It's a powerful, wrenching, personal piece and something I think every spiritworker should read. Thank you , Elizabeth, for being willing to share something so very intimate:
Author and Loki's Gythia Elizabeth Vongvisith (who will be appearing on the May 15 Wyrd Ways Radio, by the way---be sure to listen in if you can) has just written a powerful and courageous piece detailing a mistake she made once in her relationship with Loki, in the Work, and the consequences.
It's a powerful, wrenching, personal piece and something I think every spiritworker should read. Thank you , Elizabeth, for being willing to share something so very intimate:
Well, I’ve slowly had guest contributions trickling in (to my delight- I love Odin dearly and catching a glimpse through the web of words of how others relate to Him is a blessing) and today I’m going to share one of them with you. Thank you, Liam , for this lovely piece.
By Liam H.
Wind whispers; I strain to heed the words.
I wait by the wood’s edge: a nod to my ancestors, to ask for strength, some food for the forest vaettir. Then in.
A man might scoff at fear of the dark; ask that man to walk solitary in the sable night, under black branches in a wood without gleaming tungsten or mercury vapor, without even a fickle little fire, and he’ll have an appointment elsewhere.
Pacing blind past clinging limbs; that shape there…a stump? Another traveler? An Old Man?
Fear flickers and I resist the urge to run. Forward, fighting for a measured pace.
I push past prickles; there’s my blot, on the bough of a hawthorn.
Hood up, head bowed in an oaken shadow, I honor a thing much older than I, with names and titles, numerous, numinous, each well-earned; some
drip blood, some scream.
Why pray? Why give such a god my favor? Walk in the benighted woods, and you’ll understand.
Wind whispers; for a moment, I hear the words.
(This week's catch-up PBP post is a more or less guest post written mostly by my friend and colleague S. Reicher. She wrote it, I mostly snarked my way through a discussion on the topic while she was writing. lol No way i could convince her to jump into the entire PBP series, but I'm happy to have collaborated on this particular piece here, something that she quickly crafted out of a discussion we had recently. Check out her blog http://sreicher.weebly.com for a couple of her articles on esoteric topics. She doesn't post often, but when she does, it's almost always worth reading).
I wasn't planning on writing about protection at all this week, but there's a discussion on a yahoogroup that I sometimes follow currently talking about what I like to call 'psychic hygiene' and the topic of shielding came up. As inevitably happens, the concept of 'surrounding oneself with white light' was proffered and since I'm rather allergic to foolishness I had to jump in. After a long discussion with my friend GK, this rant, er…article is the result. You see, I hear the whole white light spiel quite a bit in esoteric circles, particularly from new agers who couldn't magic themselves out of a paperbag. It's a nice catch all. It's easy. It's comforting. It requires little thought. It's a panacea for the masses. There's only one problem: it doesn't work.
Learning to properly shield takes a bit more effort than simply surrounding oneself with white light. Despite what many new age philosophies might tell you, white light is not a cure all and (also contrary to what many new age philosophies might say) the universe isn't there for our convenience and yes, Virginia, there are things out there that can and will do us harm, given half a chance. Anyone engaged in serious esoteric work, healing work, spirit work, devotional work, or strongly energetically sensitive (and this can be developed by any and all of the above) needs to learn to shield. I would actually go one step further and say it's a life skill that would benefit anyone and everyone. It's exactly the same as covering your mouth when you yawn, or your nose when you sneeze. It's as much about keeping your own crap in as keeping anything externally problematic, dangerous, or negative out.
Competent shielding takes practice. First one needs to master grounding and centering. Only then can one begin working on developing a shield matrix. How complex this needs to be depends on the individual. The average joe, probably doesn't need to do more than ground, center, and lightly filter. A spirit-worker or magus may have to maintain something much, much more complex and multi-layered. That's the thing with shielding: it's polyvalent and flexible. The process is fluid and adaptable to one's individual needs. I go into dozens of variations on shielding in my book "Spiritual Protection" and I'm not going to repeat myself here. I'm more interested in talking a little about why shielding is so important.
