Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along?

This morning, I was distracting myself from a series of nasty dreams with a bit of browsing on my social networks, and a theme emerged very quickly. Multiple petty arguments over Pagan and Hoodoo praxis? Check.  A supposedly respectable Haitian style Houngan taking the third opportunity in as many days to pettily and passive-aggressively snipe at a group of New Orleans style practitioners? Check. A thunderous argument over whether or not the Gardnerians and Alexandrians are the "only true Wiccans"? Check check check check check.

I am rolling my eyes so hard that they hurt. I understand that "recreational bickering" is a time honored tradition in both Pagan and African Traditional circles, but OH MY SPIRITS I am sick of it. One would think that spiritual people would be relatively enlightened. One would think that members of religious minorities would have learned a thing or two about the value of tolerance. And all of the people involved are at least nominal adults; where's their maturity? Do they leave these virtues behind when they post on the Net--or would the same people be fighting it out in person if they got the chance?

I'm not perfect myself, but DAMN. Why is picking and squabbling at each other so irresistible in religious and spiritual communities? Are these people so insecure that they have to exalt their beliefs by stamping on someone else's? Or (perhaps worse) have they reached a level of "security" in themselves that has overinflated their self-importance? Or is it that the field of human spirituality is landmined with argumentative assholes? Whatever the reason...ugh. No wonder there's little to no solidarity between traditions or even groups within a tradition. This is a big problem, and certainly it cripples us all severely when it comes to accomplishing any greater good that requires cooperation.

And so I am reminded again that 99.99% of every problem, failing and disappointment I have had with religion has come from humans. Certainly, every reason that keeps me from joining a group oriented religion has to do with them. It was a jarring realization for me--and a disappointment, but there you have it.

I hate arguing and conflict, especially over petty matters, and most especially when it disrupts any chance of getting useful things done. For this reason, I am glad that in my religious life, it is just me and my spirit allies. Sometimes I get wistful about becoming part of a group, or wonder how I could possibly serve and work with some of the spirits that call to me without one. But I'm just not built for habitual conflict. I don't even like being around it. I don't expect perfect unity and peace, but the amount of gratuitous bickering I have seen really puts me off.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tarring me with the "plastic shaman" brush....

Newsflash: I am not a Tungus Saman. Or a Lakota Medicine Woman. Or a Marakame, or a Sangoma. In fact I belong to no hereditary paths whatsoever. I make no false claims about who or what I am. So why do I occasionally get confronted by some angry, politicking ass who wants to call me a cultural appropriator and a fake? As far as I can tell, it's because I'm white. I'm stealing no rites, my ritual tools are made with my own hands under the direction of the spirits, and anything that I do do which is similar to what an indigenous shaman might do is fairly universal (like using a rattle, for example, or saluting the directions). But I just can't get rid of that pesky Caucasianness, and thus no matter how original, respectful and dedicated I am, some people are going to hate me for daring to speak to the spirits.

Newsflash number two: the spirit world is not the sole purview of nonwhites. It may amaze ignorant clods like the one that attacked me online earlier today to discover this, but some of us pasty folk receive the Gift and the Call to serve the spirits as well. And I don't apologize for that. I am no Lynn Andrews or Carlos Castaneda, laying claim to someone else's traditions without proper training, dedication or attitude. Instead, I am trying to build a new tradition from what the spirits teach me, which I intend to pass on to others with the right motives and mindset regardless of their race. What I am doing is neither the cash-grabbing of the plastic shamans and $hamans, nor a borrow from anyone's tribal traditions. It just is, it works, I have built on it slowly and carefully, and the idea that I am a fake because I don't belong to any cultures with an unbroken shamanic lineage is narrow, bigoted and pathetic.

Newsflash number three: I am not in any way ignorant of the damage plastic shamans and the money grubbing crowd have done to both shamanic truths and the cultures they appropriate from. Nor am I ignorant of the fact that I have no ancient, unbroken tradition at my back. I wish I did. It would be nice to have had the security of a human teacher and lineage. Unfortunately the old Wiccan adage that "when the student is ready the teacher will appear" turns out to be crap--if you're expecting those teachers to always be human. Tribal medicine people have the right to restrict the teaching of their traditions to those they share a tribal lineage with. Core shamans have the right (legal, if not moral) to charge piles and piles of money for their trainings. But both practices have left people like me out in the cold. I used to think that this meant that I could not be a shaman. But that is horseshit. Humans do not get to hold me back when the spirits call, and I was punished severely by those spirits when I let myself get discouraged. Which leads me to:

Newsflash number four: No stranger on the Internet's rantings are going to hold even a tenth the weight of the spirits' opinions or the opinions of those whom I have helped and collaborated with. Trying to tar me with the brush of "plastic shaman" only demonstrates an ignorance of both the term, and of me. Thank you, drive through....

Ahhhh. It was good to get that out of my system.

