I don’t get writer’s block.
I’m always hesitant to write private things in my blog, not because I’m unwilling to share myself, but because I generally talk about these things in social media, and I’m hyper-sensitive to inundating followers with too much. Something happened about a month ago to change my mind on that front, which is why I’ve decided to take a different approach to facets of my writing, as well as my shamanic work.
Modern shaman and best-selling author S. Kelley Harrell’s new book, “Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism,” out May 30 from Soul Rocks Books, is a light-hearted and informative handbook introducing shamanism to today’s young adults and beginning seekers. Author and journalist Beth Winegarner’s latest book, “The Columbine Effect: How Five Teen Pastimes Got Caught in The Crossfire and Why Teens Are Taking Them Back,” addresses how certain interests — including alternative spiritualities like shamanism, neopaganism and others — have been unfairly blamed for teen violence. Kelley and Beth got together for a chat about alternative faiths, cultural misperceptions and the importance of trusting youth as they find their own paths.
Beth: I know practitioners within Santeria and Palo Mayombe who say that those paths are gaining in popularity among teens. Are you seeing anything similar with shamanism? Do you think more teens are feeling the call? Why does this book make sense at this particular time?
Kelley: I do see this is the case with modern shamanism. It makes sense to put this book out now because so many young people aren’t satisfied with the status quo of religious paths, lifestyles, gender issues, philosophies, and even career concerns, in general. Their processes and options are very different, even from when we were that age. There are so many conflicting messages in media, that having a supportive, yet, disciplined way to examine the unseen and engage with it, connect it back to mundane life, is very grounding. Young people are looking for ways to bring personal meaning more into everything they do. That’s what rebellion is about. Expressing that need in a compassionately supported context ultimately benefits us all.
A key thing I see that’s different about young people, now, compared to older generations, is a lack of fear, which manifests in a couple of important ways. First, they aren’t afraid of intuitive or even supernatural experiences. They express being a great deal more capable to accept them for what they are. Even when they don’t have an understanding of what those experiences are, they don’t run from them. There’s a greater willingness to just accept that life is bigger without having to define that what means. Likewise, teens, today, aren’t afraid to diverge from their elders’ philosophies and viewpoints. While they may not wave that difference around, they recognize that they approach life differently, and seem more able to express compassion for difference, period. It’s when they are not shown compassion for the difference that shadow becomes a factor.
Side note, but I’m also tired of information on paths such as shamanism coming from outside the shamanic community. The broad resources that flit through media read copied and pasted from some 1970s text book. There is a real need to see the path as alive and evolving, and in seeing it as such, a possibility for personal connection to the unseen.
Beth: I hadn’t thought about the possibility that younger generations might be more open to supernatural experiences without being scared of them. I wonder if that’s a product of growing up in a more agnostic, or even atheist society, rather than being raised in more dedicated religious households and not being so exposed to the idea that anything outside the church is scary. One of the things I noted when I was researching “The Columbine Effect” is that kids — even young kids — have a very clear idea of what they’re comfortable with and what’s too scary or out of bounds. So even if they’re less afraid of things that might make their parents or especially grandparents uncomfortable, they still show a propensity for defining boundaries for their exploration.
Those findings connect with something I noticed in “Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism.” In the beginning of the book, you say that we often don’t think of children as wise. Where do you think that idea comes from, and why is it wrong?
Kelley: I think it comes from old virtues around control and a general need to see children as creatures to be shaped, rather than allowed to unfold. That ideology hasn’t worked for myself or anyone I’ve worked with. I find so many wounds around suppressing the wisdom of childhood. What’s wrong about that is obviously that it denies the intrinsic value of the child, though it also creates a rut in which adults become stuck and don’t grow. The education system in the US is a great example of that. Instead of realizing that forcing all kids down the same curriculum the same way doesn’t work, we keep finding ways to narrow the system. It’s a pattern of, “This is how we’ve always done it, ” rather than allowing individuality and creating ways to meet needs more openly.
Beth: I think that probably leads to something else I found in my research, which is that many kids explore a pagan or other alternative path in part because they become so disillusioned with the church or even with a lack of spirituality in the household, and they crave something that helps them create meaning in their lives and maybe also validates those kinds of supernatural experiences you mentioned earlier. Whether it’s neopaganism, Thelema, or chaos magic, these inquiries can turn into meaningful and sincere spiritual paths for teens. It might start out as rebellion but it turns into something else.