Shielding is about developing strong, flexible boundaries. I find that the people who have trouble maintaining good boundaries in other areas of their lives usually suck at shielding. They're also the ones who could benefit the most from it and who resist it the most fervently. I've had clients and students come to me who are all over the place energetically. They're usually all over the place emotionally too (and one has to ask how much of this is a conscious --and poor--choice on the part of the client). They are, as a friend of mine likes to call it, utterly emotionally incontinent, they've no boundaries, and they wonder why their lives are absolute messes and yet when one suggests that maybe learning to ground, center, and shield would help, (because shielding is about boundaries, thus learning to shield often helps one become more aware of boundaries and the need for them in other areas of one's life) the response is (as my friend GK recently told me, having dealt with a particularly un-saavy client) quite often along the lines of: "I don't want to learn to shield. I want to be one with the universe. " To again, quote my friend: "yeah, sweetheart. the universe is going to crush you like an empty bear can. Sit the f*ck down and shield."
Why is this so vexing to me? Well, it's simple: because in the end, people like this become someone else's problem. They create issues for the people who have to interact with them. They waste time, effort, and energy never their own. They allow themselves to become burdens for those in their life who have a greater sense of moral responsibility. Or they try to. People with good boundaries usually have no trouble saying "no." The problem then becomes cleaning up the mess people like this leave in their wake; and it's sad. Boundaries, including esoteric shielding, are there to help us live better, more competent, more fulfilling lives. They're life skills. When someone doesn't have adequate life skills that person suffers and that is terribly sad. It's also a tremendous waste.
There's a lot in our culture that tells us (particularly us women) that we cannot be strong. There's a lot that encourages us to remain weak, to cultivate it like an artform, abrogating every ounce of responsibility for our own adulthood on the altar of femininity and social acceptance. There's a lot of bullshit floating about. I've even had colleagues who would use this cultural deficit to excuse [usually female] clients, who would use it as an excuse for every manner of weakness and poor life choice on the part of the clients, never demanding that they grow the hell up. I've had colleagues who simply didn't believe that their female clients could, which is in itself, tremendously dis-empowering. (I've taught martial arts for a number of years and I find that holding high standards for my students encourages them to meet those standards. It sends the unconscious message that I believe they are capable of doing so. The same holds true in other areas, including counseling). In reality, part of becoming an adult is taking responsibility for oneself, despite the paucity of factors in our culture that would encourage this. Part of growing up is fumbling into independence, and learning from one's mistakes, and by doing so, developing the skills of strength and some small modicum of courage that help us become functional adults. It's what responsible people do. It's a personal choice, and there's no excuse for not making it. (We've both, by the way, also been accused of not being 'soft' enough, of needing to develop more softness so we could empathize more with our female clients. You'll excuse me whilst I cry bullshit. I empathize plenty. I don't excuse, and my "softness" is for my intimate companions only. It is not a thing for public consumption. That's a difficult concept for those -- especially men--who have unconscious issues with strong women --or deeply ingrained ideas about women--to fathom). All of this may seem far afield from the question of how best to energetically shield, but I believe they lie at the heart of the problems many people have with this technique. If you can't maintain good boundaries in other areas of your life; if you can't take responsibility for yourself and your decisions (good and bad, triumph and failure), if you don't want to do this, you're not going to be able to shield. Why? Because shielding is setting a boundary. It's drawing a line in the sand. It's a dominant act. It's an act of conscious will.
