Friday, February 24, 2012

All I Ever Wanted To Be

When I was a little girl, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have had a straight answer for you from the age of five on. I wanted to be a Catholic priest. Not a nun, mind you; a priest. Leaving my other issues with mainstream Catholicism aside for the moment, obviously that was never going to happen. But it did not stop me from my aspirations; I was five, very idealistic, and amidst my post Civil Rights Era upbringing, the idea that God was actually that sexist struck me as impossible. (It still does. The Church, on the other hand...but that's a whole other rant.) What drew me to priesthood?

Love of God was the big reason; a deep sense of devotion, a desire for a life of service, and a desire to help and advise people in ways that could really change their lives. I wasn't thinking about power, social position or influence. Even then, my heart at least was in the right place.

Then came the beginning of my spiritual search; leaving the church and exploring religion after philosophy after spiritual path in the search for one that rang true for me. I learned a great deal; the number one lesson was the fact that there are many paths that have value and can be very fulfilling for the right adherents. But for me, the right fit just never seemed to come. I know now that this is because I am supposed to take a primarily shamanic path. But meanwhile I spent a lot of time stumbling around, meeting people horrid and wonderful, and more wonderful spirits than horrid. My longing to act as a spiritual servant and counselor never wavered, but my faith in divinity and human organizations certainly did.

The search ended for me not that long ago, and my shamanic practice is again a significant part of my life. The difference is that now there is beginning to be a public side to my practice. I am no longer simply working to learn and advance my understanding and strengthen my ties with my spirits. Now, I have people coming to me for help and instruction. The old aspirations are stirring again. And sometimes it gives me pause. Am I really ready to act as confidant, counselor and spiritual channel for others, even on a small one-on-one basis?

The people I have helped so far seem to think so; the spirits seem to think so. And I am again facing the fact that work like that is, aside from my writing and art, really all I ever wanted to do with my life. Yes, I'll be doing it as shaman--and sometimes witch or medium--instead of as a priest or pastor to a congregation, but I'll be doing it. Am doing it. In small ways, thus far, but I have the feeling that that is going to change. And it feels good. It feels that I am finally, if in small ways thus far, doing what I am supposed to be doing with my life.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beware of Those who Brag and Shout...

One thing that I have come to realize is that the louder a person trumpets their spiritual "talents", the more likely they are to be either self-deluded or raging frauds. Sadly, I have seen far too many examples of this, especially (big surprise) on the Internet. 

There is a place for pride in one's accomplishments and spiritual connections. By no means am I advocating that we all turn into hypermodest and self-denying hermits who never advertise our services or seek to build a reputation as the real deal. Whether you are a card reader or a full fledged minister in a faith, if you have a real connection with Divinity that you are nurturing and in turn using to help others, you have a right to the self confidence and sense of accomplishment that comes from that. I'm not talking about such people. I am talking about the complete blowhards of the magickal and spiritual communities.

We've all met them, at least those of us who have been around the block a few times. People like that include the arrogant church deacon who badmouths his fellows to elevate himself; the medium who likes to put on a giant show to get attention but never actually submits to possession, and my current favorite, the racist, braggart Mambo. There are two examples of the RBM clogging up the Internet right now; one is more famous and successful than the other, but both behave in about the same way. The chest-pounding about "power", "effectiveness", "authenticity rarely found elsewhere" and so on is endless. If a competitor or questioner arises, that person must be SQUASHED through verbal attacks, harassment and character assassination. And woe betide an actual customer who dares complain....

If they weren't hurting others and doing disservice to the spirits, these people would be almost comical. Both come on very strong, offering a lot of "free information" which always leads back infomercial style to advertising their products and services. Both consistently badmouth other races in similar fashion (one RBM is white, the other black, but the behavior is near identical). Both claim to have special privilege with the spirits; there is actually a video where a smug RBM brags about her initiation, claims that a certain very popular Lwa "is hers" and that she is his voice, and compares uninitiated people who call on him (which would include the majority of Hatians) to stray dogs. Both have hair trigger tempers and jump eagerly to attack others, both drag their friends and initiatory family into their Internet fights for "backup", and both have developed a reputation for tantrum-throwing, threats, money hunger and fraud. The problem is that along the way, they have taken a lot of people for a lot of money and damaged a lot of people's faiths. And that is unforgivable.

Anyone who has been burned by a spiritual fake can describe to you the detrimental effects of trusting someone like that. But how do we avoid them? First off, one must always listen to one's instincts. Anyone, no matter how much of an ass they are at heart, is willing to ACT nice and cordial and sympathetic when they have dollar signs in their eyes. But if you find yourself with niggling doubts about a spiritual leader who wants (usually a lot) of money to do a working or divination for you, LISTEN TO THEM. Step back. Move immediately on to the second and even more important step in  avoiding a fraud: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Read up on them. See what people are saying. Take note of what other people charge for the same service, and take note as well of any fraud sites where former victims of these people might have posted warnings. Just keyword searching their names can get you a wealth of information. In my case, it is how I learned that one of the RBMs I mentioned before has a long history of her initiates leaving on bad terms and denying association, even re-kanzoing to sever all connection with her house. The other one (the "voice of the Lwa") has a serious criminal record, including for attacking her own children, and is decried on various fraud sites. After learning this information I was very relieved that I had never paid a cent to either of them.

