I think this essay by Dver dovetails nicely with many things I’ve written about spirit work, and some of the questions I get regarding “Am I a shaman? A godspouse? A Spirit Worker?” Please not only read this wonderful piece, but really meditate on the question it poses at the end – “Would your spiritual practices and relationships change if you never read anything on the Internet again?”

A Forest Door

A conversation I’ve been having with Galina Krasskova in the comments section of my “Choice” post inspired me to expand on some of these thoughts here (well, that and waking up at 3am to write down a bunch of notes that suddenly came pouring into my head – it’s rare for me to have this happen over a blog post, so I figured I couldn’t avoid writing and posting this).

Those of us called to mysticism and spirit-work are in a strange sort of situation these days, very different from anything before in history. Many if not most of us lack any sort of continuous tradition or formal teachers, and often don’t even know other people with similar vocations near to us, and yet we all have exposure to a wide variety of other polytheistic mystics and spirit-workers via the internet. There are some important potential hazards to this exposure…

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The author of this blog is a personal acquaintence and a respected colleague. If I’m not the right person for you, in regards to any of the services she provides (and I do not make ritual items, jewelry or otherwise), she is someone I would happily refer people to.

Gods and Mirrors

This is another post inspired by the insanity of 2012. It occurred to me months ago that I’m not as open as I could be about what services I can provide, both to the general Pagan community, and to my fellow clergy and spiritworkers. During the past few months, I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I can reasonably offer, and what I will need in exchange. I decided not to post this until I’d caught up on some overdue projects, and thus could reasonably handle new requests. In the meanwhile, I took time to fine tune my list of rules and services, and the result is what you will read here.

So first off, a little bit about me and Who I work for. I suppose you could say I practice three different types of Paganism. I am a Hellenic Priestess of Artemis, and I honor Her and…

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Sometimes The Solution Isn’t the Solution

This was inspired by a number of things going on in my life, now and in the past. I’m not entirely sure it fits either this blog or my other one, but it came pouring out of me tonight and wouldn’t let me go until I finished it.

Everyone can empathize with this situation: a friend calls you on the phone, emotionally wrought over a situation in their life. It doesn’t matter what the cause or details of the situation are, it may be love, money, career, children, marriage, divorce, death, or anything else that cuts us to the quick. You listen, and your brain begins to formulate an answer, a plan, a course of action, a solution. You do this because you care about your friend, and you don’t want them to suffer these terrible emotions any longer than they have to. If all it would take is a change of perspective, or a willingness to take on a new or different plan of attack, to put them in better straits, why are they angry when you suggest this?

This is usually explained in terms of gender, but I don’t necessarily buy that. I think there are just as many men who have found themselves “caught” in a situation and call upon someone to listen in their time of need, as there are women who are frequently frustrated when their friend won’t just accept their quick and easy solution and shut up already. Sometimes it is also painted as a matter of age or maturity; that the young don’t want to be lead to the answer, but just want to know someone with more experience in life understands how they feel. But why is that important? Why do we prioritize empathy over answers?

The answer is enchantment, and not in the way you’d ordinarily think of it. The person lost in their crisis is drawing someone else into their maelstrom (and granted, that’s the price we sometimes pay for the intimacy and trust of someone we love) to feel less alone in the world, to know that someone out there is as invested in, if not the actual details, then the journey ahead that they will have to take in order to sort things out. In their own way, they don’t want to face the inevitable change alone. They want you to be as changed as they, even if your role is merely one of a sacred witness.

After an ordeal, I frequently find myself not only giving comfort and counsel to the ordeal dancer (the person for whom the ordeal is created), but to those the dancer asks to serve as witnesses. It may be their best friend or lover, a fellow spiritual seeker, or if the ritual deigns it, even a stranger. It’s important to note that a spectator is not the same as a witness; many people ask if they can watch a particularly powerful ordeal, if for no other reason than to quell their own curiosity about such things, but experience has taught me that spectators create a kind of awkward energy that does not contribute towards the goals the ritual is reaching for. You feel stared at, instead of held; judged, instead of understood (even if the judgment is positive, it still isn’t the same); you feel coldness, instead of warmth. And the spectator is also purposefully (if not willfully) creating a barrier between them and the ritual – this is something other people are doing, that I am staring at for my own purposes – rather than allowing themselves to become wrapped up in the energy, to let go of their fear and judgment not only of what’s happening in front of them, but of themselves. A person who spectates is afraid that they may become enchanted by the thing they’re watching, and that yanks away any sense of separateness that they may be clinging to. They become a part of what’s happening, rather than apart from it.

So when that friend calls you, they are asking for a witness instead of a spectator. A spectator at a ritual is the one who is going to pick up on any slight of hand being used to enhance the dancer’s experience; they’re going to notice when the bottle won’t open, or the candle takes four tries to light. Their separateness keeps their mind in the details, rather than the experience. So do we, when listening to a friend’s outpouring, look for the mistakes, the lapses in judgment, the obvious choices overlooked. When we present our solution, what we are communicating is “If you only removed yourself from the chaos, you’d notice this very obvious detail.”

But it’s not the detail that concerns them. In fact, they may feel so overwhelmed by the situation that no matter what hole you think you’ve found, they immediately strike you suggestions down – either because they’ve already thought about that and know why it won’t work, but frequently it’s because your observation forces them to abandon their enrapture in the emotional state, and they’re just not ready to do that.

It seems like it doesn’t make any sense, but it does. You’d think that everyone would want the easy solution, the instant answer, the immediate relief of knowing that their suffering can end, but you, dear reader, are overlooking a very important mythical piece of the puzzle. See, in any good myth, no matter how much good advice our hero gets along the way, it’s still their journey to take. We can choose to be a simple roadside attraction along the way – Macbeth’s witches – or we can choose to be a fellow journeyer.

Sometimes, it’s a practical decision. We all have busy lives, and our own crises and maelstroms to deal with, and we just don’t have the time or energy to walk someone elses path, especially when you realize they’re going to dictate whether you go right or left, and your job is to quietly follow along, like the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. We all want to believe we’re Dorothy, the one on a mission, the one who drives the bus, but doing that all of the time not only makes us incredibly self-centered, but very lonely in the process. People will tire of always being the Tin Man to your Dorothy, especially when their lives face their own upheaval. It’s a bit of tit for tat; if you want someone to be there for you in your time of need, you will have to make time to be there for them.

But it’s also okay to decide that you’re better off being a Glinda, a character who pops into the story, deposits their wisdom, and then retreats to let Dorothy go on her merry way. It may sound harsh, but sometimes it really boils down to whether or not you want to make an investment in your fellow human being. Making these kinds of decisions really help define who your inner circle is, because the more you decide to walk with people in their times of need, the more people will walk with you when you sound the clarion call. But there are hundreds if not thousands of people you will encounter in your life, especially if you find yourself in some sort of service position, from hairdresser to shaman.

I will admit that a big part of my role as a shaman is deciding whose journey I’m willing to go on. Because even if I think I know what the answer at the end of the yellow brick road is, I know from years of experience (including being a big brother), that no matter how well you know the Wizard is just an illusion, some things must be experienced first hand. I frequently tell people that I learned early on, watching my younger sister make mistakes I had made in my youth, that no amount of telling her she’d chosen a perilous path would deter her from doing it; all I could do was hold her hand, and quietly assemble the metaphorical first aid kit for when it all fell apart.