In other news, it is finally raining! As I slowly dry out, I remind myself of how desperately I asked for rain, and remind myself to be grateful even while I drip on the carpet. Heh. Now to see if a wet enough January can make up for our bone dry December.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I don't normally repost things...

...but this is one of the most interesting ideas I have seen come across the Internets in a while. Sort of a virtual interfaith prayer and healing circle. I'll be participating tomorrow.

It would be awesome to do something like this on a regular basis. Anybody game for a collaborative healing session, long distance? Spirit knows no geographical distances, any more than the Net does!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Altarpiece 1: Jaguar

Happy Sunday! I skipped my usual Random Stuff Saturday because I was busy completing this painting. It is a "vision painting", meant as an altarpiece, which was "commissioned" by the spirit depicted and which contains elements of both my personal visions and the legends associated with him.  This, obviously, is Jaguar, Sun of the Underworld and a potent spirit whom I am privileged to know. This painting will be censed with copal daily for 21 days before being framed and hung above my altar. 

Vision paintings are almost the only artwork I do anymore. A spirit I am working with (or one a friend, loved one or client is working with) generally sends me visions of the "portrait" they would like, we negotiate specifics and I get to work. If the work is for a client, I will go on journeys to contact their requested spirit until I have a proper image of what is wanted. I usually work in intense trance, spending up to five hours at a sitting working on the piece with it feeling like one (except for how tired I am!) The Divine is my Muse, and I absolutely love creating art that acts as both altarpiece and offering.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Eclecticism and Being a Shaman First

I am a serious seeker of spiritual and religious truth. As mentioned in the FAQ, I have strayed onto multiple different paths in the process; in each case I dedicated myself fully to the path in order to show it proper respect. It was in this way that I developed a background as witch and medium as well as shaman. My mistake, which I deeply regret now, is that I forgot to put my true calling first.

When one develops a relationship with the spirits, one cannot simply abandon it without consequence. This goes ten times over for those on the shamanic path. It's not just that they will miss you or miss your offerings and the work you did together; simply abandoning them is very disrespectful. You will likely get smacked in some way unless you had a very, very good reason for leaving. I had what I thought was a good reason: the desire to be part of a spiritual community instead of working largely alone. Now I realize that I was in large part merely lonely and looking for validation. Still, had I, for example, joined a coven while still maintaining my shamanic practice, that would have been fine. But instead I abandoned the one for the other. That was foolish and brought me a great deal of trouble.

On the other hand, shamanic journeying can lead one to some very strange places, and it is not unusual to run into a spirit from an entirely different tradition than you are used to working with while out journeying. That spirit may be unused to being approached shamanically, and may insist that you approach them in a way more appropriate to the traditions they are used to. Which may lead you to some parallel practice. The key, if you find yourself working in two different traditions, is to remember to put your shamanic practice first, while still respecting the requirements set forth by the Divinities in your non-shamanic practice.

For example, I am currently practicing exclusively in a shamanic vein, with the spirits who prefer to be approached in such a way; no Pagan pantheons, Orixa or Lwa. However, as I grow stronger spiritually I find myself encountering those spirits and beings which I met while practicing as a witch and medium. Some of these spirits are very strong and very insistent; for example within a week of my reunion with two African tradition spirits I found myself being pushed hard in that direction, stumbling on a Hoodoo group, meeting a Vodouisant who is moving into the area, and having my partner, who works intensively with Bawon and the Ghede, have an intense sort of spiritual awakening. I know that these spirits want me to serve them as well--and I will, but I am a shaman first and they will need to learn to share me.

What does it mean to be a shaman first? It is a matter of priorities, rather than trying to warp other traditions to fit the shamanic mold. For example, when I work with the shamanic spirits I do not call Exu or Legba to open the door for me, but if I worked with an African spirit I certainly would. When I take up with non shamanic spirits they will have their own altar section, their own sacred items and artwork, and their own rituals. The shamanic spirits, especially my Guardian, get priority when it comes to projects and offerings as well.

I will be interested to know, when I finally have my reading, which African power it is that the reader will discover owns my head. There is a spirit vaguely connected to New World animistic traditions in Vodou, but that strikes me as a bit of a poor fit at best. I will have to wait and see what they say. Whoever this Divinity is, however, I really hope that they like animals, because there are going to be a lot of them hanging around!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seven Ways to Cleanse Yourself of Nasty Energies

You’ve had a trying day. You may have had an argument with a loved one, a bad work shift, a stressful commute—or something worse, like a mugging. Whatever the case, you have come home feeling dirty, exhausted and unbalanced. Just relaxing isn’t going to make the feeling go away—if you can relax at all. What do you do? Here are seven methods of spiritual cleansing that will help get you feeling better, stronger and more focused.

