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.

Continue reading

Adrift And Looking For A Clue

There are days when I frankly have no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.

Maybe I simply don’t have the right kind of faith, the right kind of relationship to deity, or maybe I’ve been delinquent on my payments and my god-phone has been shut off.

In the years since the dissolution of Asrik, Fire, and my partnership, I’ve frequently felt a lack of purpose or goal in my spiritual and magical work. Some of this was clearly driven by the faith-quake brought about by the complicated end of our relationship, (fun note: just as I was typing this sentence, REM’s “Loosing My Religion” came up on shuffle. Because subtlety isn’t really how my gods roll) although there was a lot more to it than that.

I spent a decade of my life working very hard in the pursuit of the aims that They had set me. First to become a dedicated and highly proficient magic and energy worker, and then to submit to, and persevere through the traumatic death and rebirth process that made me a shaman. Just before Asrik left, Fireheart and I both passed the final test to be consider Masters in our magical tradition (which is not the highest level of proficiency, but was a huge achievement). I came out the other side of my shamanic rebirth changed in ways that I’m still discovering, but confident that I had the tools and talents to begin working in earnest at the tasks the role entailed.

But then… nothing. Or so it seems at first blush.

 Just over two years ago we were given a clear directive from the Lady and Var: keep our heads down

That’s it. All She had to say on the subject, just keep our heads down.

There has been little of the familiar Work that shaped the preceding decade in the long intervening months. The vrescht that Tashrisketin claims here in Gorham has little need of our attentions, and while it doesn’t offer us much in the way of power, it meets our basic needs. There was some excitement for a couple of months when we were given a challenging magical task, one suitable for two Vreschtik masters, but once it was completed to the best of our abilities with the resources available to us, silence reigned again.

I journeyed to the Underworld a month ago, to the boarders of Helheim (I am forbidden from entering any boarded land of the Dead without escort) to carry a message. It felt good and right, but then the job was done and again I had no Work to do. Moreover, I know that I was rusty. No journey to the Underworld is safe, but this one was more dangerous for than it should have been for someone who always has one foot (or hand) in Death.

For his part, Fire’s task at the moment is personal, and deeply bound up in his own journey of destructive rebirth, as the hormones he takes weekly remake his body, and in many ways his mind as well, in to new patterns of being.

Into this silence, elements of the mundane world have flowed in. I have a paying (part-time) job that I love, and which puts me in a position to help shape and provide for spiritual/magical opportunities for a couple of thousand people a year (not that all of them avail themselves of said opportunities, but they are there). I’ve also slowly established a strong voice and position for myself as a blogger in the queer/LGBT community, something that feels incredibly important to me on a personal and spiritual level, but again doesn’t look anything like the “real” work my spirit-worker colleagues do.

Our relationship with our gods doesn’t look like a lot of people’s. In the absence of Work to do, keeping our heads down, we’ve often felt abandoned by Them. It doesn’t help that in many ways the community of spirit-work colleagues we once looked to for reciprocal support has largely shattered into jagged splinters that will cut you if you get to close. Aside from that loss of camaraderie, a lot of the Work we’ve done over the years has come out our interactions with other people and their gods. 

I had a meltdown this morning on the phone with my lover, fellow Clan member, and spirit-work colleague Del Tashlin. Fire lost his job yesterday, less than a week after he and I had gotten legally married, in part to provide for my health insurance needs. We’re facing more severe financial hardship than normal, and the physical, mundane things that make our lives feasible, like my glasses and his car are desperately in need of costly repairs. Some level of poverty has been our companion since our divorce from Asrik and the implosion of our failed design firm.

 And the truth is that I fucking hate it.

The overwhelming majority of my fellow-spirit workers I’ve talked to feel that poverty and deprivation are essential elements of being servants of the divine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a Porsche in the driveway, although I doubt I’d say “no,” but I would love to not have to worry about our card being declined at the supermarket check-out line. Or lie awake at night wondering what the hell we’ll do if Fire’s right front wheel bearing catastrophically fails at 65mph.