Many spirit workers see themselves as Glindas, and that can be the right choice most of the time. People come to us with a wide array of spiritual problems and decisions, and some times all we need to do is help them discern what choices are available to them, give them our personal opinion (and often the opinions of the spirits/Gods involved), and then stand back and fade away as the person progresses on in their spiritual journey. And it isn’t necessarily a selfish decision to make; frequently, that’s all a client expects of us.

But the way of folly is to start seeing oneself as the wise man on the mountain, removed from all human foibles and needs. If all you ever do is spit out spiritually motivated fortune cookies, who will be there for you when you face your own dark tea time of the soul? If you begin to confuse everyone who comes into your life with a spiritual need as merely being a client, who can you call when your lover leaves, or you Gods fall silent, or you fuck up in some spectacular fashion and have to pick up the pieces? Who will come to your aid when you are publicly humiliated or attacked? Or when your normally-tolerable austerity slowly slides into untenable poverty?

It’s not that you necessarily have to become friends with every client, but at the very least by allowing yourself to become enchanted by their plights and problems, you create a bond of trust and respect. You establish yourself as a real human being, instead of a Zoran-type fortune teller doling out spiritual pithiness. Maybe by doing so, you’ll meet someone who you’d like to take into your trust, develop a fondness for, a mutual appreciation society.

But if you look at each and every client as an irritation, someone who pulls you away from doing your Great Work (whatever that may be), they’ll know it. You’ll bark out some quick solution, like “Do the work!” or “Listen to your ancestors!” or “Not everyone is meant to be a spirit worker!”, and no one benefits. The client won’t do it, because it’s obvious they failed to enchant you, so they rightfully know that you don’t really understand what they’re going through on an empathetic level (even if you say that you do, even if you’ve had the exact same experience a hundred times, it doesn’t matter. Every person is a permutation of humanity, and every person’s challenges are colored by those permutations).

So how do you dance this line, either as a friend who wants to be there but doesn’t have hours to spend listening to another person’s woes, or as a spirit worker/shaman, who is trying to be of service to their communities without sacrificing their health and personal needs?

First, allow yourself to be a witness instead of a spectator. Purposefully shut off the internal voices that jump to judgment of what your friend is telling you, and don’t try to orchestrate solutions while the person is still speaking. Don’t look for the holes and mistakes, and remember that you, too, have holes and mistakes you’d rather not have your nose rubbed in. Instead, listen with intent. If you haven’t read something about active listening, that’s a good start. Really listen, instead of waiting for your turn to speak. Don’t jump to assumptions based on your own experiences, but instead interpret what you’re being told as if it were the first time you’ve heard of such a thing. It sounds easy, but it’s a real skill you have to develop.

Strive to be fully present for those who ask these things of you, and be honest when you can’t. It’s not easy to tell someone who is emotionally wrought that I’m having a bad pain day and want to reschedule our talk for some other time; or to suggest that maybe someone else is having less distractions that day and would be better suited to listen. We tend to let our ego get tied up in this sort of thing, and want to be the person people turn to – it feeds our desire to be needed, as well as to be nuturing to others. It may make you feel important that of all of their friends (or all of the spirit workers), this person is coming to you. Don’t let that overpower your own good sense of your availability, your ability to invest in this person’s journey, or your own sense of self-preservation. Of course, the other side of all of this is to learn to appreciate, instead of scorn, when someone you turn to in a time of need tells you they don’t have the time for it, or that they can’t do it until next Tuesday, or suggests someone else who might be better suited to talk. They’re not rejecting you, they’re being honest about their interest and ability to invest in what you’re going through, and the very last thing you want or need is to be dragging someone against their will as you face your dragons.

When the time is right to talk of solutions or advancements, ask before you dictate. Ask them what options they think they have, or what directions they want to go in. I fail at this sometimes, because although I can suppress my inner fix-it-man, sometimes this is when it comes bursting out of my chest like a tap-dancing alien. Now that it’s my turn to speak, I want to do everything within my power to remove their suffering; and I’ll readily admit, it’s as much about being altruistic as it is about being seen as someone with wisdom (and the prestige that goes with it). Many clients and friends come to me because my relentless self-examination, combined with my spiritual devotions, has made me wise to the ways of man, sometimes. I mean, my husband told me on our first date that his first marriage ended because he cheated, and every bone in my body told me to run because he’d cheat on me and that’s something I have a hard time with, but I still fell for it, thinking like many do that allowing him to develop open relationships with other people would satiate whatever his need for cheating was. But in the end, I was wrong (and had ignored my own as well as others wisdoms), because cheating isn’t about the sex or the love, but about the thrill of potentially getting caught. But hey, at least now that’s another wisdom I can tuck into my belt, right?

But yes, it can feel good to have a friend trust you with their insecurities, fears, weaknesses, and sadness; that’s not helpful if it turns into resentment over the time and energy they’ll need before they’ve found their way. Being selective goes against the social niceties we’re taught as children, but in this case it’s necessary. I usually explain to people (when it’s true, mind you) that my decision to be a Glinda and not a Tin Man is not about them or how I feel about them; it’s about me and not committing to more than I can handle. Sometimes, however, it’s best not to say such things, but just to know internally which approach you’re going to take, and to take it with no sense of guilt.

There are people out there, after all, when they learn that you’re willing to be enchanted by them, will begin to take advantage of this – some do it un- or sub-consciously, while others do it on purpose. It lights up our reward centers to know that someone we like, trust, or look up to, makes the decision to enter our lives in such an intimate way, and we humans like our rewards centers lit. More than once I’ve encountered people who invent or inflate personal drama in order to assure themselves that my energy is still there if they need it. In fact, I believe some psychic vampires (mostly unethical ones, or ones who don’t know what they are) use this as a primary way of feeding themselves; they find someone (likely someone without a big social network, so they’re flattered to be taken into confidence; or someone whose energy is big and tasty, which I struggled to rephrase in a more explanatory way but failed, so there it is) who is willing to be enchanted by a real story or situation of conflict, and once they realize that person will do this no matter how big or small the situation may be in reality, they will continue to have “emergencies” and “situations”. This is where the kinds of people who vaguely reference suicidal thoughts or relationship troubles fall into those kinds of feeding patterns; they watch to see who jumps to ask them what’s wrong or offer their love and support.

But just as there are those who abuse the good will of people willing to become enchanted, there are those who desire nothing more than to be there for people. We call them “White Knights”; they are attracted to people who seem to either have a long series of conflicts, or some life-long ones, and their ego and sense of self is inflated when they cast themselves in the role of the Rescuer. They create unhealthy relationships of dependency, where their target is slowly convinced to let Mr. Knight dictate the solution to all their ills. They never, ever paint it this way; they play 10,000 Maniacs’ song “Trouble Me” as a siren song. Without someone in their life who needs them so desperately, they feel adrift and purposeless; and yet they find themselves in a never ending cycle. They find someone who “needs” them, help build them up by allowing a dependency to form, and eventually the “needer” realizes that they are strong enough now to handle life on their own terms, and begin to resent the “rescuer” for dictating all of life’s solutions as though the “needed” can’t figure them out on their own. Or, monkey forbid, disagree with the “rescuers” answers.

That all being said, how do we engage in these sorts of exchange without going off the deep end?

Decide if you are willing and able to invest in someone elses journey. It is just as unhealthy to say “no” all the time as it is to say “yes”. Evaluate your time, your ability, and your desire to create intimacy with the person doing the asking. If you have it, then:

Allow yourself to become enchanted by their story. Don’t spectate, or look for the quick and easy solutions. Become an active participant in the storytelling by empathizing with the person’s feelings and experiences before you start dispensing advice.

