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Category Archives: Land Spirits and Urban Spirit Work

Side Effects of Astral Bleed-Through

I don’t know if my experiences are considered “normal”, but I’ve found over the years that it’s really only a matter of time before your astral life starts to bleed over into your day-to-day life. In many ways, I expected it, as you’re essentially immersing yourself into a separate culture, and creating something of a second life that you live. Though I suppose how much this second life effects you will largely depend upon how much time you spend traveling, and how different the world that you fall into Over There is from over here.

For me, the process of bleed-through hasn’t been exactly linear, but it’s definitely occurred. At first it was relatively small things, and they were things that I either expected (such as problems coping with traumatic experiences, or the inevitable learning curve that comes with astral work) or purposefully worked to pull into my life (such as changing my clothing or buying new items that remind me of my family, etc.)

But then it started to get worse, this bleed-through. I started having issues with not saying “oh where I come from, we do this” because I knew that if I did, someone would want to know where exactly it was that I came from, and I wouldn’t have an answer for them. And then I found that my accent from Over There started to show up more and more over here, which I constantly have to battle now. And then it became things like saying words that belong to a language that I don’t even have a name for. As I caught the words in my throat, I anticipated having others ask me “oh what language is that”, and the resulting embarrassment of going “I have no clue :)”. The more bleed-through I began to experience, the less control I had over it.

And then I noticed a lot of my fundamentals began to change.

The more work I did in the astral, the more people I met, the more my ingrained views were challenged and scrutinized. The more experiences I had, the more I was forced to question how things are done here, and whether those methods are truly for the best. I found that we readily accept a lot of things as truths, as being “the only way” of doing something, but when you get far far away from home, you find that there are actually many ways to do things. And sometimes the way you know best isn’t necessarily the best way.

I found that my ideas about ethics for things began to shift and morph as I learned about other places. I found that my distaste for certain things went down in some ways, but went up in others. I found that I became more and more frustrated about the limitations of this planet that we live on. I found that my new methods of approaching things might not make other humans thrilled or happy.

I found that through the act of traveling, parts of myself had begun to change. The me from Over There was really beginning to bleed into the me that is over here, and I was left figuring out how to reconcile the two. Or more accurately, I was left figuring out how to reconcile living in this world with the new knowledge I had gained from traveling.

This opened up an interesting dichotomy for me. On one hand, it’s readily accepted and acknowledged that entities that live Over There might operate differently than humans. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people mention that gods might behave differently than us because their ethical structures are different than ours. I’ve seen the same said about fae as well. It’s more or less accepted knowledge that entities that don’t live here don’t always behave in ways that we expect or would prefer. And the sentiments that usually accompany this thinking is that we shouldn’t try and change their methodologies just because they’re foreign to us.

But on the other hand, what about the people who consistently work with these beings? How long can we expect practitioners to rub elbows with entities who aren’t from here before they start to act more like the beings that they’re rubbing elbows with? What of the bleed-through that spirit workers will (likely) inevitably experience? How should spirit workers and/or astral travelers be expected to handle such bleed-through? What about situations where a spirit worker’s actions grate against their own morals and ethics (because sometimes you are not in control of yourself when you are traveling), how do they cope with the gap between the two? What are our collective expectations for such situations?

This is especially important because there is a lot of double-bind logic going on within the pagan community. Based off of what I’ve read, a lot of people would tell you that you shouldn’t go into someone else’s culture and try to change it. In that respect, we should respect that the gods do things differently than we do and that we shouldn’t push our human methods onto non-humans. Makes sense and seems respectful, right?

But then on the other hand, if a spirit worker has picked up traits from Over There that belong to that culture, but clash with our more human mentalities–what then? If you’re not supposed to change the astral culture you live in, you’ll be forced to more or less assimilate into the culture in order to get along, fit in, and get work done. But you’re also not allowed to bring it over here because it’s foreign or weird or is considered immoral by humans–what do you do? Currently, the answer seems to be that you shift your mindset from here to There and back again as you travel, but is that causing harm to the spirit worker’s health? Are there better methods to doing this? We won’t ever know unless we can openly discuss such things.

Speaking purely for myself, I have kept most of my bleed-through entirely to myself. I don’t talk about it publicly very much, and I’ve found that I’m able to keep a lot of the shifts and changes I’ve experienced to myself. I’ve learned to split my brain apart even more, to remind myself that “when you’re here, you do X, and when you’re there, you do Y” so as to not make anyone uncomfortable or weirded out. But just like with anything that lives in a closet or compartment, there are always days when it’s harder to keep such things hidden. There are days when I’d like to openly discuss some of the weirdness I’ve picked up along the way, with the hope that maybe I can network with others and learn from them about how they cope with maintaining separate mentalities for here vs. There.

Bleed-through was completely expected, but the way in which it’s manifested has taken me by surprise (at least a little bit). I’d certainly love to hear if other spirit workers have experienced bleed-through or shifts in their life because of what they’ve picked up while traveling or working with spirits. And if you do experience such things, how you cope with them or handle them.

