Practice and method of Shamanism

Practice and method of Shamanism

The shaman plays the role of healer in shamanic societies; shamans gain knowledge and power by traversing the axis mundi and bringing back knowledge from  the heavens. Even in western society, this ancient practice of healing is referenced by the use of the caduceus as the symbol of medicine.

Oftentimes the shaman has, or acquires, one or more familiar helping entities in the spirit world; these are often spirits in animal form, spirits of  healing plants, or (sometimes) those of departed shamans. In many shamanic societies, magic, magical force, and knowledge are all denoted by one word, such  as the Quechua term yachay.

While the causes of disease are considered to lie in the realm of the spiritual, being effected by malicious spirits or Witchcraft, spiritual methods as  well as what we would consider physical methods are used to heal. The shaman often will enter the body of their patient to find the spirit making the patient  sick, and heal by removing the infectious spirit by the patient.

However, many shamans have expert knowledge of the plant life in their area, and an herbal regimine is often perscribed as treatment. In many places, the  shamans claim to learn from the plants directly, only being able to determine the effects of a plant and use it to heal after meeting the spirit of the plant  and getting permission.

In South America, individual spirits are called through singing icaros; to call the spirit, the spirit must teach you their song.

The use of totem items such as rocks is common; these items are believed to have special powers and an animating spirit.

Such practices are presumably very ancient; in circa 368 bc, Plato wrote in the Phaedrus that the “first prophecies were the words of an oak”,  and that everyone who lived at that time found it rewarding enough to “listen to an oak or a stone, so long as it was telling the truth”.

The belief in witchcraft and sorcery, known as brujeria in South America, is prevalent in many shamanic societies.

Some societies distinguish shamans who cure from sorcerers who harm; others believe that all shamans have the power to both cure and kill; that is,  shamans are in some societies also thought of as being capable of harm. The shaman usually enjoys great power and prestige in the community, renowned for  their powers and knowledge; but they may also be suspected of harming others and thus feared.

In engaging in this work the shaman exposes himself to significant personal risk, from the spirit world, from any enemy shamans, as well as from the means  employed to alter his state of consciousness. Certain of the plant materials used can kill, and the out-of-body journey itself can lead to non-returning and  physical death; spells of protection are common, and the use of more dangerous plants is usually very highly ritualized.

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Finding Your Soulmate: A Highly Overrated Concept

Finding Your Soulmate: A Highly Overrated Concept

Author: Bronwen Forbes

I don’t talk about it much in Pagan or non-Pagan public, but I do have a soulmate. We know we’ve shared several lifetimes in which we were, respectively, husband and wife, brother and sister, and governess and charge, just to name a few. My soulmate has been part of my life (this life) for nearly three decades, is always there when I need him, and I cannot imagine my life without him.

My husband is a good man; I love him dearly. He is more than I could ask for in his roles as supportive husband, great father to our daughter, and my ritual working partner. Without getting nearly as mushy and over-the-top as I could when describing my relationship with him, suffice to say that I am genuinely and truly blessed to have him in my life.

Would it surprise you to know that my husband and my soulmate are not the same person? And that my soulmate is, in fact, also married? And that I’m perfectly okay with that?

We’re taught – and not just in the Pagan community – that finding and settling down happily ever after with our soulmate is the only way we can truly be happy. For those of you who are making yourselves utterly miserable because you can’t find your soulmate, let me be the one to reassure you that not only does this almost never happen, but that you can be perfectly happy in a lifelong relationship with someone who isn’t your soulmate. Even Richard Bach, author of the ultimate soulmate quest tome The Bridge Across Forever, eventually divorced the woman he swore in the book was the other half of his soul.

Clearly, this soulmate thingy is completely overrated.

Where did this whole idea of a soulmate come from, anyway? Ancient Greece by way of Plato, actually, when Plato wrote down some things the playwright Aristophanes allegedly said one night at a dinner party. According to Aristophanes, humans at one time had two heads, four legs and four arms – each. In other words, humans were two people joined together in one perfect (if slightly impractical) whole. However, being human (i.e. not always bright about what the best course of action is when dealing with Deity) , we became proud and comfortable in our wholeness and decided the Gods did not need us to worship them any more. Zeus, true to his nature, was not happy with this state of affairs and as punishment divided all of us happy and complete two-headed, four-armed and four-legged humans in two. We’ve all been looking for our missing halves ever since.

