All by mysellllllllllllffffffffffffffffffffff

What does devotion mean in this day and age? What does it mean when someone tells you “I am oathed to such-and-such Deity”? Do they say it with pride? With discomfort? How does our practice and faith interact with the mundane world on a regular basis?

I know, I am full of circular questions today.

Let me give you a foundation to relate to all of this. I’m a pretty liminal person. Everything that everyone else is, you can pretty well assume I am not. I think it started from my childhood of abuse, was burnished pretty in my Scorpio personality, and has been both the cause and the answer to many, many, many issues in my life.

I was born and raised Jewish in Southern California. After a lifetime of bouncing from state to state, I ended up in Nebraska as a practicing shaman. Try telling people out here you are a vegetarian considering veganism. Try telling them you are a liberal. Try walking into a very patriarchal, chauvinistic job where the nurses call for more men on the ward even if there isn’t an issue. And try doing that as a classically trained feminist. Try discussing environmentalism with men who think that people should be taken out back and shot instead of locked up in a mental hospital. And try doing that covered in tattoos and piercings.

And none of that even begins to touch on my spiritual faith. If I can’t explain to someone why I chose not to eat meat, how the Hel am I supposed to tell them about the voices of the Gods in my head?

Now none of this outsider status means I would change a thing. Without my Gods I would be a lump of depressed, anxiety-driven, eating disordered flesh on my parents couch still. They push hard, but I would never walk away from it.

She makes my heart skip a beat

 

So what brought on this introspective rambling? I got my lip pierced. Twice. On the right side.

Why you might ask? Well I shall tell you, gentle pagan-leaning reader. I did it because my Goddess requested it of me. Not in a “oh by the way” kind of request but more of a “do it! do it now!” type of way.

She: you need to go get your lip pierced.

Me: are you kidding me?

She: *silence*

Me: Are you Kidding me??!!!

She: *silence*

Me: I am terrified of needles. Terrified!! And please don’t bring up the tattoo thing, its different.

She: I know but you still need to do it.

The end result of this is two very important lessons for me. 1) Don’t argue with Hela. When she makes up her mind, there is no changing it. 2) Don’t tell Hela you are scared of something. Fear, blood, pain and ordeals are all very real things to sacrifice on her altar. So after much divination and arguing, I went and did it. She didn’t care how it was done, only that it was done and that it was a ring.

So…. (I promise I am not rambling too badly this morning.)

The lump sum of this is that my piercings are a shamanic ordeal for my Goddess and swearing of an oath into her service. Or will be when the studs are healed and I put in the rings next week. But I live in the mundane world with an atheistic fiance and I work a very conservative mundane job. Who does one juggle mundacity with having a very real faith that intercedes in daily life?

Ok, so maybe I am rambling a little. There is so much in my life that makes me feel so alone. I know 2 other practicing shamans in the area and neither one can connect with what I am going through. My fiance is an atheist. My friends adore me but are not god-touched. And I am spirit-taught, most of what I know is from UPG.

How do you handle feeling alone in your practice?

 

Eclectic in all the right places

Eclectic means you can teach me new things.

Eclectic means you have many different ways of connecting to the Higher Power.

Eclectic means you don’t have to search as hard to find cool things for your altar.

Eclectic means you can see the faces of the Goddess’ in many different places.

Eclectic means I know you probably have a book that covers whatever topic I am researching.

Eclectic means I know you probably have the herb or candle or stone or color of cloth I am in need of.

Eclectic means I know you understand my struggle for knowledge.

Eclectic means you can find meaning in a Voodoo ceremony, an Asatru blot and a Wiccan circle.

Eclectic means you see our similarities as beautiful and our differences as just as beautiful.

Eclectic means you can act as a bridge between worlds and soothe angry souls.

Eclectic is Picasso making Cubism in a time of Impressionists.

Eclectic is e.e. cummings breaking all of the rules so we can giggle at Dr Suess.

Eclectic is three black kittens, one gray and one white making a family.

Eclectic means I keep you anchored, you give me wings.

Eclectic means we can call each other a Tribe with smiles.

Eclectic means we can help each other to grow in new directions.

Eclectic means I can come to you with a new idea and I know you appreciate it.

Eclectic is a good thing.

Pagan Blog Project: D is for Death

"Hel" Robin M. Weare, 1996

This past week several people have mentioned that they are scared of death. My reaction is, reasonably, whaaaaaaatt????? Of course I am utterly biased and unfazed by death. That’s what happens when you walk with something this long, it loses its power to scare. Okay maybe not, I’m still terrified of needles, even after being in the military and receiving 8 tattoos. But I’m not scared of death and it got me thinking.