Yet, for all that these things feel counter-productive to my spiritual health, the argument I’ve been hearing is that those very stressors are what makes one a spiritual being. The idea is that if our lives lacked these sorts of trials, we’d be distant from deity. Without the need to pray to the gods every time we get into Fire’s battered Toyota, the gods would not feel like imminent presences in our lives.

Which brings us back to having no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.

I don’t know if what I’m doing with my life is in anyway right or not. If the Lady told me tomorrow to give up blogging for the LGBT community I’d be crushed, and something blossoming in me that I didn’t know existed before would die. But of course I’d do it, that’s the nature of being a godslave. Likewise, I’ve devoted a large amount of time and energy over the last several months to relearning my craft as a photographer, one of my first deep passions. I believe that I can serve Them through my art, although I’m not sure how, and photography just isn’t a medium we think of when the topic of sacred art comes up. If we have to sell off my camera gear to keep the lights on we will. But I find it hard to believe that doing so will make me a more spiritual person.

It’s very tempting to say:

My/our Work has never been conventional. Our relationship to our gods doesn’t look like other people’s. How we serve, and what They value in us has always been a bit different. Which isn’t to say that we’ve haven’t drifted a bit, but in general we’re where we’re on the path we’re supposed to be.

But because that is so tempting, it also is hard to accept. For all that we’re in a really rough spot at the moment, and I’m personally having some additional issues that I’m struggling with, there are a lot of ways in which we’re in a really good place in our lives. The idea that we’re clearly screwing up because our lives aren’t total shit is very hard for me to wrestle with. Which, it has been pointed out, may be the whole damn point of our current situation.

I’ll own up to this: there are clear ways in which I’ve let some of my Work slide. I know that there are some hard and scary things that I’ve not done in my Work because they are hard and scary. Baphomet has asked some things of me that I don’t know if it’s within me to do, and there is a final physical mark of my shamanic transformation that I’ve not gotten because it is so terrifying to me. Which is no excuse, particularly for an Ordeal Path shaman. But pushing through those deeply human places is one place where the power in Ordeal comes from.

There’s no way to talk about my failings without acknowledging that I’ve not had the level of public presence in my magical and spiritual capacities that They require of me. This is in part because of the potential damage it could do to other parts of my career (BAD WINTY – this is a great way to loose those parts of my life for good), but also in part because what I see in the broader pagan and polytheistic communities saddens and sickens me. The Lady hasn’t quite given us leave yet to stop keeping our heads down (though we have a timeline), and I don’t know that one can be involved in modern pagan discourse without stepping right into the line of fire. 

It’s funny, in the thirty five minutes it’s taken me to write this post, a lot of my perspective on what I had to say has changed.

I opened this document in part to write about the fact that I/we weren’t doing any Work and felt completely adrift. But as I typed, it became more and more evident to me that at least some of what we’ve been doing could be construed as Work of a sort, even if it looks different from what we might typically picture a shaman or magician doing.

As to the poverty question though, I just don’t know. I have deep respect for the value of asceticism, and believe it or not, there are ways that I work to incorporate those values in my own life and practices. However, the idea that one can best achieve a state of union with the divine through constant fear that the precarious infrastructure of daily life could come crashing down at the slightest nudge doesn’t ring true for my own spiritual self. Of course, that could just be my privileged upbringing speaking.

Likewise, while it’s possible that I could make a case to the government for getting on permanent disability, that has never felt like what I was supposed to do. Continued engagement of some (certainly unconventional) form of interaction with the working world and currents of monetary exchange feel like how I’m supposed to be living and practicing my faith and power. Again though, I perhaps lack the distance to see if that’s the ghosts of my upbringing or the tides of Wyrd speaking to my heart.

See early comment about my god-phone not getting such great reception I guess.