Ask the person what they want to do, what they think is right, what kinds of solutions or suggestions they’re looking for, before you jump in with whatever you have to say. Sometimes people just want to be heard and supported, and don’t actually want you to tell them what to do.

Check in. Show the person you’re invested by taking an active role in their life during the crisis. Drop them an email, or a phone call, or a visit, to let them know that you care and feel just as influenced by what’s happening in their life as they do. Treat it like a novel you’re reading, and you’re dying to know what the next chapter holds.

Step away when the solution shows itself. No matter if you agree or disagree with how the person chooses to handle whatever they’re facing, give them the space and autonomy to seal their own fate. Don’t offer to do the work for them; nothing is ever achieved via proxy. (Remember in high school, when you’d ask your best friend to tell your boy/girlfriend you were breaking up? The girl/boyfriend just came marching directly to you to ask you if it was for real. Don’t be the middle man; you’ll end up being cast as the busy-body in the end.)

Celebrate the success, or mourn the failure, without judgment. Don’t nitpick what they did wrong, and no one likes a “I told you so”, even if it’s the truth. Just hold space for the person to have their experience, and validate their emotions because they’re worthwhile.

Racism and The Power of Performance

If you’re part of the kink or Leather demographics, you’re probably guessing what this post is about, what it’s inspired by. Since my blog has a diverse readership, let me sum up what has happened so they can participate in the conversation should they choose to.

Across the country, there is a brotherhood of bars that call themselves “The Eagle”, which indicates that it is founded, or run, but almost always caters to, the gay Leatherman demographic. Many major cities have one, including DC, and many of them don’t solely cater to the Leather demographic, or hold “Leather nights” in addition to other theme nights. My experience with visiting the DC Eagle is that there is a big demographic of gay men who do not identify as “Leather” who hang out there, but what makes it different from other gay bars is that should a gay leatherman decide to go bedecked in his leathers (or perhaps his “latexes” or his “rubbers”), they would not be looked at askance. The Eagle in question here, the Portland (OR) Eagle, has twice-weekly leather nights, but primarily identify as a gay bar (rather than a Leather bar).

For an upcoming fundraiser, the Portland Eagle booked Shirley Q. Liquor, a drag queen who seems to have a following in drag circles. Unlike most drag performers, the man behind the Shirley character, Chuck Knipp, not only transgresses gender, but is a Caucasian male whose persona is a send-up of some of the worst stereotypes that exist about black women – that they have many children by many different fathers with odd names, that they receive welfare and abuse alcohol/drugs, that they are fat and lazy and uneducated. And if that isn’t enough, he does this while wearing blackface.

If you’re a typical American, your knowledge of black face performances may be limited to Amos and Andy, who were black musicians who (follow me here) used the mechanism of white performers putting on dark makeup (but always leaving just enough off to show that they are actually white) and performing musical and comedy sketches that played on not just the racist stereotypes, but a lot of misinformation and unfounded concepts of what it meant to be a black performer. Amos and Andy basically turned it on it’s ear, putting white rings around their mouths so as to appear white-in-blackface, in order to break through the racism keeping them from any financial success.

But the tradition of blackface is founded in the cultural majority – Caucasians – creating and perpetuating negative attitudes and stereotypes of an oppressed people, because by pretending that all black performers were uneducated, slow witted, and only had worth as performers as a way to laugh at and mock their cultural and racial traditions (like jazz music or tap dance). Needless to say, when we finally started realizing that racism has more to do with the cultural, social, political, and financial oppression than it does about not understanding or particularly liking an ethnic or racial tribe different from our own, we not only stopped the mishagas, but we threw it in the far back recesses of our collective closets and never spoke of it again.

And maybe that’s partly what is causing this to happen now; we’ve pretended so hard that blackface was more about bringing black performance into the spotlight, rather than a bunch of lily white people denegrating the entirety of all the different black races, that when Chuck decided to create this character, he hadn’t been exposed to the gritty and hateful past of black face performance. It probably didn’t help that RuPaul, a household name and drag queen, put Chuck on one of her CDs. (And by CD, in this case, I do not mean “Cross Dresser”.) Ru has stated publicly that anyone who thinks Chuck is a racist is obviously “an idiot”, but I disagree.

When I first read Mollena Williams’ outcry at her revulsion and hurt over a leather bar booking this act, I have to admit that my first response was “But it’s parody.” However, I’m a white person, so what Chuck does doesn’t affect me emotionally. Then I started imagining someone looking at all the stereotypes of fat people, turning into a character that people could laugh at, and I came to a realization. Regardless of whether it’s right or wrong to engage in such performance acts, what it really does is allow us to laugh at things that we shouldn’t laugh at. We can’t laugh at the guy with Tourette’s when we see him in the mall, so we wait until some comedian does a joke about how great it would be to shout out random obscenities whenever you felt like it. We can’t deal with our discomfort seeing a fat person using a wheelchair, so we wait until some radio jockey does a riff on how fat people are getting so lazy, now they don’t even walk places. We have this inner tension, and it makes us uncomfortable, and laughter is a cheap and easy way to expel that sensation without actually dealing with it.

Whereas, if we challenged ourselves to examine our discomfort, we might begin to empathize with what we see. We might look for more information. We might google Tourettes, to find out that very few TS sufferers have corprolalia (shouting out obscenities), but most have extremely painful muscle dystonia or other tics that cause permanent physical harm. We might fall down a google hole of reading blogs of people who use wheelchairs, finding out how very difficult it is to be waist high in the world. We might engender a feeling of caring, openness, and informed participation.

But that’s the harder road to take. Laughing it off feels good; laughing is good for us physically, increases feel-good hormones and lightens our mood. But it does nothing to increase our evolution; we laugh it off, as the saying goes. It leaves us and doesn’t return until the next time we see Shirley Q, where we get to continue to release our discomfort.

Where does that lead? It leads to the creation of a synapse in our brain, literally. When we think of black women, we’ll think of Shirley Q, and we’ll laugh. And when we see black women on the news, we will remember all the things Shirley Q portrayed them to be, and believe it of the woman on the television, even if that black woman is the next Pearl Bailey, or Mary McLeod Bethune. And we’ll laugh, instead of taking them seriously, because underneath that laughter is the fear of the unknown, of that which we do not understand, of that which is different from our own experience.

That laughing it off is a form of dismissal. Of communicating to yourself and others that it isn’t horrific, it’s funny. If Chuck Knipp came out as himself and delivered the same routine in a straight delivery, he’d be arrested, or at least thrown out of a gay establishment (one would hope). But at the very least, he would sound like a terrible bigot. And that’s because he is. It doesn’t matter if he has a million black friends and they all think Shirley is a riot; he is a member of a dominant class belittling and insulting someone beneath him, enforcing the negative falsehoods that keep us from understanding and accepting black women as our peers and equals. He is putting them in their place, which is a place of ridicule and mockery.

What would be edgy and interesting is if Chuck put together a character of an upper class white woman CEO, who hates fags and can’t believe she’s found herself in front of a gay audience. That’s satire, because it says something political and interesting about class, money, and gender.

Speaking of gender, when thinking about this business, I started to ask myself and others if this means that all drag is sexist, since it is males (the privledged class) making a mockery of women (the disempowered class). The answer I and my peers came to is that it really depends on how the performer approaches the character. Most drag queens love and revere women, and want nothing more than to show them as powerful, sexy, important people. They dress up as Wonder Woman and kick ass. You don’t see so many drag queens creating characters based on redneck women from the Appalachians, based solely on the negative stereotypes therein; if they do decide on a “farmer’s daughter” type of character, it is almost always with the send-up of the unseen superhero; the woman everyone thinks is capable of nothing but making babies and smoking cigarettes, doing something powerful and empowering.