 

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Worshiping the Unknown

Figuring out how to worship, venerate or work with a deity can be challenging. You’ve got to read up on their mythology, their history, and the culture and religion that surrounded them back in the day. And once you get through the mountain of reading material, you have to sit down and figure out how to work everything that you’ve read into something practical and useful that will look remotely like a religious practice. But as challenging as figuring out what to do with known gods can be, there is something that can be even more difficult — trying to figure out how you’re supposed to venerate unknown entities. Whether unknown gods or entities that aren’t gods at all, it can be nerve wracking to figure out how create a practice or routine when there is virtually no reading material at all. And if your unknown entity isn’t from earth or doesn’t have a known religion or culture that you can read up on, the challenges can become even more daunting as you try and figure out what to do.

I’ve had the pleasure of finding a whole host of entities whose names will never be known on earth. Their names will never grace a text book. Their cultures and places of origin will never cross a human’s lips. For all intents and purposes, they are unknown to humanity. Getting to know each of these entities and their back-histories has taken quite a long time and a heap of effort on all of our parts. My experience has been that getting to know non-physical entities takes time and energy, regardless of how well known they are or aren’t. However, there are definitely some unique challenges to each side of the spectrum (known vs. unknown).

Stepping into the Unknown: Creating Stability

I think the biggest challenge for working with unknown entities (as opposed to known entities) is that there is no history or stories you can glean from in order to get a sense of who they are or how they act. With a bigger name god, you can read up on them, learn what they like or don’t like, or get a feel for how they handle situations or problems. You can read their mythos and learn if they’re a hot head or if they stay cool under stress. You can learn about that one time they overdosed on that concoction that they like and work that into your relationship with them. With unknown entities, you are starting from ground zero and have to rely solely on your own intuition and discernment based off of what the entity may or may not tell you. It’s very daunting to know that there is no one you can cross reference your information with. There is no text book or historical record that can confirm what this entity told you. Working with unknown entities can definitely put your discernment to the test in the way that known entities might not.

I’ve found that one of the most important things for success when starting from ground zero is to create some level of stability for both you and the entity you’re communicating with. Interacting across planes of existence uses up a fair amount of energy, and entities that don’t have hundreds or thousands of devotees aren’t going to have a lot of excess energy to interface with this realm. Working to create a place of stability for interaction can help to make your interactions easier and hopefully will require less energy from both parties. This can manifest in a number of ways. You could work to meet up at the same time every day or week, so that the entity can create a sort of schedule to work around. You could always meet up in the same location, to make it easier for them to manifest in whatever space you’re in. You could keep a certain deck or space in your house for them, so that it’s easier for them to alight from said space or utilize and “own” whatever items you might be using for communication (this is particularly useful if you use decks of cards for communicating). Or you could start each communication “session” with the same sound, song, scent, actions, etc. to create something very stable for the entity to latch on to.

I truly can’t overemphasize how stability and repetition can help an entity gain an easier entrance/access to this plane. If you can find a way to create a stable place for you and the entity to interact, it’ll make your interactions much more frequent and more productive.

But how can I create a stable space or practice if I know nothing about them?

This of course is the crux of so many things. It’s the ever present paradox of how can you create a space if you don’t know what they like? How can you communicate with them if you can barely communicate at all? How do I know what to offer if I don’t know what they like? How can I do anything without ensuring that I don’t upset them or make a social faux pas? There are multiple ways to tackle these problems, and there is no single right or wrong method to overcoming these challenges, but here are some recommendations that I can give.

Take Copious Notes

Even if you aren’t very good at communicating with your unknown entity, there has to be at least some level of communication in order for you to know that they exist. Take a close look at what you recall from the communications you’ve had with the entity. What did you notice about your interaction? What can you remember from it? Some things to take note of:

  • Clothing, hair style, form, manner of dress. Were they humanoid? Something else?
  • Location cues: where were you when interacting? what can you glean from the background/surroundings?
  • Were there any scents? How about sounds? Utilize all 5 senses when recalling an interaction
  • Did they have any mannerisms of note? Are they uptight? relaxed? Are they immaculately dressed or were they in the equivalent of “street clothes”?
  • What formats do they use to communicate with you most often? What can you glean from these methods?

Look at every angle of any interaction you’ve had with them, and write down as much as you can. I would recommend doing this for every interaction you have with them until you feel more comfortable with things. This will form the basis for everything that follows.

Apply Your Notes

The next step is to look at what you’ve written down and use them to create your stability. There will likely be no ready-made icons or statues that you could use for your unknown entity on a shrine, but you may be able to use something that already exists instead. If the person looked humanoid, you may be able to find a picture of a human that looks like them, print that image off, and use it as a sort of icon on your shrine space. If you’ve got art skills or know someone who can draw, you may be able to create an art piece depicting them, or commission a piece from someone else.

Alternatively, you may be able to look at what they’re wearing and include other things that are part of their ensemble. For example, I have a menz who loves high-end suits. So I might be able to use various fancier suit-bits in a shrine setup (think cuff links, tie bars, etc). I’ve got another entity that wears nothing but black and silver, and so his shrine space is quite literally nothing but black, silver, and white. I’ve got another menz who loves coffee and leather, and so I use those items to lure him into talking to me.

