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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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.

A Religious Evolution Towards Wholeness

Over the years that I have been writing Notes From a Barking Shaman, I have written about my firm opposition to the barbaric practice of genital mutilation on multiple occasions:

I also have written about my personal experiences around my milk religion (Judaism) and my departure from it:

And one post that details my feelings on the intersection of the two topics:

There were many factors that went into my departure from my milk religion, but the practice and celebration of genital mutilation within it was one of the two biggest; as big perhaps even as the whole “one god” thing (I recognize that many other pagan oriented Jews have done the mental gymnastics needed to “reconcile” those two identities, but I could not have). 

I grew up in a household that cherished the spiritual nature of Reform Judaism, and embraced the teaching that Judaism is a dynamic and “living” religion; one which must evolve with the changing nature of our world to foster and nurture the relationship between people and their god, rather than become an obstacle. Both at home and in synagog I was taught that many of the Talmudic and Biblical laws are at their core about devotion, rather than blind obedience. And that Jews must study Torah, not in the pursuit of memorization, but of understanding, and beyond that, that they must ask themselves “what does this mean to me?” not simply “what did this mean to my ancestors?”

That modern Reform Jewry continues to place the mutilation of their male children’s genitals on a pedestal, while discarding other outmoded biblical proscriptions has long puzzled me. In a tradition that believes strongly in equality saying “women may hold equal place with men in Judaism, and require no cutting of their genitals, but only surgical altered men are Jews” seems to me to be terribly hypocritical. Either genital cutting is a fundamental part of Judaism, in which case women are not truly equal to men, or it isn’t required to be a Jew, in which case men are mutilated needlessly. Mixing the two ideas seems inconsistent in the extreme. 

It should be noted of course, that in the United States the damage or alteration of a girl’s genitals, no matter how minor (perhaps extending even to bloodletting via a diabetic lancet), is legally forbidden, whether for religious purposes or not. Modern Judaism has no choice but to allow their girls to remain unaltered, so perhaps we will never know if some form of female genital cutting might not have been embraced as part of Jewish sexual equality  had the option existed. 

Now however, there is a cadre of Jewish scholars, rabbis, and parents, who are beginning to gain momentum in their quest for Jewish parents to embrace brit shalom – a covenant of peace, rather than the traditional brit milah – covenant of circumcision. There are excellent books on the topic, both scholarly and personal, including:

And their are some amazing resources on the web, including:

This is not going to be an easy road for these dedicated and outspoken activists to travel down. Judaism is an extremely tribal culture. I know many people who only allow fellow Jews into positions of importance in their lives. Their doctor, accountant, realtor, even their car salesman, all must be Jewish. And it is impossible to convey to someone who did not grow up within that tribal community how fundamental genital mutilation is to the cultural identities of many Jews. Samara Cole, in her excellent essayRefusing to Circumcise: A Mom’s Difficult Demandeloquently conveys the frustration she experiences with her husband, who cares not at all for the biblical or spiritual meaning of the practice, yet steadfastly insists that his sons have their foreskins amputated, even after he has come to believe that the procedure has no redeeming value. 

Jewish Intactivism is an exciting and challenging development in the growing and changing nature of modern Jewry. There is a part of me that is sad that this is a cultural revolution that I have to watch as a well-informed outsider. I truly believe, as someone raised steeped in Jewish thought and belief, that intactivism is incredibly consistent with Jewish values and spirituality. I believe with all my heart that in discarding the barbaric mutilation of innocent children, modern Jews can reclaim and embrace the deeper purpose of the covenant ritual. 

I pray to my gods and theirs that these dedicated activists can transform pain, blood, and terror, into peace.