So what happens when you do find your missing half? Well, if you’re lucky, you are compatible in all ways and can, metaphorically speaking, reforge yourselves into a whole person for the rest of your lives. If you’re not so lucky –or if you’re mature enough to be realistic about your and your soulmate’s incompatibility – you find a way to function with your other half in your life somewhere and enter a bonded relationship with someone else.

My soulmate is a gay man; I am a bisexual woman. Therefore there are some obvious basic incompatibilities should we ever have even discussed marriage – we didn’t, although at one point before my own marriage I did offer to marry his Canadian citizen husband of thirteen years (as of this writing) if needed to keep the husband in the States (he got a green card instead, but the offer was seriously considered.) . I did share a house with my soulmate and his husband for about three and a half years, during which we found even more incompatibilities for a long-term relationship besides sexual mismatch-ness.

I am an animal lover to the point that I *must* have at least one pet to be happy – to be *me*; he has asthma on top of pet fur allergies. I am monogamous; I’m not sure my soulmate knows exactly what that word means. We’re both housekeeping-challenged, which means the house (before his husband moved in and wisely hired a cleaning service) was always a royal mess. I am very obviously and actively Pagan; my soulmate is sort of Pagan but not very active or devout in any way I know of. He loves living and working in the big East Coast city he was born near; I’m a small-town Midwesterner by birth and have happily chosen to live my adult life – you guessed it – in a small town in the Midwest.

With my spouse, I can have the monogamous, pet-filled, child-enhanced, mostly tidy, Pagan-active Midwestern life I need in order to be myself. I love it, and I love him for making it possible for me to have it. If my soulmate is akin to a fine steak dinner, life with my husband could be compared to an old-fashioned barbecue: Different, yes, but equally satisfying and in no way “less than” the steak.

And yet, we continue to waste time, energy, ritual space, spell ingredients and pleas to the Gods all in an attempt to find that elusive soulmate. I know; I did it for far too long, all the while not noticing what a great match my husband (then just a really good friend) and I could be, and not realizing that I also had a soulmate who was not in any way good husband material for me.

If you’ve done everything, magickally speaking, to find your soulmate and you haven’t, maybe there’s a message there for you: either you don’t have one, the Gods have decided you’re not compatible (maybe he’s a convicted bank robber) , or you’re just not ready for your soulmate to come into your life.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit, even in Pagan company, that I have a soulmate. It just sounds too fluffy and/or too ‘New Agey’ for me. I tend to refer to him as my brother (which really confuses the heck out of people when they later find out that I am, biologically-speaking, an only child) , and his husbands (they added a third to their relationship not too long ago) as my brothers-in-law. My husband considers them his brothers-in-law as well.

My daughter knows about her uncles. There is a picture of the three of them together in our family portrait collection that hangs on the dining room wall, which we call our Hall of the Ancestors. They are, after all, family.

You don’t need a soulmate. There. I said it. You don’t *need* one in order to be in a fulfilling long-term relationship. I’m glad I have mine – he is an invaluable source of support and we share a history that even my husband wasn’t there for (because I hadn’t met him yet) . So put down the steak knife. Sometimes down-home barbecue is what you need to be happy, if you just give it a chance.

Deities Of The Day for Jan. 28th – The Nine Greek Muses

The 9 Greek Muses

By N.S. Gill

At one time, the Muses were anthropomorphic goddesses, possibly of prophetic springs, who became the representatives of poetry, the arts and science, and sources of inspiration. They sang, like the bird-bodied Sirens with whom they are sometimes contrasted. Homer refers to them as one Muse and as many Muses, living on Olympus. Plato lists eight muses connected with eight mythical spheres. Hesiod refers to them as 9 daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who were born in Pieria, which is described as “watered by the springs flowing from Olympus,” according to “Muses and Sirens,” by J. R. T. Pollard; The Classical ReviewNew Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Jun., 1952), pp. 60-63.