The same people who refuse to make these choices are quite often the same ones who promulgate white light nonsense. I personally think two things are going on here:
1). either it gives some of these people carte blanche (in their own psyches) to whine and abrogate responsibility when bad things happen. It reinforces their chosen sense of helplessness and plays into the expectations of a victim culture; or
2). It feeds into a certain type of histrionic and self-absorbed character. After all, they *were* shielding (with white light) so if something energetically bad happens to them, it must be because they're such big and important special snowflakes. Look at how psychically powerful they are that they drew such attacks. It never occurs to them, that white light is a piss poor shield and their own lack of discipline and love of drama is bringing attendant chaos and mess on themselves (or making it up). I'll add that these are usually people who have been given the proper techniques more than once, but who find them 'negative' (because they acknowledge the role responsibility plays in life), "difficult" (because they take practice), or "violent" (because the idea of shields and boundaries are viewed as negative).
Most problems in shielding could be fixed by people choosing to grow up. That, however, is another rant. (GK and I have had that rant but neither of us wrote it down.*sarcasm*).
My interest in shielding is a matter of professional standards. I am a magician, an occultist. This is my craft and my art and I take pride in doing it well. It concerns me when I see base level standards completely lacking. I've never been very gracious either about cleaning up someone else's mess and yet, for the good of my community, I sometimes find myself in such a position. This makes me irritable. So before I get too annoyed with all of this, I"m going to recap quickly and then wrap up. White light is not an effective shield because inherently it isn't strong. Those who promulgate this type of shield, don't put much effort into shielding. They depend on the idea of white light rather than on skill, trained technique, and will. They're taught that one need only imagine white light around one to be safe. They are not taught or choose not to equate shielding with the maintenance of good boundaries. There is a tendency here not to hold proper boundaries in other areas too. As far as imagining white light being effective, that's not the case. Imagining white light doesn't do anything. Shielding is an act of will, not imagination. Calling up and shaping energy as white light only makes one a target: white light, people, is bright. It draws attention. It is not subtle. Nor is this type of shield particularly effective in warding against any focused attack. It's very easily broken.
I think people like this type of shield because it's bright, it's pleasant, it feels good, (white light tends to feel very clean and cleansing), it doesn't challenge the senses overmuch. It's bright, white, light, and airy. It's part of the 'nothing can harm me if I don't believe in it school' and, as any remotely competent practitioner knows, that's utter nonsense. I don't have to believe in a bullet for that bullet to do me harm, after all. Magic is much the same.
Adorations to Earth
by Sarenth Odinsson
I adore You, Elder Ancestor
I adore You, Mother
I adore You, Midgard
I adore You, Craggy One
I adore You, First Carbon-chain
I adore You, Last Pebble
I adore You, Bat-filled Cave
I adore You, Loamy Soil
I adore You, Grassy Knoll
I adore You, Elder Yew
I adore You, Gentle Sapling
I adore You, Sand-Swept Desert
I adore You, Ice-bound North
I adore You, Fertile Ground
I adore You, Shaking Plates
I adore You, Rolling Wheat
I adore You, Blessed Rainforest
I adore You, Sweeping Plains
I adore You, Frosted Tundra
I adore You, Teeming Jungle
I adore You, Mighty Mountains
I adore You, Silent Wood
I adore You, Cacophonous Forest
I adore You, Little Nut
I adore You, Great Tree
I adore You, Tiny Bush
I adore You, Expansive Grass
I adore You, Crawling Weed
I adore You, Whose Name is Jord
I adore You, Whose Name is Nerthus
I adore You, Whose Name is Terra
I adore You, Whose Name is Gaia
I adore You, Killing Quake
I adore You, Fertile Ground
I adore You, Sheltering Stone
I adore You, Sliding Mud
I adore You, Wrathful Volcano
I adore You, Giving Tree
I adore You, Gentle One
I adore You, Patient One