Smudging: many herbs and resins, when burned, produce a smoke which helps cleanse and re-energize the aura. These include copal, sage, frankincense, myrrh, cedar, sweetgrass, benzoin, dragon’s blood, pine needles or resin, and lavender. If you have a relationship with one of the above plant spirits, or your guardian has a preference, that should be your first resort. Whatever you use, first take several deep breaths and speak to the spirit of the plant, asking them for help cleansing yourself. Light the herb bundle or charcoal and get your herb smoking. Then, with your hands, a fan or feather, guide the smoke over yourself and through your aura. Imagine the smoke is flowing through you, dislodging the spiritual “dirt”, diluting it, and pushing it out of you to dissipate harmlessly in the air. Depending on the strength of your relationship with the plant, your experience with smudging and how “dirty” you are feeling, you may need to repeat the process a few times.

Benzoin--an excellent smudge for purifying and energizing.

Salt Bath: Run yourself a nice hot bath—as hot as you can stand to soak in. While it is still running, throw in a cup of salt (and half a cup of baking soda if you have it available). You can also add cleansing and energizing herbs or oils such as lemon, clary, or bay. Soak for at least twenty minutes. The hot water and salt will help you sweat out and release toxins into the water; the salt will absorb the bad energy and carry it down the drain once you pull the plug. Follow up with a brief, cooler shower to get the salt off of you and “wake up” your body. Anoint with a protection oil or water afterward for a little extra “oomph” and to leave you feeling clean longer.

Crystals and Stones: Certain crystals and stones can be used as “cleansing stones”, rubbed over the body and passed through the aura to loosen and suck up “heavy” energies. I tend to use hematite, brown jasper or another heavy duty grounding stone for this purpose. Approach the crystal’s spirit and ask it to take on this soul-burden temporarily, promising to cleanse it afterward. Pass the stone over yourself, going on for at least fifteen minutes while you visualize the unhealthy energy being pulled out of you. Then cleanse the stone using salt or smoke. For some people the stone meditation seems to work better for them than smudging directly. After the cleansing process, I take up another stone (quartz, especially rose quartz or amethyst, works well for this) that has been approached and empowered to give me an energetic boost, and pass it over myself as well, then keep it in my hand or pocket for a while. The second stone can later be placed on your altar or in the sun to “recharge”.

Hematite--a useful stone for cleansing, grounding and protection.

Other Objects: Depending on one’s spiritual tradition and cultural background, various objects have been used to cleanse the aura and can be useful to your practice. The classic example of this is the Limpia or egg cleansing. To perform an egg cleansing, write blessings on the egg in the form of your god or guardian’s name. Run the egg over as much of yourself as you can reach (it is easiest to get another person’s help with this to be thorough), while visualizing the egg slurping up all the unpleasant energy caught in your aura and body. Continue for at least fifteen minutes. Then break the egg into a white or clear bowl; the contents will likely be messy or rotten looking. Flush the results and wash the bowl thoroughly before using it again. Follow up with a brush-down with cleansing herbs such as sage, bay leaves or cilantro and a sprinkling of pure or blessed water to re-energize your aura. A similar egg cleansing is practiced in northern Italy. The advantage of cleansing using disposable objects is that you do not have to purify them afterward.

Rattling, Drumming, Singing Bowl: Ritual music of any type can help purify and energize. If at all possible, use live music, and have someone perform for you, either rattling around your body or filling the room with drum, bell or bowl work. This will provide a “flush” of clean, healthy energy which will loosen and take away any ickiness while recharging you psychically. Fifteen to twenty minutes of sound work is generally enough. Note: If you have a headache from all the stress sound work should not be your first choice as it may aggravate your physical symptoms.

Breath Work and Visualization: This is one of the harder self purification methods since it has no physical focus, but on the other hand you can do it anywhere and it requires no materials. Find a comfortable spot. Breathe deeply and slowly (inhale, hold, exhale all to the count of five, for example), and spend a little while just focusing on your breath. Then begin to visualize: the air entering your lungs, the oxygen and clean energy entering your body and circulating throughout, the carbon dioxide and heavy energy being exhaled to dissipate harmlessly with each breath. Depending on your level of practice you may need up to fifteen minutes in order to reach a state of relaxed focus.

Asperging and Anointment: This method is good for when you just don't have time or opportunity for a full bath, or are in a place like a hotel room where you cannot burn incense. Take a handful of fresh herbs, an asperger or fingertips and use them to apply (or have applied to you) a sprinkling of pure or consecrated water, Florida water, or water shaken up with a bit of alcohol and a purifiying/energizing oil such as lemon, clary, orange, or rosemary. Continue sprinkling as you visualize the asperging as a cleansing rain that washes out impurities and replaces them with a soothing, protective energy.

Everyone has crappy days. But you don't have to feel crappy once it's over. Find the method or methods that work best for you, then experiment with combining them, such as following up a soothing bath with a round of drumming. When you find something that works for you, give yourself a good cleansing when things get bad--or at least once a week just as "maintenance". You'll feel cleaner, more focused, and more relaxed. And we could all use a bit more of that in our lives.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sometimes A Faceplant is Just a Faceplant.