(ll. 53-74) Them in Pieria did Mnemosyne (Memory), who reigns over the hills of Eleuther, bear of union with the father, the son of Cronos, a forgetting of ills and a rest from sorrow. For nine nights did wise Zeus lie with her, entering her holy bed remote from the immortals. And when a year was passed and the seasons came round as the months waned, and many days were accomplished, she bare nine daughters, all of one mind, whose hearts are set upon song and their spirit free from care, a little way from the topmost peak of snowy Olympus.
Hesiod Theogony

1. Calliope

Province: Muse of Epic Song

Attribute: Wax Tablet

2. Clio

Province: Muse of history

Attribute: Scroll

3. Euterpe

Province: Muse of lyric song

Attribute: Double flute

4. Melpomene

Province: Muse of tragedy

Attribute: Tragic mask, ivy wreath

5. Terpsichore

Province: Muse of dance

Attribute: Lyre

6. Erato

Province: Muse of erotic poetry

Attribute: Smaller lyre

7. Polyhymnia

Province: Muse of sacred song

Attribute: Depicted veiled and pensive

8. Urania

Province: Muse of astronomy

Attribute: Celestial globe

9. Thalia

Province: Muse of comedy and bucolic poetry

Attribute: Comic mask, ivy wreath, shepherd’s staff

 

Does Spirit Go with Body? A Look at Reincarnation

Does Spirit Go with Body? A Look at Reincarnation

by Janice Van Cleve

Reincarnation is a subject that keeps coming back (ouch). Seriously, the topic of reincarnation keeps showing up in magazines and books cloaked in mystery or psychobabble. Among New Age and neo-pagan believers, there is often talk of “past lives,” working out karmic justice over a series of lives and transmigration of souls. Hindus hold that we reincarnate many times until we achieve enlightenment or perfection and thus are able to escape the wheel of life, death and rebirth. Rabbi Shagra Simmons says that Jews sometimes get three shots at terrestrial life. Tibetan monks search for babies born at the moment of their lama’s death in the belief that his soul migrated into the newborn. Resurrection of the body is such a strong tenet of Catholic orthodoxy that the Vatican for centuries preached against cremation, supposedly because ashes are harder to resurrect than rotten remains in a coffin.

Not everyone believes in reincarnation. Many people believe that death is the end, finis, kaput. They do not believe in any afterlife or return to life in any form. Others believe that the body may die but some kind of spiritual essence or “soul” lives on and goes someplace, like heaven or hell. Plato was a great proponent of the theory of “essences” that exist beyond or outside of the physical body. Christians and Muslims believe in a paradise where the souls go and don’t come back. Ancient Sumerians thought spirits descended into a pit where they ate dirt, and the Greeks held that souls crossed the River Styx to linger in a dim underworld. The idea of spirits dwelling in a Great Beyond is advantageous if you want call on them in prayers or séances. If, on the other hand, souls do come back in new bodies, who will be left on the invitation list to your next Dumb Supper?

Modern technology and psychology have pushed the envelope in our understanding of death and rebirth. For example, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has documented some amazing cases of apparent conscious existence outside of the body and/or after the body’s clinical death. Cryogenics labs are experimenting with freezing bodies to resuscitate them later. Cloning is a bit different in that a new body is generated, but the jury is still out on whether any conscious memory is transferred along with the genetic material. While these are interesting avenues of research that may someday prove or disprove some mechanical aspect of reincarnation, they are generally understood to be outside the discussion of reincarnation per se.

So what’s inside the discussion? One way to look at reincarnation is to examine its parts. The “carn” refers to a body and the “re” is a something that returns into a body. That got me to wondering: which body? Is it only humans who reincarnate? Do dogs reincarnate into new dogs, or trees into new trees? What about cross-species reincarnation? Can a fern reincarnate into a frog or a cow into a liverwort? There are some dire warnings in the literature about “coming back as a toad,” but for the most part we see the focus on humans returning as new humans. (Certainly most cat lovers will agree that cats believe that they don’t participate in reincarnation because no other living being could aspire to their level.)

