Yes, and.

Quick warning: I know I’ve picked up quite a few subscribers and fans who love my posts on spirituality, spirit work, shamanism, and Loki. However, there’s a reason this is called Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars; I also blog about kink, both by itself and combined with my spiritual path. This is one of those posts, so if you’re not hep with the consensual BDSM or descriptions of sex, you might want to take a pass on this one.

I had stopped bottoming.

The reasons were many, and there were a lot of complications. And anything too complicated, that requires too much negotiation and limits, kills my hard on. I don’t mind if we need to take some time to figure out what works for us, but if there’s more processing than playing, I quickly lose interest.

Part of it was about being a presenter. Although I am quick to bring up the fact that I switch when it’s appropriate in my classes, most kink classes are focused on top-specific skills which sets the assumption that the teacher is a top. It doesn’t help that I’ve gained a bit of a reputation as being both a Badass Heavy Top, as well as a Dominant/Master; these are true, but it never meant that I stopped wanting to bottom. In fact, it should make it easier: “You. There. Pick up that thing and hit me with it until I say stop.”

But it wasn’t only that. I was in a relationship where bottoming was complicated. They didn’t want to cause me “bad” pain, since I was suffering so much chronic pain to begin with. I didn’t particularly enjoy the kinds of play they liked to give; and they didn’t particularly enjoy the kinds of play I liked to receive. We tried, a lot, but it never really clicked. And it only brought up the raw wound that we had started out in a power dynamic where I was the submissive, but like our play, we had very different ideas about what we wanted or needed from dominance and submission. None of this makes either of us wrong, or bad, or unsuited as a top or bottom for other people; they were and are an excellent top who has legions of people interested in play.

But it left me feeling like I couldn’t do it, not with them, and not with anyone else. I didn’t figure this out until I started dating a top who did like the kinds of play I liked to bottom to; all of a sudden the giant green eyed monster showed up and wouldn’t leave until that relationship went away. We all dressed it up as anything other than jealousy, but really that’s what it was. And I saw how hurt and sad it made them, to see me enjoying bottoming to someone else. So except for a few, very rare occasions, I didn’t do it. Not even when they weren’t there to see it or be affected by it. I just focused on other things.

Fortuitously, this happened at the same time as I was finding people who wanted to submit to me. I had gotten a bit of cache as a needle top, and played with hundreds of bottoms for a scene or two. Eventually, I started attracting submissive bottoms, who wanted to go deeper than just playing. I fumbled a lot, like most new Dominants do, and made some mistakes, but at the same time I found a well of desire within me that I didn’t know existed.

So I buried my bottoming desires and focused on becoming a Big Badass Top and a passable Dominant/Master. I found the right slave, one who fit my desires and for whom I was exactly what they wanted/needed. I sublimated my bottoming desires by giving random play partners the kinds of scenes I secretly longed for. Don’t get me wrong – I love being a top, kicking someone’s ass or making them bleed – and I also love being a Dominant.

Did I miss bottoming? Yes. Sometimes I felt the lack keenly, like reaching out for a lover who isn’t there any more. I would either try to bottom to the person I was in a relationship with, even though I knew it wouldn’t take me where I wanted to go, or I would find the very few types of scenes that I could bottom to without dredging up all the shit.

After the relationship was over, I was shy about bottoming. It had been a long time, and I had done an excellent job of completely burying those desires to a point where I almost didn’t think about them anymore. And in a fucked up way, even though I was free to do whatever I wanted, the thought of bottoming again filled me with regret and sadness about the end of the relationship. In fact, for the first few months after we broke up, I didn’t play at all. Part of it was grief; part of it was fear that I would take out all of my emotions and anger on someone who didn’t deserve it, and then I would be even more aware of my unresolved feelings about it all and possible do damage (emotionally or physically) to someone undeserving. Another part was that I didn’t know how bottoming would make me feel. A lot has changed in my body since I last took a really intense beating/caning/spanking/etc, and I was afraid I wouldn’t or even couldn’t enjoy it like I did before.

But I am blessed with a wonderful, understanding, very switchy boyfriend who listened to all of my concerns and fears about going there again. He, too, had once taken a long sabbatical from bottoming, and had many of the same fears and anxieties about opening himself up like that again; and yet, without hesitation, he definitely let me be as sadistic as I wanted during our first fuck. So I decided to trust him, and to trust myself to let go and let the experience be whatever it was going to be.

Oh yeah! I used to like this stuff!

It started out slow and private; we did a little humiliation, a little tease-and-denial, some biting and punching, mixed in with our bedroom sex. It wasn’t a scene, I told myself, although where those lines really are, are getting very blurry for me as of late. I used to be able to distinctly tell what was a scene and what was sex, but these days it’s all a big sloppy mess of feeling good. (Likely, this is partly because I no longer have to live by different rules when it comes to “playing” vs “fucking”, and some of those rules were ones I had insisted upon. Lessons learned.)

Then, I decided to commit. I asked him to bring his canes down for our next visit. He giggled with glee – he is an incredibly enthusiastic caning top, and it’s a kind of play few bottoms specifically request. Yes, I am the rare bird who prefers sting to thud; but I’m very picky about what kinds of sting and where they’re applied on my body. Needless to say, I was so blissed and happy about it, I let him take and post a picture of my post-caning ass on FetLife. If you know me, you know that’s a HUGE fucking deal, as I very rarely post pictures of me without clothes on, and I especially have self-image issues about my ass.

The next logical step, in my mind, was to try bottoming in public again. I am both a voyeur and an exhibitionist; I have a Leo moon, which makes me love theatricality and production, and playing in a play space has an energy and atmosphere that can be hard to recreate in the room I sleep and write in every day. I will admit, it was also important because people were starting to assume that my boyfriend was somehow subserviant to me (either as a sub, a slave, a boy, or the like) and that’s not only not true, but it dances some hard limits he has. So by bottoming to him in public, I was trying to send the message that this is one helluva switchy relationship, one in which I am often the bottom of.

So that I would feel comfortable, and because he likes getting beat, we started by doing a scene where I topped him. What was electric, and definitely new territory for me, was that he was not the compliant, stand-there-and-take-it bottom – he punched me back at times, or flat out told me I couldn’t do something, or grabbed my hair and yanked it. It threw some people watching for a loop, as switch play isn’t what one might expect at a public space (and by “switch play” in this instance, I mean a scene where the line between top and bottom is blurry or non existent. Many switches will decide to do one or the other, especially if they’re not playing with a fellow switch) nor is it something that I’ve done much of, if at all, in public.

Even then, during the scene where I was nominally the top, he did something he knew would open up my vulnerability. I don’t cum in public. Part of it is to take the turn on home where I can wank or fuck anyway I want without having to worry about odd rules about what a penis is and where it can go. Also, as a wise man is fond of saying, I don’t enjoy being “National Geographic”. What he means is, it turns me off if people are watching me play or fuck specifically because my body or my identity is intriguing to them; rather than watch because it’s sexy, they’re watching because they don’t fully understand or haven’t seen it done that way before. As “enlightened” as I may seem sometimes, I still have hangups about my disability, my body size, and my trans*ness as they all relate to my sexual confidence. But knowing that did not stop my boyfriend from grabbing my cock and jerking me off right there in my wheelchair. And giving in, and not asserting my boundary like a Badass Top, felt more right.

We took a break, but we saw it was getting late and the club was closing soon. I had run out of reasons to procrastinate. We found a piece of furniture that would suit our purposes, and we figured out how to bare my ass without making me feel overly naked and on display. Granted, it was a queer oriented party, so I had less “Nat Geo” issues to worry about, but some of that is too instinctual at this point to so easily dismiss. He caned me, softly at first, but harder and harder as time went on. We changed positions and my pants and underwear fell to the floor, leaving me there with my cock hanging in the wind. Normally, I would have been mortified, but instead I just stuck my ass out further and asked for more.

The endorphins came over me like a wave. Usually, they creep up on me and I don’t realize how high I am until I’m loopy. This time, I distinctly remember feeling lucid one moment, and blitzed the next. He looked down at me and commented on how happy I was. I just urged him to hit me more. We had to start ramping down, both because I was in a good place and neither of us wanted to chance going too far and ruining the scene. But man, have I missed that wonderful, floaty feeling of love, both for my partner and for myself and my body. I am in love with my body, despite how much it pisses me off sometimes (kinda like my boyfriend 🙂 ), because it can give me such elevating experiences. I was in the perfect headspace to embrace a friend who has felt a distinct lack of love lately, and share some of that warmth with her. I was pretty damn loopy the whole way home, and our plans to fuck like jackrabbits when we got home was superseded by my inevitable crash, which made me sleepy.

Oh right, I used to like this stuff. And now I love it, because it comes with no baggage, no complications, no expectations, no obligations. I can just be who I am, when and where I want, and get a good beating if that’s what I desire. I can still be a kick ass kink educator and Big Badass Top, and also float along in my own personal subspace while my problematic muscles finally relax and I feel a deep and abiding peace. “Yes, and…” as the improv performer in me says.

Yes, and.

Del, You Big Meanie! Why are you picking on cis gender women?

I’ve kicked up a lot of dust with my post about Loki’s wives, and regardless if it was singing my praises or cursing my name for all eternity, I’m happy about it. I’m a shit stirrer, and being the speaker of hard truths has taught me that any response is better than the whistlin’ of the wind.

But there seems to be one part of the entry that people are scratchin’ their heads over, one point that doesn’t seem like something I would ordinarily say, something that doesn’t fit with the overall point(s) I was trying to make.

Namely, “Hey Del, why did you single out cis gender women in your Ranty McRanterson post? Aren’t you, like, a gender activist?”

Let me start by quoting an email I got about six weeks ago. I have the permission of the author, as long as I don’t reveal their identity.

“Dear Del,

I’m very confused and as you’re a trans* man who works with Loki, I’m hoping you can help me figure something out.