Use all of those notes that you took to find different things that you think might be helpful in creating a shrine/stable place that they might like. Keep in mind that this could change as you get to know the entity better. It’s entirely common to pick slightly off-base things when you first start out. That’s fine. The most important here is to find a place to start. Things tend to fall into place as you progress and get better at communicating.

Bridging the Gap

Speaking of communication, it’s worth noting that it may be very rough at first. When I first really started to try and work with my menz, communication was really really patchy. I couldn’t see worth a damn and I could barely hear on top of that. I’ve mentioned in the past that this sort of work has a learning curve, and so it’s important to remember to be consistent and persistent. It takes time and consistent effort (on both ends) for this sort of thing to work out and get easier.

When it comes to communicating with unknown entities, I’ve found that there are a few things that helped me bridge the gap. First is that I always brought some kind of energy or sustenance for the entity. Sometimes that involves raising energy using my body. Other times I would use music or sound as a form of energy. Other times it would be offerings or food. And sometimes a mixture of all of these. The reasons for this are two-fold. First is that the entity will possibly be inclined to work up the effort to come meet me because I’m giving them sustenance for their effort. I’m essentially paying them for their time, so they will be more inclined to prioritize seeing me. The second reason is that I’ve found that it often helps me to communicate better. This is less the case with food, but music, dancing or words of power will often help put my mind into a specific space that is ideal for working with the Unseen. And if both I and the entity are listening to the same thing, it helps to sync us up for better communication.

As mentioned above, I also found that consistency of timing helped, too. All of my menz know that I am available to talk during my lunch break, my walk home (which used to be my drive home), and after I have taken my nightly medication (all of which happen at about the same time every day). Back when I had more time to dedicate to the Unseen, I also had meditation/dance sessions regularly during the week during which we’d be able to talk or communicate with one another. Consistency helped all of us, because they could plan their day and include me in their planning/schedule. The consistency meant that we could sometimes dedicate one day to menz A, and another day to menz B, and everyone would get relatively equal attention and time. It also created something predictable, and if something came up on either side in terms of a conflict of schedule, we’d be able to notify the other that we wouldn’t be able to make it. That way, no one was left waiting around wondering why the other wasn’t showing up.

In many ways, it’s the same as having a relationship with a human. You usually make plans and plan for a certain time to meet up. I have found that using this system works for the Unseen, too.

But what if I get it wrong?

I think the biggest fear and hurdle so many people who worship unknown entities have is that they’ll screw up royally and ruin everything. Speaking as someone who has gotten it wrong several time over, both with known and unknown entities, I’d definitely say that getting things wrong is not the worst thing in the world. It’s normal to mess up. It’s normal to possibly not get things exactly right the first time you do stuff. Most entities that aren’t well known on earth come into relationships with an understanding that humans are limited in what they can glean from brief interactions with the Unseen. And if the entity you’re working to get to know gets cranky that you’re not up to speed fast enough, remind them that you’re doing the best, and possibly ask them if they have suggestions to make things easier for the both of you.

Sometimes entities will be able to give you better ideas than what I’ve given here. Each relationship is different, and entities from other parts of the Unseen may benefit from other methods than what I’ve listed above. These are simply guidelines to help get you started. If your entity has other suggestions, I recommend looking into them, because they certainly know their specific situation better than I would.

Have you ever worked with a relatively unknown entity? How did you build your relationship with them? What challenges have you faced that are different from working with known entities?

Related posts:

A note: A lot of these posts do focus on known gods, but the concepts are applicable to non-gods and unknown entities as well.

 

 

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Spirit Work & Mental Illness

Alternate title: Quit romanticizing my illness.
Alternate title #2: Quit demonizing my treatment.

Every so often I will see little flare-ups in the pagan community that center on two fairly unrelated topics: spirit work and mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, these topics can be related, but they aren’t necessarily related, though many people try to make them out to be. I’m sure many of you have seen articles like this and this that go on and on about how we’re killing our spirit workers because they have mental illness and are not handling it “properly”. And if we’d only just learn how to “properly” handle these “gifts” that we’ve been bestowed, we’d suddenly find that our problems would poof out of existence.

Being a spirit worker myself, I read these posts and feel my jaw clench shut as I find rage welling up in my stomach. These posts are so damaging on so many levels, to both spirit workers and the mentally ill (as well as mentally ill spirit workers), and it really bugs me that so many people don’t see what is wrong withposts like this. There are so many flaws with these kinds of posts that it’s almost impossible to know where to start when critiquing them. But here are a few of the main problems that come to mind whenever this sort of stuff shows up on my FB wall or dash:

Your illness is really a gift from the divine!

One of the first issues that I see popping up with these kinds of articles is the idea that  your mental illness is not actually an illness or a problem, but is really a gift from the gods. And if you’d just learn to accept that, you’d feel all sorts of better! This is also sometimes presented as “if only our society would see the inherent worth and value of your mental illness, you would feel all sorts of better”.

The truth of the matter is, most of the spirit workers I’ve met who are also mentally ill don’t feel like their mental illness is “divine”. I’m here to tell you that I don’t perform as well as a spirit worker when my mental illnesses are flaring up and ruining my life, and it seems like many people feel the same way. Even if society were to somehow make it a-okay to be depressed and anxious all of the time, I would still feel pretty miserable regularly, and wouldn’t be able to operate at maximum capacity.

