New Podcast: On Sacred Ground on the LMC Radio Network

28 Jan On Sacred Ground Logo

It’s a new year and so much NEW is happening!

First, our (hopefully monthly) newsletter is about to hit inboxes with exclusive promotions, empowering exercises, conjure recipes, and nearly 1,000 other AWESOME things. Wait — you haven’t signed up yet? Don’t worry, you can do so right here:

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Second, a new podcast – On Sacred Ground – has hit the airwaves on the LMC Radio Network with myself as the host!

“Broadcasting the voices of the land and the deceased, host Khi Armand weaves together history, ethnography, and spiritual experience to explore the unique promises and challenges of our time.

Connect with the stories, people, and landscapes that make us human on this unique, interdisciplinary show featuring guests from a wide variety of fields and backgrounds sharing their expertise on topics of biography, history, and places that matter.”

Tune-in every Saturday at 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific on BlogTalkRadio.com. So far we’ve discussed lives of legend lived by such notables as Father Black Hawk and Chief Sitting Bull and client case studies that have shaped my understanding of house and land spirits.

This Saturday, January 31st, marks our sixth episode. We’ll be joined by our first guests, Baladé Black / SoliRose, leaders in the Arab-Black solidarity movement through their visionary organization merging social justice endeavors with spiritual empowerment and musical stylings merging West African, flamenco, blues, and additional genres toward taking us all home.

So go ahead and LIKE and FOLLOW us on Facebook and be sure to tune-in via BlogTalkRadio or by calling 657-383-0525 to listen from your phone or Skype!

Fast Luck OilLast, but certainly not least, the QEFair back in December was such a blast that we’re doing it again for Valentine’s Day! If you’re in the NYC area, join us on Sunday, February 8th at Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street, from 11am – 6pm where we’ll be performing mini-Tarot and Bone Readings and have condition oils, talismans, candles, and other goodies ready for purchase.

How to Spot Psychic Scams & Spellcaster Frauds

4 Dec

I was 17 when I got my first storefront psychic reading. It was Halloween and I was on my way to see a room in Alphabet City, planning a move from Long Island and feeling like the world was opening up for me. I felt free to explore an aspect of life I had never encountered before.

The woman told me things would never work out for me in life because my ex- and I were meant to be together and until I got him back, life would be hopeless. It was not the time to tell me such things because my ex- was back on Long Island and here I was, starting my new life in the city. The wound from that breakup had been healed and there was no hook for her manipulative antics to latch onto. I walked out chuckling to myself, grateful for having had an “adult” experience.

How can you spot a fake psychic or fraudulent spellcaster? Learn the signs.

How can you spot a fake psychic or fraudulent spellcaster? Learn to spot the signs.

Unfortunately, 8 months later I’d be in another storefront psychic’s parlor after experiencing a string of bad luck while living with a woman who’d been teaching me magick before things got weird and she came to resent me while depending on me for company and rent money. The psychic told me – oh, I don’t remember – something about bathing with an egg and some nasty green fluid she sold me PLUS $5000 in cash that I would have to bring to her after sleeping with it under my pillow so she could remove the evil spells my roommate had put on me with the help of employees at the local occult store. Anything less than this amount might not remove the curse completely as it was equivalent to the curse’s magnitude. This time, I was desperate – desperate enough to hope a well-off friend would lend me the money. The psychic said she’d give it back once the curse was removed. What could go wrong?

Fast forward 8 years and I find myself making the trek with a housemate to Queens to retrieve the heirloom necklace given her by her late grandmother. Two kindly gentlemen claiming to belong to a spiritual brotherhood and speaking words of peace and love at an event had advised her to let them cleanse it because the sensed bad energy coming from it and wanted the highest good for her. She’d traveled with them to their home and met their mother who, upon performing an egg cleansing on her, had apparently produced blood and a lizard from the cracked egg and advised more spiritual work be done.

When I arrived a with her a week later, after a long argument, they admitted that the necklace had been pawned and was irretrievable. They admitted they were psychic scam artists.
Egg cleansings are an ancient form of hands-on cleansing found in folk healing traditions around the world. But the "strange species in the egg" trick is an old one used by spellcaster frauds and psychic scam artists

Egg cleansings are an ancient form of hands-on cleansing found in folk healing traditions around the world. But the “strange species in the egg” trick is an old one used by spellcaster frauds and psychic scam artists.

Smart people get scammed by fraudulent psychics everyday. Smart people lose precious valuables – even their life savings – to fake spellcasters everyday. It’s unfortunate, because these are sacred, necessary services. Always have been and always will be.
In a world that does everything to cut off our connection to the mystery that infuses all life, it’s probably never been easier for fraudulent psychics and fake spellcasters to flourish with claims of exclusive access to unseen information and divine knowledge.
Do curses exist? Yes. 100%. In more ways than we think.
Can jewelry be haunted? Absolutely. Just got rid of some a friend mistakenly gifted me last week.
Are egg cleansings used to remove harmful energies? They’re a tool found in folk magick and shamanic traditions all over the world, including in hoodoo rootwork.
And far more unique events can take place right in front of our eyes than blood spots and lizards coming out of a chicken’s egg. It’s not the uncanniness of it that concerns me. The problem is that it’s the oldest trick in the book for phony spellcasters, tarot readers, palm readers, and psychics (who don’t deserve these titles) to scare people and trick them into paying for services they either don’t need or do need and won’t get in the hands of these scammers.