I've been on an upswing the last few days in spite of some weirdness and the continued lack of rain. Journeying, working on projects, working on the blog...and today, dedicatedly puttering around trying to make the place look like civilized humans live here. This includes, la la la, trying out the new carpet shampooer. Which is only fun when you realize it's actually working. At any rate, I finish the latest patch of carpet, run out of water, pop out the dirty water tank, walk into the kitchen to dump it out and WHOOPS....

My mate says that for a moment or two I appeared to go into slow motion as my feet flew out from under me and I made a fair imitation of a swan dive toward the floor. Somehow I caught the tank, landed on my elbows and knees, slipped AGAIN and faceplanted. It was absolutely epic. As I blinked at linoleum, he ran in to make sure I was all right. I am all over bruises and my shoulders hurt from catching myself on my elbows, but neither the water tank nor I are broken.

I was in shock for a while. What on Earth had I done to anger the spirits and subject myself to an out of the blue humiliation and injury? Had I offended one of them somehow? Forgotten an offering? Made an ass of myself during my last journey? Worriedly I checked in with them.

"Oh yeah, you did something to cause that slip and fall," came the chortling reply....

"....You walked on linoleum with wet feet!"


Sometimes random bad or weird luck really is a sign from the spirits. But sometimes crap just happens. Before you convince yourself that a fenderbender or a bad day or a sudden severe cold has its base in an angry or testing spirit, step back. Examine the conditions leading up to your current problem. It may just be stress, or circumstances. Sometimes it is lack of attention to important real world details. Or your luck could simply be garbage that day. If your bad luck continues day after day for no apparently reason, it could well be the spirits. But otherwise, it may well just be a case of...wet feet.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Random Stuff Saturday

Uh yeah, What He Said....
Hugh wrote in early today with a particularly insightful response to my latest post. Included was a quotation that I wish to share:

"For those who believe, no proof is necessary.
For those who don't believe, no proof is possible".
--Stuart Chase

He definitely has a point. Perhaps the most frustrating part of dealing with a skeptic is that there is absolutely no way to prove your points in a way that the skeptic will understand. You can point out some of the studies that have been made of various "paranormal" phenomena, cite the people you have helped, and so on until you are blue in the face, but far more often than not it is impossible to bridge the divide between believer and nonbeliever. This is why your victory lies, not in convincing the skeptic of anything, but of maintaining your belief and practice in the face of skepticism.

Where the Hell Is The Rain?
It has rained all of one day in the Bay Area so far this winter. One day. That is nearly one for the record books. This is worrisome. Not only because rain is cleansing and nourishing to the land, fills our reservoirs and empowers me personally, but because it is in no way natural for this region at this time of year. If you are local to the San Francisco Bay Area, it might be time to add a request for rain to your prayers and rituals. Yes, I know rain-calling is so widely used as to be almost cliche, but there are reasons for that.

In the modernized world, water comes out of a tap; many people give little thought to its ultimate source unless the news reminds them. The rain cycle is something that we learn in school but is quickly forgotten as irrelevant by most of us. But there was a time in our more rooted past when rain was a life-or-death prospect for those who worked or foraged the land. Rain was both a mercy and a threat: too little and crops died, wells and streams dried up and people were seriously endangered; too much and crops--or animals and people--drowned. The buffer of water reclamation, purification and distribution technology may have left us complacent in this matter, but--it is only a buffer. It cannot supply us forever. At times like this, staring at a drastically subnormal rainfall figure, we are reminded that we are not so independent of the natural world as many of us would like to believe.

They're a Dessert! They're Pornographic! they're....
I recently inherited a set of what are variously called Mochi Balls (isn't that served at Japanese restaurants?) Shaman Balls (errr), Moqui Marbles, Moqui Stones, and Shaman Stones. Whatever you call them, they are concretions--compacted sandstone surrounded by a shell of hematite. They are brownish grey, seem light for their size, and come in two types--males, which are lumpy or have crystalline growths on their skin, and females, which are relatively smooth. They are generally used in pairings of one male, one female. The energy of the two types of stone supposedly interact with each other in an interesting way.

Moqui Stones--or whatever--male on left, female on right

Rockman has a great article on the stone's physical properties and provenance here. As for their metaphysical properties, there are websites all over the Net about their supposed ability to balance the energy body, promote healing and restful sleep, and all sorts of other good things. As with any other stone or material, I prefer to see for myself, so I'm going to start working with them and seeing what I come up with.

The pair I inherited are large gumball sized, and fit perfectly in my palms when I hold them. Once they warm up they become very comfortable in the hand and difficult to put down--I'm currently two-finger typing with the male in my left hand, female in my right, largely because I can't stop picking the little buggers up and playing with them. It is a very relaxing experience, and I'm reluctant to let go. There's definitely something to these rocks, though it will take time for me to determine what.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Standing One's Ground In the Face of Spiritual Challenges

Last night I had a three hour argument with someone close to me about my spiritual practice. This was someone from whom I had every right to expect support, or at least tolerance. He is a lifetime Pagan, he has unusual lifestyle choices of his own and emotionally he certainly should be in my corner. And perhaps he even is--in his mind.

