Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Unhappy Medium: Why I'm Not An Initiate in Any Possessory Traditions

I just had another run in with someone who was absolutely horrified that I have an altar set up and work with spirits at all when I am not initiated into his tradition. Because I am not, he claimed, I am automatically serving the wrong spirits, am being deluded by negative spirits, cannot possibly know what I am doing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My twenty years of experience mean nothing to this guy; because I'm not doing it his way, according to his tradition's rules, I am incompetent, fooling myself and otherwise Doing It Wrong. And he topped it with another old saw: I am Endangering Myself.

I get bullshit arguments from people like this about once every few months. Smugly convinced that theirs is the One True Way, and that they have the right to judge other people's practices by their standards even if that person is from another system altogether, they universally claim to have my best interests at heart while insulting me, talking down to me and picking away at my beliefs. I need a formal teacher, they claim--and I should pack up my altar and avoid anything spiritual whatsoever until I find one. So when I engage them and ask, "OK, so, are you planning to teach me or help me find a teacher, or are you just here to try and shut me down?" they hem and haw or say it isn't their responsibility or that they don't know anyone in my area--and so on, and so forth. People like this would rather have me back at the point I was before the Umbanda house sucked me in: alone, desperately looking for a teacher and crying daily because I need spirituality in my life but couldn't find anyone reliable to teach and initiate me. The joy and satisfaction I get from working with my spirits and helping other people is nothing more than a dangerous delusion, they claim; without their in-group's stamp of approval, I actually have nothing.

That this is horseshit should be self-evident to anyone with any sense. But it always upsets me. Not because I think there's even a particle of truth to their judgment of me, but rather because it brings back some very painful memories. You see, there are reasons why I do not have a formal initiation into any traditions, and it all boils down to one painful truth: People Suck.

First off, you have a lot of mediums who will not teach white people period, and have plenty to say about why. White people are culture vultures. White people won't take it seriously enough. White people just want instant gratification and won't stay the course. White people just think ATRs are trendy. Blah blah stereotype blah. Because I'm white, people like this feel free to tell me that I'm wrong for even seeking out training, for the above "reasons". I can't even walk into a botanica to buy a freaking bottle of Florida Water without being stared at, and if I ask questions I run into a wall of Spanish and suspicious looks. I'm sorry that so many white people actually have jackassed around with other people's traditions, but I don't want to waste my time trying to convince some paranoid, bigoted person that I'm sincere and hardworking when I know it won't work. I have tried it multiple times before and they never budge a single inch. And why would I want to learn from someone like that anyway?

Then you have people who would be happy to teach me--for a great big giant pile of money. Oh, and please ignore the fraud reports and complaining former customers and initiates. Or the fact that I seem to know more about the spirits than they do. Pay no attention to the money-grubbing fake behind the curtain...

Some teachers are competent, openminded and willing...but they are invariably several states away.

And then there's the Umbanda house. The biggest reason why I'm not initiated and not part of a group has to do with the trauma I experienced at the hands of the one group that would take me without demanding piles of cash. Read carefully, because this is the only time I am going over this.

In the House there was an Elder. He was the only one who was willing to explain things to new people on a regular basis, he showed interest in us, and he was the only one who actually watched the new mediums during trance to make sure we wouldn't get into trouble. Sounds like a great guy, right? Except that the information he gave out was incomplete, skewed and riddled with lies. That and he started sexually molesting me during bembes.

You read that right. This guy would follow me around, check to see if anyone was looking, and grab my breast or my crotch or shove his cane between my legs. He spent one event literally following me around grinding against me while pretending to be possessed--and none of the others did a single thing to help me even when I walked up to the other Elders while he was doing it so that it was happening in front of them. I was too shocked and scared to speak, and that just encouraged him. Either he would pretend to be possessed and molest me that way ("oh, the spirits are just getting frisky!"), or he would wait until I was too tranced out to defend myself and start in on me. It was terrifying. But at the time I bought into the lie that I HAD to initiate, and so I tried to stay on in the hopes that he would lose interest. But it only got worse. Finally, in desperation, I demanded that something be done or I would call the police.

The Umbanda house's other elders responded, all right. They labeled me as "crazy", "oversensitive", and "prudish", and threw me out. It did not matter to them that six other women in the wider community had accused him of the same thing. It did not matter that they had witnessed him doing those things to me. I was "stirring up trouble" and so they got rid of me.

It was the last straw. Since that time I have practiced alone, and been very reluctant to try again with another group. In fact, I only started networking with members of other possessory traditions again about three months ago. VERY tentatively networking. You don't get burned this many times, and to this extreme, without a teensy little bit of reluctance.

So whenever some jackass comes along and tries to tell me that I MUST initiate, and must not practice in any form without an initiation, I feel like screaming. "Initiate with whom? How the hell do I find someone unprejudiced, reliable and local? And HOW THE HELL DO I KNOW THAT I CAN TRUST THEM?" But I doubt said jackass would care. My story, what I've suffered, what I've learned, the efforts I have made or how my life has improved since I went back to solitary shamanic practice don't matter to them. All they see is someone going it alone whom they want to shut down. And the more it happens, the more reluctant I am to associate with other mediums AT ALL.

I've shed enough tears over this. The next one of them who tries to tell me that I MUST STOP PRACTICING, THE SPIRIT WORLD IS FOR INITIATES ONLY is getting the link to this page, and a hearty GO FUCK YOURSELF. They would take from me what I cherish in the only form that I can practice it, and what the hell gives them the right?