“I’ve sent my brightest and bravest men to search for this [grail]. How did you find it?” the King asked.
The Fool laughed and said, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”
— The Fisher King
Originally published at Pagan Square.
I’ve long wrestled with the concept of ‘life purpose.’ Foremost, it seemed limiting–just one? And it smacked of New Age woo. The true wrestling part, though, was that I felt a deep calling, always, like since I became aware that I was aware, between 5-6 years old. I didn’t know what the calling was, and for most of my youth I was satisfied to just recognize that it was.
I recently had the honor of writing for TarotWikipedia, on life as a modern shaman.
To many who find the modern shamanic path, the summation of that work is learning to journey. Sometimes called skywalking, starwalking, or soul flight, journeying is the term most often applied to ecstatic trance. It is the cognisant dreaming state of willing an aspect of the soul to travel out of the body, into a destination in the spirit realm, for benefit of self, other, or community. That’s a mouthful, yes, and it’s intense travel.
Many learn to journey by taking classes taught by someone who has mastered the technique. It’s actually not hard to find classes on ecstatic trance all over the world now, often flavored with many cultural influences. Certainly many books and websites outline various approaches to spirit travel. This jaunt into the unseen is not just an exercise in experiencing the self out of form, but an opportunity to map the Dreaming, to greet spirit guides and totems, to heal, to bless. The act of shamanic journeying, itself, becomes a relationship one has with All Things.
I teach ecstatic journeying, and have since 2000. I’ve mastered the technique of journeying, despite that it dips and dodges, shows me new faces and territories, then swings out and loops back to familiar climes and allies. The thing that I work on to this day is rooting into everyday life what my shamanic journeys teach me. This is the part that can’t be taught in a weekend class, or perhaps even through years of classes. This grounding is the part that can only be learned by doing it, everyday, all day, through every aspect of life.
Learning to journey isn’t a technique, it’s a lifestyle change. I tell this to students who take my classes; I’ve said it repeatedly in the many articles and essays I’ve written on modern shamanism. Ecstatic journeying changes our lives. It rearranges our synapses and priorities, and allows us direct contact with the spiritual manifestation of all that our imaginations can perceive. When we journey, we return changed in ways that can’t be planned for, and most certainly can’t be ignored. That attention must be given in sharing, doing, being, creating the world of imagination–where we live.
Originally published at TarotWikipedia.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank the supporters of my blog, Intentional Insights. I created my blog on this day in 2004, and ever since it’s had fantastic support, a sustained rapport, and a host of featured, cherished others.
I don’t often write on a personal level in my blog. I also often don’t celebrate my own successes. Now that I think about it, those two things are likely related…
At any rate, I’m thrilled for all the relationships that I have formed with others through my blog. Thank you for your inspiration and being candid about what you want to read in it. Thank you for always being kind and honest, and for sticking with it through its various iterations and growth spurts.
Indeed, I do wish us all intentional insights, active engagement, and compassionate wisdom in All Things.
I sent out my monthly newsletter the other day, and have had such a great response to it that I’d like to share part of it here. Go gently into the holidays.
Over the last year I’ve been sitting back, watching lots of dramas play out. Groups splintering, belief paths diverging, relationships ending, jobs disappearing. We’re all familiar with the big ones–the world economy diving, governments crumbling–or at least their integrity is taking a nose dive. As I observe these patterns coming to ends, I’m reminded of the optimism and excitement that was rampant at this time last year. Remember? Winter Solstice 2012? It had a certain ring, an air of mystery. Even if you didn’t buy into the prophecy proclamations, propaganda made it impossible to escape the finality of it marking an end. To some, it was The End of a way of consciousness as we’ve known it.
At that point, there seemed to be moot acceptance that certain systems would fall–the “bad” ones, the inhumane, unhealthy, hateful, harmful ones. Yet, a year later, we’re confused as to the sweeping personal dramas, the inability for rote patterning to quench deep desire. Some of the closings aren’t terribly dramatic. I’ve had a lot of people report that they just can’t go through the motions of everyday as they used to. Their daily routine no longer fits. The rituals they’ve followed to get ready for work for fifteen years suddenly constrict. The desire for a new shiny elusive something won’t abate. In particular, many express feeling conflicted about how to approach the holidays, because lifelong traditions feel foreign, yet no new way reveals itself. Old patterns aren’t working, but new ones aren’t coming.