I adore You, Whose Arteries are Rivers
I adore You, Whose Kidneys are Swamps
I adore You, Whose Lungs are all the Green Life
I adore You, Whose Heart is Molten Flow
I adore You, Whose Body Sustains Us All
I adore You, Whose Eyes gaze upon the Cosmos
I adore You, Whose Hands Touch All Upon Her Skin
I adore You, Whose Skin is the Ground under our feet
I adore You, Whose Whisper echoes through Midgard
I adore You, Who Holds All We Need
I adore You, Whose Blessings are Endless
I adore You, Whose Children Heal and Kill
I adore You, Who Gave Ask and Embla form
I adore You, Whose Forms Holds Water
I adore You, Whose Forms Hold Fire
I adore You, Whose Form is Encompassed by Air
I adore You, Who is Our Mother
I adore You, Long-Changer
I adore You, Patient Grower
I adore You, Adapter
I adore You, Food-bountiful
I adore You, Root-heavy
I adore You, Sand-shifter
I adore You, Deep One
I adore You, Carved Cavern
I adore You, Mine-dotted
I adore You, Whose Offerings are Blessed
I adore You, Who Carries Us
I adore You, Seed-sower
I adore You, Whose Tone Instructs Midgard
I adore You, Whose Dance flows in Its own Time
I adore You, Who Dances in swamp, volcano, desert, and tundra
I adore You, Whose Body runs red in battle and birth
I adore You, Grower of grass and mud
I adore You, Who eats the body
I adore You, Wood-grower
I adore You, Grover-tender
I adore You, Peaceful Rest
I adore You, Whose Form is a riot of living and color
I adore You, Who gave my Ancestors home
I adore You, Who gave my Ancestors food
I adore You, Who gave my Ancestors clothes
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors art
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors medicine
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors with treasures of the mine
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors with the first of tools and weapons
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors the means of sword and scythe
I adore You, Who gifted my Ancestors ways to come closer to the Gods
I adore You, Who taught my Ancestors rebirth
I adore You, Who gifts me with all I need to live
I adore You, Who Brings New Growth
I adore You, Who edges the Gap
I adore You, Who mingled with Ice, blessing us with tundra and Winter
I adore You, Who mingled with Ice, held Auðhumbla, and Ymir
I adore You, Who, mingled with Water, blessed us with the holy oceans and rainforests
I adore You, Who, mingled with Water, gives Life to all things
I adore You, Who mingled with Fire, gives rise to new soil with volcanoes
I adore You, Who mingled with Fire, allows us to cook our food
I adore You, Who, mingled with Air, carries the seeds to new life
I adore You, Who, mingled with Air, brings the swollen clouds to farm, field, and garden
I adore You, Whose Presence lies beneath our feet and within our hearts
I adore You, Whose Presence seals corruption
I adore You, Who blesses the farmer
I adore You, Whose Body is the bard's instrument and voice
I adore You, Who gives the storyteller immortality
I adore You, Who girds the warrior
I adore You, Whose Form is part of our own
I adore You, Whose Form dances with us
I adore You, Whose Voice sings with us
I adore You, Whose Form gives us pleasure and pain
I adore You, Whose Form is holiness
I adore You, Whose Patience is Great
I adore You, Whose Temper is Fierce
I adore You, Whose Womb birthed us all
I adore You, Whose Body gives us rest
I adore You, Who digests the corpse
I adore You, Who is our home
I adore You, Whose wrath brings new land
I adore You, Who scours the unclean
I adore You, Who holds back the cold
I adore You, Who gives Form to the Worlds
I adore You, Whose Flesh is the soil and ground of Midgard
I adore You, Whose Presence grounds Creation
I adore You, Whose Threads are Woven in Wyrd,
From the Deepest Cavern to the Highest Peak,
I adore You, Earth
At my instigation, my colleague Sannion wrote a very thought provoking article on belief vs. faith. I've been wanting to tackle this myself for some time, but haven't had the time to compose my thoughts. I'm delighted to see this, by Sannion and encourage y'all to check it out:
Between school exams and the Turtle Island Initiative, (http://TI42.weebly.com) i haven't had much of a chance to update this last month. Therefore, i'm delighted to be able to offer this prayer/poem to the Duergar from my friend Hugh Eckert, who has kindly given me permission to post this here.