Mental illness is an energy suck. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you feeling drained, tired, and miserable (most of the time). I can’t imagine how anyone would find this to be divine in nature. Quite honestly, I would expect being tired, drained and miserable would be the opposite of being divine. And no amount of outside support is going to change that my illnesses leave me feeling like crap on the regular. You can’t sunshine and rainbows away mental illness. You simply can’t. And implying that this is a gift is like spitting in the face of every person who has to work really hard to function despite their mental illness/es. Implying that someone with mental health issues doesn’t really know what their illness “actually” is is also ableist. Of course, if you are mentally ill and wish to make it a part of your spirituality, or find that it is a source of power for your spirit work, that’s fine. But it’s one thing to believe that your particular mental illness is a strength for you, and quite another to imply that everyone else who is mentally ill should operate the same way.

I’ve also never understood why so many people believe that mental illness always makes you a spirit worker. I have been depressed and anxious for as long as I can remember, but spirit work wasn’t really a part of my life until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. And truth be told, my mental illness didn’t really play a role in my becoming a spirit worker (and based off of what I’ve read, mental illness was not a common indicator of spirit work in some cultures in the past- physical health was another story, though). If anything, my mental illness often gets in the way of doing what I need to do Over There, and there are many times when I get really frustrated with the constant interruptions that crop up from my brain deciding that it needs to tank my mood right when important work needs to get done.

There are many mentally ill people who are not spirit workers, and who don’t want to be spirit workers. Conversely, I’ve met plenty of non-mentally ill spirit workers. I’m not sure where this idea originally came from, but it’s an idea that needs to stop propagating. You can be mentally ill and a spirit worker, you can be a spirit worker who isn’t mentally ill, and you can be mentally ill and not a spirit worker. None of these things is necessarily related.

Medication is bad, m’kay?

The other factor that I see constantly brought up in these articles is the idea that if you’re using western medicine in any capacity, you’re drugging your abilities away, or ruining the gift that you’ve supposedly been given.

For anyone that has been following me for any amount of time, you know that I have worked on finding ways to medicate myself, and that I’ve had a fair amount of success with it so far. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to go back to pre-medication me. Medication can take all sorts of forms, and since mental illness can’t really be cured, we really have no place to judge what works or doesn’t work for another. So long as you’re being responsible and healthy about your medication choices, that’s really all that matters. The idea that medication is somehow going to ruin you is so damaging, and prevents people from seeking out treatment. It causes people to be miserable because they fear seeking treatment, or they feel like treatment makes them weak as a person.

Everyone really needs to stop implying that medication is inherently bad (you are treating an illness, after all. And if you’d take medicine for a physical illness, you shouldn’t be chastising someone for taking medication for a mental illness). There are so many people I have met (spirit workers and non-spirit workers alike) who have become better and more stable because of their treatments. I have met spirit workers who feel like their medication makes them better spirit workers. Because, wow, you can actually get more work done when your brain isn’t working against you.

Discernment? What discernment?!

Something else I’ve noticed when these kinds of posts are trawled out is that discernment seems to go down the tubes. In many ways, people seem to believe that if you happen to “see” something that “isn’t there”, then it must be a spiritual experience, and can never be a symptom mental illness.

The truth is that many spirit workers who have mental illness will tell you that there is a definite difference between the symptoms of their illness, and what they experience as a spirit worker. I have met people who have told me that their hallucinations have a very different look and feel in comparison to their astral visions and travels. I’ve met others who tell me that the non-existent things that they hear sound different than when a spirit is talking to them. I’ve met others who tell me that their medication has shifted their experiences (sometimes good, sometimes bad) and that once they took a closer look at their experiences, they could tell what was more induced via medication, and what was genuine.

However, when these posts start throwing the baby out with the bath water, and assume that all visions are the same- regardless of your “gift” of a mental illness, then we stop focusing on discernment and learning how mental illness and spirit work actually play together. Because they can play together, and there are distinct differences between the two for most of us who live with both. When discernment goes out the window, you’re creating a recipe for disaster, because discernment is key to staying safe while working with not only the Unseen, but within our community itself.

Why I consider this to be dangerous.

I personally believe that these sorts of ideas are not only incorrect and damaging, but I personally believe them to be entirely dangerous. They are dangerous because they don’t create an atmosphere where people who are mentally ill can actually seek out treatment that works well for them. The notion that all Western medicine is inherently bad and will completely screw you up often demotivates people to consider all possible treatment methods, and may cause people to skip over a particular treatment type that works for them. It may also be a strong enough argument to convince someone to stop treatment, even if it is working for them. And when people who are mentally ill don’t receive proper treatment, we often run into other problems that causes a decline in our quality of life. Buying into narratives that perpetuate this will cause people to get hurt in very real ways. I have met people who believed that they could spirit work their mental illness away, and let me tell you that the results were often not pretty, and in many ways, produced the exact opposite effect of what they desired.

