ravenari: (art - winter moon)
One of the things that's hard to find in contemporary shamanic practices (especially if you're not a Core shamanist), is a sense of community. Whether that be online, or in person.

Practicing as a shamanist can be a lonely path in general. I mean on the outside looking in, it sounds like a crazy religion. You have a person who talks to spirits and land-wights, who believes in gods and the power of sacred animals, who often works to shepherd dead spirits to their resting places, to heal the soul, to travel to invisible worlds that are more commonly accepted to be fantasy or make-believe, rather than the real places a shaman knows them to be. Being a shamanist often involves not just working with pre-existing spirits and deities, but meeting new ones, and bringing their stories back into the world. It is always about walking a fine line between respecting the past, and being a pioneer at the front of spiritual practice.

And any pioneer, in any walk of life, can be difficult for others to accept.

But I'm not talking about a sense of community outside of shamanism here, I'm talking about a sense of community within shamanism. I have this dream, you see, of being able to sit down with a group of people; either online or off, and discuss the ethics of tricking soul fragments into the body. This example, is just one of the many things I devote a lot of thought to, and wish I had more input on. You see, some of the more ancient shamanic cultures simply tricked, connived or plain trapped soul fragments to force them back into the body. With contemporary psychology - or at least, with my limited understanding of it - being as it is, forcing anything back into the body presents problems. How to reconcile the differences? I'd love to brainstorm with other experienced contemporary shamanists... but... where are they?

I've been a shamanist for about 8-9 years now. I run my website; wildspeak.com, I've been a member of countless forums, both shamanic (including the once excellent, but now very quiet English-speaking Kondor forum) and general pagan. I used to be active in the Western Australian Combined Covens community (where I only ever met one other neo-shamanist, but I'm sure there are others), and I'm not exactly new to the crowd. And I can say that I don't know of any community setting where a group of contemporary non-Core shamanists could talk about the ethical dilemma I raised above. Hey, if you know of any, tell me!

I have people in a one on one setting I can talk to, via email. But no real sense of community with it. Once Google Wave comes out, of course, that will change. Because then email / community will be one and the same, and I'm hoping to see some changes in the way the often-solitary-but-community-driven shaman / shamanist responds to this kind of technology.

The things I'd like to do with groups of contemporary non-Core shamanists is extensive. I'd like to see new or learning shamanists experiment or offer soul retrieval / depossession to other shamans/ists with experience (who require it, by the way, not people who are splitting their soul for 'learning purposes'), so that both can go through the process together, and learn together, and create a bond. I'd like to see ethical discussions about the best soul healing techniques, and like on the old Kondor forum, discussions about the best ways of getting from place to place in the Otherworlds, and the best ways of settling down disgruntled spirits of the dead (which, in the past, has ranged from cupcakes, to tea, to chanting, to talking to them, to bringing touchable, affectionate animal spirits along with you). I'd like a community, or communities that worked to solidify otherworldly UPG, while at the same time; show fearlessness when it comes to bringing new UPG to the table, as is our responsibility as story-tellers and makers.

For now, I'm limited to writing posts like this one, and often resolving these issues by myself. Shamanism is a lonely path, my friends; but it should never be this lonely.
ravenari: (art - fire trees)
I've often talked about how snail is a part of my life, a trusted guide, a wonderful helper, and so on. So much so, that some of my friends call me 'snaily P.' I have always loved snails, of all kinds; but especially your bog-standard european garden snail, which is a bit of a pest here in Australia. Snail reminds me that for the sake of my health, my wellbeing, my sanity, my ability to execute skilled artwork, I have to slow down and appreciate the small things in life.

I have a cheetah energy in my life, I'm not sure if it is cheetah, but that's what I call her. Cheetah is fast and powerful. When she's resting she's impatient and hungry for success and triumph. She wants to be running and catching the things she desires. She tells me to do it ALL. That if I do it all fast enough, I can attain everything I want. She walks off in a huff when I remind her that cheetahs burn a lot of energy when they sprint, which is why they need clear focus. Ultimately she tells me to be an opportunist, to sprint when I need to sprint. But her energy in the back of my head gets me feeling agitated, stressed, and not appreciating the journey. Going too fast, and working too hard, for my own comfort.

The cheetah and the snail have opposing energies, at least right now. I have gotten sick, more times than I can remember, by listening to cheetah's agitation and impatience. By trying to do it all. I have worked consecutive 10 hour days. I have forgotten to sleep. I have told myself that if I just bury my energy into this one goal (no matter what it is), I'll triumph and then I can rest. The problem is, no one goal is good enough, and I never end up resting.