So how can you tell an honest psychic or spellcaster from a scam artist?

I see wisdom in your future...

I see wisdom in your future…

  
Steer clear from:
  • $5 specials – I’ve never met a psychic hawking $5 specials who didn’t give a canned reading. These are meant to lure you in with information applicable to anyone and hook you through charismatic tactics. Don’t take the bait.
  • Scare tactics – If your psychic or spiritworker threatens you with a life of hopelessness or tells you that they are the only person who can help you, RUN – don’t walk – away. They are lying to you and trying to frighten you so that they can take your power (and your wallet).
  • Online psychics and spellcasters without photos – It’s easy for a con artist to set up a sparkly website with key phrases they know will attract desperate people. Few of them post photos of themselves. It’s not a hard line issue, but it’s something to consider. No genuine spiritworker I know hides themselves.
  • 24 Hour Love Returns & Reconciliations – Want to reconcile with a lover and not waste thousands of dollars? First, start by staying as far away from these “24 Hour Guarantee” people as possible. They are trying to scam you. Second, read this and this. Spiritual work involving mending relations between two or more people takes time, especially when hard feelings are still present. Honest spiritworkers who are gifted at reconciling lovers often have very specific conditions under which they will perform such work, provide their clients with a timeline for expected results, and sometimes even prescribe ritual acts for clients to perform.
  • Guarantees – Can a lawyer guarantee she will win your case? Can a surgeon guarantee that their work will heal you? The best person in any field can still only the best they can. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but steps can be taken toward wholeness, greater wellbeing, and goal achievement. Anyone who tells you otherwise only intends to harm you.
  • Most Powerful Spells / Self-Aggrandizement – It’s ok to feel confident in one’s abilities as a spiritual practitioner. Many folks have spent years counseling the public and helping remediate ills that other roles in Western society can’t, and some have had to undergo major trials to have such gifts. That being said, the person who says they’re the biggest and baddest mofo around probably isn’t. The most effective, clear, powerful spiritworkers I know are also deeply humble, knowing that unseen hands accompany their lives and their work and that their efficacy is at least partly an outgrowth of the relationship they have with the spiritworld. Seek out efficacy and deserved confidence, yes, but avoid…well…assholes.
  • Claims to solve all your problems – It’s this one that amazes me most. No psychic, shaman, spellcaster, or “voodoo priest(ess)” can solve all your problems. None of them. Nada. Zilch. An effective spiritworker can, however, help you understand where blocks might be in your life and how you can overcome them. Many spiritworkers I know encourage their clients to perform spells and ritual acts on their own or alongside their work on their behalf so that they’re engaged in their own wellbeing because at the root of most curses, hexes, jinxes, and lost love issues is a very real experience of power and soul loss that needs to be both directly and indirectly retrieved.

So what should you look for if you want to hire a psychic, spellcaster, or spiritworker?

Empowerment should be a goal in any field where advice is given. If your "psychic" or "spiritworker" threatens you, shames you, or tries to convince you that they are your only hope, RUN!

Empowerment should be a goal in any field where advice is given, let alone paid for. If your “psychic” or “spiritworker” threatens you, shames you, or tries to convince you that they are your only hope, get the hell outta there!

Seek out:

  • Honesty & Integrity – Forget the men and women of mystery who are too big and bad to reveal who they are. Again, the most effective psychics and practitioners I know tell it plainly. Some of them may use pseudonyms or titles, especially in alignment with the tradition or culture their work is borne from, but they’re glad to express who they are because their work is an outgrowth of their very real lives and experiences.
  • Empowerment - I’ve never seen a circumstance in my consultations in which there wasn’t vast opportunity to empower my client. In fact, no such circumstance in the Universe exists. If you walk away from a psychic reading feeling disempowered, firmly take your power back immediately and take a cleansing bath (or three). A light at the end of the tunnel can be conjured out of even the most crossed of conditions, and without you feeling the need to become entirely dependent on the practitioner who has read for you. Indeed, hiring a spiritworker’s help should feel empowering no matter what you’re hiring them for – not draining or terrifying. If it feels like the latter emotions, don’t work with them.
  • A desire to educate – Blogs, podcasts, radio shows, teleseminars, Facebook groups – if they’re an online psychic, chances are they are sharing their thoughts, philosophies, and experiences with the world. They may even prefer an educated client over those who buy into Miss Cleo-style fantasies of what their work is about (I get some interesting requests some days). Not every effective spiritworker has access to the internet or the technological know-how, of course, but the desire for you to understand their work in at least some capacity should be evident.
  • Clear communication guidelines – If you end up hiring a spiritworker, spellcaster, shaman, or other person to help remediate a circumstance or life condition, expect a timeline regarding when the work will start and end as well as what the communication expectations are. When would be a good time to check-in about the work? What methods of communication are most appropriate? How long should it take for you to get a response? Knowing the answers to these questions upfront will help you avoid a lot of frustration.
  • Custom work – In a culture of convenient “Click to Buy!” buttons galore, it’s a given that many will sell their supposed “most powerful spells” via such means. Personally, I think it’s awesome to have effective products and tools available for purchase, but I always recommend a consultation if a client is not sure of what they need or is confused about what the issue they’re facing even is. The resolution to a money problem isn’t always a Money Drawing Spell and not every type of spiritual cleansing is appropriate for every kind of spiritual malady.
  • Proof of work – Every spiritworker I know who’s worth their salt provides some evidence of the work they perform. This may be a photo of the ritual or candle lighting, or an audio recording narrating the practitioner’s trance journey on the client’s behalf. Don’t take someone’s word for it – specifically if you’ve never worked with them before.
  • Willingness to refer – I take the “doctor” suffix of “rootdoctor” very seriously. If I can’t help you, I’ll tell you so – and I’ll use my divinatory tools to do my best to refer you to someone who can. The spiritworkers I admire and consider colleagues do the same.
Above all, educate yourself. You’re the one in charge of your own spiritual hygiene and even honest and gifted psychics, spellcasters, spiritworkers, shamans, and rootdoctors don’t exist to replace your intuition or your responsibility for your own wellbeing. They are specialists in the sacred arts, not substitutes for your own hand, heart, and soul.
The Association of Independent Readers & Rootworkers works to educate the public about folk magic practices and religion as well as the tricks spiritual con artists use to harm and thieve.

