Health and the Flesh
Surviving Shaman Sickness And Keeping Whole
You live in a body, and you are here in that body for a reason.
No matter how much you wish you were not tethered to this flesh, it is needful for many reasons...and you know what they are, if you will be silent and think about it. No matter how often you leave, you must come home to this gift. Yes, it is a gift to you - our gift. Do not insult us by devaluing it.
-Communication from a bunch of Gods to me
We spirit-workers do things to our astral bodies that most people wouldn't dream of. In many respects, we run our astral bodies like an Olympic athlete runs their physical body. This has repercussions on our physical form - the hame affects the lich and vice versa. As long as you live, there is no way to fully separate the two, or protect them from each other. This means that part of your job as a spirit-worker is to take care of yourself, on both levels, with the intensity that an Olympic athlete would give to their flesh. Ignoring the physical is one of the biggest risks we run, spending so much time as we do outside of it. Sooner or later, though, this catches up with you and interferes with your ability to do your job. Sometimes it can even kill you.
There are three areas of concern when it comes to the health of spirit-workers: taking care of the physical body, taking care of the astral body, and surviving shaman sickness should it occur. We will take them piece by piece, with suggestions from a number of spirit-workers who have dealt with this for years.
(Note: You'll notice that this chapter is on the health and sickness of the spirit-worker, not
that of their clients. Healing is indeed one of the main functions of a shaman, and of many spirit-workers. However, it is such a complicated and widespread subject that it deserves, and will get,
its own book: Mapping The Hollow Earth: Northern-Tradition Shamanic Healing. In the
meantime, no one ever talks about the health of the spirit-worker, and it's about time someone
Caring For The Lich
Some of us have the luxury of reasonably healthy bodies, but many of us don't. Spirit-workers seem to come with more inborn health problems than most people; it's been speculated
that the genetic "wiring" that makes one more easily able to do the work comes with genetic side
effects. This conjecture is made even more interesting by two further anecdotal details: first, the
majority of early-life medical complaints from spirit-workers fall into a few specific categories,
and second, spirit-workers who didn't have complaints in those areas from an early age tend to
develop them anyway after doing spirit-work for a few years. This strongly suggests that these
are common side effects to being born with, or developing through spirit contact, the "wiring"
that makes what we do possible.
The first area of complaint is neurological problems. We've found that the following conditions are frighteningly prevalent in spirit-workers: epilepsy, non-epileptic seizure conditions, Tourette syndrome, and chronic migraines. Lest medical personnel leap to conclusions about all this spirit-work being just illusions caused by bad brain wiring (well, actually, if they're heavily invested in believing that then they will believe it no matter what I say), it should be pointed out that seizures and migraines are some of the conditions developed by some apparently neurologically "normal" people after beginning spirit-work.
The shaman Yetilin had an incessant nervous twitching in his face, [and] the Chukchee said laughingly, that he was probably "with an owl kele" (spirit), comparing his affliction to the jerking motion of the owl's head when it devours its prey.- Bogoras, The Chukchee
The second area of complaint is blood sugar issues; both hypoglycemia and diabetes are found in pre-onset spirit-workers, and hypoglycemia is especially prone to appearing in post-onset spirit-workers. The third area of complaint is immune disorders; a malfunctioning immune system is again symptomatic in both cases. There is also a side set of endocrinal problems often found alongside of immune-system glitches: polycystic ovarian syndrome, hypogonadism, and various intersex conditions, all of which present in higher numbers in people who will become spirit-workers. Those sets of problems happen so commonly that new spirit-workers who mention developing them tend to get wry, knowing nods from more experienced ones. It's "part of the deal", although it's difficult to say how it all fits together.
Neurological problems can probably be explained by the stress of running high-voltage energy through a body and brain wiring that wasn't built for it, and as for those who had them already ... well, as my assistant pointed out, when you build a really sensitive receiver, you get static. Blood sugar causes are less easy to track, but may well have to do with the hame being frequently out of alignment with the lich, and two separate digestive systems giving different information to the brain, which becomes confused about where nourishment is needed. Under normal circumstances, healthy food will nourish a healthy lich, which will supply most of the ond necessary for a normal hame. With the combination of extra ond-needs and a hame that frequently gives out vastly differing signals from the lich, it can be conjectured that the resulting stress, over time, creates hypoglycemia.