This is also damaging to the spirit worker community and the wider pagan community as a whole. It causes people to feel inadequate in some ways, and gives people power that they wield poorly in others. The idea that all mentally ill people must be spirit workers creates a rift within the community, as those who are mentally ill, but not spirit workers may feel like they’re doing something wrong. “If all mentally ill people are supposed to be special, but I’m not getting anywhere, then I must be a screw-up, right?”  And if you happen to be a mentally ill spirit worker who is undergoing therapy or treatment, you may suddenly question if you’re also doing it wrong, because apparently these things will prohibit you from being as “good” of a spirit worker as you could be. Not to mention that it makes the spirit workers who are not mentally ill feel ostracized in a community that is already pretty small, niche, and hard to get into.

It sets up this expectation that most people will not meet, and that people shouldn’t have to meet, and yet people continue to push this narrative as if it’s 110% absolute truth. These ideas hurt those who are already vulnerable (mentally ill people) and inadvertently sets them up for a very likely failure. It takes the conversation off of important topics that could actually benefit mentally ill spirit workers (topics such as: how do I tell the difference between a spiritual experience and my mental illness, how do I tell the difference between the astral and a hallucination, how do I work around these crippling symptoms I am experiencing from my illness, how do you manage spirit work and mental illness, etc.) and puts the conversation onto a useless topic of “your medication is bad and everything would get better if you’d just become a spirit worker”.

Yes, it is true that our society doesn’t handle mental illness well. Yes, it is true that we would all benefit from having a society that accepts mental illness and treats it like the illness that it is. But I still don’t believe that spirit work is the cure for all mental illness (quite the opposite, really). I don’t believe that spirit work will make every single mentally ill person feel better (I’m still mentally ill), in the same way that I don’t believe that every mentally ill person is meant to be a spirit worker, or is even necessarily having a spiritual/Unseen experience (many of my symptoms have been exactly that- symptoms, not genuine spiritual experiences). In many ways, mental illness and spiritual experiences can have some overlap, but they aren’t inherently the same thing and it’s better for everyone that this becomes a more recognized and understood thing. I would love to see more discussion on their differences and similarities than the constant “they are all the same” that you seem to get in the posts linked above as it would actually help the mentally ill people that everyone is so intent on discussing.

 

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The Good Earth

Astral bodies are incredibly vast. They can contain worlds and universes within them. You could spend an entire lifetime inside of some bodies and never see everything within. Get lost within a body, and you may never get out again.

Astral bodies can also contain relics of previous existences within them, the same way that we sometimes stumble across old ruins in the dirt.

I’ve seen it said that human bodies are like a sort of repository or record of everything you experience. And that the records may not contain only information about yourself, but of your predecessors and ancestors, too. I find this interesting, because astral bodies can be like that as well. But instead of keeping the information for only one lifetime, the body is storing away information from multiple lifetimes that exist along a single soul line within. So the same way that my human body stores information about my own existence here on earth, as well as genetic information from my parents and their parents, etc., my astral body contains information about earth bound me, and all of the other versions of myself running around on the astral as well as predecessors and previous incarnations of myself. Because astral bodies are vast.

Stumbling across one of these relics, one of these recordings of the past is incredibly interesting. I just so happened across one in the form of dirt one evening. But this wasn’t just any dirt. This was like dirt and glitter went out for a night on the town and had a baby. It was unlike any dirt I’d ever seen here on earth.

When I asked about this dirt, I was told that I was standing on a corpse. Beneath my feet lay the remains of a previous existence, a previous life form. I’m not entirely sure what this previous life form was or what it looked like, or even how it met its end. All I know is that the corpse that this dirt represented laid the foundations for new life to grow. Like plants springing out of the ground, or crops sprouting out of Osiris’ back, this dirt has given the nutrients needed to create new life.

As it turns out, the man I was walking with was one of the many end products of this fertile soil. And as it also turns out, this man was not very fond of his soul line’s predecessor, the entity that was now embodied by this soil. He and I had been working for months now to try and figure out how to fix some of the problems he was experiencing, and the origins for most of them lie in the soil we were walking upon.

It is very difficult to heal when you carry wounds and scars from your predecessors. I have a hard time healing because I still carry scars and wounds from my parents- my mortal predecessors. And my parents carry scars that were given to them from their parents, their mortal predecessors. Based off of the many discussions I’ve had about Akhu with fellow Kemetics, it is very apparent to me that having less than ideal family lineage is par for the course anymore. So many of us don’t feel secure in giving our ancestors the time of day because they were not very good people. It is challenging to build up any sort of solace or acceptance if it hinges upon people that have hurt you- blood related or not.

This is also true, I think, if the horrible predecessor is yourself.

Ever look back at things you said or did in the past and thought “Wow I was an asshole”? Ever learn that you’ve got really bad habits that need to go away, and that those habits have hurt people really badly? Maybe you’re one of those parents in the paragraph above, and you wake up one morning and realize you wrecked your kids for life. What do you do then?

That is the situation me and my companion found ourselves in. For this dirt that he walked upon was nothing more than remnants of himself. The predecessor that he hated so much was a previous incarnation of himself. And many of the reasons the work we had been doing was not sticking was because he couldn’t get over his own past, his own previous failings.