I know, down to the marrow of my bones, that Loki and I are in love. He approached me, for reasons I’m still trying to figure out. And I was excited, and scared out of my wits. So I went online to find out what other people have done about these things, because you’ve mentioned God spouses and consorts before, so I figured I would find some.

And not one of them were anything other than female.

I know that Loki emanates from a traditional human culture, one in which homosexuality was seen as either all about severe power dynamics, or about men being lesser for choosing to have sex with other men. And there were likely very few, if any, same sex unions in Norse culture. So am I crazy? Do male Gods ever take male or otherly gendered followers? Even the few non-cis-gender women I found were all born female, or identify that way now, and I’m just a gay guy living in (somewhere in middle America), sure of my sexual orientation and my gender.

I feel very alone, and I’m really afraid if I tell anyone about my love for Loki, I will be in more danger than I already am for being out as gay *and* Pagan.”

I’d love to say that was the only email I’ve ever received of that nature, but I’d be breaking my oath as a truth teller. It isn’t always Loki, or even a Norse God; and it isn’t always a cis gender man asking the question, but the theme remains.

The overarching point of the post was that we needed to take a critical look at the current trend among spirit workers, and especially the subsect of Loki’s spouses online, and see what we can learn from it, both the positives and negatives. I am aware my tone made it hard for many to see where I was saying good things about these people, so let me try again without being quite so grumpy.

One of the really inspiring thing about the Tumblr and WordPress conclaves of Loki’s wives is that they have created a strong and findable community where spiritual paths that are considered in the very minority of Pagans and polytheists are accepted and supported without having to do a lot of “proving” that what they are experiencing is real and meaningful. If you read the stories of some of the early God spouses (Freya Aswyn was brought up in one of these discussions), you’ll see that God spouses were unilaterally treated as people who had jumped the shark when it came to spirit devotion. But they paved the way for these communities to thrive and flourish, maybe to such a place where non-spouses are seen as the odd men out.

For a while, I asked about non cis female spouses. I asked to be linked to blogs, books, and other reference material where I could send people like the dude above to let them know they’re not alone. I know they exist; I’ve met and interacted with a few of them but few of them blog about their experiences. Because they are so few, a Google search on God Spouses or the like don’t usually highlight these references. But many, many of the online safe havens for Loki’s wives show up.

Another commenter called me on belittling the teenager-crush-like behavior that many of these blogs and bulletin boards sport in droves. Although I admit, part of my derision makes me an asshole; I have been in more than one serious conversation about why Lokeans are excluded from some Heathen, Asatru, and other Norse-derived groups, and this “I had prawns at an adorable dark tavern in Jotunheim with Loki, and He was wearing the sexiest leather pants” attitude comes up. I agree, it’s not nice, fair, or right to have that held against us as somehow less serious or reverent than how others relate to their Gods; but they aren’t completely wrong either. Few other Gods, from any pantheon, have groups of followers who treat their Gods like that hot transfer student in English class with the leather jacket and the distressed jeans. I know they exist, but not in such numbers.

I don’t think this means that the Loki mooners need to shut up and go away, although I think using more discernment as to what they share about their devotional work and how it reflects on the greater community they represent, whether they like it or not, or whether they choose to be representatives or not, could be helpful to those who actually care about Loki being hailed at places like Trothmoot. I don’t belong to any of those sorts of organizations, as I do not identify as a Heathen, nor are all of the Gods I worship from the Norse pantheon. I do sometimes use the term “Northern Tradition Pagan”, but they’re specifically not only Loki-accepting, but dual-trad accepting as well.

I expect that many of the people I’m describing will happily go on doing exactly as they’ve been doing, or even start fake Tumblr accounts specific to spoof on my and others grumptastic views of them. Good. Part of what I want from all this dust-upping is for people to speak authentically about their experience, and if it’s all movie date nights and co-writing erotica, please for the love of Sleipnir don’t let some cranky redheaded old fart (me, not Loki) stop you. Running away because some asshole criticized you on the Internet is about as ludicrous as lying about shamanic abilities in order to make people think you’re awesome.

What I would like, if I may be so bold as to ask, is to take a moment to think about how you, the ones with the safe havens and popular Tumbrs, can help the guy who wrote me. Ways to be inclusive in you FAQs and advise columns to other God spouses and consorts to make sure you’re not setting a standard or assumption that one must be a certain age, sex, level of ability (in whatever), or sexual orientation in order to join your Fun Brigade. Use inclusive language when you write about your own experiences, so that people who have different plumbing can still relate. Link to people who are writing about God sex and/or relationships that aren’t heterocentric or assumptive. Remember that Loki Himself is a liminal God, and therefore isn’t always the lanky, elf-looking redhead I’ve seen way too many fan art pictures of. Heck, he fucked a male horse once, as a female horse, so who’s to say he doesn’t come in a female form to a male mortal, or has heterosexual sex with men as a woman, or homosexual sex with either men or women? Or maybe he manifests intersex genitalia and interacts with a slew of differently gendered people that way?

What makes this odd and a little uncomfortable for me, is that I am neither a Loki’s spouse or even a consort. I’ve had sex with Gods, but not Loki. Elizabeth Vongvisith used to tag posts that described sex with Loki as “Not Safe For Dels”, because as my Father I have some of the same hang ups as mortal children have about thinking about or seeing their parents engaging in long hot sessions of fuck. As a sex educator, I can at least accept that all parents, including my own (God or mortal), have sex lives – or none of us would be here – but like many offspring, I have no desire to see or hear about it, thank you very much.

But I don’t go around to the blogs and journals of Loki’s chosen and chastise them for describing the monkeyhumping that they do with Dad; in fact, specifically because of my love and service to the greater Lokean community, I suffer through quite a lot of it with grace.

One last thing, as I have to go to bed early tonight.

I’m an asshole. Just some dude who eats, and shits, and watches too much reality tv. (In fact, I’ll probably watch me some Celebrity Apprentice when I’m done writing this. Judge me!) Maybe you see me as some sort of “elder”, but please take note that I call myself a lot of things, like a grandpa and a cranky bastard and an old fart, but, like “shaman”, I really believe that a title like “elder” is one that is bestowed on you by those who recognize your work and contributions to community. So whether you invest any real meaning in my ranty pants, or dismiss me outright, is your choice. I am not now, nor will I ever, profess that I have it all figured out, that I am the sole arbiter on what spirit workers and shamans ought to be and not to be doing. Furthermore, I’m not a God spouse at all, but only know what I know from having the luck and blessing to know some really wonderful, intelligent, and well spoken ones who have deigned me as someone they can share the nitty-gritty of what it’s all about for them. I haven’t met every single God spouse, nor have I read every single entry on every single webpage written by all of them. I can only comment on trends that are remarked upon by people I trust, and what I experience in my own life. I am always, always open to be told how very wrong I am, and those who have commented on that post, or any other I’ve written or commented on will attest that I do not come out, fists ablazin’, unless you start attacking me or people I love by name or by insinuation. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly enjoy learning about the breadth and depth of spiritual expression that exists, and if that learning comes with a “Hey Doofus, read this!” as its invitation, then I accept.

There is at least one, if not more, repostes I will be writing in reaction to the crankyjock one, so don’t think this is the last you’ll hear of it. And if you read this blog for the kink stuff, there will be some good posts about that coming very soon too.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for reading, responding,debating, berating, and commenting on what I write.

“I aspire to inspire before I expire.” Unknown, possibly Manali Jan

For those who thought I spoke too harshly, or was just making up stories about how those newer to shamanic services like divination are actually harming people, this post is proof that I’m not just some old fogie shaking my cane at the youngins’. Although I do believe one has to get practice doing these things *somewhere*, and trading reading for reading can be a useful tool, it doesn’t divorce itself from two old adages: caveat emptor, and you get what you pay for. If you’re just starting out with divination, be honest about it and tell your clients/friends that you’re still figuring out how all this stuff works.

And in case it needs to be said, just because you’ve memorized the little book that came with your tarot cards, or can recite all the Younger Futhork, does *not* mean you understand divination. Divination is a skill; the cards/runes are the tools used in applying that skill. The Nine of Swords might mean physical illness, but in a specific placement in a reading, or in the story of the person you’re reading for, it might also mean a time of mental turmoil, a time where physical needs are more important than spiritual ones, or that a person’s insight is being influenced by a medical reason (like an undiagnosed diabetic suffering from chronic high blood sugar might be having hallucinations due to their physical issue that are clouding their point of view of the situation at hand). Fehu means wealth, but not always monetary or material richness. I’ll write a post about divination at some point in the future (or I may force you to buy my upcoming book by only publishing it there! Insert maniacal laughter here!)

Read this if you think I’m full of it, when I talk about the dangers of moving too fast, of not being able to recognize your own filters; but also read it because it remind us old fogies that the freshman have important things to teach us too.

We Can Learn A Lot From Things That Annoy Us, Or What I Figured Out About The Proliferation Of Loki’s Wives Online

I can’t lie: some of us old, crotchety spirit workers and godspouses find a lot of the blogs from new Loki’s wives kind of annoying.

It’s not a nice or kind thing to say, but it’s true. I find myself in at least three or four conversations a week where someone – a Lokean, a Godspouse, a Spirit Worker, or just some random person with too much time on their hands, reading Tumblr – comes to me to gripe, ask mean questions about, or even just to point and laugh at some Loki’s Spouses’ blog.

For starters, it gets under many craws (including my own) that so many of these starry-eyed lovers are young, cisgender women. It has been pointed out in many different ways how this is potentially damaging to the efforts to see Lokeans taken more seriously by the greater Heathen/Asatru, and even the larger Pagan demographic. When it’s all titters about hot Loki sex and dinner dates on the astral plane, we kinda look like a bunch of Twilight fans. It makes me nauseous, and I’m not alone. As one of my Jobs from Loki is to be the speaker of hard truths, I’m stepping out into the potential (who am I kidding?) line of fire by stating this plainly. But it’s true.

