I’m Still Here, But “BarkingShaman” Isn’t – Here’s Why

I wrote my first entry for this blog ten years, four months, and ten days ago. That first entry was titled “Welcome to Notes from a Barking Shaman” and touched on the odd contradictions that have, and continue, to make up my life. I was in the midst of my cycle of death and rebirth ordeals, our puppy Lilu was just ten weeks old, and earlier that day I had finalized plans to give a presentation on Tourette Syndrome for an elementary school a few hours away.

My life today looks at once radically different and remarkably similar to the one I was living when I sat down to pen that brief introduction to my new blog.

Among the differences, which you may have noticed already, is that as of last night this website and blog are no longer called “BarkingShaman.com” and “Notes From A Barking Shaman” respectively. The change has been a long time coming, and in keeping with the best traditions of this blog, I want to take some time to address why those changes have been made.

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Honoring Our Dead Means Acknowledging War’s Truths

It’s Memorial Day here in the United States.

In the resort town I live in, that means a return of the tourists (and their money), and the true beginning of summer. But of course, Memorial Day is about much more than the local supermarket going to longer hours, or a day off for school kids and bankers.

Memorial Day was created out of “Decoration Day,” during which people cleaned up and decorated military graves in a ritual that is almost pagan in nature. Unfortunately in my view, the 1968 move from observing Memorial Day on May 30th to doing so on “the last Monday in May” in order to create a three-day weekend may have done much to undermine the occasions traditional meaning.

As a shaman whose work includes the Dead, and for me specifically, the wandering Dead, I’m saddened at the diminishing of the day’s meaning. To be clear I’m not someone who would generally be considered a “patriot,” and for the most part, I don’t support our country’s wide ranging and ill-defined military activities around the world these days.

We are generally a society that seeks to sanitize death in a way that allows us to distance ourselves not only from the reality of death, but from the dead themselves. The days when loved ones would clean and dress a body, or have them in the home between death and burial, are quaint memories of a time past. For this reason, among others, I deeply wish there was a day when as a society we could stop and reflect on just what war means for all those involved.

In my view, this whole issue of understanding war and what it means, is particularly important, and at times challenging, for neo-pagans and modern polytheists. We glorify and honor warriors above others in many of our traditions, and I’m not arguing that that’s a bad thing per say. But faith and devotion should, if nothing else, be intellectually, spiritually, and historically honest. If we are going to truly honor warriors, we can’t ignore the reality of war.

In the words of WWII veteran Eugene Sledge:

As I looked at the stains on the coral, I recalled some of the eloquent phrases of politicians and newsmen about how “gallant” it is for a man to “shed his blood for his country,” and “to give his life’s blood as a sacrifice,” and so on. The words seemed so ridiculous. Only the flies benefited. – With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (Sledge, E.B.) p.144

If you think death is any gentler or prettier when it comes from a sword, arrow, mace, or pike, instead of an artillery shell or machine gun, you’re sadly mistaken.

Now more than ever it’s so important to try to understand the brutal, ugly truth of war.

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Why ‘Shaman?’ – A Joint Post With Del Tashlin

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

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On Not Keeping Up With the “Ravens”

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 differs from the common archetype of what it looks like to be a shaman, spirit worker, or magician.

Tashrisketlin’s Lady and Her greater servant Var are strikingly worldly. This is hardly unique to Them by the way, there are quite a number of spirits and deities whose connection to our modern world is deep and powerful, sometimes more powerful than Their connections to the world of our ancestors. Because above all else I am Her servant, shaman-magician and spirit worker, my own Work is influenced by Her worldliness, as are all Her servants in Tashrisketlin to one degree or another.

My typical way of addressing/interacting with my Patron would be more at home on a drilling rig than in a house of worship. Lacking the ability to create music myself, I have an intimate working relationship with my digital music player. And I get legitimate spiritual fulfillment from working on antique machinery.

Because my magic, spirit work, and shamanism doesn’t look like that of many of my friends and colleagues, it is easy for me to get a bit “lost” in terms of what I’m supposed to be doing with my Work. This was an issue I addressed just a couple of weeks ago in my post “Adrift and Looking for a Clue.”

We talk a lot in the spirit work world about getting outside confirmation of our Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG), and one way to accomplish that is to look at what other people are doing in their own practices. This is not a strategy that often brings success for me, in part because the circle of spirit workers I interact with has been a narrow one, and shrinking rather than growing.

Tashrisketlin has traditions, beliefs, and practices of our own. Unfortunately, rather than being proud of who we are as a Clan, and who I am as a magical and spiritual person, I’ve allowed myself to be, if not ashamed, certainly reticent to embrace our/my unique perspective and Work precisely because it didn’t “look” right. In this more than anything else, I feel that I’ve failed my Lady, my Clan, and myself.

It is desperately dangerous to look too deeply within oneself for direction. Down that road lies the hubris and madness that is a constant danger to people who do this kind of work. However, I’ve certainly gone too far down the opposite road, castigating myself into uselessness for not following a model that was never meant to be mine (or Tashriksetlin’s for that matter) to begin with.

Much of that desire springs from a need to be more “acceptable” in the eyes of other people, be them pagan or otherwise. As I mentioned in “Adrift…” my public spiritual and magical identity is a ceiling to how far I can take my professional work in the LGBT world, not to mention in my paying work (although in my current employment it’s actually an asset).

And I know that there are potential clients and students who are looking for a specific experience and aesthetic from a teacher, diviner, or shaman, that I can’t offer. Being someone with a tendency towards pessimism and depression, I’ve overly focused on those people, rather than the ones who’ve sought me out specifically because my perspective and skills are unlike those of anyone else I know who does this Work.

So over the next few months, I’ll be looking with new focus on just what I can and should be doing. And to start with I’ll be working hard to hear my gods without letting preconceptions clutter the signal.

Hey, if this shit was easy, anyone could do it.