That’s the difference. Although I still object to Chuck using blackface because of it’s history, if he really wanted to do black female characters (for whatever reason), I’d love to see him do powerful, intelligent, world-changing and ass-kicking black women.

As someone who believes in the spiritual power of performance and storytelling, I think that’s the key. When we are given an audience, do we spend that energy picking on and bullying them? It works for some performers (like Lisa Lampinelli and Don Rickles), but you’ll note that neither of them ever made it as big as Richard Pryor or Billy Chrystal, who used the opportunity to poke fun at their own tribes, while still showing them respect and empowerment. We see people like S. Bear Bergman going out and speaking about trans* experience; sharing the funny foibles that come with living a trans* life – allowing you some release from your own discomfort with gender identity – without making jokes about men wearing dresses so they can lie in wait in women’s bathrooms. We’re even starting to see Pagan comedians, able to find the capricious moments without casting us as black-robe-wearing, baby-eating Satanists living in our mother’s basements.

There is a way to approach negative stereotypes in a performance without enforcing them. John Leguizamo’s one man show “Freak” (a very worthwhile watch) definitely played with the negative stereotypes Latinos face; but what he did that Chuck is failing to do, is to turn the one dimensional into the technicolor. When Leguizamo is standing there imitating his very conservative father, he is also showing you why his father was that way, what lead to his stereotypical behavior. Instead of just encouraging us to laugh it off, he’s encouraging us to laugh it in, to use humor to open our hearts and minds instead of close them. To make us wish we were Latinos, rather than be glad that we’re not.

Although this one performance of Chuck Knipp is closed down, I really hope discussion of his performances linger on; the posts the kink community make will live on the Internet and get the right search results so next to the YouTube videos of his act will stand the commentary of those who find him objectionable and racist. To me, this is why more of us should blog on the subject; not just to stand in solidarity with our sisters of color; but to encourage Knipp to find a new and different way to use the stage he’s been given, regardless of how he got there; to open our minds through laughter, rather than closing our hearts.

There are a lot of articles and blog posts popping up in regards to this issue. I haven’t been able to locate each and every one of them, so if you write one or know of one that should be included, go ahead and add it in the comments.

That last link has a nice collection at the bottom of all the Leatherati posts regarding the Portland show, including one I really wanted to have on the list, but was having too much trouble loading; one by a black female Leatherati correspondant named Tyesha Best, who defended the show.

Questions about Sacrifice

My post, Sacrifice seems to have gone viral among people of many different faith paths; I received more hits per 24 hour period on that piece than any other I’ve written to date (although it has a way to go for best all time hits, as God Sex and Hearing the Gods are currently the most popular.)

One person, identified as “C”, sent a comment full of well thought out and important questions, so I thought instead of answering them in the comments section, I would give them a post of their own.

1) Many, if not most, of us who are now polytheistic or polytheistically inclined have come from a Christian background. One of the reasons a lot of ppl leave that path is precisely because they do not feel heard, acknowledged, or cared for. Paganism, at large, has held out the image or idea that these other Deities are more tangible and responsive, more imminent in our daily affairs. However, it sounds like you, and many of your colleagues, are saying that the Gods are, or can be to most of us, just as remote and apparently non-responsive as the Christianity deities ever were. So how does Paganism/polytheism offer anything preferable, or as many assert, superior to the Christian paradigm?

There might be some conflation between the concept that the Gods are imminent, and the concept that Pagans can develop the abilities to see and hear them on a regular basis. One of the (debatable) theologies of most Pagans is the idea of imminence: the Gods are not living in some far off kingdom in the sky, looking down on us from a detached viewpoint, they are here on Earth, walking among us, interested and involved in our day to day existence. That’s how I view imminence, anyway. And as it is possible for a human to be interested in our daily existence and collect all kinds of information about us (as proven by how many times people google “Del Tashlin” to find this blog, for instance), and may even be an invisible hand guiding our decisions or the outcomes therein, it is all the more possible for the Gods to be at work in your life, and yet you might never actually get to have a two-way conversation with them.

The reason some people are given the gifts of understanding the Gods with their senses (hearing, seeing, etc) is specifically to live a life of service to those who do not. So even if you, personally, do not experience the Gods with your senses, it may only take a phone call or a coffee date with the right spirit worker in order to have personalized messages delivered to you (if the Gods have anything to communicate, anyway.) It may take the form of oracular work, or it may be divination. And that’s another equalizer in this; although you may not have the ability to hear with your ears, learning a divination system is available to most people, and I do believe that Gods communicate with us through divination, as long as you learn the basic energetic exercises that go with being a channel (grounding, centering, etc), rather than just interpreting the forces of randomness.

Another hurdle here is that few people take the time to really listen. We live in a society of constant distraction; music at the gas pumps, Ipods on the train, tv in the background; we have learned to think of silence as a terrible punishment. Even sitting in a car with another person, if the conversation dies, both people are likely frantically searching for a new topic of conversation, rather than just letting the silence pervade the experience. (I had the fortune to learn how to sit in conversational silence while dating a person who rarely spoke; at first, it drove me crazy, but over time I learned to love the feeling of release when I no longer pressured myself to fill the silence with random chatter.) You can’t hear the Gods if you’re constantly bathed in distraction, and that takes practice. It may take a meditative session of an hour or longer before you can allow your brain to silence the running commentary track, because even that may be too loud for the inspiration to come through. And like I’ve said in Hearing the Gods, it rarely manifests as actually hearing an external voice, even if most spirit workers shorthand the description that way (“Odin told me to buy whiskey” may actually mean “I was in the liquor store buying tequila for the upcoming party, when I felt an overwhelming desire to purchase a specific kind of whiskey. I followed my gut, and later I sat for two hours staring at the whiskey until I had an internal revelation that Odin likes whiskey, and it’s been a while since I’ve libated to him, so I should probably go do that”, followed by a sense of resolution when you finish the act.) It takes a lot of trial and error (and yes, error, as in “I really thought seeing two ravens for three days straight was an omen from Odin, but actually, it was just that there was some carrion outside my house and they kept coming until it was gone.”

The other half of the sacrifice, which I guess I didn’t make clear enough in the first piece, is that those who dedicate their lives to the service of their God’s people, have to learn and perfect a variety of skills in order to do their Job and do it well. (No one wants to go see the shaman who doesn’t know how to meditate, right?) And if you’ve got a great day job and a wonderful spouse and lovely children, you might not have the kind of time, patience, or dedication that these skills require. Most spirit workers I know do not have children; many of them do not have day jobs or if they do, they spend all of their free time working on their spiritual calling. It’s not something that a full time engineer can achieve unless they’re willing to make… you guessed it…a sacrifice. That’s part of the life I live as well. I live in a very small, suburban/rural city, in a very quiet neighborhood, and I spend about 70% of my time sequestered in my room, working on some spiritual thing or another. There are days that my girl (who lives with me) will only leave my food at the door, knowing not to interrupt, and that eventually I will peek my head out if I need sustenance. I don’t get to go out to the bar, or visit a friend, or have a game night. Sometimes I don’t leave my house for weeks, and then only to see a doctor. It’s a very solitary life, and although I have romantic partners, they all understand that the Work comes first, and that means I might disappear for a month, too busy to send a text message or schedule a visit.

