Yesterday, one of my students asked me how to handle the spirit-work “hangover.” For those who do spirit-work, this is when you have had nothing alcoholic, but have done a ton of spirit work (especially where one’s wod is running hot and strong) and then wake up the next morning feeling like you’ve been hit by a freight train. This may include but is not limited to sore muscles, headache, dehydration, brain fog, general feeling of exhaustion even when one has slept well, inability to regulate body temperature, irritability, extreme sensitivity to taste/smell/sound/brightness, nausea and, if one has been dealing with a great deal of spiritual pollution, diarrhea (I think it’s the body’s way of getting rid of residue of spiritual pollution). They don’t all happen at once usually, though they can, and it varies by degree depending on the person, the Deities involved, and the type of work done.
To some degree, this is just a part of the Work; BUT, one can mitigate this by good self-care before and after whatever spirit-work one is doing. Experience is also a strong mitigating factor. We learn how we work best, what we need for optimal performance and care, and also, like building a muscle, our capacity to handle wod also increases as we gain more practice and experience. All of these things contribute to longevity in the Work.
One of the reasons I’ve started writing these “practicum” posts is that when I started out, there was almost nothing available. Those of my spirit-work generation had to cobble together information as we went, often by trial and error. I try to spare my students that and when I can, likewise my readers. I will also preface everything that follows by saying that I am not a doctor or a medical professional. You should always check with your doctor before adding a new vitamin or regimen to your regular self-care. What I write here is no substitute for competent medical care. I’m writing what I have learned based on my lived experience, shared exchanges with other spirit workers, and research. Your own mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.
Firstly, spirit workers are dealing with raw power – like plugging into an electrical socket. That can leave one’s psychic channels raw until one develops a bit of endurance. Half the modifications a spirit-worker receives from his or her Deities are designed to help that person better carry and use that force, what we term wod. For me, when my wod rises, I become hot, really hot to the point that I can work outside in subzero temperatures in a t-shirt. That is, unless the dead are around me and then, no matter how warm the room, I become really, really cold. Remember what I said above: it depends in part on what Gods and spirits are around or participating in the Work? This is an example of just that. Learning to carry wod is just like building a physical muscle in that the more one experiences, practices, and works, the great that person’s capacity for handling wod with few side effects becomes. Few doesn’t mean that one will be 100% fine though afterwards. There can still be discomfort the next day (though I suspect spirit workers’ general disregard for their own self-care post Work contributes greatly to this). It’s a matter of degree.
A few things to note: All the altered state work that spirit-workers do can cause neurological issues. (Again, not always, but it’s not rare either in our line of work). Journey work tends to weaken the immune system (no idea why but poll real spirit workers and you’d be surprised at how often this is an issue). Spirit work, especially when the wod is running high, can seriously screw with your serotonin levels. So, here is what I do afterwards to make sure that I can get up the next day and do it all again (or just function more prosaically for school).
Firstly, it helps to have assistants or colleagues. If someone else is warding the space with prayer and power for instance, then the spirit worker can focus fully on whatever it is that needs to be done. (Just be sure that if you have the luxury of a partner, assistant, or colleague to ward for you in this way most of the time, that you also establish strict protocols for warding and protection when you must work alone). The one warding can also keep an eye on the spirit worker to make sure he or she doesn’t get dehydrated or overheated in summer, or hypothermic or frostbitten in winter (it’s entirely possible for the wod to be so strong, or the spirit worker so focused, that he or she might not know this is happening, this is all the more so if we’re working in the spirit realms while our bodies are here. One’s assistant can also make sure one eats and drinks after the Work. Often a spirit worker won’t want to do these things, even though we all know better than to skip it. A good assistant will force the issue. Most of my winter garb is heavy wool, which is a godsend in harsher temperatures. The only thing I tend to forgo (or more likely forget) is gloves and let me tell you, carrying an iron staff in twenty degree (Farenheit) or lower temperatures over ice and snow without gloves because you’ve been stupid and forgotten them, really, really sucks.
Here’s what I do after a serious session of Work. Firstly, if I’ve been working out in the cold, I get hot tea. If I’ve been working out in the heat, I’ll drink rehydration salts (I like the brand Liquid IV and keep them in my kit). If I’ve been working inside, I go for something with caffeine. This latter is personal preference. I make sure to eat something high in protein (the night before a working I’ll have a meal slightly heavier in carbs but will also protein load the day of if I can). Often, because of the issues with serotonin, I’ll often crave chocolate after a Working, so I keep some in my kit. By the way, I will often drink rehydration salts before a particularly intense working just as a preventative.