The Association of Independent Readers & Rootworkers works to educate the public about folk magic practices and religion as well as the tricks spiritual con artists use to harm and thieve.

Organizations like the Association of Independent Readers & Rootworkers (of which I am a member) have taken great strides toward encouraging accountability of the type that I’ve mentioned above, including an Ombudsman for resolving concerns between practitioners and their clients should the need arise.
In addition to providing public education on psychic scams and frauds, they provide a Pro Bono Fund for clients experiencing financial crisis.
Affiliate site LuckyMojo.com hosts a must-read exposé on psychic scam tricks, many of which have been used to trick people for ages – some of which are being used on folks as I write this. A thread on their forum exists where folks can share their experiences of having worked with unscrupulous psychic scam artists toward finding recourse.

My hope is resources such as these can go viral, especially during a time of year when people with corrupt hearts prey upon individuals and families in crisis.

Khi Armand is a psychic medium, hoodoo rootdoctor, and shamanic healer at ConjureintheCity.com.

Why Shamanism Now?, Pagan Activism, & Other Sightings

21 Nov

I recently had the tremendous privilege of being a guest on shaman Christina Pratt‘s podcast Why Shamanism Now? (which I invite you to be addicted to along with me). The topic was Hoodoo Rootwork and the result was some of the deepest conversation about spiritwork that I’ve been privy to participate in. Dig in!

Pagan Activism Conference Online

Shortly thereafter I was a guest on the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour with hosts catherine yronwode and ConjureMan Ali discussing spirit intrusions and exorcisms and joining in with divination and rootwork advice for callers.

This weekend the Pantheon Foundation is hosting an Pagan Activism Conference Online with such notable authors, speakers, ritualists, and activists as Starhawk and T. Thorn Coyle sharing their wisdom and insights on contemporary American animistic traditions. I’ll be a guest on the Activism Among Pagans of Color panel taking place tomorrow (November 22nd), at 3pm EST (12pm PT) which, like all of the panels, can be attended on its own.

“Think about it: when was the last time you sat down for a chat at your kitchen table with the likes of T. Thorn Coyle, or Starhawk? At this event, that is exactly what you will be able to do.”

From my understanding, the entire conference will be video recorded and available shortly after this weekend.Conjure in the City Hoodoo Condition Oils

This Sunday, November 23rd, I’ll be a guest on The Blue Clique: Expression of Spirit radio show from 2pm-4pm EST discussing hoodoo rootwork / Southern conjure with the show’s wonderful hosts.

Next Saturday, November 29th, I’ll be leading a workshop titled “Marketing Prophecy” at the NY Regional Diviner’s Conference in Fishkill, NY. The line-up is incredible so if you’re in the tri-state area, consider coming. There’s so much to learn and so much great fellowship to be had

Monday, December 1st, starts Flora Luck‘s free annual Magick-Miracles & Mojo Telesummit and my interview with her will be released on December 3rd. I’ll be a guest along with such other radically awesome individuals as acclaimed Conjure Diva Madame Nadia.

And if you’re in the NYC area, on Sunday, December 14th I’ll be performing mini-Tarot readings and launching the Conjure in the City Apothecary at the Queer Exchange Fair in Brooklyn! I can think of no better venue for the upgrading of my plant spirit medicine offerings to begin.

Shaman Sickness, Part II: Obeah Woman

14 Nov

He laughed and told me that I wouldn’t be the first to run like hell from my initiatory helping spirit. It’s par for the course.

This is Part II in a four-part series on shaman sickness and initiation.
Part I can be found here.

It was shortly after suddenly splitting into multiple personalities but shortly before the nightmares about the devouring tiger that I journeyed to find answers about what was happening. Night after night unseen hands groped around inside me, pulling things out and putting things in, agonizingly stretching my sense of what it means to be human – or, whatever it was I was finding myself to be.

I hoped my helping spirit Maria would have some answers, but she was nowhere to be found.

An ocean’s surface.

Delve beneath. 

A cave.

Inside, a woman draped in jewels and fine cloths.

“Obeah Woman,” I found myself exclaiming.

She let out a hearty laugh.

Such words had never come out of my mouth, nor had I ever heard them. And while I knew next to nothing about the tradition of Jamaican Obeah, there was something West Indian about her. I also knew that she loved molasses. She didn’t tell me that – I just knew it.