It makes me happy to see these Holy Powers also being given Their due, however slowly but surely that may be happening. I've had a strong relationship with Andvari for years but until recently have only known one or two other people who honored Him. So it was a delight to meet someone else who had established a connection there. So without further babbling, I give you Hugh's poem.
by Hugh Eckert
Taste of smoke- of peat, of forge’s fires Slides blessing along my tongue, Wends its way into my mind.
Let it blaze fierce to fire my head,
Give my thoughts the galloping force
Of this sun-goaded Moon of Horses.
Hear me sing of the hidden ones,
Half-forgotten in this frantic age-
Not the seven twee forest miners known to most, Nor the stalwart underworld warriors Made famed by a greater maker than I (Though he, learnéd in lore, Knew more of the truth than most).
No, these folk are more shadowed,
Dark amongst the pale ghosts, clad
In grey, brown, black. Sooty, cunning smiths, I must be methodical to honor their craft, And open my heart to honor our kinship- Cousins, god-created like us, Yet cloaked in shadow- or a different light, A different time pervading their caves And mountain forges, granting them The gem-precious gift of divination.
Thrawn and twisted from their labors,
Small to some eyes, but still it’s said
That four of them form the pillars
Upholding the sky of stars.
Deep they are, and far away,
Hard to find and yet not gone-
They linger still by waterfalls, in wild places; And stone-born echoes bring their voices, Death-names ringing like hammers.
They know us well, and watch us avidly-
Chafing at our faithless ways,
Though needing us. For riddle-wise
Knowers of the virtues of plants and stones May still need students, hungry to learn (And quick to pay). Or sharp sellers, Hard bargainers, could want our custom, Wish to see love of craft and wisdom Alloyed in with greed for gold- perhaps Reflecting a glint of their secret hearts.
Deep within, we have a need for them, as well, Though peril lies along that path- For they are tempters, lurers, wily captors, And their every lesson is weighed and balanced With precision against the price.
Even their startling, flame-bright gifts Are chased and carved and knotted-in with purpose.
Yet so much of might have they made for this world:
Spear and ship, ring and hammer,
Wolf-fetter, goddess-hair, golden boar.
What wonders might arise if we seek
To clasp in cautious fellowship the hard hands Of the sons of Dvalin and Ivaldi?
This too- it could be, rich and wise and mighty, They are yet, still and always lonely, As are we. This alone may draw us close.
Taste of honey now wells in my mouth,
And so thankful, but wary of whence,
Of how the mead of poetry came to be;
Mindful that the vessel of reconciliation Holds blood, that the stirrer of inspiration Stirs fury also; I end my song.
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.
(The following is an article by my colleague Sarenth discussing the pitfalls of Michael Harner’s core shamanism. Some of this came up during the discussion in the comments section of my interview with Kenaz Filan, and it’s sparked quite a bit of good debate. Given that, I asked Sarenth to share his entire article with me. I will be posting it over the next week or so in sections, as it is rather long. –Galina)
On Michael Harner’s Core Shamanism
I have been a shaman and priest of Odin for the last three, almost four years. In this time I have learned a lot, and realize I have a lot left to learn. However, during that time, I have also seen an increase in the number of neo-shamans who follow The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner, and those who have learned from him or style themselves after him and I have deep misgivings of their teachings and techniques.
Please note, any one of these points may differ due to tribal, religious, or ethnic differences. I am not speaking on behalf of cultures I am not part of. I may speak from the standpoint of education I have received and articles I have read in regards to tribes and cultures, but I am in no way representing these peoples. I am speaking primarily to American Pagans, neo-shamans, non-First Nation shamans, and those who would style themselves as shamans. My issues with Harner's approach are many, and I shall go by them point-by-point.
1) He seeks to strip culture out of shamanism.
Many shamanic cultures' techniques and entire way of becoming a shaman in and of itself are tied up in their culture. If you strip out the culture's information, you strip out the deepest meanings behind what it means to be a shaman or spiritworker, medicine man, etc. in accordance to that culture's word for their spiritual worker(s) and/or leader(s). In stripping away that culture, there is much in the way of training, and reason for training that is lost.
