A little while ago, I was commenting on some of Lupa’s experiences with Black Mold as a Totem. This is not a relationship many enter into with something like Black Mold, which is potentially very hazardous to humans.
I used the opportunity to discuss my take on demons, but not before I made the following comment:
Lupa refers to totems of this type as “Shadow Totems.” They belong to a part of life that many people don’t want to deal with. I would argue that as a neoshaman, it’s kind of Lupa’s job to deal with just those parts of life, because other people don’t want to. (But that’s a whole other discussion …)
It seems that Lupa had already been thinking in a similar direction, and was ready for that discussion, since she wrote this.
Part of my job as a (neo)shaman is to stay in the thick of things, as much as my health will allow. When a shaman journeys to the spirit world, or hides out in the woods, they don’t stay there permanently. There’s a community to be served, and knowledge and wisdom and information to be delivered unto them. Going on the journey, whether it’s through drumming and trance, or backpacking, or your escape of choice, is just part of the trip. It’s not just for your benefit. It’s for the people and other beings you serve, too. And that means climbing back out of whatever comfy hidey-hole you’ve discovered in the woods, whatever font of wisdom you’ve happened upon in the spirit world. No matter how not-fun it is, you gotta come back.
Why? Because in your head and your heart and your hands you carry things that can help lots of folks, and you have the ability to convey it. If you keep it to yourself, you’re not doing your job. “To keep silent” isn’t applicable here. Maybe you have to choose carefully how you convey what you have, and who your audience is, to make sure it has the best chance of making a constructive impact. (Pro tip: preaching, browbeating, insulting, and “my way or the highway” approaches don’t work too well on that count.)
In short: escapism isn’t shamanism. If you want to make people come to you, that’s fine; just make sure the way’s still clear, and the hurdles are not so high that most people are too discouraged to even try. We don’t just get the community we want to serve. We get the one we need to serve, which means sometimes working with the difficult, the obstinate, the downright offensive. Abandonment isn’t a part of it. Setting boundaries, sure. Knowing your own limits, of course. But writing off people entirely just so you can go hide in your little slice of paradise away from the hoi polloi? That’s taking the easy way out.
I have not been drawn toward a shamanic path, in part for that very reason. I use magic to get by easier, to become more effective in the world. I’ll freely admit that most work I do that heals or helps another is either by request or by side effect. If such work is on my path, it is not a stretch I have reached yet.
Maybe I don’t have the talent for it. Or maybe I’m taking the easy way out. Or maybe I’m not ready yet. Whatever the reason, that’s not what I do.
But I desire to use my magic to engage the world, and other people. I do share things I learn with people, and that does help them, I suppose. But the magic I do is not a substitute for dealing with reality. I distrust quests for enlightenment and dislike magical escapism.
And even in my limited capacity as a magician/sorcerer, who has not actively chosen the path of a healer, I recognize that as one who explores the limits of reality and experiences things most people don’t, I do have an obligation to bring some of that experience back to others who might need it. (I’d argue that I’m just more selective about what I bring back and who it goes to. Although this blog is not helping that tight-lip-edness.)
So I remind my fellow magic-users and reality-pushers out there. With great power comes great responsibility, and for us that responsibility (at least partially) manifests as an obligation: to assist those who encounter the liminal spaces that they haven’t been equipped to handle, and guide them either safely back, or cautiously forward.