is the role of Gods and spirits in actually shaping your life, both in its overall focus, and in minute ways. This is something that is found in most any culture, however, that have shamans in them. The Gods may enact taboos and oaths upon you, as may the spirits. The word taboo does not just mean "prohibitions from" a thing, such as a taboo on eating meat or a plant, but it may that the taboo requires "prohibition of going without" something as well. This can be a taboo, in my case, on going without payment or compensation. These taboos can make for some interesting shake-ups in your life; for the first time, I had to figure out "What are my services worth? Can this person pay their cost if I asked for money? What would be a good barter?" It made me think about every spiritual interaction in this way, in terms of "What will this cost me?" and "Can the person/spirit bring something equal to my cost?" and similar lines of thought. It changed my life in subtle ways that affect my everyday life.
On a larger scale, the Gods and spirits will shape your life, whether it is through subtle means or not. As I have served the Gods, the notion of 'coincidence' has disappeared. Do I think that my Gods control my every action? Certainly not. My Gods are beholden to Wyrd as well as I. There is, however, an interconnectedness between things that emerges. When you see the threads, you can see at least that there is a tapestry even if it is not yet finished. When you give yourself to the Gods and spirits your thread is sewn not just by your own hands, but by Theirs as well.
15) You cannot put the Work down.
Whatever Work it happens to be, whether you're learning your first steps, or you're fulfilling the calls the Gods, spirits, etc. made to you, you cannot just put it down. It may well follow you into the next life, and many more after. As said before, once you begin the Work, you are tied to it. This is completely unlike what I have encountered in the books of Harners' students, or their respective attitudes. No shaman that I have spoken with has ever been able to put the Work down; they're always drawn back into it in some fashion or another. This is not to say your Work won't change shape or ever be accomplished; each person's relationship with the Gods and spirits is just that. However, being a shaman tends to be a lifetime commitment, and that is something that can't just be set aside on a whim, or if things hit rock bottom. If you've committed yourself to being a shaman, the Gods and spirits that you are allied with have committed to you, in turn.
16) If the spirits and Gods accept you as a shaman, you are a shaman.
No human institution can grant you the title. If you are a shaman, it is not because an institution, church, group, or anyone else has declared you so. If you are a shaman, it is because the Gods and spirits accept you as this, and have initiated you. No certificate will imbue you with all the powers of a shaman, nor all of the responsibilities of one, either. It is by being brought to it by the Gods and spirits, by going through the rituals, by embracing the responsibilities and power, the taboos and the rewards, the hard slogs and the moments of relief, by embracing the life of a shaman, that you are that. Human institutions may help or hinder our process of following the Gods and spirits. While I appreciate that Harner's students may be trying to put structure and roots down, so far, I do not see that they are growing healthy plants. Much of this process of interaction with the Gods, spirits, and their would-be shamans cannot be achieved in the course of a weekend. This interaction requires day-in, day-out practice and dedication for many people to achieve the level of connectedness to hear the Call in the first place. For others, they are simply picked up by the spirits or Gods, and more-or-less shown what they need to do, and where they need to go. Some are given not much more than a statement, such as "Go here" or "eat this" and then "survive". The process of initiation and interacting with the Gods can differ person to person, tribe-to-tribe, or culture-to-culture, as can the initiation. What is the key, is that the Gods and spirits initiate the shaman. Humans may recognize it, even celebrate it, but the genesis of a shaman is in their Gods and spirits.
These are my views born from almost four years as a Northern Tradition shaman. My views on Harner-style shamanism were culled from interactions with Harner-style shamans, reading several books from his followers, and Way of the Shaman itself. You are free to disagree with me, even provide counter-examples. I would love counter-examples of what Harner-style shamanism has shown me so far. I would love to know that for some who have taken his teachings to heart, although I may disagree with his methods and style, that there are benefits for those who are served by those studying his ways.