I make sure that I’m warm (and if I have an assistant, I’ll make sure that he or she is taken care of properly in all of these ways as well. It’s a privilege to have an assistant – be it a colleague or a student that one has trained. I treat it as such, and my obligation is to make sure that this person is well taken care of after any working that we do. This is especially the case if one’s assistant is less experienced and therefore will naturally have less endurance but also less awareness of when he or she is reaching his/her limits. It’s not always apparent. If you have an assistant, you are responsible for them in all ways before, during, and after the Work). Often, I’ll put on a fleece vest to keep my core warm because when the woddissipates, I get really cold. In fact, I’ll make sure that I change out of my gear and garb immediately after the work is done and I get into comfortable, WARM, and totally mundane clothing, though I’ll tend to keep my head covered (cuts down on spirit-related stimuli). Changing out of ritual garb and gear helps with the psychological transition from work-headspace to mundane-headspace. I also take some time to center myself and make sure I’m still properly grounded.
Once I’m in comfortable clothing and have drinkage, I’ll eat. Then, both the night of the work AND the next day I take the following (again, don’t just do this. Check with your doctor if you plan on something like this. I am not a medical professional): a good multi-vitamin, magnesium, extra vitamin D, B12 (most of this I take daily anyway), Emergen-C, Airborne gummies, and an iron supplement (I like Floradix iron and herbs liquid). I also take a serotonin booster called Genius Joy and a brain enhancer (I need all the help I can get lol) called Genius Mushrooms. Before I got to bed and again, when I first get up if my head hurts at all, I’ll usually take a dose of Excedrin or Advil (depends on if my head hurts or if I feel the type of joint pain that indicates I need an anti-inflammatory – def. check with your doctor about these two OTC medications. If I am really, really headachy, I’ll take my migraine medication rather than Excedrin). I was dubious about the serotonin supplement, which I take daily, but I actually sleep well now, which is the first time in years that has been the case. I haven’t noticed any other effect except when I lay down to sleep, I actually almost immediately go to sleep, and I sleep deeply. That’s one of the supplements I tend to take daily now.
Because I have chronic pain issues, which can be exacerbated by spirit work, I also take my prescription medication, particularly muscle relaxant and pain killer. Do not skip your prescription meds when doing spirit work, people. If you think you might forget, set a reminder, or have your assistant or spouse or friend remind you.
It is important to get a good night’s sleep after doing intense spirit-work and if you have to, I suggest taking a sleep aid like melatonin (just be warned: you can get some seriously funky dreams on this supplement. I don’t take it for that reason). The reason, even when exhausted, that it may be difficult to get to sleep after a major Working is that the mind is often flying all over the place. It takes time to decompress and bring one’s mental energies down to a dull roar. That’s normal, but unless you can afford to sleep in really late the next morning, force the issue. Take warm milk with honey, take melatonin if your doctor permits, do whatever you have to do to get your butt to sleep.
I try to allow myself to sleep in the next day, though this is not always possible. Even if I don’t want to, I eat some protein. I make sure to run through all the basic centering and grounding exercises and I take it easy if I can. If I have to leave the house, I will wear protective charms and keep my head covered (very spiritually protective). Ideally though, I am able to rest most of the next day. The work really does teach one how to do it though, and the more experience one gets, the less downtime one needs. Still, there will always be those really intense workings that knock you on your butt. Getting into good self-care habits early on and never really allowing yourself to deviate from them too much, makes the whole process much easier down the line and by easier, I mean easier on you, the spirit worker and your body.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure
As a result of this conversation here, several people have made suggestions or emailed me asking what I keep for aftercare in my spiritwork “kit.” Everything, people. Everything Lol. I’m a friggin’ spiritworking boy scout. Seriously, I’m only half joking.
I keep a full first aid kit, with bandaids, bandages, antiseptic cream, etc. I keep burn cream (I do fire work so it makes sense to have prescription Silvadene cream. There’s nothing better and while I am very competent at my work, accidents can always happen).
I keep protein bars and chocolate, Excedrin, and rehydration salts. I also tend to carry a caffeine drink of some sort, and also charged water (you’ll need water of some sort for the rehydration salts). I carry bug spray because sometimes I’m working outside. Sometimes I throw in (chewable) pepto bismal, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Airborne chewables, a good multi-vitamin, and chewable Magnesium. I tend to take these as a matter of course, so I don’t always carry the vitamins with me, but rather keep them on my kitchen counter (except for the Airborne. That I carry in my kit always and take regularly). I also make sure that there is a dosage of all my prescription meds in my kit, just in case I need them. I’ve known some spirit-workers who like to carry Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic medicine, but, I myself do not use it.
Finally, I will carry a spray bottle of holy water or khernips. I buy the biggest spray bottle I can and fill it up before any job.
I carry more than this in my kit, but this is specifically what I carry for aftercare. As far as rehydration salts go, there is a very good brand called Liquid IV, that was recommended to me last year and I’ve had very good results with it.
Finally, I want to note that spirit-work and spiritual work are two different things. Spiritual work is what we do in our lives to cultivate devotion, to deal with our own BS, to heal ourselves, to make ourselves useful in our lives and to our gods. Spirit-work is what we do professionally. It’s a specialty, and it’s usually done on behalf of our Gods and spirits, our traditions, our community, and/or individual clients.