So what is it that makes some of us fear death and some of us giggle as we run into its arms? It cant be as simple as “Me Shaman, Me stare death in the face”. Nor is it that those who are afraid are wimps and should be scorned. There is no black and white when it comes to fears, but only the hazy shades of gray.

When I was a small child, my mother changed. If you read this blog long enough I am sure I will give you more details, but for now all I will say is she changed. And as life with her got more and more painful and confusing, my own life started to lose it colors. At 6 I was depressed. At 7 I was suicidal and planning my own demise. At 9 I was a spit-fire demon with rage in her heart and a sure knowledge that there was no God in the universe, no omniscient being would let a mother abuse her child the way my own chose to abuse me and my sisters. I faced death at 7 for the first time with no fear in my heart, not because I understood death at all, but because it was simple to me then. There was life as I knew it with my mother and then there was life without her as dead. At the time, the thin thread that kept me tethered to life was the rock-solid knowledge that if I died, she won and could play the martyr on my grave for the rest of her existence.

I faced death again at 20, convinced that the depression would pull me under and drown me, convinced there was no point to living, not even when I held my niece in my arms and cried. Looking back, I can appreciate how close I came to giving in to that dark abyss. It seems so inviting when you are staring at it from the bottom of the well.

Fast forward to 28 and it wasn’t a question of me wanting to die, but being absolutely convinced I was going to bleed to death, slowly. Three weeks of fevers so strong they made me hallucinate, four months of bleeding and feeling like my body was falling apart. Oh, its easy to put labels to things with 20-20 vision: shamanic death. Sounds so simple from this end of the table.

So having walked with my own mortality for my entire life, it was no surprise when Lady Death herself showed up and beckoned. It was no surprise when bones and furs and feathers found their way to my altar. It didn’t even surprise me when She started asking me for sacrifices (not THOSE kinds of sacrifices), to kneel willingly and offer up my own fear and pain and blood in Her honor.

Short sidestep with the best, most appropriate quote ever.

“…those which demonize death or pain or sickness are thus less able to deal with the bitter side of nature, with intoxications; and make themselves doubly sick.” Gary Snyder in the forward to Pharmako/Poeia by Dale Pendell

Ok back to the topic at hand. I guess long story short is I am not afraid of death. In journey work I have walked the land of the dead, I have witnessed the rebirth of souls who chose to move on to living again. I have spoken to my ancestors and seen past lives. And I wish I could pass on to everyone else that feeling of peace, of the pure knowing that death is not an end, nor a beginning, just another step we must take.

What does it take to become comfortable with death? In other cultures, they prepare their loved ones bodies at home. In certain parts of Asia and South America it is an insult if the family does not come back after so many years and move away the clean white bones. In Tibet they do a sky burial, chopping up a corpse and leaving it for the carrion birds. In India they burn the bodies and float them down the Ganges. The common theme here is this: the family prepares the bodies.

Here in the western world we chose antiseptic preparation. We call someone else to entomb our loved ones. We even preserve them with harsh chemicals and paint their faces so they look “life like” even after having been buried for awhile. Our children never learn how to face death, we even have euphemisms for when our beloved animal companions die. Hate to be the bearer of bad news but there is no “farm” for Fluffy. Death is what it is, good bad or ugly it comes for us all.

So how do we begin to get over our discomfort with death? As much as I know people wont want to hear it, we can start by interacting with the dying. Instead of shipping people off to hospitals or homes and letting them slowly decay while we go about our lives, we can reach out and maintain that connection. I am not saying we must allow all of our loved ones to languish in our homes while we put our lives on hold. But these are our elders, the ones who hold our familial memories and stories, the ones who took care of us when we were young and sick. The least we can do is set aside a few hours to spend with them before they are gone. Giving up that TV show or video game wont kill you.

Death is the great equalizer. It sweeps the table clean of politics and differences and allows us to face our own core mortality. It is the best excuse to throw away our arguments and differences and reconnect on a very very basic human level.

After all, that connection is what makes us human.

Pagan Blog Project: Dietary Taboos (when the Gods come to dinner)

Oh, what to eat. The usual pulling open of cupboards, mentally sifting through menus, standing before the freezer “letting all the cold out”.

Lets see: 2 frozen pizzas, 1/3 bag of pizza rolls, Hot-pockets… pizza flavored. Silly boyfriend, silly pizza obsession. Moving down: soda, water, tomatoes, sweet potato, half eaten pasta that probably needs to be thrown out, vials and jars and jars filled with vile-looking elixirs and tinctures. Fun but not dinner. Tortellini, takes time to cook, need to go to bed soon so I can work my night shift at the hospital. Couscous but no fresh veg, no time to shop.

Oh, what to eat.

