Voice and Vulnerability

I always knew that my purpose on this planet wasn’t to heal from childhood sexual assault, and at twelve years old I decided I would figure out what that purpose was. What I learned very quickly was everywhere I looked for calling, I also found the wounds of my childhood. 

The first time I tried to write what would be Gift of the Dreamtime, I was seven years old. I called it “The Incontrovertible Truth.” I don’t even know where I learned that word. My story was hand-written on wide-ruled notebook paper in a powder blue paper binder. That conviction and drive to put it all into words persisted into its final publication nineteen years ago, 1 September 2004 by Spilled Candy Books.

Gift of the Dreamtime, first edition

2004, first edition

That revelation sat hard a few weeks ago, and it left me exploring who I was when I wrote it and what has changed for me now. By the time Gift of the Dreamtime was fully conceived, I recognized its context as my initiatory wound where soul tending is concerned. The whole time through its writing I questioned whether I should be writing it to share. Was it enough to just put it into words for myself? Every time I heard, “No.”

In many animistic cultures it is taboo to lay bare one’s relationship with spirit helpers, to name them, to share it with those who can’t honor it in its sacred context, which in American settler culture can mean a somewhat lonely experience. We don’t share common functional cosmology, we don’t create and hold safe collective space for initiatory experiences to occur. The understanding is that when we talk openly about these beyond-form bonds with folx who don’t respect them, the bonds become vulernable to intrusion, attachment, and theft in general, in ways that compromise not just the bond but the beings connected by it. Repeatedly I asked my Allies if it was acceptable to name them in the book, to be so candid about my inner process of soul work. Repeatedly they affirmed, not just that it was okay for me to, but that it was necessary that I do so.

After the book was out for a couple of years, though, I did feel those bonds compromise. Looking back, it was definitely a combination of making those relationships so publicly transparent, and transitioning so much of my energy that had been healing-focused into cultivating Soul Intent Arts. I began focusing less on tending my initiation, my path, in general. And the thing is, that was all done under the advice of my Allies. I saw the potential harms of the way I was being directed to hold things, yet they literally said, “You do not get to sit on the couch with this. You have to get off the couch.” I knew they were saying I needed to ready myself to facilitate other people in their initiatory processes, to be someone who understands and holds that safe collective space, and inspires others to hold it for the collective, as well.

I had no plans of doing that. I really only ever intended to be the patient.

My Allies told me over and over that no one had bridged this kind of iniatory process in the modern context this way, and that it must be done. In my masters degree studies, I read Castenada and Lyn Andrew’s work in which they shared their initiatory processes as fantasy and were both exalted and vilified for it. I studied Harner, Villoldo, Somé, and so many others who wrote about their initiatory processes but held those details close and only shared how their lives changed as a result of them. Nobody had shared what their initiatory process looked like from within, real-time, in American settler culture European diaspora. That was my Allies’ continued urging around the styling and presentation of Gift of the Dreamtime.

I realize now there were many things my Allies didn’t know, among which was the broken path, that I didn’t have fit elders helping me hold my initiation. I realize they thought I had more resources than I did.

Gift of the Dreamtime - Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma by S. Kelley Harrell

2012, second edition

Bringing Gift of the Dreamtime to bear that way cost me and my Ally relationships a great deal. People took my process as gospel on how their initiations should play out. My memoir was taken as a recipe for modern ordeal and reconciliation, which was exactly why I only shared the experiences, themselves, and no editorial, no instruction. There was intrusion into my Ally relationships that was never invited. People would ask me how the relationships with my Allies had continued to unfold beyond the page, as if it hadn’t taken me 30+ years to marinate their existence into words to start with. They didn’t know etiquette around such inquiry; why would they? They were trying to find their soul path in the same oppressive culture that I was.

The result was those relationships became very fragile after Gift of the Dreamtime, and working with my Allies as I did early on became harder to achieve. With the book so public I needed to create distance from it, and I didn’t realize that in creating that space I was also creating distance from the initiation, itself. The result was that time in my life and that change in Ally relationships became its own trauma.

Part of what I’ve realized at this anniversary are the dangling threads of my initiation that can now be fully woven through the creation of Gift of the Dreamtime and into the rest of my story. That book and childhood experience remain a large part of my life, though they are not all of it. They are not the end of my story any more than that experience of initiation was.

In the modern era we struggle to relate the myths of fire in the head and calling whispered from shadowy figures. We’re also poised to shred stories and instructions that defy our conventions of productivity, healing, and busyness. Now I understand that my Allies require regular updates on the state of the world and my life. And I understand that they knew this kind of narrative of soul sickness, calling, and initiation told this way would resonate the way it needed to in American settler culture. I’m learning now how my Allies, the book, and myself go forward together more healthily.

I appreciate that the book has taken on its own life force as it has moved through the world. I’ve met so many people because of it, had opened wonderful opportunities open because of it. Still, I’ve thought a million times that I need to shift my narrative away from my own biography and speak more generally for the protection of my own boundaries. And even as I write this and ask that question I’m told, “Speak it.”


on Instagram

S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.

#beyourcommunity ~ #youareecosystem

elder well, die well, ancestor well


We don't heal

In isolation, but in community