I eat the holy
spewing forth prophecy and portents
too many sadnesses
my gut clenches
they double me over
gods come out of my mouth
the diamond hard fire of numen
i devour the holy
and that fire takes me over in turn
I am never far from the Tree
the crows eat my eyes
worms of revelation turn in my brain.
Razor edged leaves flens and flex
Shearing bits and pieces of me
Until the blood brown body
The spine of the worlds
I met a wayfaring strnger once
In the tangled thorny woods
In which my heart took refuge.
He was a brutal man
He took me down
With the resonance of His voice alone.
He was not a man.
He was not a man.
I saw Him die and walk again.
I saw Him tear the words apart
Yet we live.
I saw and the crows spat gold
Where before my eyes had been.
It burns and this man not man laughs
And tells me to bend myself forward
And drink of the holy
Then my prayers will burn too
Like napalm from my tongue
And I will be the worm
Gnawing on the brain of the world
I will be the crow opening the door
Through which the dead will come.
I will bring revelation.
I met a wayfaring stranger once.
He was not a man.
He wore the skin of being.
He keened with a voice
Like a razor wrapped in velvet.
His hands were long, his nails were cold
He ate my heart
And breathed his icy fire
into the space where it had been.
I breathed his madness
He brought me to life.
(by G. Krasskova)
Hard to believe it’s been 7 years since this book first released! Who has a copy?
We are all surrounded by spirits. Many people feel called to work with them, but few know where to begin. Enjoined by the gods and spirits to fulfill this need, Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova have reconstructed the indigenous spiritual traditions of northern Europe and Scandinavia extinguished more than one thousand years ago by the spread of Christianity. Arising from basic survival needs, these practical traditions are fundamentally tied to the elements found in the harsh world of the ancient North.
Beginning with the skills tied to the Earth element, necessary for grounding prior to the more demanding aspects of the practice–working with Sun, Moon, Plants, Animals, Water, Fire, Craft, and Air–the authors explain, step by step, how to build relationships with each elemental spirit and the Ancestors. Offering 83 practical exercises, from cleansing with the Moon or borrowing the legs of Reindeer to making sacred space with Mugwort or creating an ancestor altar, they also explore building spirit relationships through altered states. Emphasizing the proper management of your spirit relationships to avoid spiritual debt or offense, the authors outline the ancient cultural rules and taboos that circumscribe these practices, essential knowledge for successful and fruitful spirit alliances.
Detailing the beginning set of skills needed to work with the spirits of this ancient world, this comprehensive workbook offers a unique ancestral spiritual outlet for those of northern European descent as well as an accessible guide for anyone trying to fulfill their shamanic callings.
A step-by-step guide to working with the spirits of ancient northern Europe
- Explains how to build relationships with Earth, Sun, Moon, Plants, Animals, Water, Fire, Craft, Air, and the Ancestors through 83 practical exercises
- Explores the role of altered states in spirit work
- Outlines the ancient cultural rules and taboos to avoid spiritual debt or offense
My friend Raven shared this piece with me over this past weekend. We were discussing many things and the subject of boundaries and traditions arose. This was, I believe, written in the wake of the Pantheacon debacle several years ago. I found it powerfully moving and asked permission to share it with you here.
The Third Voice
I lift my arms to the vaulted darkness of the Underworld, and call on my spirit-ancestors. “Kurgarra, galatur, those who walked the Third Path and rescued Goddess from Goddess, guide me on this journey.” For I will most certainly need every ounce of your aid.
I am a shaman in the Northern Tradition. Within the praxis of Northern Tradition Shamanism, I’m a particular type of shaman. There’s a word for me in Old Norse: ergi, argr. There’s some debate about exactly how that should be defined historically, but anthropologically it’s part of the same package as the male-bodied Siberian shamans a little further east who wore skirts, took husbands, and channeled female spirits as part of their spiritual path. When scholars throughout the ages have interviewed gender-crossing spirit-workers around the world, they ask them why they did it … and the answer is never “I was uncomfortable in my body.” When they actually get an answer, it tends to be “The spirits told me that I had to do it or I would die.”
I’m also a transgendered intersexual. I was born with an intersex condition – congenital adrenal hyperplasia – and raised female until the age of 30 when I chose to take testosterone and transition to a male presentation. I did it for a variety of reasons. One of them was straight-up nasty old body dysphoria. One of them was the fact that estrogen made me physically worse and testosterone made me significantly better. But the biggest reason was that the Gods and spirits told me that I had to do it.
When the many grad students who have interviewed me hear me say that, they get a funny look in their eyes. It’s the same look that they get when I talk about how Gods and spirits talk to me, work with me, help me to do the work that I do with the clients who come to me. And yet, for me, my gender situation is entirely wound up with my religious beliefs and practices. I couldn’t have one without the other. I am a Neo-Pagan, not because I once thought that it was a cool religion that wouldn’t tell me that I was sinful for being what I am, but because the Gods came for me and I had no choice … in getting sex reassignment or in becoming a shaman. The two processes are remarkably similar, although not the same.