For instance, if Harner had, rather than using Amazonian and Northern Native American tribes as the basis for his 'core shamanism', used African ones, there may be a slitting of the eyes and stuffing of herbs into the cuts then secret chants made so one may 'see' the Otherworld or land of the Dead, with no actual reasoning as to why. People would be following a practice, somewhat slavishly, with no real reason to because they have no cultural meaning behind such an act. That could have a particularly deleterious effect on their health, sanity, and/or spirit because we have neither the spiritual community nor background, nor perhaps even permission from the spirits needed to engage in such a practice in how the Sight is attained in their culture. Let us say you perform this African initiation into shamanism. What do you do when the spirits have specific requests that you simply cannot perform because you have neither the training nor expertise relevant to their culture?
2) He cobbles together a good number of shamanic techniques from varying tribes.
While this does dovetail with a lot of the same areas I made in the previous point, it still bears saying. I use the word cobble intentionally because one of its definitions is "to put together clumsily". He puts together shamanic techniques that may be ill-suited for one another, especially without the cultural context behind them. Combining the culturally bereft soul or shamanic journeying with the small, if barely presentable amount of protective work that is done before one does the journey poorly prepares the would-be shaman. Several cultures, in fact, every one that I have ever read on or a member of a tribe or faith group that recognizes several distinct spirits, admits that there are spirits with less-than-stellar motives, and there are who in fact mean humans harm. I have seen in far too many Harner and Harner-influenced sources, both in my experience of those who are students of his, and his own, that minimizes the warnings many cultures place on journeying. There is usually a disclaimer with something to the effect of "Well, if you have your power animal with you everything should go fine", and that is the end of psychic, magical, or other forms of spiritual protection where journeying is concerned. There is little talk of spiritual/psychic hygiene in most sources that I have seen, and fewer still who speak of it in person. There is even less talk of what happens if things go wrong. This is not only irresponsible, but it is downright dangerous, especially to those who may pick up a single book of Harner's or one of his students' books, and have no context for their experiences.
3) Harner and many of his students treat shamanism (and equivalent terms/titles) as a universal birthright.
In almost any culture that has a practice, station, or calling with the name or similar in practice to it, shamanism is a calling, and one that some, who are part of a culture that understand the deeper implications of what such a calling means, may wish to avoid at all costs. It something for which a person is chosen, sometimes with deep misgivings and even resentment towards the spirits who do so. It is not egalitarian; not everyone should, or even can walk the road of a shaman, spirit worker, or the like. Some simply are not put together in this life for such a thing, and that is not elitism, but simple fact. Treating shamanism as if it is everyone's birthright despoils what it actually is: a calling, something that can upset the shaman's life, even kill hir if shi does not perform up to snuff. Shamanism is a potentially dangerous, potentially rewarding, potentially powerful, potentially harmful way of being, way of life, and calling. It is many more things besides; what it is not is open to all, because not everyone is equipped to handle such a life.
4) The techniques that Harner teaches, especially ones such as soul retrieval, healing, and the like, can be potentially dangerous for the uninitiated, untrained, or inexperienced.
I am not about to say techniques of shamanism cannot work for the non-shamanic Pagan, neo-shamanic enthusiast, etc. I have no doubt that journeying, soul retrieval and the like are powerful for those who have it done on their behalf by someone experienced in the practice, or who are trained in the work. That said, without the proper training and especially authorization from the spirits involved, the person seeking to use techniques, especially advanced ones, of shamanism or follow the path of a shaman is putting hirself, and anyone shi helps or offers aid to at great risk. If you do not have the calling from the Gods and/or spirits, or proper relationships with the Gods and/or spirits then you yourself are a danger in claiming the title of shaman, let alone practicing techniques that may or may not actually be applicable to your particular path. There is immense amounts of preparation work for shamans who use, for instance, sucking for soul retrieval. Shuar shamans do an intense amount of work with the spirits prior to such a working, and are putting themselves at risk during the ritual because they are taking that person's being into themselves, and are exposing themselves to whatever may have caused the soul to leave in the first place.