The endocrinal syndromes are a more difficult thing to explain, although simple low-immunity can be spoken of in terms of stress. However, most of the other syndromes are genetic in nature to one extent or another, which lends some credence to the often discomforting idea that continually rears its head: that some people are just more genetically "wired" to be spirit-workers than others, and that these "gifts" come with an associated genetic price. It is also interesting that a few of these conditions - epilepsy and intersex conditions, for example - have been considered signs of being "god-touched" in many ancient cultures anyhow. Again, rather than considering them causal, one could consider them frequently comorbid with spirit-work.
While some spirit-workers will have fairly serious physical obstacles, some may seem entirely healthy in body. Still, spirit-work takes its toll over time, and the intelligent spirit-worker will pay attention to a failing lich as a sign that all is not well with the hame, and do what can be done to tilt the balance in the other direction. The health suggestions below were all gleaned from interviews with spirit-workers on their health practices. Most of these suggestions were repeated by most of the spirit-workers interviewed, so my cutting of repetition for brevity should be kept in mind. Most of us have found that almost all of these things help.
The single biggest thing is getting enough sleep. That has a much more immediate impact on my ability to do spirit-work than anything else, even more so than what I eat or what kind of shape I'm in. I'm the kind of person who'd stay up 24/7 if I could, reading or writing or doing any of a hundred other things I find more interesting than lying comatose in bed. I used to be bad about not sleeping enough. But when I was shaman-sick, I became subject to prolonged periods of insomnia. I couldn't sleep for days at a time, and it really made things awful both physically and mentally, so that I was even less capable of holding things together while grappling with shamanic insanity.
If I don't sleep for at least six or seven hours, I won't dream, and my dreams are an important part of my life as a spirit-worker - I often have prophetic dreams or get messages through them, which can't happen if I'm awake. Plus it's hard enough to focus on mundane tasks when I'm sleep-deprived, but it's damn near impossible to do anything spooky on not enough sleep. For one thing, I can't hear any of Them very well when I haven't slept enough. For another, I'll start having first auditory and then visual hallucinations, and needless to say, these gravely interfere with my ability to do any spirit-work.
Otherworld journeying is the hardest on me, physically; although I practice hamfara or astral journeying, rather than having to physically pathwalk, it still takes a great deal of energy. I'm usually exhausted when I return even if the journey was of relatively short duration. Part of that may be because of the time differential between this and the rest of the Nine Worlds; even if only an hour or two passes in this world, if my journey lasts for days in the otherworlds, then I'll feel just as tired as if I'd been traveling and doing things for an equal amount of time here.
Since lots of spirit-workers seem to have medical conditions like insulin resistance, neurological disorders or chronic pain, having pre- and post-spirit-work procedures already in place to compensate for your existing physical problems is a good thing to do. Doing things like horsing or trancework takes enough out of a person without throwing in blood sugar issues or old injuries acting up on top of everything else. For instance, I'm diabetic, so hardcore fasting is not an option for me. I usually eat at least a piece of raw fruit or two before I undertake a journey, since I don't always know how long I'll be "gone." But because there's always a chance I might have a low blood sugar episode after I return, anyway, I make sure to have something to eat or drink ready at hand for when I come out of trance.
Needless to say, if you willfully ignore your body while doing spirit-work, eventually it's going to rebel against all the ill treatment, possibly to the point of severely interfering with your Job. And what would They have to say about that? Probably not something very reassuring, I'd think.-Elizabeth Vongvisith
Diet is important. That doesn't mean any one particular diet; different people have different needs and there is no one-size-fits-all. If you're not sure what you should be eating, ask your patron deity. They may not tell you outright - what god has the time to list every food? - but you'll probably find yourself drawn to or repelled from certain foods over the next couple of weeks. Pay attention to that. I find that for myself, it's not any variety of actual food so much as simple wholesome foods. I do best when I can identify every part of what I'm eating, and there is nothing that couldn't have been (or ideally was) grown on a local farm.