In other words, for dramatic effect, I used the bigger life sacrifices that my colleagues make, but inside of that are millions of smaller ones, daily ones, choosing to answer someone’s well thought out questions rather than sleep, maybe? 🙂

2) Given that apparently only a limited number of ppl appear to be able to hear and communicate meaningfully with the Deities, how does someone, such as myself, who’s tried their entire lives to make contact, not come to the conclusion that ALL of this isn’t simply fantasy wish fulfillment?

Again, this ignites what my colleagues call an “on duty light”. It’s a small pull around my heart chakra (or sometimes the feeling of force pushing down on my head and shoulders) because these are the services I provide my tribes and communities. I am out there, ready and willing to verify that your prayers are heard, your offerings not in vain, and that your beliefs are not an addiction to Dungeons and Dragons gone awry. Loki rewired me and removed the obstacles in my life so I have the ability to offer my skills humbly, to anyone who might need them. And He did it to me, because honestly, I was wasting my life away and was ready to end it, and He decided there was a whole different track I could be on, if only I was willing to surrender my free will. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? Reading those words in no way can convey what it’s like when I was Told that after my most recent marriage failed, that having a spouse was too much of a distraction from the Work, so although I am allowed to have romantic liasons, I am now barred from taking a new spouse, or even having a relationship that resembles spousery (like living together, sharing finances, making decisions as a unit, etc). I’m a Libra, and we work best when part of a partnership. But it’s very true, what the Gods said; both of my spouses and the relationship I had that might as well have been spousal, dragged me away from my calling; and it wasn’t their fault. It was too easy for me to ignore the Work in deference to the work a long term relationship entails. In each of those relationships, if the Gods told me to do something that my spouses disapproved of (my Soon To Be Ex (STBX) was fond of saying, “Well, if the Gods want that, They can pay for it.”) I just didn’t do it. And it wasn’t outward denial to my Gods; I just let the Work pile up in the cosmic inbox and plugged my ears and la la la’d my way along. And each and every time, the circumstances were brought about that the spouse would be removed from my life – and oddly enough, not by my choice – which is why I tell would-be spirit workers and shamans never to tell the Gods that something like your children, or your job, or spouse, is keeping you from doing your Work, because They have ways of removing those obstacles, usually ways that aren’t fun or pretty.

But anyway, this isn’t about my sob story. What I’m trying to convey to you is that I can tell you, C, that your prayers are heard. That you are loved and noticed. I feel it coming through my body and spilling out of my pores. And in the future, should you have doubts, now you know how to find me, and I will happily serve you in any way that will strengthen your spiritual journey.

I know this may feel a little like going to a Catholic priest; as though you need an intercessory in order to communicate to God. But that’s not the case at all. Prayers are heard, even if the pray-er does not feel the revelation after doing so. You can always talk to your Gods, by yourself, in any way that feels right to you, without anyone’s help. It’s only when you seek confirmation – and it’s worth noting, that often when people ask me if their Gods hear their prayers, I can easily point out the omens and signs they were given, but did not notice or apply to their situation. So the answers are usually there, but it takes time and skill to see them.

3) If, as is taught by some, the Gods are our Elder Kin, why should they be so recalcitrant about speaking to us? Do any of you who do receive communication ever ask the Gods point blank why they deign to speak to so few or at the very least make their presence felt? To expect or desire or in any way accept the heart felt pleas, prayers, cries, devotions, adorations, etc. of untold multitudes of souls w/o so much as a breath of recognition and response of any sort sounds quite cruel and capricious!

I can’t speak for everyone, or for the Gods on this question. I can only speak to what it inspires within me. Many of my shamanic colleagues, mostly when we’re railing against our calling, wonder why there seems to be more spirit workers and shamans cropping up all over the place; in places where there were none before. Obviously, no scientific survey has been done to definitely state that there are more shamans, shamanic practitioners, spirit workers, God spouses, and the like, than there was 30 years ago. Before the Internet, it is very likely that many were called but failed to understand what they were being asked to do – no googling “spiritual crises” back then – or that they just went about doing their Work, quietly, taking clients as the encountered them on the street, or in their tribes, or perhaps even just their extended families. They may have used different words to describe what they did; I’m positive that during more oppressive times, there were many “special grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins” who knew about herbs spirits and energy work, but since the monotheistic paradigm made it difficult or impossible to discuss without being accused of Satanism/Witchcraft (in the bad sense of the word), it was just something like, “Every time I visit Sammy’s house, I always feel more focused, more clear headed, more connected.” and no one talked about how or why it happened.

In the age where we have better means of long distance travel, as well as the obvious ability to google various spiritual quandaries and find meaningful answers, when hospitals are hiring Reiki practitioners who are as well regarded as MDs, when Tantra is something an adventurous couple might try to spice up their sex life, and as the eon changes now into Aquarius and more and more people will be open to imminent spirituality, us wackjobs who have been studying, practicing, and quietly doing our daily devotions and research on our Gods will come forward. I can speak from experience how many clients I’ve had who approached me as atheists or anti-theists, and over time and exposure learn to open their heart to whatever calls to it…

The Gods are activating us. They are pushing us to be more public. For years I fought using the title “shaman”, and it really wasn’t until other people started using it in reference to me that I began to embrace it. (There’s a whole essay on that in storage, as I’m waiting for a co-conspirator to add their thoughts.) The main reason my Gods demanded I do so is because it’s a word that people understand, that they have at least some concept of what one is and what it does, whereas if I followed the emerging trend to choose a title that comes from the language of the Gods I serve (from godhi to seidkona to volupsa), many of my non-Norse-following clients, as well as those who are just starting out with this whole spiritual thing, will have no effing clue what that means or what skills I have because of that title.

I bet, right now, as of 3:15am EDT, there is someone in an ER somewhere dying, knowing each breath might be their last; when a God of some pantheon or another, probably unknown to hir, is appearing and offering the same deal I got – die now and give up, or let me the reigns and I will make your life meaningful again. And maybe that ER is three miles from your house. Who knows? But we are out there, and there are more of us out of the broom closet and mingling outside of the Pagan demographic, reaching out to communities and tribes we’ve been assigned to (or chosen, in some cases).

Which brings me to:

4) If They are indeed as capricious as what it sounds like you’re saying and as it appears, what makes Them worthy of our love and efforts at all!? If I’m going to get all the response I would from a bit of concrete, then why don’t I just call some random piece of concrete my deity and pray to it?

Well, speaking as an animist, I’d completely encourage you to find a bit of concrete and see if it has a spirit within it that you can help or learn from in some way. But I admit that’s also me being a bit of a saucebox.

For as much as my Gods have asked to sacrifice or surrender in order to live the life I do, I will emphatically exclaim that their presence in my life has brought such richness, has turned my life from black and white to technicolor, has given me the audacity to believe in things that science can’t, and may never, explain. I’ve seen glorious things, both in the realms of magic as well as in the transformation of the human soul when it opens itself to seeing the world as being encircled by Gods who are here, with us, encouraging us to be our best selves, to get over what holds us back and move forward boldly and with a surety they did not possess before.