If we bought into the shift of the last year as bringing the end of systems, then that includes personal ones. Our cherished darlings must break, not just our foes and conflicts. Our habits, even if they aren’t overtly harmful or threatening, have to go if they don’t support our greater joy. I don’t think that means that our relationships will end, or our belief system have to change. I think it means the end of systems, finding comfort in the fact that for now and the foreseeable future, there is no system, on any level.
Our challenge at this time is to stay dynamic. If what worked yesterday isn’t working today, so it is. Find a new way. And if tomorrow, none of the above fulfills, there will be another approach. For years I’ve called this era a “hinge time,” because we are at the turning point of treasured Piscean systems giving way to sustainable, organic Aquarian communities.
Center is shifting, constantly.Our job isn’t to try to find it, but to shift with it.
I wish you strong bearings this holiday season.
“Bunch of wanna-blessed-be’s. Nowadays every girl with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks she’s a sister to the dark ones.” – Willow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I love that quote. It speaks to every judgment that can be made, one Pagan to another, that there is a right and wrong way to “do” Paganism, and that we all think we’re better for our way. Not to mention how it characterizes non-Pagans…
I’ve been mostly sitting back and watching the upheaval around public Pagan figures publicly questioning their Pagan paths over the last year, starting with Star Foster, and now Teo Bishop. There may have been a Facebook status or two, though for the most part, I’ve been silent, taking it all in.
Public personas aside, I’ve been seeing a lot of Pagan-bashing within the Pagan community, of late. I’ve received it, as I’m sure many who remain actively engaged with the wider world audience, have.
I’d like to say it’s disturbing. I’d even like to say it’s in direct opposition to all the things that make the Pagan path… Pagan. Mostly, though, what’s foremost in my mind is that it’s familiar.
Many of us weren’t born into a Pagan tradition; rather, we found one, after having been organized into a mainstream religion. And most of us who fall into that category have very clear reasons for why we left that confining spiritual path. While many don’t tend a particular flavor of Paganism, we gravitate to its freer pastures, its open landscape of possibility and connection.
The freedom to do just that is what made Paganism so accessible. Why, then, would any Pagan give grief to someone seeking out a more defined path, even if that path is defined by the strictures of a different religion?
Is it that neat and tidy for some, that it all fits perfectly into a single container, never to spill across the borders of other perspectives? Maybe. Apparently. I don’t think that’s the rub, though. I think it’s human nature to go off-road now and then, and frankly, to observe how others are faring in their adventure. Getting stuck in the mire of judging their religious choices is another thing, entirely.
As animists, we work the personal experience through the observation of and connection with all things around us, including other people. It isn’t about what spiritual path we’re on, or that anyone else is on. What matters is how well we’re working the tenets of whatever path we choose, perhaps particularly as Pagans. How true to our spiritual convictions can we be if we’re comparing ourselves to others? When we begin to personalize what everybody else is doing, how present are we in tending our own process?
Observe. Form opinions, then lay them at the altar of the ego, and move on. Ultimately it isn’t about being Pagan, another spiritual path, or some threatening, unidentifiable tract between. It’s about being a compassionate human.
Originally published at PaganSquare.
For several years I’ve made effort to talk openly paranormal experiences from the perspective of someone who views them not as Nature’s side shows or intrusive investigation into the spirit world, rather as an honest look into times that the unseen pokes back in startling ways. Ultimately, creepy experiences are still about spiritual imbalance and restoring balance where possible, and where wanted.
It’s that last bit that gets many psychics and intuitives who work with the dead, discarnate souls, and general bump-in-the-nightness into personal trouble. Many contemporary empaths bring to their work a good/evil dichotomy that implies where imbalance is observed, balance/healing must be done. My experience has been more along the lines of open dialogue, which implies listening to the distressed being’s story, as well as compassionate companionship in facilitating them to what they need. That may be total release, to move on to their next destiny. It may be a kind gesture that affirms them in some way. It may be realization that the dynamic is note mine to affect at the time.