In fact, I have a visual exercise that I do when I'm wondering whether I should eat something. In my mind, I have an imaginary neighbor named Gunther, who works a small, old-fashioned farm. (As I live in the city, there are no Gunthers near me, so I must imagine one.) Gunther farms like I would were I drawn to that work - no pesticides, no hormones in his herds. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, geese and pigs wander his fields, well-treated and well-fed. Each of his vegetables, or the fruits taken from his extensive orchard, is carefully grown and harvested with pride. His grain may be cut with a tractor and ground in his mill, but he understands its gift. His wife Breta makes butter and cheese, and grinds the flour. His fishponds teem with fishes, although he will also sell those brought in by his brother Bjorne the ocean-fisherman. Because Gunther's farm is imaginary, it can shift climates and grow food from many areas. Whenever I look at a food in the store, and read its label, I ask: could I have bought all the ingredients of this food at Gunther's farm, and assembled it myself, assuming that I knew how? If not, I usually make myself put it back.
This is something that many spirit-workers have discovered: just cutting out the chemicals makes a big deal. Eliminate the preservatives, the dyes, the pesticides - eat organic and simple - see what happens. You hear things more clearly, you are more sensitive. You would be surprised how much the false food dulls you. It was never alive, never had life to give, and it is profane. A little is not a sacrilege, but the more you consume, the worse it is. With spirit-work it is just the opposite of what some would have: the more alive the food is, the more recently it drew breath, the better. Raw vegetables fresh from the garden are the best precisely because they are still alive and have the most energy. It sounds terrible, but no spirit-worker should be afraid of the cycle of life. We feed on life, and someday we will feed it in turn. That's the other thing that I think of: is what I put into my body making it fit food for worms someday? If my rotting body would poison the earth, something is very wrong.-Gudrun, seidhkona
After the obvious effects that dietary changes have had, I have become much more sensitive to trance states; whether this is a purely physical thing or not is debatable, but since I think trance states have as much to do with physical factors as they do with spiritual and mental ones, it figures into my way of thinking. Being more sensitive to trance states is beneficial, but it's also troublesome; my current challenge is to become stuck more firmly in my body. Again, this may not be a purely physical thing, but spirit work has greatly affected the way I fit into and relate to my body, so this has been one of the biggest physical results of spirit work. I'm much more sensitive to foods, and things like caffeine and alcohol. Various aspects of the work have reduced an already mercurial sex drive to near zero; ironically my early training included sex magick, which changed me in other ways. Things like heavy ritual work, journeying, or working with sacred plants can leave me run down for days; I'm not good for much of anything past making tea and watching daytime TV.
Spirit-work can be exhausting, and when we get tired immunity can be compromised. The exhaustion seems to be a natural part of the work. Keeping healthy certainly helps avoid becoming sick, but it's a tough road until a certain level of endurance is built up; I'd say that the work load is as much to get things done as it is endurance training. Intense energy work can have adverse effects on the body if the right safeguards aren't in place; you can burn out circuits, and that's never pleasant. Unhappy wights have several ways to make sure we don't cross their paths again, and their retaliation can include physical illness. Always keep preventative maintenance in mind; eat the right things, take your vitamins, and get enough sleep (when you can). Stay mentally healthy; make time for recreation and for non-spirit work activities. Pay attention to shields and personal energy fields, and take care not to anger any spirits.
