September 10, 2013

Confessions of a Shabby-Chic Shaman

Yet another month is flying past me. Summer is fleeting—autumn will arrive sooner than seems possible. That is calendar autumn though, and this is Florida. We won't notice much in the way of weather change for a while yet. However, this morning the temperature was under seventy degrees when I first got up, and that was mighty fine. There seems to be a great deal of anticipation out there (meaning, what seems to be buzzing on the Web these days) for fall this year. Perhaps it is the longing for cooler weather, or apples and pumpkins, but it seems to me, at least, to be a sort of mass nostalgia. It is as if the world, or this part of it I am privy to anyway, is collectively longing for those traditions, from harvest to Halloween, that ushered the world that was into the dark advent of winter. It may be that I feel this way because of my own thoughts and reflections these days, but it just seems very Pagan somehow, to me.

Autumnal dirt road in western North Carolina
Dirt road to our previous home in Western North Carolina in the fall.
While I am quite capable of being nostalgic about the lovely weather and earthy colors that thoughts of autumn conjure, I do not know what the hurry is. With time zipping along even faster this year than last, seemingly, I really felt cheated of spring this year, and I have not nearly finished savoring the mellow days of summer as fully they should be. Still, autumn is bearing down on us, and I will go with the flow. In my own personal experience, going back a number of years, though I am no longer certain of how many, the fall of the year has been a sad, sometimes despairing interlude. A paradox seemingly, because I adore Halloween and Thanksgiving. While living in North Carolina, how could one not be enamored of the foliage as it turned into the colors of a candle flame— orange, gold, red and yellow? Autumn is the doorway to the death of the year though. We celebrate the harvest because we know that darkness, wind, snow and cold will all have their heyday before spring once more comes around to succor us.

Vintage Victorian Halloween CardAnd if you are a shaman, or indeed a member or practitioner of almost any Earth religion or Pagan tradition, you know that it is the time of the year when the solidity of the world comes into question, when the walls between realities thin, and beings and entities uninvited find their way into our world. By now, most people have heard the stories behind the traditions we still hold to at Samhain or All-Hallows-Eve. Our forbearers carved turnips or beets into the likenesses of demons and monsters, creating lanterns to ward off evil and protect the bearer from the darkness. Halloween costumes, a more recent custom, originally represented the pagan and gothic characters the holiday derived from. That is the reason for the proliferation of ghosts, demons, witches and fairies on this holiday. While fire was very important to all of the quarterly and cross-quarterly celebrations of the Pagan year, it was essential at Samhain to ward off evil by keeping the darkness at bay.

I did not feel that old, familiar sense of sadness to any great degree last year. Of course, I was in the midst of preparing for and then living through an interstate relocation. I was just a little busy. And, having experienced the first half of autumn in North Carolina where the days were crisp and cool, and the nights becoming very brisk, only to move to warm and humid Florida just a week or so before Hurricane Sandy decided to sit offshore for several days sending gusty winds and squalls of rain in our direction, was a bit disorienting. Though we had looked forward to the move, and the happy occasions it would bring—my daughter's wedding, a super Halloween party, and a Thanksgiving spent with a number of those I love the most—it was not a pleasant time. Just very different from what I have become accustomed to. I was not sleeping well at all. At first, because I was so intent at getting unpacked and through with boxes that I could not rest, and eventually just because I was feeling so unsettled. Not sad or despairing as in past years, mind you, but apprehensive and not quite able to quell the chaotic sense of upheaval going on inside me. Since then, I have been plagued by frequent bouts of insomnia, more so than at any time in nearly ten years. Another cycle of my life, I suppose, because I have endured these bouts of nocturnal wakefulness before, and the frequency is eerily close to ten year intervals as far as I can remember.

I do not know what this autumn will bring. So many changes have taken place this past year, so much upheaval, and on my part, so much uncertainty as to direction and future purpose. I have jumped on the bandwagon on my Pinterest account. I have an Autumn Splendor board just overflowing with cheerful images of pumpkins and mums, and a Halloween one with Jack-O-Lanterns, costume ideas and spooky decor. I feel that strange anticipation that seems to be charging the very air this September, but I do not know what it means. I will do my best to enjoy it, but I think that I will be on guard also. As a recovering shaman, I will be vigilant as those boundaries between our mundane world and those other spiritual dimensions thin, to protect if need be, and to cross over if the opportunity should present itself. It has been a long while since I was conscious of moving between the worlds, and it is another thing I have missed these past few years.

What is a Shaman?It seems strange to me now that I have thought so little about being a shaman, about the path I trod with complete dedication for numerous years, until just lately. It is as if I have barely existed for much of this last decade. When I look back, my memories are like a string of lights, illumination showing up here and there to guide my way, but sunk in darkness in between. It seems stranger to me still, that I should be writing about things that I have only seldom spoken of to anyone over the course of the last two decades. I certainly did not plan on it, but Spirit always has Its own way in my life, despite what I might think. Before anyone starts wringing their hands and muttering about Free Will, let me just say that having been recruited by Spirit a number of years ago, we have an agreement. I think of it as a binding contract. Therefore, it could be said that I waived my Free Will, of my own free will. I discovered early on in this adventure that I was inclined toward willfulness (and stubbornness), which is a whole other thing from Free Will. I am not giving anyone else on a spiritual path advice. I am merely saying that for me, turning the wheel over to God was the right way to go.