I’m involved in a few online Lokean haunts, and the issues manifest there, too. I’ve seen more than one discussion group dissolve when it’s descended upon by this new wave of Loki’s wives, who rave about getting a God’s affection and attention, but bemoan that they don’t seem to be manifesting the Kewl Powerz that some of us grouchy spirit workers write about, like “Godphones” and “Possession”. They seem to have come to some conclusion that we got some sort of “welcome to Spirit Work” package by UPGPS (The Unverified Personal Gnosis Postal System) that included our very own Godphone and User’s Guide. If you read this blog, or any of the others written by us grumpy old timers, we’ve been collectively holding forth for the last few months on the many, many ways that this is just not so. But somehow, it’s not getting through, as we’re still feeling grouchy and still getting emails and reading empassioned journals about how unfair it all is.

More frightening than that, is the amount of Loki’s wives who claim to have this abilities, and offer them as services to others (sometimes for a price), who have only been “doing this” for six months, a year, a few years. To be fair, sometimes that’s how it really happens, someone developing a new shamanic ability in a very short amount of time. But just because one can do something, often doesn’t mean that they should, and in the considered opinion of the grampas and grannies out there, this is one of those times. Speaking from my own experience, I was hearing the voices of Gods since I was a teenager, but I never even spoke about it, much less offered to do it on someone else’s behalf (God or mortal alike), until my late 20’s, a good ten years later.

Some of this annoyance is directly related to that. I’m sure you can think of something you do well – knitting, playing an instrument, throwing a flogger – that you consider yourself pretty damn good at. This did not immediately translate into the idea that you should teach others how to, nor did it create some sort of cosmic obligation to educate, either. Not all oboe players have what it takes to teach someone else to oboe, and not all of them are playing in professional symphonies. They just play because they’re good at it.

Unsurprisingly, with the uptick of people offering these services online, there has been a directly related uptick in clients running to us crones and crags because they got horked, or lead astray, or even more depressing, made big giant life decisions (like oathing themselves to Loki) because it was easier (and maybe cheaper) to ask one of these newly minted possessory workers or channelers for their services. I know that when I got started, I was eager to do shamanic stuff, for cheap or free, merely because it was a huge ego stroke for people to know I could, and being afforded opportunities to do it in a way where others would know about it. Since many of these newbies are interfacing with each other online, they get the immediate social cache of channeling a God for a fellow blogger and having that blogger share that newbie’s name/URL along with the message they received. It’s a scary Ouroboros, a cycle hard to break from, because one the recipient sees how the channeler is treated, they’re only going to feel even more inclined to offer services they may still be coming to understanding, much less good at.

We, as humans and as spirit workers, also have to remember that we have biases, filters, lenses through which we interpret the information we glean. I have a colleague who is *wonderful* if you’re working with Odin, but if you’re still unsure who is Knocking on your head, they interpret every male Deity as being Odin, and if it’s female, it must be Freyja (as if there were no other pantheons, much less Norse Gods and Goddesses)! I don’t know where this deluge of Loki’s wives started, but I have a strong suspicion (that is slowly becoming a theory, based on my own client work) that this is part of this Ouroboros I mentioned earlier – since Jan is married to Loki, and is new at this whole Godphone thing, when someone approaches her who may or may not also be trying to understand their own relationship with Loki, she will necessarily filter whatever information she gets through her own experience, and announce that Loki wants to marry this other person, too. Why not? Jan is still in a honeymoon phase where being married to Loki is a wonderful, inspiring thing, and she wants to share that feeling with as many people as possible, so they will all feel this bliss.

This also applies in another direction – because Godspousery is most being discussed in relation to the Norse pantheon, many people assume that if a God/dess is pursuing a mortal for marriage, it must be a Norse one. In addition, since so many Norse Godspouses are married to either Loki or Odin, it’s practically a safe bet to assume that this pursuer is one of them. And conversely, if someone is feeling that they are being pursued, because searching for “God Spouses” brings up all these blogs of Loki’s wives, that it must be Loki. Meanwhile, people who are sure it is not Loki, or who are not cisgender women, or who are being pursued for some sort of Relationship by a same-sex Deity, find these blogs and convince themselves that they’re deluded, and stop exploring this potentiality.

So I’ve explained in (great) detail how this proliferation of Loki’s wives online is causes ill to many; how, then, did I come to the conclusion that there is something to be learned from this, and turned towards the betterment of Pagans and Spirit Workers everywhere?

Tell your story. Tell your story even if you’re still figuring it all out. Admit you don’t have a God phone. Write a blog that’s all about how hard it is for you to meditate. Write about how it makes you feel when you feel chosen by some other path, especially if that path makes you feel lonely, different, radioactive, frustrated, depressed. Talk openly about how all this talk of spirit work makes you feel lesser because you weren’t chosen for that. Create a Tumblr for people who don’t hear the Gods, and encourage each other to create and stick to devotional work in spite of that. If we, us non-Loki’s-wives, can learn anything from this new development, it’s that sharing our honest personal experiences will draw like to like.

It’s not easy, being a homesteader. At first, you’ll feel like no one is reading your words, and your stat count makes you cry. You’ll feel isolated and alone. But two things will be happening at the same time:

1. You’ll get better at describing and detailing your own story and experiences. Many of the Big Name Bloggers out there were doodlin’ away for years before they wrote that one post that went viral. I was writing Dying For A Diagnosis for over a year before I started writing this blog, and it still took me six months before Hearing the Gods and God Sex went viral, and many of you first learned about me from those posts, (or maybe one of the Month for Loki posts); I needed that year of blogging experience to fully grasp how to write a viral post, as well as to hone my writing to a place where people would enjoy reading it. I frequently hear the compliment, “I don’t generally read blogs, but I love what you write!”, which is probably why I got the book deal.

It was the same thing, becoming a sex/kink educator. I’ve been teaching adults about sex for over a decade, and I’m just now starting to gain some recognition (and money) for doing it. There were plenty of times I was incensed that educators that knew less than me, or weren’t as engaging, or had a narrower range of classes were getting more gigs (and money) than I was – because they had a book, or used to do porn, or had a podcast – until I realized how much grunt work they had to do to be where they are. It was different grunt work, but it was still unglamorous and difficult (and financially crappy).

But the way I got here, is by being unafraid to find my truth, and sometimes that process was and is very public. I’m really an introvert, so sometimes sharing the dirt and shit of my life (on my blogs, on Facebook, whatever) is hard for me. I feel alone, or worse, like I’m highlighting what a stupid fuckup I really am. But the more I did these things, the more people found it resonated with them, and the more attention (and money) I got. And I know even I’m not where I want to be yet – I have a lot of plans this year to start moving forward with more financially lucrative ways of doing what I’m already doing (like the books), and I’m going to be writing and sharing the sausage making of that process, too.

The reason you feel alone, or worse, are willing to accept a more popular answer to your own spiritual questions – is because you’re waiting for your braver twin to come forward and start doing this stuff. You’re the answer you’re waiting for, to borrow a hackneyed hippy philosophy.

2. By having the courage to stand up and talk about some stuff publicly, you’ll also learn what to keep to your damn self. The more I teach classes on sexuality, the more I treasure what parts of it are personal. Same with my spiritual shite; I write about a lot of it, but in the same vein, I write about very little of it. The P in UPG is there for a reason – my relationship with my Gods is Personal, and I learned (sometimes the hard way) that the Internet hordes are only going to mock and belittle you for putting it all out there; I tell people often the difference between blogging and journalling is that blogs are written for a greater audience than just you. Granted, your personal life might just be salacious enough to gain some readers, but if it’s at all wacky like mine, you’ll gain twice as many spectators as witnesses. Spectators just sit back and watch, and look for the mistakes and holes and other places where they can feel superior; they’re disengaged from the real emotions and experiences that lie beneath the words. My old livejournal (no link, Google fiends) had a lot of followers/readers, but people really only commented on shit they felt superior about. You want witnesses, people who are engaged and moved by what you say (so much so that they reblog or share it on social media, thus relieving your angst about your stats); the best way I’ve found to finding witnesses is to look for the underlying universal (or widely relatable) truths in your story. People may not fully understand my specific issues with having an undiagnosed chronic condition, but they can totally relate to chronic pain, insomnia, and what it’s like to be in the hospital. They may not share the same spiritual path as you, but they might be in desperate need of the wisdom you’ve gleaned from an ordeal or other devotional work. Even if your words are about a specific Deity, there may be others who worship or work with the same or even a similar God that will inspire them in their own interactions with Them.

Instead of advising that everyone’s spiritual path should look the same, we should all be out there having deeply meaningful spiritual lives that are also intensely personal; but sharing both the means by which you develop that personal path, and the enlightenment you receive from it, will speak much more universally to people-at-large. Jan (you remember Jan from before, right?) can be doing much more important and moving spirit work if she is showing others how she is developing her own channeling abilities, rather than just trying to gain fame and fortune by using a skill that’s only a few months old (and she also avoids the angry mobs whom she steers in the wrong direction, using a skill she doesn’t fully comprehend yet.)

I do hook suspension; it makes me a fairly sought after ordeal master, since hooks-as-ordeal was 2009’s version of being a Loki’s wife (sorta, but follow me here). Everyone thought that the best and most meaningful ordeals involved hooks. So I had a bunch of ordeal masters chasing me around, demanding that I share my skill with them, as clients were supposedly (and I highly doubt it to be true) as lesser, or “not real” ordeal masters because they didn’t do hooks.