Above everything else, I have to keep working. My health, particularly mental health, is dependant on my working; if I stop, I'm hit with overwhelming depression, extreme mood swings, and other problems. These problems have direct effects on my physical health; for instance, when I get very depressed, I don't eat very well, which only makes me sicker. I have to pay attention to my taboos and obligations. Neglecting these results in spiritual ailments or affects my ability to do my job, which is what I have to do in order to stay healthy. If any part of my life is ignored for too long (mundane responsibilities or spiritual ones), everything else falls apart. I have to pay close attention to keeping everything in the correct balance.-Jessica Maestas, spirit-worker
I've struggled with my health ever since I became a spirit-worker. The work that I do has left me with joint and back injuries, a compromised immune system, migraines, blood sugar issues, hormonal imbalance, depression, and stress and anxiety problems. To counteract some of the strain and to keep myself healthy, I do the following regularly: I practice Tai Chi and Chi Gung. I regulate my sleeping habits and get enough solitude to keep stress away. I take a number of supplements daily - vitamins, iron, chromium and magnesium to help regulate my blood sugar, flax seed to regulate my estrogen levels, acidophilus, calcium with extra Vitamin D, and coriolis (a Chinese mushroom that is absolutely wonderful for strengthening the immune system). I take herbal medicines as needed - I find that thanks to the spirit work and my Jotun blood, my body does not respond as expected to many pharmaceuticals and even when it does, I tend to become immune to them fairly quickly. I do regular cleansings both astrally and physically via herbal detox. I meditate and pray regularly, and I get a health reading once a year from another shaman.
The most common complaints that I've suffered have been exhaustion, migraines, blood sugar issues, and weak immune system. Of course, I think that the nature of the physical strain will vary depending on the spirit-worker and the type of work he or she does but immune-system issues seem to be pretty pandemic across the board.
Also, there have been times when I've had to engage in astral combat or other protective work and my astral body has taken severe hits that have culminated in physical injury on the temporal plane. (The worst of this was a case of elf-shot that left me with pinched nerves and scar tissue in my lower back.) Usually such astral injuries affect the physical body by leaving scar tissue, debilitating pain, joint problems, even ruptured disks. It depends on the nature of the injury itself. I've also seen astral injuries that bleed energy and strength from a person which results in sickness, malaise and depression. I've known cases where toxins infecting the person on the astral have eventually leaked down into the physical and resulted in tumors, cancers, and infections, but I myself have not yet experienced this.
Being aware that stress can come from simple mundane things is important too. Many of us are kept on a fairly short leash by our Gods which can include truncating personal relationships. The isolation and marginalization of being who and what we are can create an amazing level of emotional and psychological stress as can the hostility we often must face on a day to day basis from the communities we serve. The cure for this, if cure there is, lies in seeking out and developing a community of spirit workers, shamans, god-slaves, god-spouses, mystics, et al. as a support network … people of like mind, who understand and share both the work and the strains. Having that community to fall back on can be immensely strengthening in and of itself.-Galina Krasskova
Spirit-work, in all its various forms, is rather draining. It's physically tiring, emotionally taxing and spiritually exhausting. It's important to try and keep your general health at a high level. I'm grateful that Hela made me get my health together before all of this started to get really out of hand. Some of it started to happen during that process, but it has snowballed tremendously. My diet is rather strict. I have been essentially vegan for the past two years (though She wants me to change this slowly) and I avoid processed foods: no hydrogenated oils or artificial colorants, no preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, nor canned products. I eat organically as much as possible, but when it isn't, I avoid the “dirty dozen” crops. I would really recommend trying to get enough rest (easier said than done when one is an insomniac and the spirits are overworking you), eating a lot of good nutritious fruits and vegetables (also easier said than done when one has digestive ailments and monetary restrictions), and using high-quality nutritional supplements when one can afford them. Juicing is also a great way to power up if you can afford to do it. Mix fresh vegetables and fruits with lots of pigments. Exercise is important if you can manage it. I respond particularly well to hiking in the woods. These things really do help.
I have also been doing near-daily cleansing baths which I find extremely helpful. I take them very hot, with Epsom and sea salts. I often use lavender essential oil or a blend of oils designed to help me relax. Conversely I can use energizing oils if needed. This is very good for me physically as well as spiritually and emotionally. Sauna, when one can get it, is also amazing for this. I often meditate and/or perform ritual cleansing while I'm in the bath, unless I am simply too spent. Then I use a simple prayer for aid in my cleansing.-Steph Russell, spirit-worker
I have to eat a seasonal diet, consisting of whole or minimally processed foods, and my sugars are limited to maple and nutmeg syrup, honey and some (increasingly rare) 'raw' sugars. Also, I have to eat raw meat occasionally (if the source is questionable, I can make it extremely rare) when I work. I also have to find local equivalents to my cultural diet. More and more often I find I have to shift towards game meats instead of livestock meats, which means I have to get to know hunters - or have people 'pay' me in game meat - and buy it in the grocery store. I've noticed that livestock meats are beginning to make me ill when I eat them. Buffalo over beef; pheasant over chicken, etc. If my ancestors could hunt it and gather it, I can eat it ... and they're getting really insistent that I stick to this.