I have those times, though. I won’t bullshit you. In long stretches of the darkened silence, I have pounded my fists and demanded to know why I was asked to give up so much if all I was going to get was “do this thing you don’t want to do, and don’t talk to me until it’s done”. Or worse yet; when my chronic illness first manifested, mostly in the form of severe chronic neurological and muscular pain, I actually wrote a letter to many of my colleagues, demanding to know why Loki would have punished me so, and what am I not doing that He feels this is a suitable punishment. Was it? No. Although now i see my illness as a blessing, I do not believe that any of my Gods thought that making me use a wheelchair or be hopped up on opiates was a grand idea. I believe in science as much as I believe in magic; my mother’s lineage is full of autoimmune and neurological disorders, and so it’s very likely whatever it is I have (if you’re interested, my other blog, Dying for a Diagnosis is all about that part of my life) is genetic, not divine. But have the Gods found a way to make it work with Their overall plan? Sure, in the same way that anyone deals with a monkeywrench. Or maybe They knew all along this was coming, and that was why They chose me and not the dude down the block. Who knows? To this day, I have no idea why I was picked. :shrug:

But yes, I empathize with the feeling that it’s all for naught, that the messages you receive (if any) are just wish fulfillment, that you’re merely using the Encyclopedia Mythica as your literary porn (in the case of Godspouses and consorts), and that in the end it doesn’t matter.

This is not a problem of the Gods. It is a problem of human faith. Faith is a difficult thing to nuture, because at its core it is holding a belief and acting upon that belief without the presence of proof. My Boyfriend is struggling with this as we speak; he once had a working God Radio (he could hear Them but had no way of knowing if They heard him) but his God purposefully broke it, mostly because he had to learn to trust in his own faith, rather than rely on the stream of information coming from Them. Once his faith is bulletproof, he’ll get a radio back (and maybe a phone, if he’s lucky), but right now, he needs to cultivate belief in the absence of proof. Without that absence, then what we believe in ceases to be spiritual, and becomes either science or fantasy.

There are days when I question if what I’m hearing is really Them, or if it’s just a fantasy game I like to play by myself. I wonder what would happen if I broke one of my taboos, or ate something They’ve told me to avoid, or even denied their existence. I just came through my own ordeal, where I underwent a surgery that I had been Told would have a life or death crisis (and it did, as I stopped breathing and was on a respirator for a short period of time) and that I had to pass my Underworld ordeal in order to return to the land of the living. How much did I want to reason it away, to look at what was going to happen as a simple surgery (the removal of a large abscess in my abdomen, as well as 40lbs of infected and necrotic tissue, as I was literally dying from the inside already), and not some big ass Spooky Foo Showcase. Friends came from all over the country to participate in the rituals both the night before, and the day of surgery; we sent out instructions for those who couldn’t be present so they could work from home.

When I woke up in ICU, one of the first revelations I had was that they had all made this giant deal out of it, and other than the whole not breathing thing, everything turned out all right. I mean, I have severe trauma in my mind from the ordeal I passed in the Underworld (which I am still in the process of remembering), but physically, so far everything is going well. I wonder – was it all the hoopla that upped my odds of success? Or were we just blowing the procedure out of proportion.

Lucky for me, I was able to verify my spiritual thoughts with people completely unaware and unaffected by what I thought was going to happen. Boy howdy, did I seek out verification – I believe I spoke to over ten different spirit workers about one aspect or another. Yes, I even contacted spirit workers I did not know personally, having no idea if their godphone was “real” or “memorex”. (Please be old enough to get that reference.)

But that’s faith. And I can’t give you it. No one can. It is something you create, from pieces of your soul, and that you nurture on a regular basis. It’s perfectly normal, and somewhat expected (as my Gods tell me) that we doubt from time to time. They know it’s a lot to take in, and I even have felt their frustration that They couldn’t just manifest or create some random miracle before your eyes in order to bolster your faith. It’s kinda the one rule Gods have to abide by; devotees must come based on their faith, not on verifiable proof of existence. It sucks, but I guess you can lodge your complaint with the Universe, or whomever makes up the rules for the Gods.

5) Not to in any way demean, belittle, or question the trauma of your sacrifices or any those of any of the ppl you’ve mentioned, but MANY of us out here have gone through horrific sacrifices as well. My own include job loses, poverty, deaths of many loved ones, debilitating health problems, having my life threatened, and more. But regardless, there’s still no response from the Spirit world or the Gods, no matter how I implore them. So to say that there’s some kind of dividing line – involving sacrifice – between who receives communication and who doesn’t, seems arbitrary and unwarranted. It also sounds suspiciously like that old gem that crops up in everything from diet to religion, “you’re just not doing it right!”

I did not feel belittled by your question at all; in fact, you’re not the first person to ask me this. Frequently, people will write me and tell me about some horrific experience they’ve survived, wondering if it was a shamanic crisis (usually in addition to asking that if it was, when would the cool spooky powerz show up?). Not every trauma has a spiritual aspect to it. I had a miscarriage in 2002, and although it was a terrible awful thing, if it had any spiritual meaning (other than I am not supposed to have children, which I’m still not entirely sure if that’s true or not) I have yet to find it. My father died in 2007, and although it brought up a very complex set of emotions and messed me up for almost a year, I don’t feel it had any spiritual relevance. I was raped in college, and oddly enough, I’ve been told by the Gods that it didn’t have any spiritual significance; I just invited the wrong person to spend the night in my dorm room.

Because I have her permission, I’m going to use Galina as an example. She was a dancer, who suffered an injury that she feels put her on the track of her Work with Odin. Here’s the difference between a random event and a spiritual crisis: many dancers, once injured, decide to become dance teachers, or find some other way to stay connected to the life that they love. Olympic gymnasts become coaches, mentors, judges, or even go into producing the events. Just because something bad happened to someone, doesn’t mean that their life has to change dramatically. But Galina had a revelation, of what quality and kind I do not know, but something in her gave her the unshakable conviction that dancing was over, and that she was to pursue her spiritual calling instead. For me, it was that at the moment of the crisis, I had an actual “hallucination” (or “visitation”, take your pick) of Loki, talking to me and telling me what was to happen.

I have worked with several clients who really, really wanted their trauma to have some deeper spiritual meaning, maybe to help them make sense of it, to feel like it had some sort of silver lining. And no amount of divination or communication with the Gods revealed any greater purpose. Sometimes we’re just the extras in someone else’s movie; we’re not always the star, even if it may feel that way. Maybe my rapist had a spiritual conversion when he was fired due to my accusation. Or maybe it was his boss, who upon hearing of the incident, came to understand his role as a Sacred Guardian, and that he had to make sure all of his security guards understood the sacredness of what they were doing. Or maybe it was the person I told the story to, who realized that their own trauma didn’t exist in a vacuum, and went on to create a non-profit for LGBT rape victims. I’ll never know if there was any spiritual meaning to it, or where in the pond the ripple found a stone to push.

Loki reminds me daily that although I can pretend to be a rock star (see the title?), that I am really just a vagabond, wandering into people’s lives and saying or doing the right thing at the right time, and then fading to black as that person moves on without me, who may not even remember my name a year later, or who runs into me at some event and can’t remember how we know each other (even when their tear stained face is burned into my memory). That’s what I mean when I talk about having humility as a prerequisite for these abilities; the Gods aren’t likely to give them to someone who only wants them to gain power, control, or fame/prestige; in fact, I’ve seen some of the effects that happen to those who walk that path, and it rarely ends well. Humility is as much a part of my spiritual practice as meditation or energy work. Without it, I’m an asshole on a power trip that only helps other assholes who don’t mind being a part of that power trip, who stroke my ego and tell me how awesome I am; meanwhile, so many wounded and hurting can’t break through the shielding of inflated ego, and go on ignored and untreated. Whereas if I walk among them, hurting and wounded myself, not only will they find me, but they will understand that I know what it’s like, because I’m a human too, having a human experience.