The frank truth is, I can teach someone how to put a hook in someone else in about six hours. But my apprenticeship was three years long. This is not because it took me longer to learn how to put a hook in someone else; it was because my mentor knew that it wasn’t knowing how to hook someone that would make me a hook suspension artist good enough to claim his lineage: it was the thousands of little (and big) idiosyncratic experiences I had while working as his apprentice. I know what to do if someone bends their hooks and falls to the floor (Which, by the way, is much more likely to happen than the hooks tearing through your flesh!). I can act calmly if someone goes into shock from getting the piercings. I know, instinctually, when the issue is something I can handle, and when I need to call 911. I know, because I’ve been there and been in it when these things all happened, and now, even if I face a situation I didn’t see in my apprenticeship, I have the confidence that I can figure it out. That took more than six hours to learn.

The same obviously goes for shamanic services like channeling and possession. Not only do I know and understand the mechanics of how my body becomes possessed, but I know what to do when I realized that the Spirit is doing things with my body that I’m not okay with, or what to do if I need to eject that Spirit or face going to prison. I know these things well enough that I can articulate them to lesser-experienced “handlers”, so I can know that everyone, including me, will be safe while I am doing this. I know what my filters are, and so when I get messages from Gods that seem eerily connected to my spiritual experience, instead of assuming that my client is having the same experience, I can take a step back and say to them, “This feels like it’s coming through a personal filter, so I’m going to speak in generalities and need your help in figuring out how this applies to you.

One last note: this is for many of the newer spirit workers out there. You’re making us old grouchy spirit workers nervous. Many have shared with me that they don’t share parts of their personal stories online, lest someone else decide that you can’t be a “real” or “true” whatever-they-are unless they have the same abilities or experiences. A friend (I won’t out them) has even shared that they posted something wildly false, just to see if other spirit workers who share their particular calling would echo it – fuck it, I’ll even say it was a God Spouse – and they did. Not only was there a rush of, “OMG yes, that happened to me too!”, but it became something they judged others by: “If you haven’t experienced (this completely made up thing), then you’re not a real (role)!”

We want the freedom to write about what we do, but we’re terrified of these trends. Just the onslaught of people talking about “Godphoning” (because yes, a joke slang we made up when you were in high school is now being used as a verb) or their lack of ability to “Godphone”, makes us wary. If you were to stop contrasting and comparing yourself to what we do, we could speak more freely about it, and sharing that might actually be useful to you or people like you.

So in a nutshell (TL;DR?), just be your authentic self, as much in person as online. Share your authentic spiritual journey, and don’t spend so much time keeping up with the Raven Kalderas and Elizabeth Vongvisiths of the world. Spirituality, like sex, should be personally fulfilling and full of meaning, not a contest to see who gets the most reblogs or who has all the Kewl Powerz. We crotchety old timers (as well as the rest of the Internet) will take you much more seriously when you do.

I’ve been doing some writing about something very similar to this post: the idea that the way we approach our sexuality, in addition to our spirituality, also colors the way we approach everything else in life. So consider this wonderful post by Anne Marie Clulow about how spending some time really considering how we approach orgasm in relationship to sex, can open up doors of realization as to how we approach pleasure in general. For example, if you are the kind of person who forgoes your own orgasm for the pleasure of your partner on a regular basis, are you also then the kind of person who does things for others without ever getting what you need or want out of the exchange? Of course, orgasm is not the be-all, end-all of sexual experience, but continually denying yourself pleasure and release can not only directly affect the rest of your life, but could also point towards an unhealthy pattern of fear and shame around asking for and receiving things that you want and need in your life. Read this post, and then take some meditative time (in the shower, while you drive, sitting in meditation, during yoga, etc) to think on how your sexual habits inform or mirror your habits outside of the bedroom.

annemarieclulow

ImageIn a talk recently on conscious sexuality, I shared with the group that I personally have identified 12 separate, identifiable orgasmic experiences in my body.

My orgasmic background until the age of 38 was incredibly limited. As I have shared my story with many woman that walk through our doors at Tantra Evolution, I have noticed the parallels that have emerged, patterns that run throughout our lives, not just sexually, in every arena from relationships to parenting to career choices.

My partner Jonti, once said in a workshop that the way we are sexually is the way we are in our entire lives.

At the time I disagreed vehemently.

Until I really, really thought about it.

And the pieces fitted. I had faked orgasm with everyone until I was 38 years old, keeping other people’s egos and pride happy, suppressing my own real pleasure response. I had only experienced clitoral…

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Catalyst Con East: An Event Review (Of Sorts)

This past weekend, I attended Catalyst Con East, a sex and sexuality event in Northern Virginia. I was very excited, having been recruited to speak on a panel about Transgender Sex and Sexuality, a topic I don’t ordinarily present on (except as a side topic when teaching other things).

I was flabbergasted (in a good way) at the quality of the sessions offered; I opted out of the pre-conference workshops because a) One less night at the hotel and b) they were an additional charge. But there were nationally known presenters and educators – Tristan Taormino, Charlie Glickman, Carol Queen, Cunning Minx, and more – teaching on some incredibly important and interesting subjects. I was very disappointed that the session I was speaking in conflicted with both the panel on Body Size/Fat and Sexuality, and the one on Sex and Disability. But it’s common, when attending events, to find several scheduled for the same time slot and being forced to choose.

Rave and I arrived early Saturday morning, to register and be on time to attend Rev. Rebecca Turner’s session, “Spiritual Sexuality: Ending the War Between Religion And Sex”. Long time readers of Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars will obviously know why I was so keen to attend. I share with you her session’s description, quoted from the website:

Opposition to same-sex relationships, sex without marriage, contraception, and abortion all fuel the so-called “Values Votes” in national elections. Research shows that the most religious people in America are the least likely to engage in “non-coital” sex. Do religion and sex have to be at war? Which faith teachings support fulfilling sexual lives? Can sex be a spiritual exercise? Can religious faith support women during an abortion? We will address the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality in American culture. Participants will be encouraged to construct their own spiritual understanding of healthy sexuality and to create sex-positive spiritual messages to use in activism.

So there were undertones that she might be speaking more about Christianity’s views on sex and religion, but it was never stated outright. In fact, I (and others, as I later learned) was expecting her to speak to the fact that not all religions see sex as unholy thing. But unfortunately, Rev. Turner’s point of view was squarely from her own experiences as a Southern Baptist, and then United Church of Christ, minister. I almost sorta wished Galina were there, as it might have been at least more entertaining, knowing Galina’s thoughts on how monotheism has destroyed our culture (not that I agree with her entirely, but it would have been fun to watch.) I made sure, in the beginning, when she asked why were attending, to point out that I often represent minority religions (not just Paganism, either) in places where “spirituality” was discussed. I could write tomes about how this session ended up being both problematic and inaccurate, but lets just leave it as I was sorely disappointed. Luckily, I had high hopes that the other sessions I planned to attend would be more inclusive and interesting.

And I was right. I attended Darcy Allder and Quetzal Francois’s session called “Making Comprehensive Sex Education into Inclusive Sex Education”. Although it was definitely focused on sex education for school-aged children and teenagers, since I am starting to branch out into teaching teenagers about LGBTQI stuff, I found stuff that was both applicable for that as well as in my work teaching adults about kinky sex. They were incredibly engaging and interesting speakers, and I ended up having lunch with them on Sunday to try to come up with information they could use when addressing disabled and overweight kids in regards to their sexuality. (I hope I helped in some way, although I felt like I was floundering a lot.) The very best thing I heard from them was a way to discuss trans-ness without using the word “trans”, like “If your penis is pole-shaped, you can use a condom, if your penis is more flat or closer to your body, you can use a dental dam or saran wrap.” That way, if a FAAB child thinks of their clitoris as a penis, they are still getting safer sex education without having to think of themselves as transgender, or without having to name as such in order to get it. I think, in general, that was the eye opener for me, and something I will definitely try to use more – language that is inclusive of trans* experience/anatomy, without necessarily calling it such. I may even come up with a class on that all on its own for future events. The other thing they talked about that I wanted to share was how to avoid personal disclosure when teaching about sex – like when someone asks “Are you a boy or a girl” or “Well, do *you* do it that way?” – by coming up with a pat answer that drives them back to the subject at hand. Also, the use of the terms “Some”, “Many” and “Most” when describing sexual stuff that is common or uncommon – that way, you avoid saying “Nobody does it that way” or “Everyone enjoys sexual stimulation”, which can distance people who do or don’t feel the same. I love it when someone sparks that sort of thinking in me. Much redemption after the disappointing first session.

After that, I attended Charlie Glickman’s session, “How to Be a Top Presenter”. And he specifically used the word “Top”, as in “one who runs the scene”, because he sees teaching sexuality to a group of adults as “topping them” – providing a safe space for them to go from point A to point B. It gave me some reminders of educational tools I used to use more often, that have fallen by the wayside; mostly, making sure to create a “container” for the class – setting group agreements, talking about confidentiality, and articulating goals for the class. And he even called me on my excuse – that it takes time away from the actual subject matter – but he reminded me that if people are too nervous to learn/share/experiment, then more material won’t help them any. After years of fighting the idea of using Power Point in my classes, he finally won me over; so I’m going to start experimenting with it in some of my upcoming gigs. I took copious notes, and am finally excited to revisit some of my more popular classes and see how I can revamp them to make them even better.

I took a break for most of the rest of the afternoon, having gotten up very early and not having a lot of sleep the night before. I did catch lunch with my friend Mako, and got to meet some of the other people who have been on his podcast, which was a lot of fun. (Also, seeing Rave try tapas for the first time. She is so sheltered when it comes to food!)

That night, we attempted to attend the “Sexy Soiree”, but it was in a very small room and we couldn’t maneuver around at all. I am very unused to being a wallflower at parties, but it was really the only place where the chair would fit without being in everyone’s way. So we opted to go down to Sexy Bingo, which was not at all what I expected – I assumed it would be yet another awkward ice breaker where you had to walk up to people in order to fill out your card. No Siree! This was a raucous, actual Bingo Game with cards and beans and prizes! It was hosted by Ducky Doolittle, who was just the right mix of sexy, silly, and engaging; and the rep from Sportsheets kept coming in with more and more prizes. I came away with a lovely purple silicone cock ring. Now I just need to find someone to use it with!