This was my initiatory helping spirit. This was the spirit that was causing my death.

Obeah Woman

Both spirit-induced and human-led initiations into spiritual traditions often involve a tutelary helping spirit whose medicine the initiate will spend at least some portion of their lives bringing into the world. This helping spirit might also carry traits that are a reflection of the initiate’s own personality, whether those traits are on display or hidden in the sub/unconscious.

The relationship between the initiate and the helping spirit is sometimes intimate enough that its boundaries can be blurry. In the Yoruba tradition of Ifa and its African-diasporic offshoot Lucumí / Santería, children of a particular Orisha (who is said to “crown” them or “have their head”) in some ways represent that spirit here on earth, and even their relationships with children of other Orishas can mimic their crowning spirits’ relationships with one another as found in sacred lore. Similarly, Odin’s wives – women in god-spouse relationships with the All-Father of Norse tradition – often happen to be rivals of one another. In short, the veil between the worlds is nearly thin enough as to be non-existent.

One medicine person I know in the Lakota tradition was told by their primary helping spirit that their work with them – a certain set of teachings they were delivering to a group of people – would be complete in a couple of years. On the other hand, I know of more than one shaman who is a lifelong god-slave to a spirit due to past-life debts – for them, even romantic relationships with other humans requires permission and appeasement through divination and sacrifices.

Initiatory and tutelary helping spirit relationships come in many varieties from different origin points but are always deeply intimate teacher-student relationships centered around healing the parts of yourself standing in the way of being able to fully carry that spirit’s medicine in the world – and then carrying it for the greater good of a community.

RW-Tower

The idea of a spirit having the ability to up-end someone’s life without warning may be foreign or uncomfortable in magickal traditions in which gods, saints, and other entities are primarily seen as working spirits helping with requests put forth by the practitioner in exchange for offerings and devotion. Even modern American Neo-Pagan traditions maintain a narrative that posits the agency of the practitioner above all else. A deity or other spirit may make themselves known to someone through signs and visitations, but whether or not a real relationship develops is in the hands of the human being.

When refusal of the spirit’s advances isn’t an option and the practitioner’s life inevitably begins to crumble, our collective ignorance about such processes often results in such individuals being shunned and seen as unstable — the latter of which is not entirely untrue given the liminality of any initiatory process. But in a shamanic or indigenous community, there’s a greater chance that someone will understand what is going on and community resources can be put toward helping the individual make it through the trial.

In our contemporary animistic communities, writings about spirit-induced initiations by individuals like Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova have resulted in controversy and public denouncements as contemporary American practitioners prefer their gods relegated to mythology, working spirit roles, and as excuses to buy pretty things rather than seeing them as the forces of agency that they are, sometimes demanding sacrifices of some individuals in exchange for gifts that they are not allowed to refuse.

Every contemporary shaman and dead-man-walking spiritworker I know has experienced homelessness during at least one of their spirit-induced initiations. I also know of a Mambo in Haitian Vodou who was a nurse before she fell and broke her leg, taking it as a sign that patience had run out on her starting her sosyete. And I once performed a reading with a Protestant Christian black American woman whose son had been stricken with an undiagnosable illness and she was sure that his girlfriend had put roots on him despite her staying by his bedside. My reading indicated that this wasn’t the first time this had happened and if he didn’t change his ways and heed the call to ministry that he knew was on his life, it would end. She knew exactly what I meant. I prescribed bathing his eyes in a weak tea of Eyebright to bring clarity and suggested she call a trustworthy Pastor or other official from her church to her son’s bedside too so that he could begin taking the necessary actions in alignment with his destiny.

Spiritual callings are cross-cultural and even the term “shaman sickness” fails to encompass the wide breadth of these kinds of sudden life emergencies that trigger a death and rebirth within the individual. But if we, as a culture, can learn to recognize the signs, we’ll all be the better for it.

Fail a lot. Don’t consider yourself an expert until you have collapsed your life as a side effect of practicing magic because that’s what it does. Ask any shaman ever. – Gordon White of Rune Soup

Obeah Woman 2

Throughout the sickness, I searched endlessly for Obeah Woman’s true name – something that I recognized from a tradition familiar to me. Was she really Olokun of the Yoruba people? She displayed gender-variant traits like them. Or maybe she was La Sirene, the mermaid lwa of Vodou. Many initiatory helping spirits don’t reveal their names early on so as to avoid confusion about their true natures, wanting their initiates to get to know them first before turning to their myths or the accounts of others.

But not in my case.

It wouldn’t be too long before I came across Nina Simone’s ecstatic live track in which she exclaims “I’m the Obeah Woman / From beneath the sea / To get to Satan / You have to pass through me.”

I also found her embodied in character of Addaperle the Feel Good Girl and her motion picture counterpart Miss One, the Good Witch of the North, in the 1970s film adaptation of the Broadway play The Wiz, carrying a chalkboard etched with lucky numbers for winning policy games and oozing that “eccentric aunt” feeling that’s so particularly electric.

Miss One

Then I found her in the theme song from the 1990s sitcom Living Single as the silhouetted woman with dance moves both warrior- and river-like shortly after realizing that she reminded me precisely of how the ocean feels along the beaches I grew up on in Far Rockaway, Queens.

But this was before I’d seen her other aspects. During the more grueling months of my trials with her, particularly while being forced to resolve my childhood wounds around gender expression, she often appeared as a short large-breasted huge-dicked hermaphrodite Pygmy witch.