That said, many assume that kids who explore a non Judeo/Christian/Islamic path are only “dabbling” or “rebelling,” that children aren’t capable of seriously following a spiritual path they weren’t raised in. But what’s interesting among shamans, even modern shamans, is that the “call” often comes in childhood, doesn’t it? What makes shamanism different in this respect?
Kelley: It does come in childhood. I think shamanism is different in this respect because we are all born animists, which is realizing that all things are innately alive. Children pretend their stuffed animals talk to them. Plants, rocks, cars — everything is a companion to be interacted with, that contributes to the child’s understanding of life. We come in wired for that experience, then as we age into a social system larger than our immediate family–becoming school-aged–we are taught to shun that perspective. We’re taught that imagining livelihood is bad and displays immaturity, possibly lower intellect, or emotional problems. In that light, the connection between judgement of mental state and the unseen starts very early in life, as well. Our natural way of sensing and engaging life is quickly redacted.
Beth: You also write about the line between shamanic experience and what we might consider schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I’ve written a great deal about youth violence being linked to paganism, Satanism, the occult, etc., when in reality we need to look more at violent kids’ mental health and state of mind. How can parents, and culture at large, get better at telling the difference between a child who is experiencing visions or trance-journeys and one who is experiencing delusions induced by illness?
Kelley: In anyone, of any age, the difference between invoking trance and delusions is control. If a young person can control the unseen experiences s/he is having, that isn’t mental illness. If s/he can change the dialogue between self and spirit guides, that isn’t delusion. Control is the key component of trance work — moving into trance at will, directing what happens within, and leaving trance when desired — these are the intended, willed choices that a shaman makes. Someone who can’t control going into trance, who feels victimized or controlled by the experiences within trance, or can’t make trance stop, is experiencing a state of being that could be considered a mental or biochemical condition.
What do you think is the cultural motivation to assign ‘spiritual’ deviation to a youth’s errant behaviour , rather than explore it as the result of mental illness? How does this emphasis shape our view of young people, and these spiritual paths?
Beth: Well, keep in mind that until a few hundred years ago, we didn’t have much of a concept of mental illness at all; the feelings and behaviors we now recognize as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or even neurological issues like epilepsy and migraines, used to be explained in terms of demons and possession. And I think that when it comes to kids, the same social impulses that lead us to assume children can’t be wise or capable of their own agency have also given us the idea that kids aren’t capable of being very mentally ill, that it’s something only adults suffer from seriously. For example, a lot of people don’t think teenagers are capable of being sociopaths, but in Dave Cullen’s book on the Columbine High School shootings, he makes a very strong case for the argument that Eric Harris was a sociopath.
So, if you don’t believe kids are capable of being so ill that they’re likely to commit violence, it’s easier to look for other causes when they become violent. And if they happened to be exploring an alternative spirituality at the time, it’ll seem like an obvious culprit.
Of course, one of the reasons those explanations can make sense to people is that they don’t actually understand pagans or Satanists or occultists all that well. They’re relying on what they’ve heard on TV news or horror films, which is far from accurate. It’s like what you said about relying on the wrong sources of information about shamanism earlier. Instead, people who have a teenager exploring an alternative faith need to read and talk with legitimate sources. I talk about that a lot in “The Columbine Effect,” along with the ways various minority faiths and paths are misunderstood by society at large. So, what are some of the misconceptions people have about shamans and shamanism? Are those perceptions harmful to the practice?
Kelley: This is a personal button. The overlap of New Age ideology and earth-based paths hasn’t always been a service to shamanism. Out of the New Age movement, a lot fluffy, everything-is-always-good perspectives emerged, regarding shamanism. One of those is the idea that all mentally ill people are shamans, which is erroneously based on some nebulous tenet that tribal cultures revere the mentally ill as wisdomkeepers. This is always contrasted with the derision of the mentally ill in the west, which is virtually incontestable.
Every person contributes valuable intuitive insights, regardless of mental state. Everyone. No one is elite and special in that regard. The thing is, tribal spiritual leaders know the difference between someone who is mentally ill, and someone to whom they can completely turn over the spiritual reins of the tribe. Someone who can’t control their ecstatic experience isn’t acting in the role of shaman, and that is the difference. Being able to go into trance doesn’t make you a shaman. Having a spirit guide doesn’t make you a shaman. Just having visions or interaction with spirits doesn’t make you a shaman. Being able to bring those experiences back and shape them into some improved, manifest state for the community makes you a shaman. It’s not the technique, but the role. This has been a steep learning curve in the modern path.