So that’s the end of C’s questions. I hope my answers help in some way, not just C but everyone who stops by.

Just as a warning to my regular readers; my next essay is going to be about racism in the Leather and kink communities. It contains some information and images that might be offensive (and should be, but you’ll see). I’m working hard on it, because it addresses a complex issue that has many points of view at play. I hope you’ll read it and take part in a town hall that’s based on it on Sunday (check this post for more information. There is a chance I won’t be able to finish my post before Sunday, but Leatherati already has many posts on the subject.

These words resonate with me very deeply: the concept of two ways that Magick flows. Sometimes it feels like you’re pushing a rock uphill, that the struggle is inherent to making it work; other times it’s about letting go, opening one’s self up to the awesome power of the Universe (or, at times, an archetypical force, such as Death, Madness, Change, etc) or the Will/presence of a God.

I haven’t read the series that inspired this post (one of my dark secrets is that I am not a fantasy fan), but the concept and the commentary make a great deal of sense to me. (And like the blogger, I reject that it is somehow tied to binary gender.)

Blue Flame Magick

wot“The One Power comes from the True Source, the driving force of creation, the force the Creator made to turn the Wheel of Time. Saidin, the male half of the True Source, and saidar, the female half, work against each other, and at the same time together to provide that force…The True Source cannot be used up, any more than the river can be used up by the wheel of the mill.” – Moiraine Damodred

If you’ve ever read The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, this quote will be familiar to you. If you haven’t read the series, go do so now, I’ll wait…it’s only 14+ novels, it’s awesome. It’s a fantasy novel with a lot of magic (but it’s not magic, they never call it that) but one of the interesting aspects of the magic is there are two ways of using it. (Okay, technically there…

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Sacrifice

There’s been an uptick in my network of colleagues; people who range from being mildly worried to furiously angry when they ask “How do I get a Godphone/hear the Gods better/develop Sight/become a God’s spouse?”

I feel for them. I know what it’s like to sit in the darkened silence, praying, knowing that a single word, touch, or even omen-like coincidence would be all the assurance I needed in the world. Yes, I am saying that even though I do experience messages from the Gods and have a reciprocal relationship with some of my patrons, there are also times when I sit in the darkened silence as well.

It makes you feel like it’s all in vain; maintaining the altars, studying the Lore, keeping up with your spiritual practice, and sometimes merely calling yourself a devotee of a specific God or even just a Pagan. Many of us set out on these tasks with the hope that someday, any day, we too might have the assurance we read about on so many blogs and websites and books, having our faith validated in some way. We long for it deep in our souls. In fact, in some ways, it’s what attracted us to polytheism to begin with – that there is the possibility of actual divine intervention and gnosis, in ways that our limited senses can experience.

It seems terribly unfair. You can’t throw a stone in Tumblr-land without landing on some person’s account of having a cute date night with Loki, or sharing a life changing message they’ve had from Persephone, or reading about someone’s prayers being answered in a tangible way. And yet, there you are, just wanting a small taste, a drop of wine on the lips, to be assured that all this time you’re spending in devotional work means something, is being received and found acceptable. Sometimes it even manifests as downright fear that Ur Doin It Rong, and perhaps the silence is either that you aren’t using the right tools/practices, or that you’re being rejected.

You’ve heard it a million times from a million different spirit workers and shamans, but it still doesn’t help you – “It is a minority of people who experience any sort of direct gnosis (communication or knowledge of Gods); although there seems to be a lot of people on the Internet who claim to have godphones or personal visitations, it really is not the experience of the majority of polytheists.” So you’re in the majority, but that doesn’t comfort you in times of trouble, of loneliness, of despair. It just feels like that much more unfair; that more people feel like you do rather than have the ability to grasp at something that says “This is all real.”

I’ve spoken to many colleagues about this recently, and the part I think most people don’t see, the part that really scares them to contemplate, is that most people who have these abilities gave up something vitally important in their lives in order to receive them. This is bigger and broader than “you can’t be a shaman unless you’ve had a shamanic crisis” – it applies to most Godspouses and consorts, spirit workers, and even some priests and devotees of Gods. Galina Krasskova was a gifted dancer in her youth; dancing was her entire world. Her back suffered irreparable damage in order to set her on Odin’s path. Wintersong and Fireheart Tashlin desperately want to live in an urban center, but their Gods have made that impossible for them. Alex Bettencourt touched a string enchanted to put him on his spiritual path, and was immediately fired from his job and spent over two years unemployed, living in poverty and only by the grace of others, because his God wanted him to study spiritual things full time. I had to move away and give up everyone who mattered to me in order to be where I am, and now I am no longer allowed to have a spouse, which hurts me deep inside. Everywhere I look in my community of God-touched folk, I see the remnants of dreams and desires, lying in tatters.

Frequently, when devotees of Gods come to me asking me if or when they’ll be able to learn how to hear the Gods, or become a vessel for possession, or some other spiritual skill, they think I am being mean or harsh when I tell them they’ll have to give up something they love in order to obtain it. I have had clients refuse their Deity’s requests to alter their hairstyle, wear different clothing, or abstain from certain substances (illegal drugs, caffeine, sugar, meat, etc); and yet the rail and complain about how unfair it is that they weren’t merely born with these abilities intact. Now, I would be dishonest if I did not disclose that I feel some people are born with certain neurological and biochemical anomalies that predispose them to these abilities; it has been noticed more than a few times that those who are able to carry Deity in possession have a much higher rate of neurological disorders than the mainstream (and if they weren’t born with them, they develop them quickly as they progress in possessory activity).

But I can’t help but wish I could show them how much dancing meant to Galina, or how lonely Elizabeth gets her in tiny room on a rural farm far away from her friends and family, and so on. I wish I could convey to them the enormous weight of sacrifices, one after the other, I’ve been asked to make on my journey towards gnosis. Because at the minimum, being given these abilities comes with the imperative that you share them far and wide, and that may sound glamorous and socially advantageous, but you’re failing to see that the imperative goes further than just the sorts of people who are used to random strangers on the Internet telling them that there are Real Gods and they have Real Messages for them. I frequently have to pass on messages to Christians, Atheists and Anti-Theists, Jews and Muslims, people who think I am absolutely nutters to believe that Gods talk into my head and tell me to do and say certain things to them. And yet, I have to. I can’t just decide that, in this or that circumstance, it may get me a punch to the face or cause me to break the law (I’ve been arrested, but not charged or convicted, of “Corrupting the mores of a minor” for talking to a 16 year old about Paganism, which started with me passing on a God message.) You are probably only seeing and experiencing situations where these abilities seem fun, as well as bringing that sort of comfort in personally knowing that the Gods do exist, They do care about you and what you do, and that you have some Purpose in Their greater schemes and intentions for humanity on the planet. You likely miss when I am subject to a hate crime due to my gender expression (something Loki asked me to change and maintain), or when someone is hospitalized due to degeneration of their CNS from running too much God energy through their system (which the doctors don’t exactly have a diagnosis for, so they just scratch their heads and try all sorts of medical remedies, most of which have little to no effect.)