5) Shamanism and similar roles as they are practiced, are about their community.
Many who take on the title of shaman in Harner's system do not perform the function of a shaman in their community; they are in it for self-gain, self-enlightenment, self-healing, and similar reasons. People marked as shamans, holy people, priests, etc. fulfill a communal obligation of some kind or another. While the community may pay them in kind for their services and they may receive many perks as part of being a shaman, the shaman's place is about community. Sure, the shaman may get a good deal out of this, but if a shaman is not about community, or serving the spirits/Gods and people, then why use such a term? Self-work is a necessary part of being a shaman, but for the shaman, that is not where the work stops.
6) Without a map, how do you know where are you in the territory?
Cosmological frameworks are ways of framing reality, inner, outer, and everything in between. By stripping out cosmology from the shamanism he teachers, Harner has ripped the map right out of his students' hands. Without a cosmology, a way to say 'this is this' and 'that is that', and to put into terms not only where one is going, but how one travels there, where one does and does not want to go, etc., is like trying to describe a train's journey without the words to do so. You cannot describe the point of entry into the train, you cannot describe where the train actually goes, what stops it makes in the interim, nor can you actually name the destination or the way the train will take to get to it. In all ways, you are traveling in ignorance because there is neither the words nor meaning able to be construed from the journey you are making. A cosmology is desperately needed because it couches the entire experience of being a shaman, or not being one, within it. Some tribes pass the role of shaman down in their bloodlines, whereas other tribes are completely chosen by the spirits. Some tribes require a good deal of years and experiences before one can claim the title, whereas others allow members of their tribe to claim it after a ritual or so. Cosmology frames the expectations and relationships the shaman will have with their own life, their community, their Ancestors, their Gods, and spirits. Cosmology gives rise to the whys as well: why is a shaman needed? Why is this person called as a shaman? Why is shi being taught these techniques as opposed to those ones? Why is this spirit or God calling to hir? And so on.
7) The world is dangerous, and the spirit world is no exception.
In many cosmological frameworks, my own here included and is mainly where I draw from in this comparison, the spirit world is as dangerous as the physical one. In some ways it is more so because people can be victimized in spirit in ways they might not readily detect or comprehend. While some may see this as a cynical or pessimistic worldview come to roost in one's cosmology, I have yet to find a single culture who have shamans that did not see evil spirits as a problem, that did not fight with each others' shamans when territory or hunting ground or something similar was encroached upon, and did not perform spiritual combat, whether against spirits or against one's adversaries. What I have found in many of Harner's students, if not his own descriptions of interacting with the spirit world, is a willingness to believe that this world and its spiritual inhabitants are merely here for our benefit and our power animals are just waiting in the ether for us, as though they wish for nothing in return for helping us and have none of their own designs. I have personally seen helper spirits treated as nothing more than mental projections, denying both their individuality, and purpose unto themselves. I have seen the same tack applied to spirits that seek harm to humans, and in both cases, the result was a severe clue-by-four to the person involved that not only are these spirits real, but they maintain autonomous existence. There is a reason many cultures emphasized, for instance, in ancient Germany, claiming one's territory with rituals and expelling spirits unhealthy or unhelpful for the occupants. It is because these spirits pose a threat. If you don't believe spirits pose a threat then soul retrievals, healing work, expulsion of spirits, spirit intrusion removal, etc., are all just forms of mutual mental masturbation, and the only benefit really derived from them is the sense of security the client may have and the payoff the shaman may receive, whether to hir ego or to hir bottom line. If, on the other hand, you can believe humans can cause damage to each others' spirits, including soul loss, it is because humans are a spiritual threat to one another. The same can be said of spirits themselves. To teach or say otherwise is disingenuous at the least. Yet I find again and again this notion from Harners' students that people must invite these spirits to take pieces of themselves, or give these soul fragments away. This sounds like victim blaming, and is not only not helpful, but irresponsible. A soul loss is the deepest invasion of a person; you are literally losing a piece of your soul! It is not some trite description of physical or mental trauma, but a description of a deeply traumatic spiritual experience. It is like blaming a person for being mugged merely for walking down the wrong street, or holding one's purse! If one can accept soul loss can happen to a person because of another person, why is it so many seem to blanch at the idea that there are spirits who wish ill, or will even feed on humans? If humans are dangerous, spirits are no less so.