It sucks to wake up one day and realize you’ve been a horrible person. It sucks to wake up one day and realize that you’ve hurt or possibly ruined people. It sucks to know that you’ve fed into oppressive systems or perpetuated someone else’s pain and suffering.

It sucks to wake up one day and realize you’ve been a big bag of floppy dicks. That you’ve broken the main rule of Kemeticism.

I have struggled with this over the years in many formats. There have been times when I realize that I have been horrible to other people and have hurt them and I had to figure out what to do about it. There have also been times when I have been asked to help heal someone in the Unseen who has caused me pain in the past as well. It’s hard to help someone heal when you can’t overcome the pain that they caused you. It’s hard to help someone accept their own past mistakes if you yourself can’t even accept what they have done.

Life is messy like that, and in my short time both here in the physical as well as the Unseen, I can tell you that there are more people who have screwed up and hurt others than not. If you have been a bag of dicks, I can assure you you’re not alone in it.

Something else I’ve learned during my stint here is that just because you were a bag of dicks before doesn’t mean you have to be a bag of dicks now. Just because you screwed up in the past doesn’t mean that you are condemned to be horrible forever. Sometimes your old horrible self can become useful, fertile soil to create a new you, if you know what you’re doing. I say this because who better to teach others the pitfalls of falling into certain habits than someone who has had those habits themselves?

If you look back over your past and can see how you fell into the habits, situations, and destructive patterns that you did- it’s much easier to show other people what to look out for, what things to avoid, what things to do better. Because you’ve been there and you know the ins and outs of the behaviour, it’s easier for you to draw a sort of “map” to help others get out, too.

I try to tell the man that I am walking with this. I try to reassure him that just because he was prone to bad behaviour in the past doesn’t mean that he is always doomed to repeat that behaviour. I try to tell him that he can learn from his past and better himself, that he needn’t be chained to who he was. Every moment is Zep Tepi. Every moment is a time to start over and recommit yourself anew to whatever path you choose. This fertile soil that we walk upon could very well serve as the foundations for him to become someone better than he once was.

And the truth is, we are all this way. We are all our own cache of fertile soil that we can grow from. We are all able to become more than what we were, whenever we so choose to plant the seeds of change within ourselves. Even if you’ve screwed up or done things you regret, you can always choose to do better. Never give up on yourself. Investing in yourself is the best investment that you can ever make, and it is an investment that we should all be making regularly.

Do not deny yourself your new beginning.

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Devotees are Kinda Like Trees

I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in Arizona trees require a lot of pruning. Our trees are not known for growing very tall, but instead seem to prefer to grow out very wide and relatively low to the ground. This method of growth seems to cause our trees to be somewhat unstable as certain branches continue to sprawl out instead of us, causing issues with balance and weight. When one of these branches becomes too heavy, or when a good monsoon storm comes through, it’s pretty common for branches to fall down, or for branches to require cutting for the tree’s overall health.

Whenever I’ve seen a tree gets its branches cut, I often wonder to myself “does the tree feel that? does it feel any pain from the branch being cut? are we cruel for removing this tree’s branch?” And often these musings wander further into “well even if the tree does feel pain, the branch will grow back in time, and isn’t removing one branch worthwhile to make the tree stronger- even if removal is a bit painful?”

The more I thought about removing tree branches, the more I was reminded of painful shadow work that deities make devotees go through. And ultimately, I came to the conclusion that we are all like trees.

Think about it. A lot of pagans that I’ve talked to tell me that the gods often have ‘homework’ for them to do that involves self-improvement. Or you may start to participate in a religion, and a deity shows up and says “you need to fix this and this and this”. Often times, these changes and fixes are painful or difficult to achieve, and we get upset, angry or hurt when we have to go through the process, even if it’s ultimately in our best interest. I’m also sure that there are times when we go through these changes and think that we can’t handle the pain or strife of our current situation. We look at the gods and believe that they are asking too much of us, or perhaps wonder why they think we’re even capable of handling this amount of pressure or stress.

What if the gods look at us and see a tree? And they see some aspect of our lives that are not good for us. That perhaps we put too much energy into a particular branch, and it’s getting heavy and should be pruned before it damages the trunk of the tree. Perhaps when they are asking us to make these large or difficult changes in our lives, they are looking at it the same way that a gardener might- as though they are pruning us, and helping us to grow into more stable beings that will grow better with certain branches removed. While cutting the branch may hurt us, they know that we’ll survive the experience, and that we’ll develop more branches in other places- even if we don’t necessarily see it or believe them.

Now I think I should add the mandatory disclaimer that not all gods are the best gardeners, and it is possible to cut branches in ways that can actually stunt the tree’s growth. So it is important to keep some level of discernment when a deity asks you to make large or uncomfortable changes in your life (if they ask at all, because some won’t). However, viewing shadow work through the lens of trees, nature and growth has allowed me to be more tolerant and patient with difficult shadow work and changes that gods might ask of me. And the more that I watch the trees that got destroyed during this year’s storms, the more I realize that trees are resilient. There are trees around my location that fell over and were cut down to their base- and yet they are starting to grow back. Even in apparent death, there can be life.