And if that isn’t enough, I’ve also seen the aftermath of people giving up things that they dearly wanted or needed, in hopes that the Gods would accept their sacrifice, only to face more silence. It’s not everyone’s job or purpose to serve humanity as a spirit worker; the Gods need architects and retail people and trash collectors and fast food employees, too, and sometimes that’s the even harder path. To accept that what you’re doing right now in your life, absent of any tangible omens or messages, is exactly what the Gods want you to be doing, and that it isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future. I frequently refer people to the writings of St. Theresa of the Little Flowers on this subject, as her title comes from her ardent philosophy that all of us have the same significance to God as a single wildflower in a field of blooms; no more special or different than the flowers that surround it, with no more purpose than to be the best, brightest flower that you can, and by doing that alone you’re fulfilling God’s will.

That’s the part where you will find the most sanity and love, truly. Just going about your daily life as though every action, mundane as it may seem, is a direct and blessed offering to the Gods you love and serve. Driving within the speed limit, or paying your taxes, or helping a friend move, or being there for someone in need; these things that we see as the most logistical and mundane activities can sometimes be the most important, because in the end it’s not how we feel about them that matters, but how They feel about them.

Are the cameras ever off?

About a year or so ago, I found myself in a discussion with other kink educators. Someone had posted a rant about how they wanted the ability to play in public without having to keep their “educator hat” on; they wanted to be able to engage in actions that may or may not be considered “safe”, but you would definitely not teach to a class. In essence, they wanted to be able to play without having to worry that some onlooker will assume that since Mx. Big Name Educator did it, it must be safe to replicate in their own play. This onlooker may or may not have the same level of experience with whatever they’re seeing, or may or may not know that Mx. Educator has a different kind of relationship with their play partner (like, say, being fluid bonded), or may even be doing something that looks more dangerous than it actually is, but because they’re not teaching, they’re also not explaining to random onlookers that there are unseen safety precautions.

This came up for me last night, as I watched some free online porn. If you don’t know, one of the things I’m most known for in the kink community is needle/blood play, and especially the fact that I know and practice a very high level of safety/cleanliness when I do so. One of the scenes I watched was a needleplay scene, and although I don’t know the performer personally, we’re maybe two degrees of separation from each other (if that). In the scene, there was some safety measures taken – they did wear gloves to put the needles in and take them out  – but that’s about where it started and ended. What bothered me the most was that the performer touched the needles, laced a corset-like decoration with rope, had sex with the bottom after the needles were removed (but the blood was still evident on the bottom’s arms), and although it ended with a nice cuddle, during none of these activities were they wearing gloves or taking any other precautions so as to not come in contact with the bottom’s blood. Also, they were doing this on a bed, and there were no precautions taken to make sure the blood didn’t get on the bed, and since they were romping around nude, meant that the blood could have also entered the other person’s body a number of ways.

Now, I know, it’s porn. It’s not supposed to look or feel like reality. But if there’s anything I’ve learned and personally witnessed about kinksters and porn, is that porn is where we get a lot of our ideas for new and different things to try. Since the site this scene was posted on is not really a kink site, but a sex site that has kink content, there is a high likelyhood that this may be a person’s first encounter with needle and blood play. It’s also worth mentioning that right on the site’s bannerhead, they claim to be an educational site as well as a place for porn. Finally, the performer in question is not only a porn performer, but teaches many classes to the kink demographic, and therefore is an educator.

I also accept that as part of the non-reality of porn, there may be things going on in the background that I didn’t see. It may be that right before and after they touched the open wounds, they cleaned their hands with surgical scrub to minimize any cross-contamination. They may be fluid bonded with their bottom, may even be in a long term relationship with them where fluid exchange is an everyday occurrence. I’ll even be willing to entertain the idea that the director/producer gave them the instruction to use precautions as little as possible, so as to make the scene not feel sterile (not in the sense of clean, but in the sense of staid and unsexy).

I think these two discussions are linked. I totally understand the exhausted feeling that comes when you perceive that the “cameras are never off” – that every time you rock up to a dungeon, people start to gather to see what nefarious doings are going to happen, to see advanced techniques or ideas that they could incorporate into their own play, or even just to be entertained – and that you can’t have any sort of intimacy or privacy (however much you can expect in a public play space). I have experienced people interrupting scenes to ask questions, either about needleplay in general (including “Can I be next?”) or about a certain part of whatever you’re doing (What gauge has purple hubs?) or will just get very close to the point where I have to ask them to step back so I can access my bottom or my supplies. Granted, needleplay is one of those kinds of play that is hard to see from a respectable distance, but there are ways to ask if it’s okay to move closer and see what’s going on. And about 60% of the time, I don’t mind the interruptions. I tend to tell people that my scenes tend to draw attention, and ask them if they want me to keep people from getting too close or interrupting, or if they welcome the attention. I know that, in some ways, by allowing this sort of interaction some of the time, I may be radioing that it’s okay all of the time.

Is this part of the cost of being an educator? Many people talk about the perks, but few talk about the responsibilities and potential downsides that come with volunteering your time and expertise to share with others. You become a bit of a commodity, no longer a person with personal preferences and desires, but someone who can be considered “obligated” to provide experiences to whomever asks (and saying “you’re not my type” or “I’m not looking to Top/bottom tonight” is met with derision, or like it’s a personal insult; heck, even “My dance card is full” is sometimes met as though I am lying just to avoid playing with the person, even when it later proves to be true when I’m stuck in the medical play area all night). Are we also, then, beholden to only do in public what we would do in front of a class?

And does this transpose into performance, whether live or taped? If we are asked to “show off” in front of a camera or a crowd, does our educator status come first, and maybe sacrifice a bit of “show” in order to play to the common denominator? If we want to do something that looks, or gods forbid is actually, risky, is it part of our responsibility to make it clear that although we’re doing this for show, that the home consumer should know that there were precautions taken that they weren’t privy to?

I found the scene hard to watch. Instead of being able to get into seeing one of my particular turn-ons on the little screen, I ended up feeling detached from it, becoming judgmental and looking for further broaches of safety. I stopped focusing on the hotness and started a tally of all the things I would have done differently, even from an aesthetic point of view. In an odd way, I wonder if I have a right to porn that turns me on, which means that it looks as safe as I would want it to be in person, even if it may not be as artistically satisfying to the general consumer? Or should I just relegate myself to not watching needle/blood scenes in porn, because they’re always going to do it wrong and make me lose my erection?

This also traverses into safer sex procedures, too. There was a big brouhaha in LA when the law passed that all porn had to used condoms, and many porn performers and industry people have stated that it just means that porn production will move to another area with less legal restrictions. But I find that if I’m watching a fuck scene and there’s no glove/condom/dental dam, I turn it off or look for one that has them. I know I’m not the only, or even maybe the biggest, market for porn, but I can’t help but wonder if we made more porn with safer sex as part of the play, we would only encourage more people to take these precautions at home? If we can somehow make dental dams look sexy, then more people will use them? I mean, I’ll be brutally honest, the first time I saw someone unroll a condom onto a cock with their mouth before a blowjob, I lost all of my hesitation about using condoms for oral sex, because damn that was hot to watch. If we can find creative ways to make these things as sexy as the sex themselves, isn’t that a good thing? I’m sure the porn industry has been thinking or fighting about this since AIDS showed up, and maybe even before, but with the incidences of young people contracting AIDS on the rise again, especially in the age of “Abstinence Only” sex ed in schools, maybe it’s time to think about these things.

Are the cameras ever off? Is it ever okay for someone in the public eye to let their sex/kink be about the turn on and not about the education? Do you always play safer in public than you would behind closed doors? Do you think it’s ridiculous when play spaces require everyone to use safer sex products, even if the partners are already fluid bonded? What do you think?