But what came out of his mouth was fairly outrageous. The underlying message was one of arrogance ("I am more of an authority on all things mystical and spiritual than you are even if I've never practiced shamanism in any form"), presumed authority over me ("I don't believe in X, Y or Z mystical practices and neither should you; you should follow my lead in what to believe") and dismissiveness ("No, your beliefs are wrong, because I say they are wrong"). In addition he tried to convince me that I should submit myself to the scrutiny of a professional debunker in order to "prove" my beliefs. (What the hell?)

It gets worse. He has shown an alarming disregard for my rights and boundaries in this matter--such as when I caught him fiddling with my ritual tools ("I'm just making sure you're using them correctly") and placing an image of his god on my altar ("He did it, it's not my doing"). When confronted, he became defensive and spewed even more of the above at me, ignoring completely that it is not his right to touch my power objects, any more than it is his right to try and tell me what to believe. In short, his words and behavior were toxic, and before I accepted my path wholeheartedly they would have sent me into a frenzy of self-doubt.

But that was then.

He seemed absolutely amazed when I instead stood up to him. And hurt, which is ridiculous considering how he had been treating me. We talked it out, but I honestly worry that he is too wrapped up in his cynicism and belief that He Is Right for this to end in any way but more arguments.

Ultimately, though, he could not shake my belief in my spirituality; the only thing he managed to shake was my belief in him. That also seemed to shock him; after all, I was directly challenging his presumed authority over me in this matter. But the point was not that he eventually had to back off; the point was that he could not make me doubt.

Every once in a while you will run across people who will challenge your faith, rights and boundaries. Your challengers will range from skeptics demanding undeniable proof in scientifically verifiable fashion, to the spiritually deluded ("You're going to Hell"/"You can't be a shaman without X piece of paper that you paid a pile of money for"/"You can't be a shaman because you aren't part of an indigenous culture") to the inexplicably motivated ("I know that the word "shaman" is the most widely used term for your spiritual practice, but HOW DARE YOU USE IT.") How does one handle a situation like this?

1. Take deep breaths. The calmer and more focused you can be the better.

2. Do not internalize what they are saying to you. Just because they presume authority over you and believe themselves to be right does not mean you have to buy into it.

3. Don't take it personally. Chances are that the person you're dealing with is so blinded by their own issues that they have no idea how much of a jackass they're being.

4. Remind yourself of your right to your own path, your reasons for being on the path, and the spirits who have chosen you. Do not let yourself be swayed away from these by someone else's words.

5. Choose your battles. Stand up to them verbally if you feel it is necessary. If it is possible, walk away. Remember that it is not your job to convince them of anything. It would be better to be able to have an evenhanded conversation on the subject, but some people will just not be able to give up Being Right long enough to listen to what you have to say.

6. Purify. Smudge, take a salt bath, seek out more positive company, and otherwise do your best to leave what was doubtless an uncomfortable conversation behind you.

7. Check in with Spirit. Make a small offering, go journeying, talk to your Guides. Reconnect. Get back on the horse spiritually.

A challenge to your spirituality should not be viewed as an attack where you are being victimized; that places you in a position of weakness. Instead consider the challenge as just that: something for you to rise to and overcome. You are stronger than you think. And even if you're faced with someone too egotistical and stubborn to bother arguing with, your victory in this matter does not lie in winning a verbal argument. Your victory lies in remaining steadfast in your spiritual truth.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Black Copal Shortage: Honoring the Gatherers

I had a recent conversation with a gentleman at the local occult supply shop, and discovered the reasons behind the shortage of black copal that we are currently experiencing. Black copal, the resin of the shrublike Bursera Odorata tree, has always been in somewhat short supply because its source tree is at risk due to overharvesting and deforestation. But now, add to these troubles actual attacks on the resin-gatherers by cartels in the region who wish to have complete control over the local economy. In short, people are out there literally risking their necks to provide for our offering altars.

A Black Copal "tortilla" wrapped in cornhusk.

This is another case where you really have to think about the context of your shamanic practice and offering. It is important to understand not just the traditional use and significance of the offering your choose to make, but also where it comes from. Whether it is decade-seasoned palo santo wood or copal “tortillas” gathered with prayer, each offering has a story that did not begin with when we paid or traded for it. If you use copal of any color, save a portion of your prayers for those who have gathered it—especially those who are now endangered for doing so.

Monday, January 2, 2012

FAQ--a work in progress

1. Why do you call yourself a shaman?
I use the word "shaman" regularly simply because it is the most well known word in English for what I do. Period. There are those who go on about people from outside the Tungus culture using that word, but I think their case for cultural appropriation is a tad bit thin if all that is being used is their word for what is ultimately a highly varied global practice. If some jackass claims to be a Tungus Shaman just because the spirits talk to him, then we definitely have a problem. But Hindus don't generally complain when Pagans or others discuss the concept of karma; nobody whines because tete a tete, savoir faire or other French phrases have crept into the (admittedly kleptomanaical) English language. In English the word "shaman" has become a blanket term for a certain class of spirit-workers. It may not be anthropologically correct, but there you have it. Tiptoeing around the words "shaman" and "shamanism" because it's yet another of English's borrow words doesn't do anything but confuse English speakers.