How can practitioners of minority faiths bring awareness of their paths to wider society in a way that is non-threatening, yet informative? What I see is compartmentalization of faiths. Practitioners/Leaders of faiths are out there, writing, speaking, engaging in their own community. They don’t step out, often with good reason, based on maltreatment by the larger community. Rarely does wider society venture in to fact check, let alone learn more. How does that education happen?
Beth: That’s an excellent question. As you point out, many don’t want to speak out in the larger community because they could face backlash. It’s already tough to walk an unorthodox path, which means many people don’t want to go the extra mile of being an ambassador for their faith. And in some cases, as with chaos magic and Satanism, I found that there was a vocal faction who decidedly didn’t want to work toward more societal acceptance. They enjoyed being seen as evil and scary by outsiders to their faith and weren’t interested in anyone accepting and tolerating them.
Fortunately, I think there are at least a few out there — writers, journalists and people who are willing to make themselves available to the press as sources — who are helping bridge the gap between spiritual communities who maybe don’t want to be their own ambassadors, and a culture who otherwise wouldn’t make the effort. Sometimes, this can unfortunately come across as one of those “Gosh, isn’t this weird/fascinating/cool” feature stories, but not always. For example, when the so-called “Craigslist killer,” Miranda Barbour, claimed she belonged to a Satanic cult, both the Satanic Church and the Satanic Temple — the ones who are designing the Oklahoma monument — were quick to talk with major news outlets and say, “This woman has nothing to do with us and we don’t kill people.” That’s exactly what we need more of, and it’s great that the Church of Satan Peter Gilmore, who comes across as a calm, diplomatic and sensible representative for a church that still has many of negative stereotypes to dispel. With time, more groups are learning that a spokesperson like Gilmore is a real asset, and I think that will help a lot.
Originally published at The Wild Hunt.
With all of the writing groups that writers take part in you are bound to see subjects of every type come across your screen. It is how we all connect, interact, and help be it through promoting, beta reading, and feedback on ideas or paragraphs, even a simple sentence. Within these I could not help but notice Kelley Harrell for her subject, personality, and approachability. Believe me, not all writers are that approachable; I compare it to a gamers group or even a music scene with competition, some prima donna egos, you know; like anything else.
Kelley is best known for publishing shamanic memoir, spiritual nonfiction, and magickal realism. She also writes for The Huffington Post, and has maintained the blog Intentional Insights – Q&A From Within, since 2004. Her work has been published in Innerchange Magazine, Mystic Pop, SageWoman, The Beltane Papers, Women Writers, Women, Books, Savvy Authors, If… a Journal of Spiritual Exploration, OmPlace AltWire, Astro Abby.
Take a few moments to get to know more about this wonderful woman and all that she does, it really is quite impressive.
Interview with author S. Kelley Harrell
So the first question is when did you fall in love with writing; what was the catalyst for you?
I don’t recall not being in love with writing. Before I learned the alphabet, my mother transcribed stories I dictated to her. Learning to write was my gateway drug to life. I loved it—the feel of the pen in my hand, the evidence of my brain on paper, how it all fit together to form a cohesive movement. I just loved it from the beginning, and I still do.
I know a lot of writers write for several outlets beyond books, what other outlets do you work?
I have kept a blog for 9 years, Intentional Insights – Q&A From Within, responding to inquiries readers have about paranormal events in their lives, dreams, modern shamanism and animism. I also write a modern spirituality column for the Huffington Post, and I publish fiction under another name.
What genre(s) do you normally work in and why?
I am best known for shamanic memoir, though I also write nonfiction spirituality books, New Adult Magickal Realism, and all sorts of fiction. I’m just in love with writing. It’s another sense to me, so I filter as much expression through it as I possibly can.
How did you get started and were there any frustrations? How did you get beyond those?
The first book I submitted for publication was Gift of the Dreamtime, almost 10 years ago. At that time, no one was writing about modern shamanism, certainly not from within the ecstatic trance perspective. Everything you read on shamanism then was academic anthropology, fiction, or nonfictional accounts of what shamanism was like. My book was the first to show how the shamanic narrative (healing story) works from inside, making the reader part of the soul travel, thus healing.
At that time, publishers wanted anything shamanic to be shaped into a self-help book, following the recipe of personal story, universal conclusions drawn from that experience, followed by end-of-chapter exercises for the reader to journey along. To do that would have entirely changed the format and writing of my book, let alone that fantastic vantage point within trance. It took me a while to find a publisher who got what I was doing, and my life hasn’t been the same since!
What are your works thus far and where can people find them?
What is forthcoming and can you give a brief description?