Then, as a pipe-smoking Plains American Indian woman.

And then in what I consider to be her original form – a young gender/role-variant African woman with child in one arm, weapon in the other. Both fierce warrior and loving mother. Something akin to how my own energy runs, I discovered. But then again, what is gender except how our energy runs?

Karin Miller, “African Mermaid,” ca. 2011, from the series Sea Changes.

Karin Miller, “African Mermaid,” ca. 2011, from the series Sea Changes.

It was another friend of mine who introduced me to Mami Wata, a pantheon of female African water spirits, and it was there that I found the closest match. Apart from the obvious, Mami Wata’s ties to symbols of prosperity and divinatory gifts are keenly similar to Obeah Woman’s regal presence, and anthropological records of black and indigenous West Indian adherents speaking of “Mammy-Water” help account for Obeah Woman’s unmistakably New World essence.

“The prevailing literature [on Mami Wata] tends to exclude African-Americans without realizing that they are even more connected to African spirits because of the devastation of slavery in which Mami also suffered. Far too many young black men are suffering mental disorders especially schizophrenia, starting as young as 13 yrs., because the source of their problem is Mami.”

Overt “shamanic” initiation aside, our culture’s relentless narrative that the value of young black American men lies especially in their ability to forsake all vestiges of beauty, compassion, depth, and receptivity is entirely at odds with such an entity’s gifts, and perhaps even her demands if the genealogical timing is such that a young American brother has fallen under her gaze. These cultural pressures are in no way absent for queer and gender-variant black men, often resulting in internalized homo- and transphobia as absence of full and authentic personal expression is seen as the epitome of masculinity and is the precursor for its erotic consumption in our current age.

“Black men who are traditionally initiated to Mami as a balance of their masculine force, are often unaware of their ancestral matrilineal heritage, and pressure is often forced on them to conform to a false machismo not characteristics of ancient African philosophy or culture. In America, when black men are born to Mami Wata, they are often at a loss to explain their spiritual sufferings, and some tend to self-medicate with illicit drugs, alcohol or other dissociative means. Some even resort to crime, or exhibit such psychotic behavior that they are eventually institutionalized.”

Such observations provide powerful commentary on the active power of ancestral lineage in the lives of contemporary Americans, and as a spirit who is as much Woman as she is the total defiance of gender norms, Obeah Woman’s medicine as a re-balancer of the scales is sorely needed in our age. May She be hailed.

She is a goddess of prosperity. She is a goddess of death and of truth-telling. She is the storm that clears the air and makes way for a new day when what has been collectively forgotten is remembered, and we mourn. We mourn for our hearts. We mourn for those lost. We mourn for the Great Forgetting.

And then we remember.

And then, we dance.

(to the tune of “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree”)

Obeah Woman laughs far beneath the sea

Draped in jewels and gold, laughing “ke ke ke”

Laugh! Obeah Woman, laugh!

Lead us to our authenticity!

Shaman Sickness, Part I: Enter the Madness

9 Sep
A Hamatsa shaman in trance.

A Hamatsa shaman in trance.

This is Part I in a four-part series on shaman sickness and initiation.
Part II can be found here.

I opened my inbox a few weeks ago to find an invitation to a ritual from friends to celebrate the Apotheosis of Ariadne – the transformation of the mythical Greek princess into a deity, as per the stories told about her.

As I perused the invitation and the suggested guidelines for those who might wish to celebrate at home on their own time, my heart jumped into my throat upon reading the second of the three stages that mapped the goddess’s journey from the Mistress of the Labyrinth to her discovery and awakening by the god Dionysos.

Around midnight, in the darkest hour, “The theme is Ariadne abandoned on Naxos.

It was just over a year ago that a Skype session with a friend jumpstarted my shaman sickness with her in California and me in my hostel in Athens, Greece. “Have you been out to the islands yet?” she asked. “I feel like there’s something you’re supposed to be doing there. Something about a goddess and a temple and after you get there, everything will be different for you. Everything will change.”

Fast-forward one week. Fast-forward to the all-too-haunted island of Amorgos and my being unsure if the unrelenting queasiness and unease I was feeling was due to the unresolved massacre I intuited (and found confirmed) or fears about life, love, and the future in general. At night I dreamt of walking up to immense, roughly hewn marble structures cloaked in darkness while waves crashed against the shore around me. I awoke to find all confidence and fearlessness expelled from me like a deflated balloon – quite the opposite of the previous tone of my trip.

My traveling companion was growing concerned, seeing my sanity veer from its course seemingly without reason, but one morning, as we arrived at a little cafe for breakfast, a little girl’s fondness for the eatery’s resident kittens made me pause before ascending the stairs. “Ariadne!” her father called to her. Fading sanity or not, I knew I was hot on the trail of my friend’s prophecy.

Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur of the Labyrinth

Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur of the Labyrinth

I’ve seen it three times now – in my own life, the life of a friend, and in a reading I gave a woman while on her lunchbreak in Manhattan.

Humans falling into a deity’s mythline.

Sometimes it’s a whole life that smells far too much like something you’ve read or heard before and all of a sudden the man on the other side of the screen who you’ve booked a reading with is naming the name of the legendary individual whose story has more than inspired you – it’s the reason for all of the tattoos on your body. You just never made the connection that you, in some way, are literally her.