Ultimately, my experience has been that healing can’t be forced on beings in the unseen, any more than it can be forced on those of us in the formed realm. That bit of insight, along with a few others came a a few years ago, in a blog post called, Six Things the Dead Want Us to Know About Life.
What does it take to decode teenage America? How can we understand the confluence of factors behind rising crime rates involving our youth, changing sensibilities toward bullying, and violence in our society? Better yet, how do we inform ourselves and support young people in finding the facts? Every day I read articles asking these questions, and a San Francisco woman has devoted the last few years researching their answers.
A passionate supporter of social causes, a civic voice sounding our shifting cultural landscape, a wonderful mother, and a brilliant writer — meet Beth Winegarner. Creator of Backward Messages, a forum openly discussing social elements that feed violence in teen culture, and the media that perpetuates myths around them, Winegarner doesn’t hold back. She takes on sacred cows that have always clouded adult judgment where youth behavior is concerned — heavy metal, video games, the entertainment industry, and the occult. Her work deconstructs every façade that informs our policy, parenting, and perspectives on teens. Not stopping to just debunk socially accepted truths about teens behaving badly, her platform goes on to highlight the real issues creating problems. Among them she cites lack of mental health support, parenting, and in some cases, healthy social communities.
Having interviewed people from all walks of life to understand what creates the cultural myths of violence surrounding teens, a big trend noted in her work is young people turning from organized religion to earth-based belief systems. According to Winegarner, teens by nature “break away, to seek their independence and try on new things, because they’re in the process of learning who they are.” She noted that often those raised with a specific religion may strike out from that religion simply because it’s been a part of their lives and their families for so long. Teens raised without a specific spirituality may seek one out because they want something new.
Her research revealed more specific drives toward open spirituality than just innate rebellion. Drawing from the work of David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in their book unChristian, of the majority religion, Winegarner noted that a lot of teens have “lost respect, because they find [Christianity] anti-homosexual, judgmental, or hypocritical.” However, this transition to a nature-based religion only reinforced a seeming turn to the dark side.
Winegarner cites common fear as the base reason that Nature religions are shunned by the overculture, a ‘what-we-don’t-know-will-hurt-us’ reaction. She also states that the presentation of various pagan faiths as scary or harmful in daily news reports and horror movies contributes to confusion around esoteric beliefs, tenets, disciplines, and rituals. Of them she says, “It can be tough to know what to believe.”
Of course, it’s anyone’s guess as to the intentions of such media influences, though their effects often work as deterrents. “You have religious leaders claiming that the Internet makes kids more prone to demon possession just by dint of the fact that it makes information about non-traditional religions more readily available.” That said, she noted that media such as books, films, or TV shows don’t necessarily change someone’s belief system or spiritual path. Her studies showed that while such may introduce young people to new possibilities, they were already open to change.
“I don’t know that they have much of an influence on shaping most teens’ beliefs, though they can be a catalyst in opening them to different modes of spirituality. A book like The Mists of Avalon or a show like Charmed might introduce someone to Wicca as an alternative path worth exploring.” She goes on to say that media certainly can play a role in spiritual change, and everyone’s got their own opinion whether that’s a good thing or bad thing.
In all, Winegarner is breaking into old territory in a poignantly new way. While she realizes the challenges in conveying her work and research, her commitment to redeeming teens and their unique culture are solid. “I strongly believe that there is good in all these so called ‘negative influences,’ and that the kids who seek them out know that. They know exactly what the benefits are and what they’re getting out of their interaction with these things.”
As a result, her view on these influences is more flexible, and her expectations of the overculture more stringent. “We need to stop trying to limit teens or take away the sources of culture, entertainment, reflection, and solace that hold so much meaning for them. When it comes to teens and violence, we need to stop blaming the wrong causes, because that prevents us from being able to stop teens from harming themselves or others.”
The ethics of energy and spiritual work is a topic I bring up often, not because I want to push a specific viewpoint, but because we don’t discuss it enough. A component of the imperialistic western mindset, particularly of Americans, is that if something is available, we have the right to use, repurpose, repackage, and redeliver to consumers whatever we so desire. This truth also pertains to the acquisition of esoteric insight in the New Age.