Who would have thought that the simple act of feeding oneself could get so complicated. Take 1 carnivorous significant other + 1 god-touched pagan with food taboos + 1 picky preteen eater and you have yourself a whole mess of mess.

Don’t eat this, do eat that. Eat to be pure, to hear Her voice, to nourish a body all too often forgotten in the imbetween. Eat to spite the eating disorder, eat to support the farmers and punish Monsanto. Eat to be political, to be spiritual, to be powerful, to be beautiful.

In the end, I know I will do as the lines are drawn and eat to Her wishes.

But there is always that moment of indecision, that moment of suspense.

Oh, what to eat.

Still Life with Skull (Nature morte au crane), Paul Cézanne

Food taboos within the pagan world are as individual and varied as the practitioners. Vegetarianism, veganism, devout hunters, raw foodists, kosher and a plethora of others all find their way into our culinary vocabulary. Add to this list food allergies and sensitivities and you have yourself a virtual minefield to navigate with every full moon potluck you attend. But food taboos within the spirit-walker culture move us beyond “I choose” to “I have to”.

Taboos, in this context of diet, do one major thing for us: they make the profane holy.  They force us to consider every single molecule of food within our realm of service. Some taboos are simple: if you worship and serve a Goddess who happens to adore rabbits, there is a chance she will request you don’t eat them. Other taboos are more complicated, requiring more of what we would consider sacrifice. Don’t drink caffeine. Don’t eat sugar. Don’t eat meat/only eat meat at these specific times. They change the way we interact with the world, the way we socialize, the way we vote with our “almighty dollar”.

Taboos that are common within the spirit-walker community include (but are not limited to):

  • veganism and vegetarianism
  • eating only organic
  • raw foodism
  • specific types of meat: only game meat, only organic meat, only humanely raised meat
  • local food (food grown within a certain mile radius)
  • no alcohol
  • alcohol only used for certain rites or at certain times
  • no caffeine
  • no sugar

Other taboos are more individual and specific. I can think of one spirit-worker who is required to eat every certain number of hours, a certain number of times a day. She is diabetic and her Gods care about her health very deeply.

Which brings us to another idea, taboos are not there to punish us. I don’t think any of the Gods are asking us to do this because they specifically want to see us suffer. They do this because they know it brings us more in line with their energy, makes us better able to serve them, to hear their voices, and to have the mental, physical, and emotional stamina to do the work they require of us.

*            *            *           *            *

Oh what to eat.

Stories told by the Divine

“Write” She whispers to me. “Write, tell my story from your heart, not from the ice cold pens of men long gone. Tell my story as a woman, as a shaman, as a devotee. Tell the words, put them to the page, let them grow.”

“The stories tell of a hidden birth, of fear and pain and death and banishment, as if I had no part, no say in my destiny. But that is the story written from the followers of others. That is the story written from those who need to follow a winner, regardless of the many faceted truth.

Yes, my birth and my brothers’ births were hidden. Ancient power was invoked when we were conceived, power that was formed from the blood of giants. When we were born, our fates were already sealed. Death had passed to the eternal and the balance was thrown. Only sacrifice, blood sacrifice, would bring the world back into balance. I will not speak of my father, his tale is well known. My mother, the daughter of warriors, magicians and seers, had the blood passed down through the ages. She knew before she ever met my father that this was Wyrd, she could not escape the tangled weave. She knew she could not keep this God, that theirs was not a life of bliss. She saw in him his wyrd and his heart and loved him all the more for the burdens he accepted without question. And she knew that her destiny was to bear 3 children who would bring the end of the world.

Do not think that she accepted this blindly. She wept and raged and tried to bargain for her love and her children. But none of us can escape the call, so when the time came, she and Loki went to the Ironwood of their ancestors and conceived, in love, us 3.  And through our births, a blood sacrifice.

The tale speaks of Odin murdering my mother and kidnapping my brothers and banishing me. But its never that simple, politics, even amongst the Gods. Odin has his choices, we have ours.

They say I was a child when my mother died. I was 13, old enough to hear the call of blood and make my own choices. All my life I had heard the whispers of the dead. They had shared secrets, cried out for me. I had spent my time in silence, listening to their magic and tales. I had learned how to be as cold as the snow, as still as the Iron that ran through my veins. I had learned how to taste the shifting winds on the air and capture the light that spills through the trees as cold as ice.  And my mother watched me grow and knew that the time for change had come.

She went to the halls knowing her fate, yet still a mothers heart bade her plead her case. She went to her death having seen our lives stretched out on a table. She took the form of a crow and flew to the halls to face her death. It is not only Gods who can sacrifice. It is also mothers. Her blood became my first blood and I knew.