And sometimes it’s like a web that ensnares you – the first of many doors you will walk through on your journey, ignoring the prickliness of the spider’s arm that’s been beckoning you because, frankly, you’re blind and wandering aimlessly, hoping for something to catch you and give meaning to the moment.

And like any web worth its stickiness, it does.

In short, within 48 hours, I was abandoned on the island of Naxos. Sure, I’m the one who followed the signs and omens and, sure, I’m the one who decided to go on my own. But all of the feelings of joy, sovereignty, and connection I had felt throughout the previous weeks had certainly abandoned me. I was alone for the first time on my journey and left my room only to search for cheap food. I was heartbroken over a boy and, for the first time, felt that I stood out like a sore thumb under the glare of Greek natives.

I have a reputation for committing radical acts of whimsy and going to fairly extreme lengths on an intuitive hunch, so the fact that I’d come to Naxos just to get to the ruins of the temple of Dionysos on a time crunch wasn’t what was out of the norm for me.

The issue was that I could hardly move and madness had, by now, fully set in. I had barely enough energy to search the island for a way to the temple site, let alone endure the psycho-spiritual-emotional trauma that had set in, leaving me physically convulsing on my bed for hours on end.

Then there were the voices, visions, and hallucinations, all intermingled with my unresolved insecurities.

Meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of Ariadne. Open yourself up to fear and pain. Contemplate your failures and insecurities, all the times you’ve suffered defeat or betrayal, had the rug pulled out from under you. Accept the inevitability of your death.

I felt like I was dying.

Ariadne and the Sea

I’ve been hesitant to write about my shaman sickness for a few reasons. The first is that I only began coming out of it a few months ago and recovery was nearly as arduous as the actual time of sickness was. The second is that accounts of shaman sickness, both anthropological and contemporary, sound like torture porn. Among contemporary Western shamans and spiritworkers, it is said that there’s the Death Road and the Madness Road, the former fraught with physical illness and debilitation and the latter with spirit-induced afflictions of the mind for as long a time as the spirit initiating you sees fit to have you endure it.

There are many reasons for why the sickness occurs, and has occurred since around the time the first shaman (or shaman-roled person) appeared among humans.

The first is that it is an initiation. The gates that lead to “growing up” and “upgrading” are immensely painful and death of the ego is necessary. In the West, we have this idea that enlightenment happens when we meditate so long that we simply start glowing and fly away. In the words of Cynthia Occe, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” The ego death(s) that I would endure for the ensuing year would have me question everything about myself, including what it meant to be human, and force me to dismantle false narratives about myself that I’d been carrying for far too long. Things that should not happen to human bodies and human consciousness would happen to mine, sometimes in public, bringing to ruin my concepts of both. Gratefully, I had the accounts of other shamans who had been “seized, changed and set to a lifetime of work – irrevocably, without their consent and often against their will – by real, living, powerful entities with a unique perspective and agenda.

Another reason is the vast re-wiring. The shaman (a very controversial word, but more on that in a later post) needs to be able to move serious amounts energy through their bodies. Within the devotional polytheist community, even folks who aren’t shamans remark on the period when they “had their head cracked open” – that is, when the spirits they work with further opened up their psychic senses to enable deeper communication with them, heighten their divinatory and mediumship abilities, or even cast them in the role of being a trance or possessory oracle for one or more deities in the fashion of Pythia in ancient Delphi. A certain level of purity might seek to be maintained following the painful ordeal as heightened sensitivity can indeed have its drawbacks. Many wear head coverings and engage in regular acts of cleansing and protection.

There are other reasons for the sickness – some of which I don’t fully know. I guess one is being tested. Shaman sickness really is every bit as harrowing as the indigenous folks and the contemporary Westerners who’ve survived it say that it is. Shaman sickness is not a rough day, week, month, or year. Shaman sickness is not a dark night of the soul. It’s a pretty specific long-term hellish experience, actually, and there’s a reason there’s a low survival rate. Indeed, there is no guarantee of making it through.

Temple of Dionysos, Naxos

Temple of Dionysos, Naxos

But I couldn’t have known I was beginning a nearly year-long classic shaman’s death as I stumbled the mile-long path from the bus to the ruins of Dionysos’ temple. Blurry hot haze enveloped my senses as I saw familiar friends along the way: Fennel. Catnip. A butterfly nearly leaping from the brush and dancing around me in a circle before returning to its duties. When I got there, I did my best to connect with the land, experiencing flashes of memory from times when it was an active space. I felt his direct presence less than I did the immensity of love that his devotees had for him. Perhaps these are closer to one and the same than I know.

Fast-forward one year. I eagerly RSVP to the gathering of shamans, spiritworkers, oracles, and conjurers (some of whom midwived me through my sickness) who’d be gathering for the feast of the woman whose ingenuity helped Theseus, her lover, slay her brother, the Minotaur, monster of the labyrinth. The woman whose name I followed to my death.

“What did she teach you?” my partner asks. I don’t know. So many questions are still unanswered.

And then, I admit that I learned, very painfully, that there are some things no amount of Calamus and Licorice Root can dominate and some webs / fates / wyrds that no amount of Uncrossing can unravel — and we would be wise to be grateful for that, lest we miss out on why we are here.