Thank you, Sarenth, for an excellent article. I think that you’ve nicely summed up my own concerns with Harner’s core ‘shamanism.’ I encourage folks to check out the discussion in the comments section of my interview with Kenaz Filan from earlier this month, as well as kenazfilan.blogspot.com where he continued the discussion. –GK
We are at war, ladies and gentlemen. I have said this before and I’ll reiterate it now: we are in the eye of an ideological storm. Lest anyone doubt that, I encourage you to read the following link: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/9/14/192516/418. This is not an isolated phenomenon. This is not an isolated crack-pot preaching hatred and oppression. This is becoming a major political force. Think about that. Even if we are very vigilant, there is every chance that a man (or woman) sympathetic to these doctrines will end up in the white house. That should scare the hell out of every one of you who practices a non-Abrahamic religion. Frankly, it should scare the hell out of many of you who DO practice one of the Abrahamic faiths. So I say flat out that we must resist this type of spiritual attack and tyranny with every breath, every prayer, every action. That starts not only by speaking out, but by calling upon our Gods and ancestors and yes, the genus loci Columbia Herself to aid us.
These DC40 people and their ilk are spiritual fascists. I do not believe they can be reasoned with. I do not believe that they want any type of personal liberty because liberty is threatening. Liberty means that sooner or later someone somewhere is going to do something of which they might not approve. I’m not going to belabor this. I think it’s clear from my previous writing exactly how I feel about this DC40 campaign. Instead, I’m happy to share this small ritual and prayer with you. This was written by Alan Leddon in response to the DC40 planned attacks, and I encourage all of you to consider pouring out an offering to Columbia over the next two months; I encourage all of you to offer this prayer; I encourage all of you to do something for the sake of our religious freedom. –Galina Krasskova
The Goddess Columbia
By Alan Leddon
Columbia is the genius loci of Washington DC and the patron Goddess of the United States. She personifies the people and character of the American people. Her attributes are the cornucopia, red, white and blue bunting, the bald eagle, and the rattlesnake. Columbia has been associated with Venus (Aphrodite) and with Isis.
Columbia was originally viewed in the form of a Native American woman of import, but increasing urbanization caused her image to become more Caucasian and finally recognizably Greek; some depictions seem copied from Greek statues of Aphrodite. She has been depicted dressed in loose white robes and working clothes in the red, white, and blue.
Her name derives from “Columb-,“ from Christopher (Cristobal) Columbus, and “-ia,” land of. Her name thus means “Land of Columbus.”
At the time of this writing, Columbia is beset by enemies, both foreign and domestic, and she stands proudly in defiance of them all.
Mother and Grandmother of free nations, Patroness of the brave,
Bountiful Goddess of America, soul of our land,
Hear us across Your fruited plains, majestic mountains, painted deserts!
We stand as one, illumined by Freedom’s Holy Light!
We accept as brothers and sisters all people who come honorably to your shores.
We accept as your worship the alien ways of our newest siblings beside the traditional ways of our American ancestors and neighbors.
Though we may oppose one another, as freemen we stand together against our common foes, who also are your foes, for you are the Mother who has poured your horn of plenty upon our homeland, who has sent the Eagle to teach us Vigilance in all matters, and the Rattlesnake to teach us to withhold our strike until no other course remains.
We ask no more from you, for you have already given us so much, but humbly ask you to guide us in service to you and to your people; For Thou art Goddess, made beautiful and strong by the diversity of Your people.
Light a candle to Her. Pour out an offering. Let Her know that there are those of us who have not forgotten Her.
May She be hailed. May She stand strong. May the spirit of Turtle Island rise up and drive this poison and its pushers from Her shores. May She lend Her spirit and Her strength to this struggle as we strive to shake off the fetters of religious tyranny. May She stand with us in support as we strive to crack the filters of conquest that so blind our attackers.
And I call on Christ, because you know what? These are YOUR people. They’re calling Your name. Do something about them. If they do not reflect Your doctrines: do something.
Hail Columbia. Hail Turtle Island.