People as far back as the Stone Age have understood that the body decays after death. They may have held many theories about where the soft tissue went, but they could see that soon all they had left was bones. Eventually, as in the case of the dinosaurs, even the bones break down and are replaced by minerals leaching through the soil. Occasionally nature has delayed decay, as in the prehistoric bodies found in an glacier in the Italian Alps or in a bog in Denmark. Children sacrificed by the Incas on Andean peaks still have hair and skin preserved by the cold, while Egyptians first learned mummification from bodies buried and desiccated in the hot Saharan desert. Yet even the most carefully preserved remains of a Pharaoh in Cairo or a Lenin in Moscow would be reduced to molecules if exposed to the normal processes of decay.

Scientists exploring biology, chemistry, genetics, forensics and the like have shown that as things decay after death, they break down into simpler and simpler components, eventually reducing into basic compounds or molecules that can be used by other living organisms. Gardeners practice this principle by composting. Dead plants and other organic materials are stacked in bins where, over time, they reduce to rich soil and are plowed back into the garden to provide nutrients for new plants. So a dead tulip may break down in the compost bin and its molecules eventually become incorporated into a turnip. Not all of its molecules may end up in the turnip, however. Some of them may wind up in the carrots, and others may become potatoes. Certainly a large number of the former tulip molecules will stay as dirt and may even become incorporated into stone, if said gardener happens to have a volcano in her pea patch!

So at least some of the material that was the physical body of the tulip may find itself after death reincorporated into other physical bodies, and therefore the tulip continues to participate in the phenomenon called life. In a way, I suppose that can be called reincarnation — at least of body material. Perhaps when we refer to a dead relative “pushing up daisies,” we’re closer to the mark than we think.

But if the remains of living things decompose and are scattered to be used by many other living things, or not used at all, is the identity of the original plant or animal or human forever lost? When do tulip molecules cease to be tulip and become turnip? And what about the turnip? If it got some material from a tulip and other material from a spider, where does its unique identity as a turnip come from? This is where the “soul” or “essence” comes into the reincarnation picture.

There have been times even in the historical past when the birth rate of new babies worldwide did not match the death rate. So according to the theory of reincarnation, did some souls get put on hold for awhile in a spiritual wait zone until there were enough babies to go around? Or did they hang out in the turnips? Conversely, our current population explosion clearly demonstrates way more births than deaths. So does that mean that some babies are born with half-souls or no souls? There can’t be that many souls waiting in turnips to fill the current demands!

Buddhists may help us out here. Buddhists seek to skip the Hindu wheel of birth, death and reincarnation altogether through discipline and meditation. They believe that they can reach a point at which independent identity is no longer relevant. The “soul” loses itself by merging with a universal mass of spiritual energy called Nirvana, something analogous to the universal mass of living energy that scientists call biomass. For the sake of discussion, let’s call this “spiritmass.”

That solves the mathematical problem, because math in the spirit world may not add up the same as it does here in the mundane world. If there is spiritmass, then some babies could inherit old souls directly and some may get new ones from the reservoir of spiritmass. Whatever the case, nature and nurture inevitably work to individualize the baby’s identity, just like they individualize his or her body into a unique new person. Old souls are either absorbed into spiritmass or changed in their new incarnation and new souls are sprung from spiritmass. In either case, the old identity is lost. Tulip becomes turnip, and essence of Uncle Frank becomes Little Carol.

Which brings us back to the two parts of reincarnation. If the body and the spirit both disintegrate and become reabsorbed into biomass and spiritmass respectively, then one could say they were reincarnated. However, such a reabsorbtion automatically means that the unique personal identity of the dead being ceases to exist. Reincarnation therefore implies that individual identity is temporary.

Humans don’t like that. Humans would like to believe that their identities will live forever. Since the body could not be counted on, humans proposed underworlds and paradises to maintain some manner of unique identity after death. Not content with just a spiritual existence, some humans attempt to preserve their existence in the physical world with statues and monuments, trust funds, artistic creations or by making a name for themselves in history books. Ultimately, however, we do not live forever in body or spirit or stone. We do know that we live beyond our death — at least for a little while — in the hearts of those who loved us, and probably in the memories of those who hated us.

So I can buy reincarnation if the most that is meant by it is recycling the body and the spirit. I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over what kind of identity, if any, I will have after I die. I just hope that if reincarnation does pass identity along that John Ashcroft comes back as a gay, homeless black woman.