Spirit-work has also changed ow my body responds to modern medications. I can't use any modern painkillers, and 95% of modern medicine does me no good whatsoever. The 5% that does work are massive doses of the highest-strength stuff (which naturally isn't covered by my insurance), and I have to use them rarely to continue to be able to use them at all. This means that I get regular downloads of herbal information and I pick up 'local' herbals everywhere I travel. That proved useful on my honeymoon, as I was in a situation which required medical care, and for which I had to use local herbs. I'm getting this information more and more often to compensate, so long as I continue to demonstrate my willingness to abide by it.-Aleksa, spirit-worker
Breathe deeply, have good posture, stretch when you can, and move your body whenever you can. I know that we tend to live in worlds connected with our minds and souls, not our physical bodies, but we have to remember to move them on a regular basis. Keeping the body moving keeps the energy channels moving. If nothing else, take walks out in nature.-Ari, seidhmadhr
Meditate and drink a gallon of water a day. Drinking lots of water flushes the system and speeds the process. Also basic grounding techniques including eating starchy foods after horsing or journeying helps one be more body aware and less dissonant. Being aware of where the body is at all times when elsewhere cuts down on a lot of mistakes that lead to illness.-Krei, spirit-worker
Caring For The Hame
On the other hand, the astral body needs its health seen to as well. Energy-moving techniques are the best thing for this. As spirit-workers, we can't afford to let the wiring get rusty, because it's put through so much extra usage. One way to manage this is, of course, just circling your energy, perhaps while you're sitting around waiting in the doctor's office, or on the bus. Run it in a loop up the front of your body and down the back, and then reverse it. One of those directions will relax you, and can be used to help get to sleep. The other will energize you, and can take the place of stimulants. The tricky part is that which is which will differ for each person (regardless of what any energy-gurus may say) and only you can figure out which direction does what for you. However, you'll likely be able to figure it out in very short order, as the effects are noticeable in something like a minute or two. This simple exercise is a quick pipe-cleaner, so to speak; the equivalent of running hot water down the drain. It may not get rid of major buildup, but it will at least keep the channels open.
I get utterly exhausted astrally if there's a lot of work. Oftentimes there are so many balls in the air at that I'm never all in one place, so there is a sense of disjointedness and missing time. Spirits usually have priority over my time, and even those times one might presume are "normal" situations inevitably end up being "on duty" lights. I get nausea a lot when my astral body isn't well, which is usually helped by grounding, centering, and getting some sleep.
Astrally speaking... hmmm, well. depending on the duty at the time I can end up with "electrical cuts" (they look like scratches with a burned tinge), and aches in metaphysical joints (if I had to shapeshift to make the journey, for example). I'll get the sensation of not being all in one place, or of being half present. Centering my attention and retracing my steps usually helps with this. Eating properly helps both bodies. Keep "grounding" foods - salt, meat, chocolate, bread - on hand at all times.-Aleksa, spirit-worker
Grounding and centering, if not daily then at least every couple of days, helps a lot. Even if you're the most city-bound of spirit-workers, leave the city and find a green place where you can ground and center regularly. It will keep your energy cleaner. Come up with a regular purification ritual - it doesn't have to be a long one, it can be short, and then you can do it every time you take a shower, which means that you don't have to schedule a special time for it.-Ari, seidhmadhr
If you are particularly prone to issues of blockage, and especially if the get in the way of your signal clarity and your general work, well....there's a reason why we shamanic types use altered states of various kinds. Having an especially cathartic altered-state experience, especially if it is done ritually and with the aid of one's various wight-helpers, can blow out the blockages and widen the "pipes". It can also do harm, if you're not careful, so make sure that you take precautions. (For more information than you likely need on all the different sorts of altered-state techniques, please see the next book in this series - Wightridden: Paths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism.)