Many of us probably don’t feel strong enough. During difficult times and changes, we might feel as thought we are going to collapse under the pressure. That it’s too much and we simply can’t deal. And in more extreme situations, we might even feel as though we will snap as a tree might. However, remember that we reflect the natural world that we live in, and that you are like a tree, too. You are resilient. You are able to grow back, even when cut down to the very base.

One of the most powerful phrases I have ever used in my life is “I am capable.” And if a tree can come back from near death, so can I.

Have the gods ever asked you do to things that you don’t feel you can handle? How have you handled those situations? Does the idea of being pruned help you feel better about such situations?

 

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“Strange” Devotion

I have found that when it comes to my relationships with Unseen entities, devotion is a strange two-way street where Unseen entities devote a large portion of their time to harassing requesting me to do something, and only after they have spent enough time bugging me about it asking for the thing to be done will I actually do it. They devote enough time to showing me it’s important to them, and then I will devote my time to performing their request as an act of devotion to them. And it seems that the stranger the request is, the more time that must be devoted to the cause before it gets done. Or something.

A perfect example of this occurred a few weeks ago.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was sitting on the ground surrounded by nearly every pair of shoes that I own. I hadn’t formed some type of shoe-cult at this point in time, though it might have been more entertaining if that was the reason for being surrounded by several pair of shoes when I’d rather be resting or working on something I deem “more important”. No, the reason in this case was rather mundane in that one of my menz had spent enough time devoted to nagging me that I finally agreed to polish all of my shoes. And it only took three weeks of consistent bothering to “convince” me to cave.

boot polish supplies

As normal as strange requests have become, this one was particularly absurd to me. As I wrapped the cotton cloth around my fingers and dipped it into the boot polish, I couldn’t help but think to myself “I wonder if anyone else has to put up with this sort of crap? I mean honestly, who dictates that you need to polish your shoes?” I slowly worked the polish into the leather and mused on the strangeness of it all. While I mused on it, I heard some type of guttural remark from somewhere else in the room. I looked up at what appeared to be an empty corner where one of my menz was sitting and watching me work. “Overseeing”, he’d say. His noises indicate that I’m not polishing shoes to his standards.

This is also normal. Once I have decided to devote my time to performing this request, many entities will often watch me complete their request and comment on my performance while I do so, because an audience makes everything better. In this instance, I stare back at my menz blankly before going back to the polishing. “He may not like my methods, but I am trying, and he will have to deal with that,” I tell myself before I go back to wondering how I ended up here, and whether anyone else has to deal with this sort of thing.

And when I say “this sort of thing” I mean the weird stuff that Unseen entities make you do in the name of “devotion” or “dedication”. I mean, I’ve heard lots of stories from many different people of some of the weird stuff they’ve been requested to do, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being harassed to shine their shoes or iron their shirts by their astral partner or deity.

But isn’t that how it goes with the Unseen? You start off simple enough. You talk for a while, you leave out offerings, you say the prayers and hymns and it’s this nice little package that you can pick up and put down and it’s got its place and everything is fine. But then one day you wake up and find the Unseen leaking into your living room, into your weekend, into your sleep and before you know it you’re being asked, if not forced, to do some strange things in the name of devotion.

There have been many discussions over the years about what some people deem as acceptable in terms of offerings, devotional acts and things of that nature. And the longer I work at this, the more I really do believe that weird devotional acts that are off the map are par for the course, if not to be entirely expected. I really have no clue where these entities come up with some of the strange requests that I’ve gotten over the years, and I honestly want to know why they ask for such stuff. Is it seriously something that they want? Or are they simply trying to see how much weird stuff they can ask for before their devotee throws their hands up in the air and says “no more”?

Over the years I’ve been asked to do things that I might deem to be weird. I’ve been told to do more mundane things like go to movies, have a nice dinner, pick out a very particular baked good from the bakery rack or things of that nature. And while I sometimes have no clue what any of this has to do with showing a deity I care, or why a deity cares about what movie I watch or what I eat for dinner, I do it all the same because I don’t want to listen to the complaining if I don’t.

It may seem harsh to say that, but I would be lying if I said that I did everything purely out of love and some altruistic bent that I have. I only have 24 hours in the day like everyone else, and there are many times when I honestly don’t care about whatever some Unseen entity is trying to convince me to do. Much like an RPG, there are days when I don’t want to go hunt down every farmer’s lost goat, even if the XP is not bad. There are days when I don’t want to iron my shirts. When I don’t want to go stand outside and leave offerings. When I don’t want to make a circle of rocks next to a busy street just because some spirit told me to.

The entities that have been around the longest have learned that the secret to getting me to do bizarre or cumbersome stuff is all in the presentation (“it’ll be fun and amazing!” *jazz hands*) – and failing that – it’s about nagging me and bugging me until I do it for the silence that should follow. It may not sound very rosy and spiritual, but it is the truth. If one half of the spirit worker equation is that all spirits are like kids that scream mine, then the other half of the spirit worker equation must be that spirit workers don’t value altruism, they value silence. And it wouldn’t surprise me if most of the Unseen knows it. I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve met that put off doing obscure, weird, or “strange” acts of devotion or offerings because, well, it’s weird and not a priority to us. If I stopped and instantly fulfilled every request a deity or spirit put in for me, I’d be broke and have no free time.