Eighteen years ago when I was working towards transitioning from female to male, there was hardly anything about transgender in Pagan spirituality. When one transwoman wrote hesitantly into Green Egg magazine (this was before the age of the Huge Internet, and magazines were a big deal back then, children) about whether there was a spiritual place for her in Neo-Paganism, she received a raft of flak from people of both end-spectrum genders, telling her that there were men and there were women, like the God and Goddess, and she was clearly delusional. My anger at that mail exchange pushed me to write the book Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, the first book ever written on our spiritual paths, which has now gone into its second edition and is still selling steadily. The main message was simple, and is one that I still believe in: we are sacred, just as we are.
I didn’t know that this road I was traveling would lead to my becoming a third gender shaman. I didn’t know that I would face clinical near-death and meet my Goddess; that I would come back with Her orders ringing in my ears. You are the shaman for the tribe of those like yourself, those in the middle. There are enough of them now that they merit a shaman, and so I have given them … you. Whether you like them, whether you agree with them, whether they like or agree with you, they are still your people. Serve them as you can, in the way I have shown you.
I asked the Gods Of Gender Transgression to come to me and teach me their mysteries, and they did – Baphomet, Lilith, Shiva, Dionysos, Aphrodite Urania, Athena, Obatala, Ellegua, Loki, Coyote, Jormundgand, and many others. As I write this article in the wake of a controversy stemming from a ritual to Lilith, some of them stand forth and speak, and I write down their words as fast as I can.
In the northeast, Lilith comes, in her transgendered form of the hairy goddess. That’s what they called her in ancient times – the hairy goddess, covered in hair like the ass and goat and other animal forms she takes. Bringer of lust, bringer of infertility. Baby-killer. In this form, no one is quite sure what is between her legs. People try to deny this side of her, the side that so resembles the hairy, lustful, infertile intersex condition that I was born with. She whirls like a dervish, her curved sword slicing the air like the desert scirocco that is her symbol, and her owl-golden eyes meet mine. Her voice is like the lash of a sandstorm.
Woman’s power? Yes, I am woman’s power … and one of women’s powers is to step halfway away from being a woman, just as the opposite is true for men. I am also the power of truth, and of speaking that truth. There are truths here that women need to speak. The first one is this: We do not want you in our space, No-Longer-Man, not because we fear your chromosomes or your resculpted bodies. It is because we fear your upbringing, and that you will not have fully shed it … and as we do not wish to fully shed ours, why should we not assume that for you?
This is the first gate, the gate that no one speaks of, the gate that is not biology but culture. Women’s culture, the messy, slurry mix of women still only halfway out of all they have been taught that they should be, and only halfway to what they could be, and still unsure of where the lines should be drawn. You fear the woman who does not understand what it is to be raised female in this culture, who may say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, assume an entitlement that they were raised to expect, and that you have not yet convinced yourselves that you can demand. And yes, they will do this sometimes, because that is the way of things.
This is the first gate, O Women-Raised-Women, not the second one which is the mysteries of the body, of the womb that gives forth blood and babies. You point to the second gate and bar it, while pretending the first gate is not there … and then cry out when No-Longer-Man walks through the first gate unknowing. And to teach them how to pass that first gate? You would have to face how divided you are, how far each of you has left to go. You would have to go back to arguing amongst yourselves about what parts of how a woman acts should be – or can be – discarded. And this is the first mystery of Those In Between: They force Those Who Are Not to look at their own flaws, whether they will or no. Honor that Mystery, if you would have them honor yours.
And there is one more truth that must be spoken: the second gate, the gate of the womb mysteries, is not open to all who were raised women. Some have no wombs. Some have no connection to their wombs, nor is it their path to do so. To speak that this mystery is open to everyone with a vagina is to hurt those sisters of yours for whom it is not. Better, instead, to speak the truth: that no mystery is open to everyone who claims a certain word, but instead that Spirit cries out to like Spirit, and it is Spirit who should choose.
In any religious argument, there are three voices. The first two are the ones that everyone thinks when they imagine a theological argument: “But this is the way we’re used to doing it, and we believe the religious information spoken and written by others in the past which tells us this is the right way to do things!” and “But this practice upsets/disempowers/damages some people, and it would be more fair to them to change it in this way over here…” The traditionalist and the reformer are usually the two who go toe to toe with each other, and can deadlock for hours or years or centuries over their points … which may be equally valid in their own ways.
The third voice is that of the mystic, and it is universally hated by the other two. It’s the voice that says, “Well, I talked to God/the Gods/the spirits/the ghost of the dead guy last night, and I was told this…” Neither of them wants to hear the mystic’s voice, because it is elitist. It suggests that the Gods/spirits are talking to the mystic and not to them. (Which, historically and unfortunately, is sometimes true.) The mystic’s voice rarely says things that are comforting, and rarely says things that seem fair. There’s also that Neo-Pagans, in a religion largely of converts, are extremely distrustful of anyone who claims to be a mystic, or more of a mystic than every Pagan is promised that they can be if they only try. That voice is disliked equally as much as the Third Voice of Gender, the one who stands between male and female. Both force people to confront what they believe, and what possibilities the Universe may hold that they cannot yet see.