But it would not be Dionysos or Ariadne initiating me. My guess is that they were simply holding the door open (like me, the former loves theatrics). It would be a few more months before I’d meet her – a woman reeking of salt and molasses, reminding me of a childhood spent on the beaches of Queens, New York, on a journey I’d take far beneath the sea.

Intimacy, Part 2: Going Farther with the Spirits

4 Aug

blue fire heartI’ve got many more blog posts to catch-up on for the Pagan Blog Project, but there’s so much more to be said about stepping into intimacy in our spiritual practices – far beyond what I can muster in a few words.

I think fear of intimacy is at the crux of a lot of our concerns in the Western world. Racism, sexism, homo / transphobia (and all the others) all shine an eery light on ways in which we’re afraid of engaging not only with others, but with parts of ourselves that we’ve exiled, our ancestors exiled, and that we’re so used to exiling that we’ve long forgotten how vital they are to our personal and collective well-being.

We don’t live in a culture that encourages intimacy with ourselves or anyone else. Intimacy gets in the way of productivity, we’re told. It stifles our constant yang-yang-yang expression and, of course, were we to really stop and be present with our wounds, our deeper desires, and the real longing in our hearts, well – we may get hurt. We may be rejected. We may find ourselves abandoned.

Of course, so sayeth our false selves in an effort to keep us from going deeper, being with what’s coming up, and healing old stories that hold us back from experiencing something new.

Choosing intimacy is like building a muscle – it’s a practice that we cultivate by returning to it again and again in our daily lives. For me, its the glue between my spiritual life and my mundane life, helping me rid myself of even that false dichotomy that sets them apart from one another. That being said, here are a few more ideas that may help deepen the connection between you and your spirits:

  • Be spontaneous. Conversations with my spirits happen at their altars – but also while I’m on the subway. Impromptu libations may be poured outside of a bar and pennies may be left at a crossroads during my commute. When we weave our spirits into our everyday lives and are candid about our everyday lives with our spirits, we’re that much more supported, connected, in-tune, and clear about what is needed for transformation.
  • Ask the deeper questions. Many of us study how to ask helping spirits to help us achieve a task or bring something into our lives – but what is our capacity to listen and enter into deep relationship with them beyond give-and-take? How do our spirits view us and our responsibilities in our process – not just in terms of mundane efforts (e.g. – making sure you’re job searching while doing magick to find a job) but in terms of personal narratives that might be standing in the way of our success. In addition to petitioning your spirits for help, ask them to show you how to get out of your own way and ask them what questions they really think you should be asking them.
  • Say what you’re afraid to say. Growing up in a monotheistic culture, we’ve been taught to relate with the spiritworld in a way that is small and fearful. No matter how long we’ve been practicing animists, this is something embedded in our culture – how TV, entertainment, and advertisements show us as humans relating to “God” / the Divine – and it’s something to keep mindful of as we tread old waters into a new story. This is not to say that devotion isn’t a healthy part of any relationship, but that you here for a reason. You’re a big part of the Big Scheme of Things. So say what you’re afraid to say. Empty your heart out. “Show me why I never get an answer from you. Show me a clear sign in the next three days.” Real intimacy involves push-and-pull, tensions between receiving, not receiving, doubt, frustration, and bliss. If we’re willing to be in the thick of all of these stages with our helping spirits, we’ll find our intimacy deepened – just like a relationship with a lover that might sometimes be on the rocks or feel more questionable than gratifying. Sometimes healthy devotion is paired with a healthy amount of profanity. Throw yourself at them. Tell them you’re doing all you can. When you’re in the thick of it and it seems like your helping spirits aren’t doing their share of supporting you, demand answers. Demand clarity. Give them some offerings and then rail at them. And then, maybe listen, do what they say, and see what happens.
  • Give offerings often. When I give offerings to spirits, I generally tend to imagine them as multiplied a billion times over (something I learned from Jason Miller) and I do find that it makes a difference – there’s something more “full” about it. A practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, Miller is well-versed in the art of giving offerings as, in his tradition, offerings are made constantly to a pretty serious retinue of spirits – both those friendly and familial and those considered hostile to keep them pleased. “If you make regular offerings, sometimes you will not need directed magic at all. The world just returns the favor. Thanks world.” Let’s take a cue from this great sorcerer and give. And keep giving. Don’t have much? That’s ok. A pinch of that sandwich you’re eating is a beautiful sacrifice. Giving doesn’t have to be about money. It’s about willingness to offer. It’s about forging bonds, empowering your helpers to help you, and inviting the help you need in.
  • Get out of your own head. This is a big one, especially in a culture obsessed with empirical evidence, “reason,” and head-based logic. Anyone who’s ever done any type of dream interpretation knows that the spiritworld often speaks to us in a sort of crazy logic that bypasses our logical, reasoning mind and goes right to the heart of things using symbolic language. One of my mentors often comments that the False Self – that part of ourselves so easily fortified in our culture that we see glimpses of in our self-sabotaging habits, inner criticisms, self-limiting thoughts and behaviors, etc. – is as smart as we are and has access to all of the tools that we do. This is one reason why spontaneous acts from the heart are so powerful – they throw the fear and limit-based False Self off its guard so we can really engage beyond the borders it so neatly has us regularly operating within. Hence, sing. Dance. Drum. Do. Something. Different. So often its our false dichotomies and over-analyzing that leave us standing in our own way, unable to hear what our spirits are really saying to us about our next best steps forward.