They say I wandered out into the cold and snow and sat to wait for my mother. But that is not true. This was not a passive act but a deliberate choice. I was called to the path just as strongly as any other spirit-walker. I was called and I answered. I sat in the snow for nine moons and in that time Death came and taught me the secrets and the magic. And I knew my wyrd, red as blood in the snow. I gave of myself to become myself.

And when my father of fire came and offered to take me home, I was a woman and a Goddess and a seeress and a Shaman and I refused. I accepted my path and my mother’s blood sacrifice was not for naught and she was reborn from the blood of her kinsmen and my father. And I walked the twisting path.”

When Lady Hela first painted this tale in my head, I balked. Why had I never heard this, Lady Death walking the shaman’s path? But then I realized people are afraid of death and afraid to talk about it, discuss it, invite it in. Is Hela a goddess of shamans? I would love to have other spirit-walkers input here.

Pagan Blog Project Week 3: Compassion

I’m a little late to the party on this, but I thought I would join in as a way to get used to blogging.

Compassion is sneaky. Its one of those things that we never can quite define, but are oh so quick to point out when its lacking. Compassion demands that we dig into ideas like sympathy vs empathy and toe the line at outright pity. And compassion demands that we dissect the reasons for our actions. Am I making this move/speaking to this person/any other of a million things because I actually want to be a good person and help? Or is there a hidden agenda here which is motivating me?

Its difficult sometimes to reconcile this idea of compassion with what we know of the ancient Gods. The major players were not necessarily known for having compassion, but instead seemed to be motivated by internal drives to achieve specific ends, often ending in death and heartbreak for the myriads involved. My own patrons seem not to have much compassion, Lady Death and the Seeker of Knowledge. But underneath their stories is a common thread of service and compassion. You just have to dig a little deeper.

Because compassion is, at its core, a call to service. Sympathy and empathy ask nothing more than standing around, maybe patting someones hand. They are emotional states that exist without any external drive. I can be sympathetic to the cry of the child next door to me without ever leaving the safety of my couch. I can have empathy for a starving homeless woman on the side of the road and continue to drive by her every day. It is compassion that demands that we actively do something about it, that we stop the car, that we knock on the door. This is not to decry any other emotion that we might experience. Each emotion has its use. Empathy is usually my trigger, the emotion that pushes me to interact compassionately and do something about whatever it is I encounter.

So how can Lady Death possibly be seen as compassionate? Its simple, She values life to the point where suffering is an insult. How many times have we said to each other “At least so-and-so is no longer suffering”? Compassion is what allows us to accept death as an option.

The forms of compassion that directly affect Lady Hela include but are not limited to:

  • Euthanasia and the choice of when and how people are allowed to die
  •  Abortion and the right of every man and woman to chose for themselves how to live their lives
  • Hunger and the people who are trapped in poverty cycles against their will
  • War and violence and ideas of capitalistic superiority
  • Racism, misogyny, elitism, eco-politics, environmentalism

When all of life is sacred, then no act goes without scrutiny. No act lives within a vacuum. Every thing that we encounter demands that we approach it with compassion and make a choice based on that springboard. And usually that’s the hardest part, deciding how to act from compassion. It is difficult to choose to let something run its natural course without intervening, because it would be presumptuous of us to step in and “save” the participants. Some people know this without thinking. A parent who does not step in and save their child, allows them to struggle because they can see the lesson their child needs to learn, is acting from compassion. Outside observers might balk at this and wonder what kind of parent wont help their child. But the parent knows they do the child a disservice every time they “rescue” them from a struggle. Compassion says I don’t feed my three cats the hamburger they are desperately trying to convince me really does belong to them, because I know its not good for them and will lead to health issues.

These are all well and good, these examples of inaction, but compassion also compels us to action, to get off of our collective asses and do something about whatever it is we are faced with. I can no longer sit idly by. I am compelled to confront the demons. This is our test, doing something when others would sit in silence. And there are so many opportunities to do something that it can be a little overwhelming. My Lady demands service of me. Trance work and devotions before the altar are all well and good but She very much wants me to face the demons head on. This means I no longer have the luxury of silence and inaction. This means that I can feel Her force behind me, compelling me to speak up against the everyday racism and sexism in my workplace. I have to stop and help strangers when I can, even if its awkward and they think I am crazy.  I have to work a little harder in order to send money to people I have never met.

Service to the gods comes in a million different forms, each one specific to the servee. My constant quest for truth and knowledge is my service to Odin, though I know that will change in the future. My actions from a foundation of compassion are how I serve Hela. Each and ever choice I make gets filtered through the lens of compassion in Her service. It makes my every day sacred and allows me to walk the path She has chosen for me.

So how does compassion manifest in your daily life? And what can you do to bring more compassion in?