I am that Third Voice in both those contexts, no matter where I go. As the ergi shaman, it’s my job, and I do it because I cannot do otherwise … no matter how uncomfortable it makes everyone feel.
Instead of moving around the circle, I pass through the center, where Baphomet sits enthroned. There are some who say that he is the brother (or brother/sister) of Lilith. Goat-horned, goat-footed, hairy breasts and enormous erection with a toothed cunt beneath it, his yellow eyes are slitted dangerously at me. His voice is gravelly, like a she-male whore who has smoked for a thousand years, and he crooks a scarlet-nailed finger at me.
It is the same for the men’s side, you know. Those No-Longer-Women might come in with assumptions about how things are to be done. They might not understand how important the physical urges are, how much priority is laid on the cock and its desires. Having struggled so much with culture when they loved as women, they might remonstrate with men for not doing the same, at least not where they can see it. The truth that is spoken here is: You have no cock, not like ours. The truth that is unspoken is: You who say you want to be a man, how dare you come into this place and tell us that our male way of doing things is not right? How dare you tell us what our cocks should and should not want? Those are women’s words. It is not your place to say these things. But this is not spoken aloud. And how is change to be made if truth is hidden?
Sex is in it too, you see. Man or woman, it does not matter – Those In Between confuse the cock, the cunt, and because they are not fully listening with their whole bodies and their whole minds, they do not see how much of the discomfort comes from their fetish becoming confused, half-fulfilled and half-denied. Is desiring a male body, a female body, a fetish? I say it is. I say that all desire is fetish. I say also that until everyone faces the mumbling voice of the genitals, faces how much secret power it has over their response to the Third, we will never have true honesty or real change.
The story of Neo-Paganism may not start embryonically with British Traditional Wicca, exactly, but it marks its birth with that denomination. The whole theology of traditional Wicca is based on the sacredness of gender polarity, a duotheism of Lady and Lord. When it appeared, it was hailed as a huge improvement over a single male-only divine monotheism, sometimes with an ambivalent underclass-polytheism of male and female saint-figures who submitted to the male Godhead, and sometimes alone except for a son/avatar/gentler second self. The whole idea that God could be conceived of both male and female equally – and of equal importance – in a loving and erotic embrace was a stunningly heretical idea … and still is in many other subcultures.
Eventually, Neo-Paganism would fracture and spread and develop versions of Goddess-only monotheism, ungendered or multiply-gendered pantheism, and a host of vigorous polytheisms based partly on recreating ancient religions more closely and partly on a blossoming of personal contacts with the plural divine. To those who hailed a bicolor flag over a monochromatic one, the rainbow-watercolor blendings of pantheism and the vibrant many-textured patchwork of polytheism may seem like a confusing swirl, especially given what both of them say about the gender of the holy and the holiness of gender.
It’s been said that the Lord/Lady gender duality of traditional Wicca is such an overwhelming theological truth for Wiccans that it is equivalent to the resurrection of Christ for Christians. This makes it challenging for transgendered people in many Wiccan-based groups … and since Wicca is still the single largest Pagan sect (the comparison has been made of “Wicca is to Neo-Pagan as Catholic is to Christian”), it’s statistically likely that this is what the new seeker will encounter. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Wicca should ditch its Holy Grail. Instead, I’m suggesting that there should be religious materials for well-meaning but bewildered high priests and high priestesses who find someone transgendered in their circle. Perhaps they can be treated as someone who can play both sides and learn both mysteries. Perhaps they can be seen as a blending of Lord and Lady, the fifth point of the pentagram. Perhaps they are binary-identified enough to be fine with being seen as just another kind of man or woman. At worst, perhaps the clergy member in question can have the contact information for local non-Wiccan Pagan groups on hand. There’s a great deal of honor in saying, “You’re not right for us, but I’ll make it my business to help you find a place that’s right for you.”
I cross to the southwest, and I face Dionysos. Long hair tosses and girlish lips laugh at me in a boy’s face. His slender body is wrapped in a purple woman’s chiton, with a leopard-skin thrown over his shoulder. The chiton slips down, revealing one nipple on a flat, hairless chest. His feet are clad in red buskins with built-up wooden heels – the first high heels, representing the bull-footed god. Sacred drag queen, her breath is the first pressing of sweet wine in an Attic grove, or perhaps the whisky-sodden fumes of an alcoholic slumped down in the alley behind the bar. He’ll take them all, he doesn’t care. Her voice is musical, charming, like the hazel eyes that tease me.
Ah, my Third Children. What will you do when you think you have all the answers, and then all the questions change again? That is what happens when you mess with Mysteries. By their nature, Mysteries are not open to everyone. By their nature, Mysteries are not fair. By their nature, Mysteries are terrifying, frustrating, dangerous, transforming, and never what you expect them to be. When you rip off the veil and expose them to the light, they vanish, and you are left with a pile of ashes that is not worth fighting over.