More on intimacy from our good friend, the musician Robert Een:

Intimacy: Delving Deeper with the Spirits

25 Jul
St. Cyprian Amparo

St. Cyprian Amparo

Ok, it’s confession time: some of my spirit relationships began from a place of ego.

It’s true. At one point, I thought “If I want people to take me seriously as a spiritworker, I’ve GOT be working with this guy” and “If I want to be a badass, an altar to this spirit is necessary.”

Perhaps it’s not so much a shock. In the internet-age where photos of altars work as social currency amongst spiritual practitioners and there’s greater access to knowledge about various world spiritual practices and the lauded entities associated with them than ever before, it’s quite easy to let our consumerist habits rule the way we see, well, everything. As the main point of entry in my recent webinar on spiritual allies and magical power, the idea of “relationship” (and being in “good relationship” I might add) is the primary focus of my practice – not only with anthropomorphized spirits, but that of botanicals and minerals – though it took some time to get there.

First, there was paring back the “stuff” – from the many botanicals and curios I thought for sure I needed in order to do effective work to the statues of saints I was excited about working with due to their being known especially for helping in certain situations but whom I really didn’t need to work with to be an effective practitioner.

Then there was specificity – making more room for the spirits in my life that building relationships with would be most helpful due to their resonance with my own medicine and their ability to help me bring that medicine into the world more fully.

And then, there was a lull – a pregnant silence that eventually gave birth to a sense of connection that, had I made room for it earlier on in my practice, may have helped me avoid some pitfalls.

The most obvious turning point came during a nine-day vegetarian fast I took under the tutelage of Saint Cyprian during which, each evening, I’d spend some devotional time with him, reading aloud scriptures he’d pointed me to – scriptures I was shocked to find speaking so clearly to my life. I’d made room for his presence to be stronger than ever and I found myself asking “Whoa — when did we become friends? When did things get so deep between us?” The rote practices that were stepping stones toward this moment fell away and I found myself moved in ways I didn’t know were possible with this particular spirit.

And, honestly, I found myself crying. A lot. Not only at his altar, but at the altars of the few other spirits I’ve invited into my court as a spiritworker. Sure, it was an especially vulnerable time in my life for various other reasons, but having made room for my strongest allies, I was able to receive their love and support that much more fully.

And I didn’t know that I could feel them so concretely.

And I found myself moved to sing.

My partner sings to his helping spirits in his shamanic practice all the time. I know beautiful chants from my Neo-Pagan path, a few songs from other traditions I work in, and am even aware of some of the role that icaros, or plant-spirit songs, play in the Amazonian shamanic traditions. But I’d never thought to apply the same technology toward the saints and spirits associated with modern American folk magick, with whom I’d been interacting solely through prayer, candles, offerings, and conjurations.

In so many traditions around the world, song calls the spirits down. Rattles are shaken, drums are beaten, and voices are sent like winged messengers to their ears, letting them know their allies and devotees seek to speak and work with them. It’s so simple. It’s so obvious. It’s all around us. But I guess the Western bubble gets in the way.

When I took a cue from my clear-hearted significant other and began to sing to my spirits every time I opened a session with them, or even during the day as a simple act of connecting – words really can’t express the shift that occurred. Stepping into that space of vulnerable full expression with them opened up so much that it was a wonder that I’d ever held back; that I hadn’t even realized I was doing so.

The truth is that I began to have some questions about my plugging everything into a safe, altar-object-focused context when, during a Spiritual Court Mediumship Reading for a client, a southwestern American Indian spirit that walks with her left me feeling a bit confused when he said he didn’t want a statue, candles, or any other altar-ware for her to connect with him.

I listened closer, pulled a few more cards, and the obvious dawned on me – he wanted her to dance.

To make a special garb, sit by a fire, and dance with him. That the places he wanted to take her would not be a journey through the mind, but through the uncomfortable spaces she was avoiding in her body. That this would lead to the medicine she needed to cultivate for herself and her family. One of the helping spirits who’d chosen to accompany her in this lifetime was waiting for her to show up more fully than she had imagined and altar tools she could purchase weren’t going to cut it.

Maybe the term “armchair occultist” doesn’t only apply to non-practitioners who simply know a lot of stuff. Maybe it’s applicable to those of us spending most of our practices sitting and kneeling, saying only the cool old traditional things and not the clear open-hearted things – some of which can’t be spoken, but only sung, danced, laughed, and howled.

Maybe we need to do more getting off of our asses and out of our heads, even with the spirits we’ve imagined to be as stagnant, still, and pious as their statuary may lead us to believe they are.

I don’t know any devotional songs to the popular spirits worked with in American folk magick today (aside from one for San Simon), but singing this simple song has been perfect for getting me to a deeper place with my spirits, both those chosen and those innately walking with me:

I’ve also found it to be very powerful to write your own tunes, even parodying popular songs on behalf of the spirits you work with. I actually really encourage it. Treating our spirits like lovers in nearly every sense I now feel is what sweetens the pot and makes our relationships with them that much more potent.

In short, if your spiritual practice is looking pretty object-focused or altar-bound – Sing. Dance. Drum. Choose spontaneity. Choose intimacy. You might be surprised by the spirits who love this form of devotion, even if all the high and might manuals about them say they only accept physical offerings on certain dates, at certain times, etc.

Let’s be in our bodies. Let’s give fully. The returns are tremendous.

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