In the matter of possessory and other spirit-connected religions, from shamanism to Vodou, another key is to KNOW YOUR SPIRITS (research and talking to multiple people will help) and to know your spiritual tradition. Once you have that information in hand, do all that you can to WATCH AND LISTEN to the suspected fake without letting yourself get into a position where you are vulnerable to them. The medium I mentioned at the beginning of this post was a subtle performer with a lot of knowledge of the possessions he was faking, but it was only a matter of time before an equally knowledgeable person could spy out that it was all an act. I watched. I listened. I waited. My suspicions were confirmed when I watched him completely botch a faked Damballah possession. Damballah, a mute snake who crawls on the ground and hisses, was suddenly walking around making solemn pronouncements to people in a clear voice. It was a truly revealing moment, stripped away any remaining illusions about the man, and also removed much of my fear of speaking up against him, because he looked so ridiculous. Fakes can't maintain their act perfectly forever; eventually they expose themselves. The key is to make sure they don't get the chance to make off with your money or your trust in the meantime.

I suppose that what it all boils down to is that you should really GET TO KNOW any spiritual leader or service provider before trusting them with your spirituality or your cash. Nobody legitimate is going to mind if you spend some time considering and asking questions, because they have nothing to hide. I know that many of us only think of paying for a service when we are desperate, but desperation makes one vulnerable. It is a million times better to work on your problems from the physical world side while you take the time to make sure that the help you seek in spirit is actually trustworthy. Better yet is to make the acquaintance of spiritual workers outside of crisis time, so that you will already know who to go to when a problem crops up that you need help with. We don't bite--at least the honest ones of us don't!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spiritual Airheads: the importance of balancing your realities

Every once in a while you'll run into someone who has immersed themselves so deeply in the spirit world that they've nearly forgotten how to manage in this one. You can tell these types by their airy disconnectedness, their inability to keep their feet on the ground, and a certain oo-a-butterfly distractableness which doesn't, in this case, require a physical butterfly. If you watch them for very long, you'll notice that the more stressful the situation, the more airheaded these types become; if forced to keep their attention on the physical world they become nervous, depressed or combative. Besides deeply frustrating those around them, these people are engaging in another problematic behavior: using the spirit world for personal escapism.

One cannot entirely blame them. The reality beyond this one is infinitely richer and deeper than the physical world alone, full of wild adventures and fascinating inhabitants. A skilled world-walker can, moreover, avoid trouble in the spirit world much more easily than in the physical; it's much easier to escape an attacker when we can fly or teleport or call powerful allies to our aid. But the spirit world's seductions do not excuse one from caring for one's body or responsibilities. Worst of all are those who neglect their loved ones because facing the physical world's trials and humiliations and bouts of grinding boredom is deemed too difficult for them to bother with.

How do I know about such people? Personal experience. I have been both the distracted spirit-head, and the person hurt and neglected by a distracted spirit-head. I understand the condition intimately. I also understand the basic reason why people become like that. Material life is hard. Rewards and victories are often hard-won and inadequate to the amount of effort put in. Justice is hard to come by. Most of all--and often the reason behind the other reasons, is the simple fact that a lot of people in the material world just suck.

Yeah, I said it. I know I'm supposed to be all about the peace, love and enlightened tolerance, but after ten years in one of the crappiest neighborhoods in the Bay Area, I don't have enough illusions left to pretend to be perfect. My basic love for humanity is intact, but that doesn't prevent me from noticing when others are being greedy, abusive, spiteful, childish, lazy, self-indulgent or otherwise assholish. Your spirituality will only do so much to help you cope when your landlord turns out to be a drug-addicted cult member and scam artist, your neighbor gets jealous that you have a real job and spreads vicious rumors about you to building management, or your neighborhood's crime rate goes through the roof. Practicality, good boundaries and a willingness to face the material-world crap will do you a lot better. Running off to dance with the spirits and ignoring the problem will not help you one damn bit.

The shaman must find balance. She or he exists with a foot in each world, and neither footing is more important than the other. Lean too far to one side and one loses contact with one's soul-half, one's allies and spiritual power; lean too far to the other and one's mundane life will collapse from neglect. To this end, it is always important to work in both worlds when you really want something to work out: ask your spirits for aid all you want, but be willing to put in at least as much physical world effort. Yes, "real" life is painful and confusing and many of the people you meet will be up to some degree of bastardry, but you disrespect both worlds by using spirit as a hiding place--and you leave yourself vulnerable to serious harm.