Sunday was full of great stuff, too. I was late to Reid Mihalko‘s talk about how to make money as a sex educator and presenter, but I was still able to get some stellar ideas. I also had a huge revelation in his class – the way to make money as a presenter does not lie in asking events to pay more money for your classes! Reid’s mantra throughout the class was “The information I am giving away is priceless!” Instead, he filled my head with a million ideas on how to monetize my work, both as a shaman and as a sex educator. You’ll very likely see a lot of these ideas manifest here on Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars in the future, so I won’t ruin the surprise! He even gave me really good advice personally, on how to stand out in a glutted field; I have frequently bemoaned that although many people see me as an expert on Needle and Blood Play, I am never, ever asked to teach these subjects; there are just too many people doing so, and I have so many other classes to choose from, events tend to choose people who have less diversity to teach them. But that shouldn’t be the reason you choose someone to teach something as dangerous and complicated as blood play; you should be choosing people based on their ability. So I have some work to do to make sure more event organizers and programming director understand this and start booking me for those classes as much as any other.

The next session I attended, I wasn’t so sure about. I almost chose it just because nothing else in the slot looked interesting or applied directly to what I do, but in the end I’m really glad I went. It was called, “What’s So Special About Sex?”, led by Ava Mir-Ausziehen. Her thesis was basically that if we, as sex educators, make sex out to be a “special” thing, and not a mundane, human activity, it has some harmful consequences. I thought it was a daring tack to take at such an event, and it turns out that’s why she wrote it. We talked about how treating sex as “special” affects obscenity laws, sex workers, and even just the perception of those who have fulfilling sex lives. I added some comments about how sex is listed on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a “physiological need” – something as important as clothing, shelter, and food; but many homeless shelters and other resources for the poor and disadvantaged see sex as something nice to have – many shelters ban sexual activity altogether, and homeless and other street residents rarely have private places to engage in sexual activity, and anything done in public is subject to decency laws. The session also discussed how if we see sexual proclivities (such as homosexuality and non-monogamy) as biological, we’re saying that they are less than human, but animalistic drives we cannot ignore, which may work against us, and not for us, in legal and moral acceptance. (It makes things like monogamy seem like a civilized way of being, and homosexuality as something that can be overcome, similar to other bestial behavior, such as murder). It was like a palate refresher, to be having this discussion at a sexuality event.

Finally, it was time for the panel of which I was a part. Moderated by Harper Jean Tobin, and featuring Yosenio Lewis (who I’ve meant to meet for a while), Avory Faucette, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and myself. I was happy to see a good distribution of trans*masculine and trans*feminine people, as well as third-gendered and non-op trans* people. I think a lot of good things were said and shared, and it met the mark of not being a “This is Trans* 101” class. I quoted my friend Aiden’s now-infamous pick up line, “Whatever you’ve got, I’ll suck it”, which went viral on Twitter as soon as I said it, as well as my terminology “factory installed” vs. “after market”. I also declared myself the Trans* Pope, as I now have a habit of declaring myself the Pope of things to make declarations. It was a fun panel that spoke to a myriad of topics including medical professionals, women’s and men’s only spaces, terminology, and even a short demonstration by Tobi on how to make a “cape” – a barrier for people for whom condoms are too large/long, but dental dams are too unwieldy. I will be spreading this far and wide, as well.

It was finally time to go home; there was a closing plenary and “afternoon tea”, but I was pretty beat (as was Rave) so we opted to have lunch with some new friends and then tottle towards Hagerstown. Overall, I was very enthused and excited by much that happened at Catalyst Con, both in the sessions and outside of them. I had a talk with a psychiatrist from CA about setting up Skype classes to teach mental health professionals about how to treat transgender patients without pathologizing (or focusing on) their transgender status; I also spoke with more than a few people about future teaching gigs; and I got more than one come-on. Overall, a splendid way to spend a weekend.

The one last thing I wanted to comment on: it was really nice to go to a sex and sexuality event that was not focused on “how to” or instructional classes. I really feel that our local area is glutted with events that focus on that sort of thing, and sorely in need of more educational conferences that talk about sex and sexuality related topics from an academic or intellectual place. Not only did it give a much needed range of new and interesting topics to choose from, but the atmosphere was much less sexually-charged (although it had its moments), and was much less threatening from a standpoint of feeling overwhelmed by the sexual energy and possible expectations from other attendees. I mean, this was held in a hotel at the same time as some sort of Muslim event, and nary a problem was had (that I’m aware of, at least). It was nice to have programming end before midnight, with no pressure to appear or perform in a public play space that evening. I wonder if some of the local sex events that are lagging in attendance might not try adding some of these sorts of sessions and reducing the amount of instructional and hands-on workshops, and see if they can’t pull in a different set of attendees. I would also suggest that events who are trying to cater to newbies, think about the same thing.

I would highly, highly recommend future Catalyst Cons (which happen on both the East and West Coasts) to fellow sex and kink educators, sex geeks, and academics who are studying sex or sexuality in all its forms. It might be a little too “thinky thinky” for your average kinkster, but if you like geeking out about sex and things related, you would love this event.

The Arrival of the Quilt

The story begins several years ago. A drum was borne, and in that drum lay a spirit. The spirit was neither “good” nor “evil”, it just posed a challenge few were ready to handle. Much less the one that borne the drum. So it was bound, and hidden, awaiting the right person to take ownership of such a thing.

Then there I was, unaware of all that had happened, and it was quickly decided that this drum was *mine*, or at least *my problem now*. I took it, not really knowing what it was for, only hearing stories of those who had interacted with it.

I removed the layers upon layers of binding it had been given, this poor little spirit inside the drum. And it roared to life in my hands, with a single thrum. It was starving, it told me, so hungry, and it feeds on the drippings of madness. It told me it was like a vampire, sucking the madness from the deep within where we humans tend to bury it, pulling through the layers of fat and arteries and veins until it’s sticky sweetness comes oozing through their pores, into the air like a contagion, and the drum revels in it, soaks it in, makes it stronger.

To me, the spirit seemed like a bratty bottom. Not unlike a brazen sort who demand to be tied to a post and whipped, but only in the ways that it likes, and only to the strength it can take, and only with the toys made of materials that feel good. They call it “topping from the bottom”, and this spirit had it in droves.

Except it had not met me. I am a top who likes to put bratty bottoms in their place. Deep inside of their loud demeanors and urgent demands is a submissive, waiting to be cowed, but they want you to earn it. They don’t want to bow their neck to your title, or to your collection of toys, or to your swagger. They want you to wrest it from their hard-clenched fists, their balled-up hearts, begging for release so desperately underneath their shield of bravado. I have met many of them in my day, and this drum was no different.

I knew the drum was only one of two tools needed for the purpose. But I had the drum in my hands, so I focused upon it. I fed it its fill of my own madness, knowing how and when to let it come to the surface and let it wash over my otherwise collected mind. I am one of the rare ones, a madness shaman, and it is within this energy I am strongest. It showed me many things, this drum – the secrets of my depression, the scars of my abuse, the tears of others shed for my insanity, my rapist going on with life like nothing had happened, all the things that brought me to that climactic moment, the moment I gave way and gave Will and gave reigns to the Lord of Madness Himself.

The other tool, He told me, would be a quilt. I sighed very, very deeply, many times. Of all the handicraft my parents tried to instill in me, sewing was one my clumsy hands could never tame. I can barely sew a button on a shirt, much less a hem on pants, even so much less create a quilt out of madness. But I tried, four times, collecting scraps and drawing ideas and reading websites and nothing. I have too many scraps of material half-sewn to show for my efforts.

I went back to my Lord and begged of Him; may I have another do this thing for me, so that I can move forward? He showed me then, what the quilt was for. It was a map, He said, of the Land of Crazy. The Drum will bring their madness to their skin, draw it out from its hiding place, and that essence will manifest, read the map, find its way back to the shattered part left behind. If the journeyer had enough strength, enough willpower, and a steadfast heart, they can wrest that shard from the Land, take it back with them, and claim a more clear-headed life.

So I needed a map. I don’t know many, if any, who understand the borders of the land of crazy the way I do. But then I get a warning, a strong one: I cannot ask this of someone who will lose their way. To some, the Land of Crazy feels comforting and warm, like a quilt, and if they begin to wind it’s paths with their mind, they will get lost, never to return. It was hard for me, to turn down offers of very skilled hands, because secretly I knew they would fall down the rabbit hole and never emerge.

Then, one night, a crone-like woman tells me she has been called to make this quilt. I have but barest explained to her what it is, what it is for, and I can feel the fervor in her eyes. She is the one, I have no doubt. I worry, as I do not know her well, that she may get lost; I am assured by her loved ones that her feet are strongly planted.

I see a few pictures, as she begins to sew. My heart tingles. She is the one.

And then, silence. I am going through my own journey, too much to see and do and focus on, but in the back of my mind I knew it is being built. I get word, time and again, that work progresses. I survive my journey, come back to the land of the living, where many had predicted that my time dancing with Madness would cease. But I knew, oh I knew, that what waited for me upon my return was this masterpiece.

Today, a large package arrived at my house, accompanied with a smaller one. I knew what it was immediately; the waves of the land of my heart slid over it like a waterfall. I opened the small package first, and I’m confused. Tiles of various sizes, different materials. I keep hoping for an explanation, but then the box is empty and I do not know what is for. There is, in an envelope, some of the craftswoman’s cards, and a single key.

I know then that I will only understand the tiles when I open the larger package. I take a moment and breathe, thinking to myself, this is like when I met the drum for the first time only stronger. I take out my grounding tools, to have them close at hand, as I hack away at the brown paper and duct tape that holds the package together.