Coming to a Mystery of any kind with the merest hint of the thought in your head: “This will validate some part of my identity; this will prove to myself or others that I am this or that” – it is a guaranteed way to make the Mystery refuse to show itself to you. Coming to a Mystery with the thought of “I am entitled to this; I should be allowed in on principle” will make the Mystery run from you. No one is entitled to a Mystery. Even those who are allowed in may not be shown its ways. There is no guarantee. The only attitude to have when approaching a Mystery is: I am ready to be torn apart, however You choose to do that. If you cannot come to the ritual with nothing but this in your mind, you should not be there. Go clean and stripped of desires, or the Universe will teach you something the hard way.
Remember that your own mysteries – and you do have them – can tear apart the single-gendered just as easily, if they were to come to them in other than a humble manner. Remember that there are many powers in the world, all worthy of respect, and sometimes respect means lowering the eyes and keeping a distance … and that includes the reaction of another to your own Mystery, even if you are the only one who holds that particular space. But, of course, you are never the only one.
The first time I ever ran into the issue of transfolk at a single-gender Pagan event was more than twenty years ago. I hadn’t gotten the courage to look at my gender issues yet, and I was one of the three priestesses doing a women’s ritual at a major Pagan gathering. There was a transwoman present, and during the after-ritual discussion she wept and thanked several of the nontrans women present for vouching for her, standing up for her, making sure that she got in. At the time, I didn’t know that years later, we would date and eventually marry. I didn’t know that she would show me, with her hands and body, that it was possible to be who I really was and still be loved.
I didn’t know that no one with gender dysphoria can sleep every night with a transitioned transsexual and not be forced to deal with their issues. Especially when the Gods are after them. Then I had to look at all these issues close up, and realize that I had to make choices. I would never again walk into women’s ritual space, especially after testosterone had irrevocably changed my face and voice and body. I would not walk into any men’s space where I was not known and welcomed by all. When “women and trans” spaces appeared, I realized sadly that I couldn’t go there either. A space predicated on the concept that all people raised male and choosing to remain that way are uneducable and cannot ever be trusted is not a worldview I can honestly immerse myself in. This restricts me to pansexual space and various trans-only spaces (and only if the boundaries around the trans-only spaces are self-selecting; a matter of “you are one if you say you are one and are willing to be treated that way, if only for now”). I’m not mourning this, however. After all, it does give me the whole rest of the world.
But I also have faith in myself to be able to hold the energy of any space that I create, and to keep it tolerant and open in spirit. In our Pagan church, we have a large segment of queer and trans people – and we also have folks who aren’t. We have farmers who appreciate the cycle of life and to whom “fertility” means not human procreation but plants and animals, and city people who have never experienced any of that. We’ve learned to walk the line between honoring the biological mysteries (which we all take part in, if only because we were born, and we eat food) as well as the mysteries that sidestep or override them. We’ve learned to honor both the “standard” and the “exception” when it comes to the sacredness of bodily reality. We’ve learned ways to include everyone at least some of the time, and calmly put forth that it’s impossible to include everyone all the time, and that this is fine. We’ve found that having areas of sincere and real inclusivity can go a long way toward tolerance of occasional rituals with a more limited demographic.
An example of this is our yearly Beltane ritual. We’ve been doing this for almost two decades now, and we can’t imagine doing it any other way. The men hunt for the pole, the women clear out the hole and make offerings into it, and the third gender people form a human chain to bring the two groups together. This gives the fertility rite an extra dimension: it also becomes a magical act to bring together the male and female principle all over the world, and binds that to an earthy reality. We also make it clear that the three groups are self-selecting; people can choose which energy they want to embody any given year, but they have to actually work at embodying it. (We’ve had teens in our church float from group to group over a period of years, finding themselves and their identities.) At the same time, our Green Man and May Queen are a gender-normative and anatomically-normative fertile male-female couple, because they embody the biological mystery of procreation and earthly fertility. By honoring both sides, we create a full spectrum of reality where people don’t put all their energy into resentment or personal mourning. In twenty years, all we’ve had are compliments.
I move widdershins around the circle to the southeast and face Shiva, sitting cross-legged on his mountaintop. The black hair on one side is drawn up into the neat coil of a high-born woman; the other side hangs long and tangled like a forest hermit. His eyes are closed, including the third one in the middle of his forehead, but as I approach the lower two slowly open. I am fixed, paralyzed, by the intensity of his stare. The snake wound around his shoulders lifts its head as he does, adding its gaze to his. The voice that comes from his blue-scarred throat is like the echo in a deep cave.
Illusions. These are illusions, these lines that are being drawn. They do not come from the deep truth. And the idea that there are no lines is an illusion as well. How is this so? Because in the end, it is the body of energy – not the body of flesh, not the mind, not the ideas, not the heart and its emotions – that counts.