2. How can you claim any sort of authority as a teacher?
I'm not. I'm merely stating what I have learned, what I believe, what works for me and what might work for others. Will I teach people if I am called to do so? Yes. Do I claim some special authority to do so? No. I have my experience, and the instructions I have received, and if the spirits send people my way I'll do my best for them. But I'm not Awesome Guru Chick or anything like that. I'm just me.

3. Are you a "core" shaman?
My first teacher was trained by Michael Harner, but she neither limited her teachings and work to his system, nor put me through his official "workshops". Nor is my own practice limited to core shamanic practices. I do not believe that shamanism can be completely extracted from any cultural context whatsoever, any more than human experience in general. To that end my shamanism has more to do with Mircea Eliade than Harner. My culture is Italian, Scots, American, urban, multiculturally-influenced, working class, humanist, naturalist, San Francisco Bay Area. It is also Internet, geek, gamer, netizen solidarity, and non-classist ethical anarchy. The spirits I attract vary greatly because of this, but the main ones are my rather scary Guardian and one of the local Tricksters.

4. Are you a shaman, a medium, or a witch?
...yes. :D But my primary work is shamanic.

5. What kinds of spirits do you work with?
Animal and totemic spirits are my primary focus, but I have worked with ghosts and ancestors, Pagan gods and possessory spirits such as Orixa.

6. Are you initiated under any Orixa or Lwa?
No. Nor do I claim to be.

7. Do you have a totem and spirit guides? What are they?
There are spirits I work with which are "public" and happy to be spoken about, and others that are more private. My most potent relationship that I can speak about publicly is with Raven.

8. Why do you stress morality so much?
I stress morality so much in large part because so many magical practitioners do not. There is a serious dearth of strong ethics in modern day Neopaganism; "harm none" is argued over more than it is practiced, people cast spells at each other thoughtlessly and there is little if any code of conduct for dealing with clients or the spirits. I have been the target of malevolent or manipulative spellcasting multiple times, harassed sexually (and then told to stop being so sensitive/being a prude/causing trouble) by so-called Pagan Elders, and seen my mate harassed sexually as well. I have watched shamans charging serious money for initiation or services, essentially shutting out anyone who cannot pay their exorbitant fees. And yet these people claim to serve the spirits, the Earth and its just goes on and on. Ethics are important. Honor is important. The world already has too many people in it who would wreck everyone around them for their own gain. They are the reason life is so unhappy for so many of the rest of us. Don't be one of them.

9. Who taught you and how long was your training?
I received healing and instruction from a core/eclectic urban shaman for three years. I joined an eclectic Pagan group headed by a Gardnerian and learned the basics of witchcraft, gemstone work, the formulation of magical oils and incenses, and the creation of magical tools. As a witch, I practiced solitary and in various groups for five years. I was a member of NROOGD (the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn) for two years before joining an African Traditionalist group and staying for another two. I received my Reiki I and II initiation during the same period. Due to abuse within my last spiritual group, I left off all spiritual pursuit and practice for a few years in order to focus on my mundane life. Once I had successfully overcome most of the problems thrown at me during this period, I found myself returning to my spiritual roots as an urban shaman, and have practiced regularly ever since.

10. Who initiated you?
Bluntly put, the spirits did--which is the only real way one can experience a shamanic initiation. It cannot be bought, it cannot be truly conveyed by another human being--the spirits themselves are the final arbiters and initiators. If you are called to the shamanic path you know it. Not as an ego thing, but rather because if you drag your feet or head in the wrong direction you will find your life going haywire in truly bizarre ways until you return to the path. Accepting the path, on the other hand, rewarded me with a sort of soul-deep conviction which is not ego-involved, and is thus unshakable. Earlier in my life I was deeply preoccupied with my lack of material-world credentials (or the money with which to buy them), but now I realize that that was because I placed the opinions of human beings over the truth of my calling. Such thinking is wrongheaded; if you have the skills, the favor of the spirits and the devotion, you don't need a piece of paper calling you an "official" shaman.

11. Don't you know that you're going to Hell?
Nnnnnno. I don't, and neither do you. I think that anyone who seriously believes that God is some controlling, hyper-vengeful asshole who would literally torture someone forever for not following a single, narrow spiritual and moral path is not only wrong--they're a little messed up in the head. Nor am I about to get scared into converting. Pursuing this line of argument with me, therefore, is completely pointless. Have you considered instead that maybe nobody is going to Hell? That God wouldn't roast someone eternally for finite offenses--especially ones that are no actual "offense" to anyone with their head on straight? "You got tattoos. You like wool blends. One more for the lake of fire..." NO. That doesn't even make any sense. Only humans are that crazily judgmental--not God.