To be Continued…..
(I have been away for a week tending to my own obligations to the military dead, so I was delighted to return only to find this waiting for me in my in box. My friend E.L., recently petitioned Hela to take on duties as caretaker for dead children, a unique type of ancestor work and one for which she is very well suited. She graciously allowed me permission to post this here. It’s nice to see someone doing this. Thank you E. for taking this on as part of your spiritual work. –Galina).
Happy 4th to all of you-- hope you have been having a fantastic weekend and are enjoying some good BBQ, fireworks, or just time off this weekend.
I wanted to share with you my report of working with the children dead at Greenwood in Brooklyn.
First, I asked the dead permission to enter and told them why I was there- but they seemed to already know. I felt very welcomed and protected. In fact, they seemed very happy to see me and enthusiastic about my visit. Once I was able to get to a large tree off of the main road I made an offering to Hela and formally told the dead what I was doing and why I was there. I also asked them to show me the where the children were buried. This they certainly did. It starkly reminded me that while we take living to 75 as almost a given these days it was certainly not always the case and many, so many did not reach adulthood less than a hundred years ago. Many of the graves just said "Baby" or the child's first name.
I was lead throughout the cemetery to the graves of children of all ages--it was easy to find them with the help of the dead. I was touched by the love I could feel for the children from their families. As I was approaching each grave I could often not only sense the child (the older ones with spunk & beautiful personalities) but their parents - most often the mothers, but sometimes both parents and occasionally the whole family of the child. I said the names of the children as I left offerings, as a way of letting them know they were not forgotten. I felt incredibly blessed and happy to be doing the work, and while it did make me tear up a few times, it was primarily a joy-filled experience. One moment that I found touching and powerful was when I was in a more neglected area of the cemetery - I had already been to the graves of several children in that section and I asked (out loud) if there were any more children left. In my inner hearing a woman called out to me - and sure enough, when I got to the grave she indicated, there she was with her two infant children. She didn't want anything for herself, but she was so grateful I was remembering her babies and I left something for each of them. That was the perfect expression of the general feeling or attitude I received from all of the dead and families buried there - the adults were quite willing to forgo or would even refuse to take offerings in favor of them going to the children.
Distributing small candies (unwrapped), raisins, cookies, and small toys to the children of Greenwood felt like being Santa Claus--the best kind of Santa Claus, where very small things were immensely treasured. Giving a small toy and raisins to some of the children made me feel like I had given them the best present they had ever received, and I was humbled by their gratitude and love.
Once the bag of toys and candy had been given out, I asked the dead to help me find a protected area of the cemetery where it would safe for me (and away from other visitors) to hold a story time. They showed me, and so I read fairy tales out loud under a tree. When I was done reading I let them know it was time for me to go and thanked them. I left with an empty goody bag and full heart. As I was walking home, I reflected on the experience and felt almost compelled to share it and also say that it is some of the happiest and best Work I've ever been given. I'll be back to Greenwood, and I'm looking forward to my next visit. –E.L
(Thank you, E. for the work you are doing. It’s too easy for us to forget that in the tapestry of ancestor work that is our portion to weave, honoring the children and babies in our line is just as important as honoring those who made it to adulthood. Beautiful work and thank you for sharing this. –GK).