You cannot see the body of energy? Learn. If you would learn the truth, learn how. Until then, begin to burn your illusions. Do not concern yourself with how they came to be. Just take your most cherished ideas about gender … and, one by one, see if you can live without them for a week, a month, a year. One at a time, consign them to the cremation ground. Those that survive a year of fires, they are real. All others are illusions. One at a time. It is a lifetime’s worth of honorable work.
What would it be like if our first questions in this matter were not political but religious? What would it be like if our first line of questioning was not to debate, or to research, but simply to pray? Imagine if the whole lot of us humbly knelt and asked, “Holy Powers, I cannot be objective about this matter. It burns in me too strongly; it touches too much old pain. Please, help me to get past that pain. Help me to see things as they really are, however that is. Help me to see things as You see them. Help me to see beyond myself and my limited horizons.” And then imagine us all listening, really listening, to what is said in the not-so-empty spaces between our self-involved thoughts.
What would it be like? If this last question has made you profoundly uncomfortable, that’s good. It means that you’re getting ready to look hard at what it means to have a faith, rather than a subculture or a philosophy or a political movement or a social group, or even a personal spiritual practice. Because of our unscrutinized theology, the question of gender is intimately tied up with the question of faith. Modern Neo-Paganism continually shies away from questions of theology, because people might disagree with each other, and what would we all do then? Most of our models for theological disagreement come from a history of murder and torture over the issue. We don’t have good rules for peaceful disagreement, and we are not yet ready to take on that challenge, so our solution has been to pretend that we don’t have theologies, or that we all have basically the same theology, so why bother to talk about it? Until, of course, they collide … and even then we pretend that the question is political or personal, not theological.
I cross the center again, but it is a bridge over a dark chasm. On the opposite side – the northwest – stands a figure clad in shimmering robes of blue-green, ocean shading to tree shading to starry heavens. Her face is that of a beautiful woman, but she wears a full beard like an echo of a sideshow lady. Her eyes and lips are painted, and her graceful hands are tiny and feminine, decorated with henna. Her voice is warm and sweet as honey, and she touches my arm gently. She is Aphrodite Urania, the Bearded Aphrodite of Cyprus, She Who Builds Bridges And Crosses Boundaries. She is a light in the darkness which has grown around me as I have walked the path of this problem, and I am grateful.
I beseech you, do not forget Love in all this! Do not forget that one never knows where the heart may land … or, rather, no one knows but me! Do not forget that it is always more honorable to build a bridge than to storm a gate, and that doing it with Love is the best way – Love, not pride, or determination, or anger, is the gentle water that will slowly erode the stone, almost without its notice. Be that water; be the ocean who yields unhurt when struck, but then flows again gently to fill all space. Do not let your pain overcome your ability to love, or you have already lost. Wherever there can be compassion on both sides, there the people have actually triumphed.
Also, do not forget the sacred work of those who take on loving those of your tribe. Let there be places in your rites of love not just for the couple of opposites and the two couples of sameness, but for all the beautiful combinations that mixing with your tribe creates. The sacred stories of those combinations were never written down, and so you must rewrite them. Where is the story of how the bonfire, sitting still in one place and unchanging save for its lifetime, drew to it the lightning that constantly transformed itself, and how they fell in love? Where is the story of how the moth who chrysalized loved the fly who did not? Where is the story of the two dragonflies and how they taught each other how to grow from larvae? If they are gone, reinvent them. That way you’ll know how they end, and will have something to strive for.
I am the Love that crosses all boundaries, even those which are most carefully kept. I am the most terrible of them all, for no one can resist me when I seize two who are far apart and bring them together. And yes, sometimes I do put people in a position where they must choose between their community and their heart … because the best way to change that situation is to tell that story, over and over again. Be assured, when I call you to my altar, you will choose for your heart. You will not dare to do otherwise … and all must see that Love triumphs over politics, inevitably and inexorably.
We may not always know what to do when we are faced with the great tangle that is Divinity and humanity and Nature and culture. We may hurt ourselves and each other figuring it all out. We may take many decades and many tears to work our way around it. But the Gods are watching us, make no mistake. They are watching, and this is a test … for everyone involved. This issue is more core to our future than we dare understand. Where our religion goes from here will depend on whether we pass or fail.
Raven Kaldera is a Northern-Tradition Pagan shaman, herbalist, astrologer, FTM transgendered intersexual activist, homesteader, and founding member of the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel. He is a speaker for the dead of the trans tribe, and has been presenting internationally on Paganism, transgender, and alternative lifestyles for many years. He is the author of too many books to list here, including Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, Pagan Polyamory, The Northern Shamanic Herbal, and Double Edge: The Intersections of Transgender and BDSM. His hub website is http://www.ravenkaldera.org. >Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.
(reprinted with permission of the author from the anthology “Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism” edited by Gina Pond).
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
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Someone emailed a colleague of mine out of the blue with the following question (he shared it largely out of shock at the utter obliviousness of it all):
-” What does the shaman who horses (1) deities get in return for all the sacrifice, hard work & suffering they had to endure to become a shaman in the first place?… Can the shaman expect to be a highly skilled & powerful sorcerer whose (sic) able to bring about change in his life & this world through sorcery, after horsing deities for years? Or is it dependent on the relationship that is forged with the deity?”