So in a way, the “two-way-street of strangeness” is a sort of filtering tool for determining what I spend my time on, particularly if the request is inane or down right bizarre.

How do you determine which offering requests to listen to or ignore? Do you have any sort of filtering criteria? Have you ever been asked to do some weird or strange things in the name of devotion? Did you end up doing them?

 

 

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We Reflect Nature, Nature Reflects Us

One of the main parts of practicing Shinto is to revere, honor and pay attention to the natural world around us. Many Japanese have received inspiration from observing the natural world around them, while also drawing strength and renewed vigor by taking a cue from nature.

Arizona isn’t noted for it’s seasonal changes. We really only have three seasons: room temperature, pits of hell and humid pits of hell, but there are still small changes in the natural world that I try and pay attention to and draw from. As I get older and pay more attention to my own rhythms and changes, the more I see similarities in the natural world in comparison to myself and other people I know. I don’t know if it matters to other people, but I honestly find that seeing that nature is a lot like us, and that we’re a lot like nature is kind of reassuring.

treeAn example of this can be seen with some recent weather in Arizona. We had a pretty heavy rainfall last week that brought down almost an entire year’s worth of rain (7 inches is standard for us) in a single night. The result was pretty intense. There was a fair amount of flooding and a lot of property damage. The water caused so many problems that most people couldn’t get to work the following day. Needless to say, we were pretty smashed up around here.

And yet, despite the strife caused by the storm, there is new growth everywhere you look. Trees are showing new growth. Seeds that got scattered on the wind have produced baby trees. The water soaked ground provided our birds with a bunch of yummy worms to eat.

Despite the destruction, growth is everywhere. And life can be that way, too. We talk about that with Set- who razes your building down to it’s foundations in order to make a bigger, better building. And that happens with nature, too. Humans and nature mirror one another with growth after destruction. It’s just that nature is less grumpy about it.

Another similarity I’ve noticed is cycles. We all have cycles- cycles of growth and cycles where we get nothing done. Periods of time where we flourish followed by periods of fallow. For those who live in more places where seasons follow the European “standard”, you’ll see that your period of decay and stagnation largely happens in winter. Everything freezes over and nothing grows- only to be hit by a new phase of growth and rebound come spring. For those of us in the desert, our seasons mirror that of Egypt where the stagnation and decay often happens in late spring when the sun burns everything to a crisp, which then shifts into new growth come fall.

I often see this occur in many places and many ways in my life. My ability to create art comes and goes. My desire to sew comes and goes. My spoon count comes and goes. Everything ebbs and flows (just like the moon and the tides, for another nature reference). This also shows up for many of us in our religious practice. I personally see this manifest as I try to balance myself between two deities. Set is known for being the predominant deity during the decay of summer, where as Osiris oversees the planting and growing periods of winter. And my religious practice mirrors this in a lot of ways, where I tend to be more Set oriented in the summer, and more Osiris focused in the winter.

And while sometimes when I’m in the thick of being more focused on one over the other (or finding myself unable to create anything worth a damn), I will fret about whether I’m doing a good enough job. But then I remind myself that everything has a cycle, everything has a season, and everything that slips away from me will likely come back to me in its own good time. I look out my window and remember that the hot hot summer will eventually give way to the cooler winter (and that the cooler winter will eventually end and bring back the hot hot summer). So too with life.

But not everything is all sunshine and daisies when I look outside at nature. I mentioned above that there is a lot of new growth from the seeds that were scattered in the storm. And while its true that there are lots of seeds taking off and growing, there are a number of seeds that are not, and will not ever form a tree. There is a lesson in this too, however. If you are the tree, and the seeds are endeavors to better yourself or the world around you- you’re going to not only have success, but also failure. However, despite some of these seeds not ever sprouting, that doesn’t stop the tree from producing them all the same. We have to remember that even when are we beset by failure, we must keep trying to move forward.

And I think that is one of the largest lessons I pull from nature. Despite how harsh the weather is down here in Arizona, nature keeps persisting to the best of it’s ability. Despite how much humans may try to control nature- where it can exist, how it looks and appears – nature continues to persist, despite our efforts. While this doesn’t give humanity a free pass to dick nature over, we all have to admit that nature is a persistent bugger that isn’t easily bested. And I take that lesson very close to heart. I remind myself that even when things are not looking up, or when life is rubbing me raw, I must do what I can to try and persist. We can see this mirrored in Egyptian mythology  by the company of gods and their persistent efforts to keep a/pep at bay. The balance between Order and isfet is very fragile and ongoing with no real end in sight. Life here is the same way – the sun cooks the ground into dust, and yet the plants still try to thrive. Nature tries to remind humans that we are tiny things that can’t control nature, and yet we try to anyways. Both sides continue to try and fight to live to see another day.

On days when I am not doing so well, I remind myself to look to nature, for I am a part of nature and a part of this planet. Despite the differences in appearance, humans and nature (or plants) are not all that different. Between our cycles of growth and decay and our ongoing struggle to survive, I am reminded that I am not the only one fighting to keep going. I draw some strength from the plants and animals working to survive in my own front yard and I remind myself that I am capable and will get through whatever I’m facing.

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