12.Why do you warn people about the spirit world?
There is an unfortunate subset of spirit workers who truly believe, bless their hearts, that all is love, light and positive vibrations in the spirit world. Unfortunately this is not and has never been the case. The idea that Spirit only exists in a positive sense is a new development among countless older traditions which show the spirits to have at least as broad a moral gamut as the human one. There are spirits that will play you. There are spirits that are benevolent if pleased and very dangerous when pissed off. Finally, there are the kind of spirits that should make you glad as heck for your Guardians. Just like you wouldn't automatically extend trust to every single human you meet, you shouldn't do it with spirits.

13. What is shaman's sickness?
Shaman's sickness has been called a part of a shaman's initiatory experience. I would go a step further. Shaman's sickness is the boot you get up your ass when the spirits are trying to get you to agree to walk the path. The more you fight or stray in the wrong direction, the worse it gets. Shaman's sickness may take the form of physical, mental or emotional illness, amazingly crappy luck, or spiritual trials that derail attempts to walk other paths. My own shaman's sickness was prolonged, painful, and required an uphill battle against almost all of the above trials. I am very grateful toward those who supported me during this time, and hope all the best for them. But it would have been better to simply stay on the path to begin with. The difference between shaman's sickness and ordinary life trials is that the sickness goes away once you have become a believing and practicing shaman. This does not mean that becoming a shaman will solve all your life problems. But I can say from experience that my life improved significantly as soon as I embraced the path.

14. For what reasons do you pursue shamanism?
Besides getting my butt kicked every time I stray off the path (this makes the spirits seem rather mean, and they're not; this is just what I am supposed to be doing), I've never felt more right about any decision in my life. But that is just the gut-level motivation. On a higher level, I'm here to work. A shaman serves the spirits and her or his community. If I benefit along the way, fabulous, but ultimately I'm here to heal, advise and empower others. I wish I could describe to you the feeling of wholeness I experienced when I performed my first house purification for a desperate client. For once my actions and my true purpose were in line with each other. I don't think I can heal the world or society, but I think I can help people that wouldn't have gotten help otherwise. And that is enough.

15. Do you use psychoactives in your practice?
Occasionally. My view on psychoactive plant allies is that they must be approached with reverence, respect, and a hell of a lot of caution. Every time I see something like Ayahuasca for sale over the Internet I cringe, because the sacred vine is absolutely not something that should be approached in the wrong way. It is not entertainment; it is a powerful and dangerous sacrament that demands education, the proper set, setting and attitude, and the help of other humans to approach it properly. Approach it improperly, and the ass-kicking you receive from Ayahuasca could land you in the hospital or worse when, say, you wander hallucinating into traffic. You have to know what you are doing, approach with respect, prepare yourself spiritually and physically, gain the permission of the plant spirit, and be very, very clear in your goals before picking up a potent and sometimes unpredictable tool such as psychoactives. To do otherwise is to risk being led astray spiritually while damaging your physical health with side effects or addiction. To beginning shamans I would definitely say: learn to walk the path without psychoactive allies well before you even consider developing a relationship with one.

16. Why Shaman of the Streets?
The truth is, if I had my way and a nice pile of money it would be Shaman of the Nice Little Cottage on Ten Acres of Mostly Wildlands Surrounded By Forest. But we don't always get what we want. I'm a city girl, transit dependent and fairly poor, so I can't even get out to the green wilds often enough to practice regularly in nature. Also, most of the people I work with are urban as well. Because of this, I make do with what I have. My current and more reachable dream is to have a space large and private enough for a shamanic practice with a dedicated space for clients and personal workings. But that is much more likely to be a converted warehouse space than a cottage in the woods.

17. How dare you work with spirits when you're not part of an indigenous culture!
I'll tell you what. If you have a problem with my working with and for the spirits, talk to them about it. It was their decision, and though I have embraced my path I have no illusions that I had much choice in the matter. This is not a matter of cultural appropriation, or appropriation of any sort, except in the sense that my ass was appropriated by them for their purposes. And I'm fine with that. If you really think you're so much of an authority that you can second guess the Powers That Be because you don't like my ethnicity, take your "how dare you" to them and see how they react. Chances are that they'll react the same way I do: "I don't have time for your up-in-arms, narrow-minded bullshit."

18. How dare you contemplate taking on clients when you don't have any kind of certification!
There is a sub group of urban shamans--let's call them $hamans--who firmly believe that the only way to become a genuine shaman is to attend schools, workshops, etc. costing several hundred to thousands of dollars. Essentially, they seem to want to turn shamanism into not only a financial venture, but a spiritual practice that is only fully accessible to those who are wealthy enough to have that kind of disposable income. To which I say: Like Hell. Not only is this completely divorced from reality--the spirits choose whom they will--but it goes against the grain of public and spiritual service that shamans are supposed to be about. When a $haman confronts me about my lack of an Expensive Piece of Paper, I ask them why they consider their system of teaching to be the only genuine one, and why they price everything so high that the poor can neither learn from nor by served by it. They don't tend to like that.