With one deep sniff I can smell the flowers of Madness. I can feel the power of this magical item pulse the air around me. I begin to lay it out, so I can take in all of it’s wonderousness, and it is so. It is exactly as I had described: a path, but not a clear one, that leads from one kind of madness to another. There are secret pockets and hidden treasures. And then I remember the tiles.

I had told her that this quilt needs to have tie points, markers that help me guide the journeyer through a land maybe foreign to them, but home to me. They also need reminders of the here and now, should the journey pull them under, or make them lost, or send them in circles without finding a thing. The tiles fit neatly upon the various squares of the quilt, different points for different people. For the Land of Crazy is never static, even in our attempts to map it. But at least this is something, a guide if nothing else.

I debated if I should send you an image, as it is as much an awesome piece of art as it is a tool. But after spending only a few minutes in its full presence, I found myself warping and winding and grasping for my ground. I do not know if this effect can be had by proxy, but I’d rather not tempt it.

Needless to say, I am more than pleased; pleased at the art of it, at it’s completion; even though the night the deal was struck turned into one of difficulty for me, I would suffer gladly a ten-time repeat of it if it meant I would get such powerful beauty as a reward.

I guess this means I’m really open for business.

Why “Shaman”? A Joint Post with Wintersong Tashlin

This is two essays in one. My partner and clansbrother Wintersong and I decided to take on this heady topic together, as we have similar and differing views on the subject. We have both been ridiculed, attacked, and disparaged because we use this title for ourselves, and it was one such letter Winter received that inspired this post. The first half is my thoughts, followed by Winter’s. Understand that any questions or comments you make to this version will be answered by me; if you wish to hear more from Winter on the subject, you’ll have to go to his version at Notes from a Barking Shaman to get his answers.

Del, from Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars, says:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
–James D. Nicoll

The word “shaman” is a hotly contested word in the Pagan and New Age communities. Honestly, when I first started getting the inkling that it was a word I was going to use someday, I avoided it heavily. Even now, it’s not usually the first word I use to describe the way my service to community manifests – I try to use the less controversial “spirit worker”, or “pastoral care counselor”, or “ritual facilitator” and sometimes “ordeal master”, although the last one isn’t without its own controversy. But use it I do, and I frequently get pushback from those who find it to be some form of cultural appropriation.

Raven Kaldera tends to sum up his use of the word by simply stating that the Gods told him to use it, so use it he does. I won’t take that tack – although in some sense it is true – because my thoughts on the matter are more nuanced and complicated than that. Like I said, I resisted the title for a long time, but then I came to a place of compromise on it.

First of all, I am aware that the word describes a very specific spiritual and cultural role in Northern Asia. Sources tend to attribute it as a Siberian word, but other cultures in the area had similar sounding words that described generally the same thing. There is some argument made that there is also a Sanskrit word, saman, which means “chant”, which could be part of its heritage.

Some people like to make the argument that “shaman” is a Native American word, but in a literal sense this is incorrect – there are no documented Tribal languages that use a word that sounds anything like “shaman” to describe medicine men or other spiritual leaders. The way the word became connected to Tribal spirituality is from English and American anthropologists, who lumped any person living in tribal culture whose primary role to their community was to work with spirits or as a spiritual healer. But it is not, at its core, a Tribal word at all.

And like the quote above states, lots of English words are taken from other languages and used in similar contexts as the original language used them. Words like kindergarden, pastrami, phoenix, and even batman come from other languages, but when people use them in everyday conversation we don’t accuse them of stealing from German, French, or Russian. The word shaman has a similar history – anthropologists learned of shamans and shamanic practice from the Northern Asian area, including the word for said, and began applying it to similar persons and techniques from other places.

But I know that doesn’t sate the detractors of the word. Just because a word has been subsumed by our motley tongue doesn’t mean that someone claiming it, no matter the context, is not a form of subtle cultural appropriation. I do feel there is an intrinsic difference in some English-speaking people who use the word, and this may be where the accusation of cultural appropriation comes from.

Where I agree with those who take umbrage with the use of the word are people who use it to describe practices that either mimic or directly descend from other cultures. There are a lot of (mostly white) people who offer “Native American Sweat Lodge experiences” or “Native healing ceremonies” who use the title “Shaman” to describe their role in these rituals. It can be practically impossible at this point to discern which ones have actually studied and learned not only the original rites, but the culture from which they come from; and those who’ve attended a few classes or rituals and decided there was money to made in creating similar experiences for (mostly white) people who don’t know any better.

I also agree that there are some people who claim the title “shaman” specifically to make money from hapless seekers who have a general sense of the English meaning of the word. As an active person in Pagan community, who sometimes rubs elbows with New Agers, I’ve met these sorts of folks. They live pretty average, middle class lives; but when it’s showtime, they put on Tribal looking clothing and bring out the drums. I’ve attended some of their “rituals.”

It’s usually the unintended association with those sorts of grifters that makes me reticent to use the word for myself. But a few things happened in my life that made me come to terms with the word as it relates to my personal practices and the services I offer my community.

First and foremost, I was not the first person to use the word in reference to myself. It’s hard for me to remember the specific timeline, but there was a time where people started either asking me if I was a shaman, or telling other people I was. Around the same time, I had clients who referred to me as “their shaman”. I will be honest – at first, I cringed. I associated the word with the ne’er do wells who put on their spiritual selves to make money, rather than those who lived and breathed a life focused on spiritual service, both to the Spirits/Gods and to the people. But sometimes a ball starts rolling down a hill, and you can either start the arduous journey of pushing it back up, or go for the ride.

Around the same time, I had become pretty active in the clique of East Coast spirit workers of which Raven Kaldera is a member; as he uses the word for himself, others started to assume that I did, too.

Finally, I underwent a spiritual journey to ask the Gods I serve if this was something I should actively try to change or accept. It was an odd experience, because I got several answers from different Gods and Spirits I have worked with or for. The first collective answer I felt strongly was that I had to use a word of the language of my people – English – so using a word like Gothi or Hougan would make little sense. Also, because I serve Gods from various parts of the world, choosing a word from one specific tradition would be confusing for those who sought me out to work outside of that paradigm. Although I sometimes identify as a “Northern Tradition Pagan”, I’ve made it abundantly clear through my writing that I work for many Gods who are not Norse in origin.

Secondly, They were clear that I had to use a word that the people I was here to serve would understand. Using a word I made up for myself, or something that wasn’t as easily comprehended, would end up alienating potential clients. One of my strengths is that I can move between different traditions and be of service to people who have relationships with a wide variety of Holy Ones. Along the same lines, if I chose a word like “priest”, it could be seen as misleading, since “priests” tend to be dedicated to a single cause – either serving a specific Deity, or a specific congregation/community.

The job description for “shaman” has, admittedly, become watered down over time, but the core of it still remains – I am a person who is attuned to the Spirit World, who has learned and cultivated ways to communicate and work with the residents therein, and who uses that ability to help those who seek me out because of those talents. There is also a delineation that has been made between “spirit workers”, who are people who do work for Spirits (on Earth and in the Beyond) – some of which serve clients, but some of which have very solitary practices – and “shamans”, who have undergone some traumatic life event (typically dying, but some recognize going completely mad and other traumas that radically change your life in a way you can’t change back) and have been rebuilt by the Spirits/Gods in some way that make them better suited for the Work.

The other differentiation I have seen between “spirit workers” and “shamans” is that spirit work can be a part-time endeavor – you can have a relatively normal life, a spouse and family, a career that isn’t rooted in spirituality – whereas most shamans I respect have lives that are controlled and dictated by their service. This doesn’t mean that shamans can’t have other sources of income, but the difference that I’ve witnessed is that whereas spirit workers can sometimes delay or ignore a request from Spirit or a client, shamans rarely can, especially if that client was sent by a God I have oathed to.

It would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that part of the reason I think Those I Serve chose that title for me is specifically because it’s controversial. It’s not like in every other aspect I’m an average Joe – almost every aspect of my life is seeped in some form of controversial identity. I’m queer, I’m trans* identified, I’m kinky and live in a 24/7 power dynamic, I have a radical appearance and lots of body modifications, etc. It’s part of my job to provoke, to make people think about their assumptions, to teach by example that people can choose to live their truth, even if they fear that truth might alienate people they care about.

Like I said in my essay about detractors, I’ve actually gained clients from people who have tried to besmirch me for my use of the word shaman; it’s piqued people’s curiosity about what terrible, awful things I do and they end up contacting me for something I do in my work as shaman. So in a way, I’m okay with open discussion about whether or not I’m a cultural appropriator or not. In fact, I enjoy that every so often when I read things that challenge the usage of that word by Americans or other English speakers, it makes me reassess my own usage of the word and make sure that I’m being true to myself, and not just being lazy by using some shorthand or convenient word rather than something that better describes what I do. As a person who also heavily identifies as a trickster, it would be antithetical to my nature to get angry when people question anything I do, even if they aren’t the politest when they do it.

In the end, my use of the word ‘shaman’ is like any other title in the Pagan community (like High Priestess, Elder, Magician, Spirit Worker, Occultist, Pantheist, etc); my usage will only continue if I live up to the qualifications to it over time. No one takes a self-appointed “Priestess” who does nothing for community and does not do actual service to a God/dess; if I ever shirk my Work (which I don’t think is an actual option for me, but that’s another post entirely) then people will stop calling me that, and eventually it will cause me more agita than it’s worth. But in the meantime, it’s the word on my Cosmic Shingle, and I have to do my best to live up to it.

Winter, from Notes From a Barking Shaman, says:

Del has already done a thorough job of breaking down the issue with the cultural appropriation argument against the word “shaman.” While I don’t feel compelled to expand on his analysis, I do want to make it clear that I agree with it. The argument can be made that the use of “shaman” is cultural appropriation from the Siberian peoples it is originally attributed to. But then you would have to take the issue up with the Native Americans and other now-English-speaking cultures who use it as well. I doubt many folk would be eager to explore that particular territory out of a drive for linguistic purity.

