Gotham Spirits: Bryant Park

7 Jun

4 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi ArmandGotham Spirits is a monthly blog post about the land spirits of NYC published around the 1st Friday of every month.

NY rose me
Most High chose me
1991, by Azealia Banks

Bryant Park is easy to sleep on – it’s no larger than a block and it’s tucked away just east of the hustle and bustle that is Times Square (a place New Yorkers loathe).

But what a majestic block it is, especially during the summer.

Stay woke.

Few spaces in New York are as committed as Bryant Park is to public seating; green metal tables and chairs abound for sipping drinks purchased at the park’s multiple coffee and sandwich kiosks. Cleanliness is a priority as even smoking isn’t allowed once you climb the steps of one of its lantern lit entrances. Further distinguishing this nestled oasis from the city blocks surrounding, these giant white luminescent bulbs are plentiful throughout the park, their light creating a magical Upperworld with the foliage of abundant maple trees.

1 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi ArmandUrban utopia.

Blowing tobacco smoke onto the park’s borders while walking its perimeter, I tried to sense into the energies guarding this wonderworld, if in fact there were any. Meditating beneath one of the lanterns at an entrance with my back to the park, facing the street, they quickly spoke up.

Land spirits are rarely friendly. I know this from too much experience, so I never expect them to be. But I firmly believe that we can work with them as allies if good relationships are cultivated and, if this is done on a global scale, we can perhaps even evade ecological suicide.

It’s a thought.

Back to the land spirits, who greeted me with the gruffness I always expect from them yet still find deeply unsettling. “What do you want?” they asked, sounding like a chorus of highly protective ancient male Oak trees.

3 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi Armand“To know who guards this place. I come with the utmost respect.”

This usually throws them off because not only are they used to having their efforts thwarted by humans — they’re also not used to us speaking to them as of late. I felt the voices and their invisible mammoth-like bodies retreat as if to reconvene and then return to question me further.

“I want the people to remember,” I repeated over and over again, not sure if they’d understand what I meant by that. I sent them mental images of my blog and tried to convey that I’m a writer. That I wanted to share who they are with the city’s inhabitants.

No response.

2 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi ArmandI re-strategize and send a mental image of children and adults with balloons coming to play with the voices I was hearing. I’d come, I tried to convey to them, to help re-enchant the world.

And, as if by magic (which everything is), I felt those glorious Maples behind me extend downwards, upwards, and deeper into my energetic perception as if I was being welcomed into the truer goings-on, like how the scenery in World of Warcraft elongates as your character nears it on its journey.

And I could swear I felt a hearty laugh rumble – somewhere.

It’s only one spirit, the voice told me, and it guards about 2/3rds of the park, extending from its western most edge to right about where I was sitting. With my back still to the park and my being unable to see why this was the case, I doubted this and interrogated the voice further. “Who guards the rest of it?”

“No one.”

“Why?”

“Because.” No words, just the sense that the final 1/3rd of the park was too overrun by human tinkerings, or more devoid of nature than the rest.

6 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi Armand“But there are trees there, too. Who guards them?”

“No one.”

The voice was especially patient while I sensed behind myself to exactly the point where it said it ended its ward seemingly without reason. I caught a whiff of the land guardian’s relationship with the human stewards of the space (like the custodian who stopped me from entering with my lit cigarette in-hand) and understood, just for a moment, how we are influenced by such beings for the greater good of surroundings. Sensing that there was little more that I could learn without actually entering the park, I turned around and ascended its stairs.

Proclaiming its majesty from its borders, it’s so much more gorgeous from within.

5 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi ArmandThe land guardian’s ward ends exactly at the eastern perimeter of the field that I’d forgotten lay hidden within the park toward its south side. I had laid on that grass one night, many summers ago, to watch an outdoor movie with a San Pellegrino-loving lover during the annual Summer Film Festival that takes place there throughout the warmer months. We left early – I don’t remember why – but the field’s magic had left its scent upon my spirit which is why, I guess, my soul chased the spot down like a hound dog this night. Much needed at a time when I, myself, had begun to lose hope in my potential to get what I need from this city — a common worry that’s been the subject of innumerable songs and editorials since they built the Brooklyn Bridge.

8 NYC Psychic Intuitive Bryant Park Khi ArmandBryant Park is named after a dude I’ve never heard of, but his statue is pretty awesome. There’s a much smaller one of Gertrude Stein not too far away. I’ll have to research it because I never visualized her as kind of a Buddha-boddhisattva-type, which is how she seems represented.

I arrange two fallen twigs into a shape I think would be pleasing for the land guardian of Bryant Park and express my gratitude for the conversation before exiting south and catching the D.

How to Spice Up Parties & Events with Plant Spirits & Conjure

31 May
nightlife party conjure hoodoo dance event promoter

Heat up parties and events with conjure and let the good times roll.

In light of my conjure sister Madame Nadia‘s recent blog post on working with Licorice for beauty and domination, I’ve decided it’s time for me to come out

— as a Party Animal.

