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.
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So I was contacted by a colleague today and asked my opinion on the term ‘spirit-worker.’ Apparently it’s become a fad to use this term when one is not, in fact a professional. I thought it might perhaps be wise to clarify for those who are confused.
This term came into being in 2004 at a gathering of shamans and spirit-workers hosted by Raven Kaldera. We were looking for a term that legitimized the work of those bound to the Gods and spirits, people who were doing the work of a shaman–engaging with Gods and spirits in a larger, more meta way than a devotee is called to do and doing so specifically for clients and communities– but who had not undergone the death-rebirth trauma of a traditional shaman. After much discussion, someone suggested ‘spirit-worker.’ It’s an apt term, one that refers to a person who works for the Gods and spirits (regardless of tradition).
It is a specialist term.
It is not a term for laity no matter how sensitive or skilled that lay person might be. I may know how to pop an abscess or suture a wound (i do in fact know these things) but i’m not a surgeon.
There’s apparently a great deal of confusion, or so i’m told (I myself haven’t seen it) surrounding this term, particularly with the G&R crowd currently trying to purge the devotion and piety out of polytheism reducing it to mere transactional relationships with random spirits. One might in fact be high psi, one might be very sensitive to the Gods and spirits of one’s devotion but unless you are snapped up into active service (which presupposes not just a binding agreement but training and binding obligations), you’re not a spirit-worker. The only workable difference between being a spirit-worker and a shaman is that psychic shattering of the death/rebirth (or with some shamans madness/restoration) experience.
The last thing we need is to see “spirit-worker’ get parsed out into ever smaller and more specific categories — you know, how some people at both patheos and G&R are trying to do with ‘polytheist.’ Such linguistic splitting is a matter of rendering the whole irrelevant and it should be resisted, at least in these cases. It does not help or bring clarity. This is not a difficult thing. If you’re not a specialist, not a professional, you’re not a spirit worker. Embrace what you ARE. Do that which is given to you to cultivate be it tending your shrine, engaging in prayer, maintaining ongoing devotion. that’s important, in fact that’s crucially important. It may not be shiny and sexy but it’s fundamental and our traditions could not exist without the laity doing that work.
I’m cranky today. It’s in the high nineties and i’m working in a studio that has almost no air conditioning. If my tone here is brusque, I apologize but I will also say that I’m getting massively sick of problems being created where there aren’t any. maybe this all goes back to the ‘words mean things’ debacle of the last year and you all know where I stand on that.
This July I will be attending an international artists’ residency in Poland. This is all paid for by the folks organizing the residency (yay!) and I”ll be working with some amazing artists. I decided while I was there, to take advantage of proximity and, after the residency is over, to spend one week, visiting ossuaries in the Czech Republic and Germany. I believe very strongly that these are sacred places, and that reverence for bones pointed to a devotional understanding that our ancestors lost with the so-called “Age of Reason.” There is a very keen wisdom there for those that would seek it out. Moreover, contact with such places, places built for devotion, given over to devotion for centuries, filled with bones that enjoyed their share of reverence has the potential to teach much about honoring the dead. I think this will powerfully further my work, and more importantly, the intensity of these places will prepare me for a trip I intend to take in a couple of years to Somme and Verdun. When doing this type of work, it’s necessary (or at least helpful and eminently less painful) to have an assistant. It helps to have someone to help navigate Midgard (and words, the whole wording thing doesn’t work so well after extensive contact with the dead, yeah..helping with words lol), and make sure the shaman doesn’t walk into traffic. (Sorry, Heathens, not going anywhere anytime soon). My friend MAG is going to be coming with me. She’s a photographer so the trip will be a good one for her art, but she’s also agreed to serve as my assistant when dealing with the dead, something she has done in the past when I’ve made pilgrimages for the military dead. She’s got good instincts and does this extremely well.
Over the next few months, I am going to be fundraising to cover her airfare and expenses. I am asking for community support. I believe that what I will learn from this pilgrimage (because that’s very much what it is for me) will open up a deeper level of understanding with ancestor work and that is something that I will share with all of you. It was not uncommon in times past for a community to pitch in to help one of its members go on a pilgrimages. I”m asking for that help now, not for me, but for my friend. To that end, I”m offering the following (or will be, within the month):
* for $15 I will write a prayer to the Deity of your choice.
* for $30 I will do a setting of lights for you.
* for $45 I will make a set of ancestor prayer beads for you (limit 5)
* for $50, you will receive a divination session (limit 3 questions).
* for $60 you will receive a signed copy of “On Divination” and six prayer cards of your choice. (Limit 5)
I will also shortly be offering a series of “baskets” on ebay. They’re not literal baskets lol, but small devotional collections. For instance, the first one going up (if all goes well, i’ll have it up by Monday), is a “ Freya Basket.” it contains the Paul Borda statue of Freya (brown finish), a devotional to Freya, a prayer card, a love and beauty magical bath, a small vial of blessing oil, and a Sigdrifa’s Prayer bookmark. bidding will start at $125.
I’ll be doing three, perhaps four of these “baskets” in May.
I’ll also be donating 75% of all my art sales from my studio and also online (krasskovacreations.wordpress.com — if you see anything you like email me at krasskova at gmail.com).
Should anyone wish to donate, rather than purchase one of these things, I am open to that as well. Again, contact me at krasskova at gmail.com. One of the things that I am seriously considering doing, is taking prayers of anyone in the community who wishes it with me, and making offerings and offering prayers to the spirits of the land, the dead whom I’m visiting, and those of our Gods once reverenced on that land. I will happily do this for anyone. I’ve already had several people ask me to pay respects to their ancestors when I set foot upon their ancestral soil and I’m happy to do so for anyone.
My goal is to raise enough to cover MAG’s airfare and hotel.
Taking a page from my partner Sannion’s book, when I return, I will offer a free class to all those who contributed in some way. I’m going to decide on some topics over the next week or so, and y’all can vote on what you’d like to see offered.
That is all for now. I’ll post here when the first ebay auction goes up.
I recently ordered some incense from Dver — you can check it out here. I’m particular about my incense, but i’d used hers before and it didn’t set off headaches or make me otherwise miserable so I decided to order some of her new blend
Oh. My. Gods. I used it this past week in ritual and it was lush and magical and just marvelous to use. I used it in offering to my dead, but it would make a lovely ritual incense as well. Anyway, I’m picky and I like it, so I’m recommending it here. ^_^.
So I do pastoral counseling and spirit work troubleshooting and I got called out tonight to make a housecall. Because it was a potentially volatile situation, my partner came with me.
I don’t have good night vision and we live in a fairly rural area. There are a lot of stray cats in that area so when I saw furry beasts on the porch I didn’t think anything of it. I assumed they were cats, stepped over the largest one and knocked at the door. I *may* have scooted it out of the way with my foot.
Well, it wasn’t a cat, it was a skunk and it left me alone but turned around and spritzed Sannion. I had no idea how bad skunk spray could smell. *NO idea*. Even with the car windows all the way open on the ride home, the interior of my car still smells more than a little of eau de skunk. Poor Sannion. Thanks to the Thracian we learned that dishsoap, baking soda, and peroxide will remove skunk odor. Sannion rushed inside and fled to the shower with those items in hand.
I prepare for a lot of things when I go to do this type of work but never, ever did I think i’d have to prepare for skunks. Somewhere I think the Gods are laughing.
(the best part was when we went to leave. The skunk was still eating the cat food on the porch and looked up at us with a very pugnacious expression. We are brave but….we went out through the back door!).