On the other hand, listening to snail has had me quitting the jobs that helped to make me sick. Has me sitting and looking at the small things in life. And sometimes taking things so slowly that I miss out on opportunities to learn and grow. By looking at the details, I sometimes miss the big picture. Snail can see the leaf in front of it, but it may not see the gardener behind it waiting to throw him over the fence. Cheetah sees the big plains, has to in order to survive. But Cheetah doesn't see any wisdom in knowing the leaves on a tree. The individual flowers on a flowering branch.

One area of my life that I seek to balance, almost constantly, is cheetah's 'let's do it quickly and with high energy,' with snail's 'let's do it slowly and with little energy.' It's 'big picture' vs. 'small picture.' I've been skewed more towards the cheetah almost all my life, and suffered dire consequences. And now the pendulum is swinging back towards snail and eventually, the pendulum will settle and I will know a thing that I bemusedly call 'intermittent balance.' Because the pendulum is never truly still, and because sometimes it's good to shake things up a bit to reveal further wisdoms that lie hidden like pebbles beneath the still lake.

I do need to go through a 'snail phase.' It is always with snail that I do the most of my internal healing. And it is always with cheetah that I achieve the most of my external triumphs and successes; even if I do struggle to recognise them for what they are. Finding balance, so far, has not been an easy thing for me. But it is something I know I'll get from applying a diligent, opportunistic work ethic; with a stable and solid grounding in knowing when to rest.

And see? In my last sentence of that last paragraph, right there is my paradox. For when I apply the principles of attaining balance in this area of my life - through knowing when to seize the achievements and then being able to slow down enough to appreciate them for what they are - I will have already attained it.

Do you have opposing energies in your life? What are they? What directions do they pull you and what sort of 'middle ground' are you looking for? Have you ever experienced totem animals that just didn't get along with each other, or seem to have energies that were in any way compatible? How did you deal with it?
ravenari: (art - quoll)
The other day, I was writing a comment in response to someone's post on Livejournal; I can't remember who off the top of my head. Essentially - to paraphrase - they constantly had totems in their life that pushed and challenged them, and didn't always have the energy to be challenged. Sometimes it was just comfort, or reassurance they needed. I have seen this sentiment expressed before, in many places, so I asked them if they had ever thought of just searching for totems or spirits who would simply offer comfort, and reassurance. They hadn't, and so I think they began their search.

Spirit helpers and totem animals can help with a lot of different things. They can be the energies that take you apart during an initiation, they can be the ones to tell you to 'get your act together!' and the ones to give you a metaphysical kick up the backside to get you back on track, they can be the ones to offer advice in a difficult situation, or offer silence to remind you that you really can figure it out on your own; honest. They can be the creatures we are terrified of, or the ones we adore and admire, and they can be animal energies we didn't know we could appreciate until they came into our lives.

But they can also be the energies that simply love us for who we are, and soothe us when things are hard. Who offer comfort without us 'working' for it. Who take us in when we are broken and overhwelmed and give succour in exchange.

Heron, actually, is the animal energy that offers this to me. It's quite strange, really, because although I have always loved herons, I have mostly seen them as bold, powerful, graceful animals. Not ones I would immediately associated with softness and love. But then - as some of you probably know - animal totems never just fit into a box of select keywords. I mean sometimes they do, but very often they don't.

The heron that comes to me is large and grey/white, essentially a super-sized white-faced heron (Egretta novaehollandiae), he very rarely says anything, only comes into my life and lays his wings upon me when I think I cannot go on; when I think I cannot keep loving and caring for myself; when I just need some help. He doesn't ask for anything in return, though he has my love and gratitude always, and he has never pushed me away.

That said, I do not work with him as much as I could, because accepting comfort, and reassurance, and unconditional love is - of itself - very challenging for me, and for many of us. It's why so many of us don't even think about searching out or asking if there are any energies in our lives that would offer this to us. And no wonder, when so many of us struggle to offer comfort and succour to ourselves when we most need it. We are so often pushing ourselves past the next frontier, throwing ourselves into the next challenge, worrying we won't be good enough, or simply forgetting that accepting love, peace and comfort (from ourselves, as well as from spirits) is a form of valid spiritual nourishment; just as giving others love and comfort is as well.