Yes, it’s true. Don’t judge me. I have an affliction known as Venus in Gemini that makes me yearn for more stimuli than an electrical socket, and various other — ahem — occult and diabolic resonances also speak to my penchant for nightlife, soirees, and social events of all types. Few things grab my attention like a rooftop party on a summer night and all of the serendipitous fun that can occur when people drop their baggage, pick up a libation, and drop it like it’s hot till the early hours of the coming day.

It’s no surprise that I spent my college years studying ritual as some of my favorite memories are of parties I’ve thrown and DJ sets I’ve played where everything was just right. The right beats dropped at the exact perfect moment and the collective vibe was synchronized in such a way that the event was more than the sum of its parts. The magic was palpable because of a keen attention to atmosphere and detail.

It feels like a strange thing to be committed to – a Nirvana of luminous social ecstasy that might seem impossible to achieve at every gala and gathering. I guess that’s why I spend a lot of time imagining the application of conjure to nightlife for both producers and consumers thereof.

(I mean, who cares about working with plant spirits for healing if we’re not celebrating at the club afterwards, am I right?)

55912530-1

Fuck healing. Let’s dance.

Plants, minerals, and animalia can definitely be worked with to create and enhance atmosphere. They are perfect allies for those of us who are engaged in event planning and promotion and, frankly, the idea isn’t entirely new. Business owners in cultures all over the world have used folk magic to ensure that their spaces remained filled and their patrons were happy. In Black-American conjure, the Hyatt texts provide more than a few accounts of the use of plant spirit magic to get the party started, with this one filed in catherine yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic under Ginger:

Ginger is a beloved spice for inducing passion between people and can be called upon to bring the

Ginger is a beloved spice for inducing passion between people and can be called upon to bring the “wild” to an event.

To Get a New Club, Restaurant, Dance Hall, or House of Prostitution Off to a Good Start: After cleansing the premises, but before decorating, mix equal parts of Sulphur powder and powdered Ginger and burn them on charcoal in the center of the hall. Go outdoors while this burns (it is not safe to breathe Sulphur fumes), and nail a used horseshoe over the front door. The Sulphur will purify the place and the Ginger will liven it up.

Hot and invigorating, Ginger is often added to love spells in hoodoo rootwork and Brazilian macumba for heating up a love affair, ensuring that passionate lust is a driving motivation in the union (or re-union) of partners.

Likewise, it’s an excellent ally for heating up the dancefloor, helping to ensure that a party vibe stays upbeat and exciting.

Cinnamon, a premiere plant in many Attraction formulas, can be used to ensure a heightened energy of friendship and connection ring through the space. No one need dance alone at your event.

And if your party is the type of party where folks are hoping they’ll meet someone in the lobby, Cubeb and Cardamom are spices that can help, with the former setting an R. Kelly tone and the latter being beloved for its help in attracting new love. Nothing ensures repeat partygoers like making them confident they’ll find the connections they’re looking for.

Make it a night to remember for your guests by charging the atmosphere with plant spirits that encourage meeting someone new.

Make it a night to remember for your guests by charging the atmosphere with plant spirits that encourage meeting someone new.

These spices, barks, and roots can be burned on charcoal and used to smoke the space prior to everyone’s arrival, or added in essential oil form to a spray bottle with a bit of water and spritzed in the air. If the actual scents are conducive to your event, consider aromatherapy diffusers – both the candlelit kind and the electric ones for larger spaces.

Of course, not every party aims to look like an LMFAO music video. For a more chill, lounge-y vibe leave out the Ginger and go for sultry Damiana – not only an aphrodisiac, but an incredible plant for creating euphoria, helping ensure that stimulating conversations and interactions reach peak levels and that even the shyest of guests feels sexy and included.

A well-cleansed space provides the perfect blank canvas for creating the atmosphere you want, but if there’s a chance that things could get rowdy, Licorice Root is known for granting its wielder commanding power and such power can be wielded over a room when a bit of it is placed in the four corners and center (traditionally, with Commanding Powder, but I’ve had excellent results controlling a room of people working with just the root). Depending on how rowdy things might get – and how legal your shindig is to begin with – it could be wise to employ Law Keep Away products and associated curios to keep your party shielded from the prying eyes of the law and those that would alert them.

Additional precautions can be taken with the help of the Boldo plant whose leaves can be sprinkled across a threshold to bar undesirable patrons and customers from entering. Oregano, a staple in Law Keep Away products, can also aid in protecting your space and guests by keeping out meddlers who totes would dull the vibe if not poop the party altogether.

The right atmosphere and a good soundsystem alone can go a LONG way toward creating an inviting scene that people want to stay at and invite their friends to. A houseparty I threw in Brooklyn a few summers ago, having prepped the space well with conjure enhancements, resulted in my phone ringing off the hook late into the night with calls from unknown party-seekers in Manhattan who wanted to know if our party was still happening. If you’re from NYC, you know that such reverse-transit nightlife is rare (unless we’re talking spots along the L line — and we’re not).

See you on the dancefloor.

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:

Mailchimp

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.

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