In classes that I teach, I speak very openly about the many routes on my shamanic path, one of which is Usui Reiki. I’ve discussed in prior blogs my concerns around the New Age handling of Reiki, though I’ve never clearly stated how I came to it, why I incorporated it into my practice, how I do so, and how I bridge its cultural differences. I’m not Japanese, that I’m aware of. I’m also not Shinto or Buddhist, per se, though am well-informed of both. I was, however, firmly on my shamanic path when I sought to learn Reiki, and was very familiar with cultural appropriation. For those of you who may not know, cultural appropriation is taking a component of a culture not native to one’s own, and adopting it in some fashion. Why on earth, then, was I attracted to Reiki?
Initially, an off-the-hook co-worker told me about it, and invited me to attend a community Reiki Share in Raleigh. A group of about a dozen people sat in circles of wooden chairs (because the Reiki Master refused to allow us to sit in metal chairs. When I asked why, she said it interfered with the life force. When I asked how, she said. “It just does.”). Vague peculiarities aside, we opened the space and the Master came to everyone in the circle and allowed Reiki for whatever each needed.
When she came to me, tremendous pressure fluttered in my chest . My heart cracked open in a metaphoric break. I was overwhelmed with an indescribable emotions, something I referred to for years as “The Great Sadness.” At that point I’d never allowed anyone else into that space, and I wasn’t intentionally allowing the Master, then. That breach was new territory, and so overcome with sadness and embarrassment was I that she could feel it, too, I shook.
She stepped back from me and said, “You have a lot going on there,” intimated that I really needed a lot of work, then went on to the next person. Pressured to believe the healing she had done and the summary of it was this precious treasure, in reality I felt violated and abandoned to deal with its aftermath alone. Of course in hindsight, I realize that unfortunate experience was a great example of what not do so as a group leader, particularly as a responsible facilitator of healing, and what the Master was doing stopped being Reiki the second she opened her mouth (if it ever was). I also learned later that it wasn’t an appropriate “Share.”
I swore I’d never approach Reiki again, and that I wouldn’t attend garden variety energy work stuffs on the whim of lesser-informed friends.
A couple of years later, in my shamanic work I felt led to expand my knowledge of energy healing approaches. I didn’t know of another avenue, so I completed the Shoden and Okuden attunements (Another unsavory interpersonal experience, but a brilliant joining with Universal Life Force.). I asked that teacher about the cultural appropriation of Reiki, and I had to explain to her what that meant. She informed me Reiki was for everyone. Shortly after, I completed the Shinpiden level under another Master, via unorthodox means. For those who don’t know, it’s a big no-no to switch Reiki teachers (or was then). Part of the reason I did is despite that my final teacher didn’t directly address cultural appropriation, she incorporated original Shinto and Buddhist tenets into the study.
That’s how I got to Reiki. How it came to me is something other.
I knew from the peacemaking and culling of personal truth in my shamanic education that I had to go through the same process with Reiki. One thing I never encountered in my shamanic learning is the concept of secrecy, that there are some truths meant to be kept from others, those who are not initiated on the same path. Being a middle class American with no awareness of gentry and little respect for elitism, this made no sense to me. I honored that one must be ready for certain truths, though the shroud around Reiki–that the attunements, symbols, and process must be kept hidden–gave me pause. Often such secrecy comes from oppression, or it has elements of control. Maybe both? I don’t know, because for me, wandering down the path of clarifying such points is going away from the work I want to do, which is in engaging who in the spirit realm will walk with me, regardless of tribe, etc. Of course I can’t say what tenets of Reiki are true to Usui’s original teaching. The thing is, nobody else can either. Even if there are surviving originals with perfect branches from Usui’s original roots, they are lost in a sea of disinformation as much as misinformation and ego. Maybe it is all supposed to be a secret, and perhaps that is a cultural separation that I can’t understand. I can say that having worked with Reiki for 20+ years, the personal relationship to it is key.