19. So what gives your work and practice its legitimacy aside from the spirits' support?
Twenty years of eclectic training and experience, hard work, an open and creative mind, a big heart and a listening ear. Did I mention common sense? I have a lot of that too. I won't bullshit you or try to "upsell" services to you, and I focus on helping my clients as opposed to making a pile of money. Also, in the end, what gives my practice its legitimacy is that I get results.

20. Can you give an example of a client you've helped?
My most recent client was a young woman who had taken in a couch-surfer who then died suddenly of illness in her living room. Since then she could not sleep in her apartment or use the couch that he had used, and complained of his body odor lingering to a nauseating degree throughout the apartment. This smell did not dissipate once the couch was cleaned and the apartment cleaned and mopped. I gathered my tools and went over on the day of the man's funeral. Upon walking into her apartment I detected, not the smell she had described, but an intense heaviness and sense of nausea to the atmosphere that was not relieved by opening the windows. No one could bring themselves to sit on the large, comfortable looking couch. For this home cleansing, I primarily used my fire bowl, censing with copal and two other resins in turn, walking around the entire apartment, making sure that the smoke got into every crevice, drawer, cabinet and closet. When the smoke reached the corner where the man had died, I heard a loud male moan; I rebuked the spirit and spent a lot of time rattling and censing that corner, finally putting down a plate of salt to "soak up" any remaining energy. I also spent extra time over the couch and in the bathroom, where the deceased had divided almost all of his time. By the time I was finished, the heaviness was gone and both the client and her parents were crashed out on the couch. I left with instructions to throw the salt in the outside trash after leaving it for three days. Three days later I received a call from the client's mother; she reported that the client was now able to use her apartment normally, and sleep there peacefully without nightmares. In addition the lingering smell of her deceased guest was now gone.

21. Do you drum?
A drum or the means to get one has not come to me yet. I generally use a rattle, which I make myself. Rattles have the advantage of being less noisy in an apartment setting, more portable, and a bit more flexible to use. They're also incredibly simple to play, making it easy for me to have someone rattle for me when I journey or work with both hands on something else.

22. How much do you charge clients?
I ask that people pay for materials and travel. My time and work can be compensated with a donation of a client's choice, or barter. I would rather be informal and accessible than end up treating my calling too much like a business. Doing so would shift too much focus away from the work at hand.

23. What are your views on other paths?
I agree with the "many paths" approach of Unitarians and certain Buddhists. I think that there is a lot of legitimacy and beauty to be had in various religions and spiritual practices. I also think it's entirely possible to live a full life without spirituality, though I know that's not for me. The basic question I ask any adherent (or non adherent) is, how's your heart? Are you happy? Is your path based in compassion and thoughtfulness? I would rather deal, for example, with a loving and true-hearted Christian than a corrupt and advantage-taking Pagan no matter how much more I can relate to Paganism. Anyway, it's not my business how other people choose to view and talk to the Divine, you know? Freedom of religion is a beautiful thing.

24. Why are you so OK with using technology when shamanism is a nature path?
Shamanism is not just a nature path, though that is where its most powerful roots lie. The modern spirit-talker needs to be able to survive and practice in environments overrun by human cityscapes and heavily informed by technology. A significant portion of human life happens online these days. The Net is now a vital part of society, commerce and education. Technological advances are helping those of us with health issues, like myself, live longer and better lives. Like those animals and plants which have learned to thrive in the cityscape and take advantage of its artificial environments, an urban shaman can make use of technological tools in her practice without compromising herself spiritually. 

About This Blog

This blog is intended to illustrate the path I have been set on as shaman, medium and spiritual healer. My hope is that those who are called to the shamanic path find it useful.

You're going to notice a few things about this blog right off the bat. First of all, I may polish my words, but I don't varnish my opinions. I have very strong feelings on issues such as commercial neoshamanism, abusive group leaders, and practicing magic or spiritwork without any kind of ethical framework, and that is going to come out. Second, I will not be speaking to you as an academic or some "great spiritual leader". I am merely showing you what I believe and what works for me. Your mileage may vary, and frankly I wouldn't want you to simply swallow every damn thing that I write down without questioning, cross referencing and otherwise approaching it in a practical and intelligent way. Third, you will notice a distinct lack of wide-eyed idealism. I was just such an idealist a decade ago, and I got my ass kicked. I don't encourage it.

Some sections, such as the FAQ, will end up being edited for clarity and additions as people ask questions and the blog expands. Others will be standalone. Some of my posts will be transcripts of sessions with my spirit guides--or, like the section on ethics, a joint effort. I will make sure to label everything accordingly, but if you ever get confused or have questions, please drop me a comment and I'll address the issue.