For those of you who work with spirits of any kind, are there any who simply offer you comfort, love and reassurance? Did they come to you at a tough time in your life? Or did you have to search them out? If you have no spirits of energies in your life that could offer this, why do you think this is the case? Do you think you would benefit from knowing there was someone other than human who you could approach for succour?
ravenari: (art - stormy weather)
When I first started out, as a pagan, I was in highschool and I was one of those kids who did tarot readings for her friends, made her own Book of Shadows, was very interested in all kinds of energy work and healing (including Reiki) and basically starting to become obsessed with animal symbolism and so on. By the time I was 17, I was in an Alexandrian Wiccan coven. I thought I was dedicated. I meditated every day, I ran a meditation group for friends, I did rituals and spells, I had my own huge altar, I burnt a circle of salt into the grass in the back garden (sorry Mum!) and so on...

So, on the outside, I was a dedicated young spiritual pagan. But there was a problem. A big problem. There was a huge divide between my spiritual work, and my real life. The person I was spiritually was more ethical than the person I was on a day to day basis. A lot of what I learnt in meditation, I didn't apply to my 'real life.' The animals I worked with taught and said interesting things, but I didn't really know how to bridge the gap. How did I take the problem solving skills of raven and apply them anywhere? I didn't. There was a big divide between what I did, who I was, the lives I was leading.

It wasn't until much later, when I split away from Wicca, and embraced shamanism and animism, that I started to see very clear ways that my spirituality could assist my 'real life.' And around that time I started realising that there's no point to a spirituality that doesn't assist your real life. And absolutely no point in any spirituality that lowers your quality of life. If you're in any spirituality or belief system, no matter WHAT it is, that lowers your quality of life; get out!!!

These days, I don't meditate every day. I don't have a great big altar (I have a few shrines). I have no circles of salt burnt into the grass behind our house (we have no grass, so...), and I don't run a meditation group. But it doesn't matter, because I live my spirituality. In my work as a spiritual artist. In my mental health and therapy where I now see a therapist who will actually bring up the totems I'm working with as a way to communicate assistance.

An excellent example of this unification was recently I experienced a great deal of anger over a serious betrayal. I am very dysfunctional when it comes to anger, I'll be the first to admit it. I rarely feel it, let along anger that is so strong that I shake from it, and feel my heart pounding and my face heat up... I had no idea what to do. So I reached out to my perevrjni, my spirit helpers, and I said 'what do I do? Help me.'

One of my spirit helpers, a grumpy old man who is partial to wolverines, came forward around me and brought another one of my spirit helpers, a water-horse (a horse that lives in the sea, with a mane and tail of fire) with him. He took a jar and said 'pour your anger into this jar.' I did, and it filled up quickly. He grabbed another jar, and said 'pour your anger into this jar.' And so we went, on and on, pouring out white, and then red, and then blue and purple and green shades of anger, until my water-horse was covered in clinking jars of anger that shone with energy. I was grounded and more calm, and I had a stockpile of energy to use for later.

In 'real life' it gave me the ability to respond to the person who had betrayed me from a rational and honest place. I stood up for myself, made healthy decisions for myself, and essentially got out of a very toxic situation with most of my soul intact and a gratefulness in my spirit helpers, and a proudness in myself for being able to manage serious anger in such a way for the first time in my life.

Those anger jars came in handy. I use them in energy work, to protect myself against being attacked by two spirits, and as offerings to other spirits (including a local crocodile god, who now has all my anger jars, and I have to wait again until I'm very angry to make some new ones). It wasn't a psychological technique I was using, taught to me by a therapist; but a spiritual one with psychological and real life implications. It was taught to me by a spirit helper named Aka Oslo, who lives on a house, on a rock that reaches out of a rough sea, that smells of salt and fur...who may or may not be a figment of my imagination. It doesn't matter if he is; because any figment of your imagination that teaches you spiritual and therapeutic tools that keep you safe and true to yourself, is a wonderful, helpful figment. Of course, I think he is real. :)

Not only that, but a couple of other people who heard this story are using anger jars themselves now. This is a technique that can be very helpful. It reached into other 'real lives,' because of its practical implications. It allows you to keep your anger, which means you're not 'getting rid of it' (don't get rid of your emotions, they're valuable!); but it also allows you to take a step back and see exactly what you have, what the energy looks like, and how beautiful it is. Anger might be overwhelming, but when it's shining out of many many jars, it's beautiful too. And colourful! And mostly, practical and helpful as well.