As with all spiritual paths (renegade ones, in particular), my experience is that humans supply the ethics. My experience is that once I breached beyond the earth nature/spirit layer, no delineations exist. There’s no gender, no ethnicity, no regional boundary, no belief system, not even deity. That’s the place my spiritual path started in, literally, when I began to intuit my own origins and drive in this plane. It was a lesson for me to come back into these earthly layers and understand the pride and lineage of certain practices. I still source my work from that One space, but I tread carefully among the delineations I respect the people who uphold them, the lines, and the legacy they represent. Likewise, I practice what my experience has been, whatever it bears similarity to something. I don’t claim any traditions, when it comes to spiritual legacy. I feel certain ones in the mix, and I resonate with specific paths, but I wasn’t raised in them. I wasn’t given permission by the elder of a line, even my own, to work in a certain way. I also realize I wouldn’t have walked into most of the learning that I have, spiritually speaking, of my own volition. So much has been led, without regard to how it would retrofit into culture.
Regarding Reiki, it was presented to me as fair game, yet that never felt right. Not once in my educational experience did Master directly address cultural appropriation. I chose to take that on as my peace to make. Going into Reiki, I erroneously assumed that addressing cultural ownership would be part of the teaching, because every Reiki Master I’ve known enjoys pointing out their descent from Usui, as in, “My teacher was so and so, who was taught by Master so and so, who was the student of Ms. Takata (the woman credited with bringing Reiki to America)…” Cultural titles were taught, not heritage, not the rich traditions that birthed them.
I’ve been sitting with this article on the shaping of shamanism as a dangerous industry in South America, particularly with the use of entheogens as induction into ecstatic trance. I don’t condemn or condone the use of substances in trance work, though everyone I know who uses them never does so alone, always with a trusted master of such approaches to the spirit realm. The use of such chemicals is the focus of the article, though I’m not convinced it should be. I think something more compelling is at work.
That said, I’ve written several blogs and articles on the pattern of believing enlightenment hides in some far off land, and that trend concerns me deeply. Again, whatever works for you. Whatever gets you there. It is with all caution in mind that I say, the trade of spiritual tourism isn’t limited to tribal nations or economically oppressed countries. A thriving business of spiritual healing exists right here in the US, with potential wonders and dangers of its own. Recall 2009’s James Arthur Ray sweatlodge fiasco. The truth is, we’ve never had to travel far and wide to find charlatans, anymore than we’ve had to in order to find enlightenment.
Culturally, we are perched on the border of very interesting territory. We see old regimes falling, organized religions crumbling. Many seekers readily identify a hunger to connect with deeper meaning in life, a need to caretake self at every level available. Yet, even though many are leaving those old systems, we still carry with us old engrained truths. Foremost is the belief that we cannot, should not, find enlightenment for ourselves, that we must defer to a schooled master of esoteric truths, who will instruct us along the journey to find our own. Punishment for seeking enlightenment through ourselves is deeply engrained. As well, so many are deeply hurt or turned off by the established institutions that we run to anything that doesn’t resemble them for help. We don’t believe that enlightenment lives in our backyard–literally in the faces that look like ours, the Nature that graces our every day, the circumstances of our own creation.
These seem like small concerns, though they actually manifest as widespread cultural spiritual emergency, leaving people vulnerable to all manner of healers, energy workers, shamans, and exotic adventures that promise great release. Coming from historic frameworks that taught us no spiritual autonomy, the senses to intuit what is in our best interest are often undeveloped. Particularly for those in pain, every healing modality sounds promising, every practitioner is a saviour. Given that, I think it’s important for spiritual renegades to feel supported in finding the path and soul healing approaches that are right for them. In fact, I think the following considerations are good guidelines for anyone taking their spiritual path, direction, and healing into their own hands:
Though many of us have been on alternate spiritual paths and/or held the role of soul wellbeing facilitator for decades, this road still looks wild and daunting to those who are newly seeking support and direction. I encourage other spiritual healing practitioners to become involved in an active effort to educate clients and the general public about your work, why you do it, how you do it. Education will be the thing that not only informs our culture of its shamanic legacy and potential, it will also be the force that heals us all.