I have a few nonfiction projects in the works. One is a collection of healing stories by female survivors of assault. I’m in the final stages of writing a memoir of shamanic techniques in working with chronic health conditions, and am mid-way through a comprehensive book on modern shamanism. I’ve also completed and am seeking a home for my first novel, The Last Snow Moon.
I have learned that the literary world can be quite cutthroat; what advice would you give to a person trying to find a way to publish their work?
Do what’s right for you, period. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to, but you know you need to. Things you don’t want to do aren’t the same as what doesn’t support your truth. Knowing that difference can take you a long way. Go with what’s right for you. It’s always the best path in the end.
A bit back my story was featured on Candid Slice, a very cool, conscientious blog based on the Triangle area, in NC.
The Healing Story – Listen, Share, Inspire, Heal
Years and a lot of intuition later, my fantasy world collided in a series of metaphors more grounded than my waking life.
I became a series of soul stories, a narrative of personal symbols and mythology. These stories were, literally, me. My self.
Is it any surprise that our earliest form of healing is also our first theatre–storytelling via empathy–the ability to feel as others do through reading facial expressions, body language?
Through this neurological weaving, we don’t simply connect with each other and share feelings, we give healing. We write healing stories.
Throughout archaic history, healing stories are mystical tales birthed from personal tribulation and victory, which are then shared. The process of relating the personal chronicle has several effects.
In hearing the yarn, empathy is generated in listeners. They connect with the emotions of the storyteller, which stir memories and feelings of their like experience.
The Listener becomes inspired. They honor and value their personal stories.
The Listener’s personal stories are aroused. The wound is witnessed, thus healing becomes possible, as does a conception of life beyond the wound. Through ownership of the process healing occurs. Listeners tell their stories. Inspiration is shared.
No more animistic mechanism than the healing story exists, no deeper sharing of what makes us vitally human.
In this tradition of one person sharing the narrative, a single story heals a village. Such is the hero’s journey, the evolution of the wounded healer, the shamanic narrative, even today. The visions that cloud, the scenes that replay, distracting from the rest of life, from the self that could be more completely be…
Be them and they will speak. Write them and they will heal. Heal, and we all thrive.
Originally published on Candid Slice.
When I decided to offer Winter Soulstice readings to clients, I did a general Rune reading of the life force, itself, how it’s shifting, what that means for the planet. After years of culling through what the Mayans say is happening now, what everyone else says, and taking my own feelings of it into consideration, I call the current state a ‘hinge time.’ We’re living at a time when many things are changing–things that really haven’t changed in thousands of years in how humans occupy space here. It only seemed balanced to hear the Runes’ perspective on this time, and as always they affirm and surprise.
When I read the Runes as a spread, I determine what spread I’m going to use first. There are many variations, and I go with the one that best lends meaning to my intention. When I’m doing a quick spread, I generally draw three Runes, the first one as the center, or focus at present, the next Rune as what came before, and the final Rune as the support available to foster the best outcome of the present. The center Rune is the main focus. The next Rune is actually the “first” Rune, and it’s placed to the right, while the final Rune would be placed to the left.
As I rifled through what spread would be the best one to use for this Solstice reading, I came up with nothing. I was led to just draw.
As the first Rune that came was Wunjo, I placed it as the focus of the present. Berkano came next. They are shown here, read right to left.
Berkano means tree, the specific type depending on cultural interpretation of various iterations of the Hávamál. The overall meaning of Berkano is fruition, work that has yielded beneficial outcome and is now complete. Wunjo means joy, the state in which we are aligned with what we wish and the ability to create it.
My habit was to reach for a third and final Rune, though each time I let the cool staves rustle over my fingers, I felt nothing, no resonance urging me to go further. The significance of that abbreviated gesture seems to be aligned with exactly the energy of this Solstice, and with the message of this reading. Stay in the present. Go with what is. There’s no need to push.
In short, through the Runes this transition speaks itself:
Dues are paid. Make a wish.
From now through the end of January I am offering special 2012 Winter Soulstice Distance Readings. These readings focus only on the intention of learning how your True Self advises you to work with the shift in energies at this astrally auspicious time. Everyone is familiar with the shifts in consciousness taking root, now. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn what they mean specifically for you! These readings are $65, are half an hour, and will only be scheduled through 31 January.
To schedule a Winter Soulstice Distance Reading, remit payment via Paypal as a personal transaction to kelley at soulintentarts dot com. When I receive your payment, I will email the date of your reading. Allow 24-48 hours to receive the writeup of the reading.
To cover other intentions in distance readings, refer to the options listed on my website.