Moving on: I will be completely honest, as a self-descriptor “shaman” is a word that I’m deeply conflicted about.

I believe that for every person who hears the word “shaman” and thinks of one who serves as an intermediary with the spirit world, and perhaps helps guide others in their own search for knowledge and connection beyond the mundane, there’s going to be someone who hears “charlatan,” or “scam artist” or just thinks “but… you’re white.”

Why then would I use it?

Simple, it’s the word my Patron tells me to use, at least to refer to specific parts of my Work.

Which isn’t to say that’s the end of my relationship with the word. I’ve been a “shaman” for many years, and over time there are things I have learned about this word, at least in regards to how I relate to it.

When my Lady first informed me that I would be taking a prolonged break from my magical studies and Work, to undergo an extensive process of transformation in order to become a shaman, I was certainly not thrilled. Up to that point the study and practice of magic had been the primary focus of my work for Her, and one of two primary focuses in my life. Moreover, I knew that the process involved would seriously suck, if I survived it.

My own shamanic death/rebirth cycle was comprised of four major ordeals over the course of two years, each one of which could potentially have resulted in my physical death if it had gone less than perfectly. This was accompanied by a worsening of my physical and mental health over the course of that time. I came out the other side as one who is never fully in the mundane world or the Otherworld(s), not wholly alive, but certainly not a shade either.

Many years on I’m still exploring what it means to be a shaman in service of the Mistress of the Forest Fire, and discovering what my shamanic work fully entails, especially as I finally start the process of incorporating my magic and my shamanism.

Perhaps the first thing I learned about this word is that it’s very loaded, not only in interpersonal interactions, but in the eyes of the Universe and the gods. Declaring oneself a shaman can open doors and bring connections to the spirits that had not been there before. There are areas of spirit work where working under the title of “shaman” gives me different privileges and access than I have as a servant of the gods, or as a magician. This is especially true in my work the Dead.

Of course, simply declaring oneself a shaman doesn’t make you one (and like Del, I was not the first person to use that word to describe myself). Laying claim to a title that isn’t yours can have consequences, and perhaps the most destructive I’ve seen is the declaration that one is a shaman leading to one’s wyrd becoming tied to that path, even if that was not the desired outcome.

Personally, I believe that the connection to traumatic transformation, although not necessarily around death, is a big part of what makes one a shaman. I’ve met shamans of madness as well as of death, and there can be a third, far rarer path of shamanism as well.

The process of going deep into another state of being, so much so that it completely consumes you, and then coming as far back as possible, leaves a person changed. Existing not in this world, but not in another either, is to me a major factor that distinguishes a shaman from other forms of spirit workers. My beliefs differ from Del’s in that I feel strongly that one can be a spirit worker 24/7 without being a shaman. Although not all spirit workers are 24/7 and I’m not convinced all shamans are either.

I should also note, that I believe it’s possible to be a “full time” spirit worker or shaman while also having a “day” job, particularly if said day job dovetails into one’s spirit work. The definition of a “full time” shaman or spirit worker is by its nature rather subjective after all.

I realize it is a digression, but here are some forms of spirit workers I’ve known. It is certainly possible for one person to be more than one, and not everyone who fits these titles are spirit workers per say.

in no particular order

  • Shaman (since we’re talking about it)
  • Gods-slave
  • Gods-spouse
  • Purpose-bound
  • Mystic
  • Medium
  • Monastic
  • Scholar
  • Bard
  • Priest/ess

For me, “shaman” is a job, a sacred role, and one of several central facets of my identity. For all that, in some ways, I don’t consider being a shaman to be all that special. Within the framework I use to define “shaman,” it is rather rare, even among pagans, polytheists, and spirit workers. But in the end it is simply another way to serve the gods and the Universe, no better or worse than others.

I do believe that shamans do a particular form of important Work that few others can do. However, the same can be said of a mystic, bard, gods-spouse, or any other of a variety of spiritual roles and titles. It is also worth noting that many of those other roles and titles are in their unique way as controversial and emotionally loaded as “shaman” is.

As a demographic we are figuring all this stuff out as we go along. Together we are creating not only new ways to express faith and experience the divine, but on a more fundamental level exploring ways to conceptualize the nature of our individual and shared reality.

Words are one of the essential ways we define our existence, so it’s of no surprise that words like “shaman” become bound up in layers of intellectual and emotional meaning, with all the controversy that can entail.

In the end though it’s the word my patron deity says I use, so I use it. All my complex feelings and intellectual considerations around “shaman” will always come up short in the face of Her insistence. That’s the nature of our relationship, and I find myself surprisingly ok with that.

Reblog: Keeping Up with the “Ravens”

This is my second attempt to reblog this entry, so I apologize if you’re getting this twice.

This is a great essay from Wintersong Tashlin on his struggle; his shamanic and magical practice does not always look like some of the stereotypical aesthetics that people expect when they think of ‘shamans’ or ‘magicians’. Obviously, this fits many of the posts I’ve made in the past few months – emphasizing the point that your personal spiritual practice should work for YOU, whether or not it looks like anyone else’s practice.

This brings up two points that I’ve been musing on; I can’t promise I won’t elaborate on them down the road in their own posts. The first is about relating to Gods in a way that does not match how others may talk/write about their experiences. I was blessed this weekend to be a part of a ritual for a friend; he revealed that he has been working with Odin in a spiritual context. He had kept it close to the chest because his experiences of and with Ol’ One Eye did not always mirror most of the published experiences between the Old Bastard and his devotees. He also wanted to explore Odin without the preconceptions that both the Lore, as well as the blogs and books written by other devotees, would have given him. I applaud him on this, because honestly I think it creates a stronger and more personal foundation for one’s devotional relationship/practice, which will be easier and more enjoyable to continue long-term. It may seem counterintutive, but there can be a very powerful and important reason to throw away all the academic writings, the blogs and the books, and even the Lore itself; and just listen to your heart, to the wind, the pulse of the earth, and look for the messages/omens/signs that come from those you are praying to. Develop your *own* relationship with the Holy Ones, because nothing can replace devotional activities that come from the heart.

The second thing that relates to Winter’s thoughts is my musings on male/male (M/M) God spouse/consort relationships. I get emails and comments asking if Loki ever takes male-identified mortal lovers/spouses. Part of the problem is that the majority of the blogs are not only written by female-identified mortals in sacred relationship with male-identified Deities (www.rockofeye.wordpress.com being one of the exceptions), but the things they write and conversations they have have this assumptive heterosexuality to it. It goes even deeper, when Wiccan and other Pagan initiates are frequently asked/required to choose two Patrons deities – one male, one female. The reasons could be legion, but I find it interesting that although most covens are open to LGBT persons, they are so stuck on this idea that male/female represents divergent energies, or fertility (of which, can’t a genderqueer female and a pre-op MtF person make a baby? We’ve already had transgender male “mothers” in the media…when can we get past this idea of assumptive heterosexuality as the only representation of Patronage? It’s okay to choose two Patrons from different pantheons, but not two Patrons from the same gender. I think for someone who was raised by two moms/dads might find same sexed Patrons to mirror the parental aspects of Patronage.

In summation, Wintersong’s essay is another welcome voice in the growing choir of reclaiming the P in UPG – PERSONAL. At the end of the day, if you’re dissatisfied with your spiritual journey, it’s a good time to strip everything away and get back to what sings to your heart, what inspires you to kinds of worship that fulfills you and makes you feel more enervated and alive, and stop worrying about how some stranger(s) on the Internet or in the Kindred/coven, or even just people who worship the same Deities, or use the same descriptive terms for their spiritual Work. Just follow your bliss, as Joseph Cambell said, and if you are living strong in your personal spiritual expression, the rest will flow like water.

So stop reading my blather and go read Winter’s post. It’s awesome, and moving, and important.

Winter Tashlin dot Com

I do not own a drum.

Ok, that’s not really a fair statement. I actually own two very nice drums, they just don’t do me any good. Part of my plethora of neurological issues is an automaticity and fine-motor control delay that makes it impossible for me to maintain a drum beat. I start off fine, but the processing delay means that each strike of the drumhead takes place little bit later than it should, sending me out of rythm within a short time.

For most people, not being able to use a drum would be a tiny footnote in life. However, for someone who publicly identifies as a shaman (or more properly, a shaman-magician) and spirit worker, not using a drum is a bit like being an accountant who’s bad at math.

Of course, the drum issue is just one of a raft of ways in which my Work…

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What is a “Godphone”?

A discussion on Facebook inspired this post. Someone felt that the term “godphone” was misleading, and a little disrespectful, and called for people to stop using it. I can see what their point is, but I want to write a bit about where the term came from, what it originally meant, and why I don’t think I’ll stop using it (although I may temper how often I use it, and with whom).

I can’t say for certain that I was there when the word was first coined, but I can say that I know from whence it came. A certain clique of spirit workers, shamans, and other spiritually minded folk were trying to explain the different ways divine communication can occur with humans. We were not at an academic conference or high-brow conference call, trying to codify something meant for Merriam Webster; we were a bunch of goofball spooky-foo folk having a very casual conversation about what it is that we do.

The term itself was a slang, a shorthand, for “the ability to speak to the Gods, and to hear the Gods in return”. It was not meant to imply that one could just “pick up the phone” and have immediate, pin-drop-chrystal-clear communication with any Deity one would choose to speak to/with; in fact, most people who have this ability protest often that no one has 100% signal clarity (again, “signal clarity” being a term that came out of these discussions) and often we reach out and get no answer, or are Told something but our questions/protestations were unheard (or possibly ignored). In this age, we see phones as something ubiquitous; everyone but the very poor or the very eccentric has one, they carry it around with them wherever they go, and they serve many functions. When this slang was thrown around, cell phones were in their infancy; it was back when having one meant that you were at least middle class, if not more well off. Mostly, we were thinking of much older technology, back when “busy signals” were a thing (and something we discussed), and “call waiting” was not exactly new, but something you had to pay extra for. So part of trying to explain where it came from means understanding what “phone” meant in, say, 1998. (I think it was coined after that, but the point I’m trying to make is that we were thinking more like a basic land-line, not Iphone.)