So how does your spirituality translate to your every day functioning? Do you have problems making connections between your spiritual practices and your 'mundane' life? When you work with animal totems, where are the real life results of that? When you walk or commune with the land, what do you take back to your workplace or your other environments. When you are in crisis, how does your spirituality assist you?
ravenari: (art - bear shaman)
Russian shamans unite to vote for a nationwide shaman chief for the first time.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this myself. I think it could potentially be great, and hopefully stop the persecution that many Russian Indigenous still face, depending on where they live and practice...

On the other hand, trying to unite many diverse, and not always same-seeing religious paths under one leader can be potentially catastrophic when it comes to preserving cultural diversity. Globalisation has not always been the friend of Indigenous shamanism. And trying to get a leader to fairly represent very different subcultures may not, in the long run, be the friend of Indigenous shamanism either.

Still, there is always hope. Anything that stops the persecution they still face to this day is a good thing.
ravenari: (art - night-swamp)
I have a non-conventional way of approaching some of the problems in my life. A lot of people do, I'm not alone. But I feel that some of my problem-solving methods are distinctly shamanic in nature. They are spirit-oriented. They look towards the sacredness of something.

Since moving into this new house, in a semi-rural, dry environment, I've been dehydrated. I'm not drinking enough water. I love water, staying hydrated is usually not a problem for me. I can tell, immdiately, when I'm dehydrated. I eat more, I get headaches in the afternoon, I feel sluggish and unmotivated.

So my first objective solution was to simply make myself drink more water. Make up a schedule, drink a lot in the morning, a lot at night. It wasn't an 'all day' thing, but hey, at least I'd be doing it right?

Wrong.

I remembered for half a day, and then promptly forgot and ended up even more dehydrated than before. Rinse and repeat for about two weeks, with only one day of me really keeping to my pretty objective solution.

So then I took it to my more non-conventional place, and I decided to talk with an internalised spirit of water since humans - like almost all animals with a high water content - tend to have one (or so I believe). I withdrew into myself, into the watery places within myself, and found a gentle, young female spirit sitting calmly within the waters with her head looking down.

I introduced myself to her, feeling the dryness around me, and seeing it in her environment. It didn't feel as wet as was appropriate. I felt like I should have taken several buckets of water with me and just let them go.

So I said what came to mind, and our dialogue went like this. I asked 'why have I been so combative with you lately?' And this water maiden looked up at me, smiled softly and shrugged. 'I don't know, why have you been so combative with me lately?'

I paused and thought about it, feeling dry and unhappy inside of myself, and then thought about my environment. The land around me. I've recently made a radical shift in my living environment. From suburbia, to a semi-rural area that borders directly onto bushland. Both behind my house, and not too far away from the house. I thought 'maybe it's because the land is dry,' but then I realised that there was a lot of ground-water beneath this land. So much so, that most of Perth's water come from underground aquifers right where I am.

And then as I thought about this, I had a strange brainwave. I said, 'there's not enough water here, I feel like I have to ration how much I drink.'

The maiden looked up, and smiled, though her eyes were sad. 'There's not enough water here, not for everything and everyone, but there is enough to drink of, and drink plenty. Maybe you are more aware of the land than you were before, the falling water table, the fragile water sources. Maybe in trying to understand your environment, you have become too much like it, and forgot to nourish yourself.'

'Maybe.' I said. 'Even if I don't know why, I'd like to help you more. I don't like how it feels down here.'

'Neither do I.' She said. 'I can help you, though. Lately I have been feeling dry and unhappy, my environment is dry and unhappy. But maybe that is why you don't like water very much as a taste or a flavour. What I can do instead, is try smiling more, for you and for me. It sounds little, but it changes the atmosphere down here, right?' And she beamed at me, and suddenly I thought 'I feel like some water.'

We said our farewells and we shook on it, and I've had a lot of water to drink today. So even though my methods were ultimately non-conventional, they were useful. I feel even more inter-connected with myself and my inner state of being, experiencing 'dryness' at a literal level. I feel grateful that part of this may even be because of my interconnectedness with my environment and local spirits. And I am grateful I have found what seems to be a solution.

Now, I don't know if it's a long-term solution yet! But of course if it's not, I will write another pathway like this one to let you know my next non-conventional way of dealing with dehydration. After all, shamanism is about things that seem small and simple, because often we build our health and healthy environments, from the ground up. :)