The question is offensive on many levels and oblivious on many others, so much so that I was left quite literally speechless when my friend emailed me. (I think I said something to the effect of ‘I don’t know quite what to say here but you do get the best questions. Damn!’).(2)
Even writing this, I’m still pretty boggled by the question. First of all, what do you get? You get a job. You get the honor and privilege of serving the Gods, a particular privilege that most people never even conceive of let alone experience.
But more to the point, it’s not about us. A shaman provides service to the Gods and to the community. It’s not self-serving. No one in their right mind would want this job and yet, it is an honor and a privilege to be taken up in this way.
I just am so boggled by the incorrect attitude displayed in the email, not just to the idea of a shaman’s work being for personal empowerment, but the idea that we can use relationships with the Gods for personal greed. It is so incredibly wrong. If you ever wanted a primer on how not to approach the Holy Powers, this is it.
There are many ways to approach the Gods but first and foremost there is a foundational commonality on those that are appropriate and that commonality is respect. These are Holy Powers. They are the Movers and Shapers of the Cosmos. We were created to exist in right relationship with Them. They do not exist to pander to the worst of our instincts and desires.
Part of regaining right relationship with the Powers involves understanding that everything is not about us. We are not the super-center of the cosmos. The universe does not exist to cater to our whims and to stroke our egos.
So to answer this fool’s question, you get to be of service. You get to go to your grave knowing you did your part to restore right relationship communally with the Gods. You get to experience specific Deities more closely than can ever be imagined. That is both a grace and a blessing. No, you cannot, as a result of horsing (or anything else we do) expect to be “a highly skilled & powerful sorcerer” capable of bending the world to his will (and if you want to study magic, that too is a lifetime’s commitment and takes sacrifice). This is not a D&D game. And everything, everything is always dependent on the relationships we forge with our Gods, and those relationships that we nurture? They’re the reward for the work.
1. To horse a Deity is to carry that Deity via possession. It’s terminology drawn from the Afro-Caribbean traditions. The Deity “rides” the devotee as one might ride a horse.
2. I asked my colleague’s permission to share the question for this post.
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.
So within NT shamanism we have a specific divination system to determine what type of purification will work best, in the event that we or our clients require purification. (Of course this isn’t the only thing we use but if all other types of div and discernment have failed, there is a specific system for this). That is more or less lineaged material but I happened to show it to my husband. His eyes gleamed and he got all excited and asked if he could use it as the basis for one of his own systems. Since while it technically is part of the lineaged material, it’s part that can be shared with non-initiates, I explained the extremely simple system to him. He nodded and disappeared into his office and emailed me the following about a half hour later.
It is an awesome system based on the Greek theory of the four humours. He gave me permission to share it here. This in turn has inspired a friend and colleague to do yet another riff on the system and I love the interconnectedness and mutually inspiring nature of this work. A Heathen makes up a system and it’s down, dirty, and simple. A Bacchic, southern Italian, Hellenic inspired Orpheotelest tries it and he gets all fancy. ^_^.
Here it is.
This is the method of prescribing cleansings.
You will need four stones, a die, and a pouch to keep them in.
The four stones represent the rizomata panton, the “roots of all things” or primordial elements which Empedokles described as follows:
Now hear the fourfold roots of everything:
shining Zeus, enlivening Hera, Aidoneus,
and Nestis, moistening mortal springs with her tears.
The stones should either have their Greek name inscribed on them or be of an appropriate color, as derived from the Galenic humours.
Fire = (πῦρ pur) = hot and dry = yellow
Air = (ἀήρ aer) = hot and wet = red
Earth = (γῆ ge) = cold and dry = black
Water = (ὕδωρ hudor) = cold and wet = white
Draw the stone out to determine where the root cause of the problem lies and then roll the die to determine the nature of the cleansing that needs to be prescribed.
1. Pass fire over the body.
2. Walk on coals.
3. Write your afflictions down on scraps of paper and then give them to the fire.
4. Burn an effigy of your enemy.
5. Keep a flame burning for a month.
6. Wear red clothing for a week and work on cultivating the fire within.
1. Fumigate with bay or other purifying herbs.
2. Cleanse using music.
3. Cleanse through prayer, singing or intoning words of power.
4. Burn incense every day for a month.
5. Devote yourself to intellectual study and practice mindfulness and meditation.
6. Cover your head, especially when you’re outside the home.
1. Apply sacred ash.
2. Cover with mud and sit upon the bare earth for three hours.
3. Make offerings to the ancestors.
4. Make offerings to the land-spirits.
5. Ground and center.
6. Thoroughly clean and put your home in order.
2. Cleanse with chernips.
3. Take a cleansing bath, with milk and appropriate herbs.
4. Bathe in a river.
5. Cleanse through tears.
6. Wear all white for a week.