In the same vein, we had coined “god radio” as a slang for those who could hear the Gods when they chose to speak, but the communication was one way – that is, that the person did not feel they could communicate in real-time with the Gods. It’s not that they were *never* heard, but that they had to rely on the same “technology” that most people have when it comes to speaking to Gods – prayer, ritual, sacrifice, devotional work, meditation, etc. Again, this term could be seen as problematic, as a radio is something you can switch on and off at will, and that sends a continuous stream of information while it’s on. This was not what we meant to imply with the term at all; it was really just the idea that no matter how much you talk to a radio, the dee jay on the other end can’t hear you unless you pick up a phone, send an email, or drive to the station. And even then, how many times in your teenage years did you call a radio station, trying to request a song or win something or share your opinion, and you actually got through? Most urban radio stations are so overwhelmed with calls that you considered yourself really lucky if you got through.

To illustrate how facetious we were when we had these discussions, some people started talking about having a “God tin-can-on-a-string”. This was meant to imply that the person could faintly make out small bits of communication, or their sense of interaction was more in the way of emotions and intuitions; they could “feel” that a God wanted to say “X”, but they weren’t hearing the words directly and clearly. As for sending messages, they felt that they were even less able to do that than those who had radios – no phone line to call, no email address to write to, just a can they can shout into hoping that the God on the other end would get the same sort of intuitive answer from the human. Of course, they too had access to the kinds of communications that everyone else does, like the ones I listed above.

And then there were the “block heads”, or “brick heads”, or “ears plugged with cotton”; as this was all facetious in meaning, we never really came up with a similar technological metaphor for people who feel like they have absolutely no sense of the presence of Gods at all. Now, before you think I have some sort of disdain or condescension towards these people, I have found these sorts of people to be some of the most important to have around when it comes to signal clarity; without them, I think some of us would get so lost, unable to discern between sock-puppets, wish fulfillment, make believe; and actual, meaningful messages, omens, signs and signals from the Gods. I have many such people in my life, some of whom are even more spiritually active than I am; and I rely upon their more practical judgement when it comes to determining if my UPG makes sense, sounds like something a certain God would say, do, or want, or was a case of misreading the message. They play just as important a role in the greater task of facilitating communication between the Spirits and the people. Really. In some ways, I envy them; their “faith muscles” are so much stronger for having to rely on their own 5 senses, their heart, and their head when it comes to spiritual matters. They are also somewhat naturally gifted grounders, who keep us woo-woo folks from completely disconnecting from the material world. They can help when a possession goes awry, or when someone is completely deluded by the voices in their head (whether or not those voices are divine in origin or not), and as a valuable head-check when someone gets a message that seems out of character for the Divinity in question, or asks something of us that seems random, or dangerous, or worrisome. These are the kind of people I would go running to if a God proposed marriage to me, let me tell you. I would want to know that I wasn’t falling into a rabbit hole of a completely imaginary world made up of whatever thoughts came into my head.

I know I’ve said it, and others have as well, but I really hope you can see how none of these is inherently better or more desirable than any other. It may seem like having a two-way pipeline of communication with the Gods would be preferable, but let me just list a few reasons why I find it to be as much of a curse as a blessing:

  • Frequently, we don’t get to control when the “phone rings”. I was talking to a colleague recently about a message they received while driving, that was so overwhelming they were afraid of driving off the road. Not only do I mean, “They call at inconvenient times”, but also that sometimes they don’t “pick up the phone”. I have tried to communicate that even we sit in darkened silence, and I think it’s fair to say that it can sometimes be harder for us, because once you’re used to being able to feel their presence and have their counsel, when that goes away the lack is so much more keenly felt. In a very odd way, it’s like being addicted to a drug – yes, drugs make you happy and relaxed and whatever other emotional reason you take them, but when you can’t find any, or when you have to abstain, or when you can’t afford them, or one of the many reasons why you might not have some, the lows that come are so terrible you frequently end up in the hospital. So yes, it can be reassuring to have an inner sense of peace that you know what the Gods want from, and of, you; but that peace is shot to shit when They decide They want you to figure this particular situation out on your own.
  • With this gift, comes the responsibility and awkwardness that when a message comes for someone else, you are frequently forced to relay it. Even though I have struck a loose deal with Loki that I don’t have to be my lover’s shaman (so I can be off the clock when I’m being all cutesy with them), that deal doesn’t seem to include the godphone; when it rings, it rings, and They get louder and more insistent that I deliver the message. Strangers. Doctors. Therapists (and you can imagine the reception there). Atheists. Christians. Children. Parents and other family members. Police officers. Employers/Bosses. Some of us have learned how to deliver the messages without being all “I am the metatron” about it; I will say things like, “I know you’re worried about your son; I have this strong feeling that he’s going to be okay, as long as you continue to pray for him and maybe read the story about (some God or spirit or saint or whatever); there might be wisdom to glean from it.” I remember once, upon meeting a friend’s friend for the first time, I had this one sentence message that was burning on my tongue; it was a literal pain to speak anything other than the message. But I had just met this person, and I had no idea how they would react to this, and I didn’t want to come across as some high fallutin’ gypsy fortune teller in a horror novel. Finally, when there was a pause in the conversation, I just said, “Does the sentence ‘Cut down the tree so the flowers can grow’ mean anything to you? Is it lyrics from a song or something? It’s just been running through my head all night.” And of course, it turned out to be this very serious message about their recent breakup, where she and her partner had painted a tree mural on the bedroom wall; every night she would crawl into bed alone and cry because of what this tree represented; she had been considering painting over it and putting something cheery (oh, like flowers) over it, as one of those cathartic steps you take after a breakup. She was completely freaked out that I knew about it, and I said, “Well, when you hang around me, these things kinda happen sometimes.” I never used the words “God” “Spirit” “Godphone” or “Divine Message”. And to this day, I don’t think she knows exactly where the message came from; but that’s not the point. See, that’s a nice story of having to tell a stranger something. I have lots of ones where I’ve been punched in the face, or had nasty rumors spread about me, or had people post to the Internet that I am a fraud who rips people off, or that I use cold reading to do “divination”, or whatever. People are (rightfully) a little scared when you just pop off some piece of personal information about them without any way of knowing it. It makes you look like a cyber stalker, or worse. So although it might seem like a cool thing to have, you don’t get to dictate how it gets used, or in what situations.
  • There are times that I attribute mundane things to spiritual causes. It’s an unfortunately side effect of being a shaman. When so much of my time and energy is spent in spiritual pursuits, it’s very easy to lose touch with reality. Like this post from Dying for a Diagnosis, where one of my more grounded friends asked me if I chose not to undertake the requests of my Gods, since I believe that my chronic illness is part of my spiritual journey, would that mean that I would get well if I gave it all up? And it did make me think about how I, and others I know, try very hard to make everything in their life feel spiritually significant. In a way, it’s not that different from hypochondriacs seeing every physical change as a possible symptom of a terrible disease; we want to be immersed in the spiritual as bad as they want to be diagnosed with a rare illness. That’s not sane, and it can do very bad things to your life. You can decide that since you haven’t been able to find a job for six weeks, it must mean that the Gods want you to be unemployed so you can spend more time doing spiritual stuff; but you still have to pay your rent and bills in order to not be homeless, and it’s not uncommon for people who fall into this to thusly demand that people should financially support your existence because you’re off being all spiritual and shit. That’s not healthy, or fair. It can also lead to using spiritual excuses for bad behavior, or to support your fears. There are some Godspouses and consorts out there who are definitely terrified of human relationships (either that no one would love them, or that they’ve suffered trauma and can’t re-engage, or just that they’re terribly shy and don’t approach people). Having friendships and relationships with Gods can become a replacement for the real human need for connection; and without someone in your life to give you head-checks (which, honestly, people in this situation would likely avoid, afraid that they’d be told the truth) you can easily lose yourself in your invented fortress of solitude, content to spend time only with the spirits in your head. Again, not healthy.

If I had one wish these days, I’d surely ponder whether the right choice would be to wish that all people would find peace in their own spirituality, and not be jealous or envious of others. I would wish that they would find joy and fulfillment in whatever calls to their heart, and that they would explore the depths of their own spiritual calling, rather than trying to pattern their experiences after other people’s. I wish people would understand that we all have important roles to play, and we all have skills and talents that we can cultivate with a spiritual mindset; it’s so much easier to build up on a talent you already have, than try to force yourself to develop something you’re just not gifted with.

As many have said in the past few months, it’s not dissimilar from learning an instrument: you have to choose the right instrument for your disposition, anatomy, and talent; you have to find a mentor or teacher to guide you through the first fumbling steps (or, alternately, spend focused time on your own reading how-to books and watching 101 videos on YouTube); you have to take those fundamentals and work them over and over again until they slip from your fingers without thought; you have to strengthen the muscles and embouchure and postures and calluses so you can play for long periods of time without pain or struggle; and then you have to break out and start tackling pieces of various difficulty, starting with “Happy Birthday” and moving on to concertos or jazz improvisation. It’s not like you can walk into a music shop, pick out an instrument because you like the way it looks (or are envious of someone elses skill), and immediately become a virtuoso – much less teach others. It’s good to have heroes to look up to, but at the same time, you need to respect the years of practice, agony, mistakes, and strain that they’ve put in to get where they are, rather than declare that the universe (or the Gods) are unfair not to immediately reward you with the exact same level of skill and devotion.