As I was saying, I had not expected to write about this, but there you go. How does one become a Shaman in this day and age? Well, you can apparently take an online course, go to some exotic locale and be trained by a certified expert, or order a set of DVDs and learn from the comfort of your own home. I am not laughing at these things (well, I am, but I am trying not to). I read a lot of books, and if you are interested in shamanism or any other spiritual pursuit, I heartily recommend reading about and researching it. However, I was far into the process of becoming a shaman before I ever read the first book about shamanism. The internet was not such great shakes back in the days of my early spiritual explorations, and I, in fact, am one of those people who really did not jump right onto the technological bandwagon. I am still always behind when it comes to technology. I have felt, from the time I was a child, a great spiritual yearning, a vacuum inside myself that I knew could only be filled from a much larger reality than the one I currently seemed to be inhabiting. Whether for good or bad, I was infected with a sense of destiny, and felt as though I was waiting. In the meantime, life went on and I did a lot of other things. I had to wait for quite awhile. It kept seeming as though I stumbled in the right direction rather than from any conscious intent on my part. I was a very unhappy, chronically depressed is the right description I suppose, person. I desperately hoped that life had some purpose I could not then see, or that for me it would end. Finding and beginning meditation was a Godsend for me, as was an involvement in the metaphysical community. I finally found a bit of peace, and then a framework to contain so many of the experiences of my life that had me despairing for my own sanity.

Russan Shaman
So, I meditated, read books on every esoteric subject I could find, delved into psychology, philosophy, mythology and other tangential fields, took classes and workshops, and finally had a social circle where I felt accepted and at home. That fixed everything—right? On the contrary, it seemed to result in my whole world being ripped apart. My new lifestyle put the final weight on the back of a stumbling marriage, and caused ripples that went through and changed every one of my family relationships. I had always had Dreams and Visions, but now I found myself in the midst of a maelstrom of spiritual energy which was tearing away everything I had ever thought I knew about myself and my life. And I had asked for it, though I had not a clue what I was asking for when I did. Remember that old chestnut—be careful what you ask for—well, we are all warned.

I am glossing over all this. And that is the way it should be. My experiences on that path would fill a book, but it would be a book about my experience, and no one else's would be quite the same. I asked for guidance. I asked for purpose and understanding. I got a seven year journey through the circles of Hell. That is the initiatory process a shaman goes through, in a nutshell. At the end of that, I got to endure pain and illness that in my own mind at least, took me through the gates of death and back. I burnt with fever and spent days in a visionary state I would be hard-pressed to describe, culminating in a vision in which my skin was peeled from my body and put back inside out. Not a road for the squeamish. I came through that ultimate initiation feeling not quite solid, no longer part of anything. I was, and am, though it seems little like it to me just now, a shaman.

Digital Shaman
What does that mean in the contemporary world? Should I have hung out a sign and waited for folks to line up for help? Might I have jumped on the New Age bandwagon and turned my years of learning and suffering into a few dollars to get by on? It does not, or should not, work that way. Because the folks who line up for help are not the ones who need your help, and because what they will get from you is not ever going to be what they wanted to begin with. As for making money at what I do—the pay really sucks. We do not live in a world that honors what it does not understand. I found out early on in this job that there was no reward other than that which I found in my own Heart while I walk in this world. To be a shaman is to be a doorway sometimes, a mirror at others. We, or at least I, work in the energy body, balancing and helping to remove those blockages and distortions which afflict everyone and result so often in illness and malaise. I teach and I heal, and most of the time the individual I am working with does not know that anything has been done. Folks tend to love me when I am doing this healing, and then to want me gone from them when it is finished. It is a natural reaction really, though it took some getting used to on my part. I am essentially part of them when this healing is occurring, and when it is through, I am a rather unsettling stranger. It is an unconscious fear of something they do not understand. In this business, friends are hard to make and even harder to keep. It is a lonely path.

Hawk-- birds are often messengers in the shaman's world.
Hawks and other birds are often Messengers. This one was in our yard.
In the past, and in some parts of the world where aboriginal peoples still live much as they once did, the shaman was honored. Still, they remained set apart , feared and respected, included but never integrated into the community. Would I want to go a different way if I could go back? No. I do not believe there was ever a choice to be made. I know that I was destined to be what I am. Do I recommend this path to others? I do not think that just anyone can become a shaman. You either are, or you aren't. I do most heartily recommend following a spiritual yearning if you have one. Until you open yourself to things beyond the mundane world we live in, you will never know who you truly are.

Digital art-- photo manipulation for Deiviant Art contest
Me :)
So what does a twenty-first century shaman look like? I wish I could get away with the feathers, masks and robes of my predecessors, but I am actually fonder of steampunk jackets and frilly skirts. What I really wear are jeans and tee-shirts mostly. These days I read Better Homes and Gardens magazines, and Stephen King and Dean Koontz books. I do crafts and like home decorating. I love to garden, despite the fact that the Elemental Kingdom seems to have declared war on me this year. I cook and clean and shop, and when the need is presented, I do a bit of healing. Mostly, these days, I wait, and that is something I have done before. I live a life which is outwardly not much different from anyone else. And I still scare people off, or perhaps put them off is more accurate, though I do not mean to. I have realized just lately that I have no friends since I have moved here. All of my social interactions here are with family. I think that a great deal of the apprehension I feel about this impending autumn season has to do with this awareness of space being made around me. I wonder what will fill it up?

The images of  traditional shamans I used on this post and in my artwork are courtesy of the New York Public Library Website—

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