Cleanliness and purification is a useful thing for hame maintenance. Learn to give you hame a once-over and check for small parasites which may sucker on to you while journeying. (Useful instructions for grounding, centering, and keeping the hame cleansed and monitored can be found in the Journeying chapter of the second book in this series, Pathwalker's Guide to the Nine Worlds.) If you're put in a job where you have to be sucking negative things out of people constantly (and you're not a primary psychic vampire who can burn them off naturally, or you are and you're dealing with things too horrid even for you), take precautions. Try putting together a filter to pull the energy through before taking it into yourself, perhaps in an amulet that can be worn and dipped regularly in salt water to clean it. The best way to keep your hame clean is to avoid gunking it up in the first place. As in many professions that deal with toxic waste, hygiene is very important.
What you put into your physical body, in general, can affect the astral body and thus psychic ability, or the ve as we refer to it here. This is something that mystics and psychic workers in general have known for a long time; thus the elaborate traditions that have grown up in many religions around purification, asceticism, and other ways of clearing the mind and focusing the spirit. This isn't just about food; however, especially in this modern era. Medications can affect the astral body through the physical. This doesn't mean that one shouldn't take necessary medications, it just means that one should be aware of the possible psychic side effects as well as the physical ones. If there is some question as to whether a particular medication should be put into a particular spirit-worker's body, divination should be done to get the opinion of the Gods and wights on the subject.
One issue that has come up recently as an ambivalent debate among spirit-workers is the
problem of psychiatric medications and their effect on the ability of psychically talented people
to use those talents. This is one are where divination is crucial, especially in the case of SSRIs,
antipsychotic medications, and antiseizure medications. Psych meds are highly variable in how
they affect someone's mind and ve. The same medication can give one spirit-worker the mental
clarity to better access their ve without blocking it in any way (and some of them learn to work
around any psychic side effects of lifelong meds without much trouble), but giving it to another
spirit-worker can completely shut down their ve, a situation that can anger the wights and cause
them to find ways to get that individual off of those medications. Some spirit-workers have even
found that this blockage lasted for years after they went off of the medication; they report having
to work for a long time to bring back what had been lost, and some claim that it was never the
same again. Take great care, then, before making the decision to take any psych med. (I realize
that this is easy for me to say; it may be the case that if someone is in such a state as to need
psych meds, they may not be using their best judgment. That's why divination, preferably from a
neutral party, is a good thing.)
Something that we don't like to talk about is that the human beings of today are very different, genetically, than those of thousands of years ago. We have been radically sculpted in ways that we aren't even aware of by the last few generations of toxic chemicals in the environment and in our food, and also by modern medicine saving people who would have died in previous centuries, and allowing them to breed and pass on their genes. Really, we've changed the course of human evolution, only we've not done it in a deliberate way, or one that makes us stronger as a species. We're weaker, and continuing to get weaker. Don't ask me how to fix this socially; I have no answers...and the answers of the Gods frighten me.
What I do know is that we who are bound to serve other people and heal them need to address the fact that there are disease conditions going on today that have never occurred before in the history of mankind. Some are genetic, some are triggered by external toxins, some are a combination of both. Traditional Native American medicine people that I've spoken to were the first ones who started talking about the existence of new forms of illness - and especially mental illness - that they, their teachers, and their spirits had never seen before. It was then that I realized I'd been seeing the same things, and the wights that I work with were rather unsure what to do about them. Certainly those wights were also uncertain about the role of modern medicine, and modern psychoactive medication. The wights that I work with aren't static, they aren't two-dimensional shadows. They understand change, and they change. They just need information to catch up. That means that I spend a lot of time reading books and articles about modern medicine and drugs, and I let them see it through my eyes, and they make the connections. I trust that they will learn to help, and to aid me in assisting those who suffer. We just need to give them help so that they can help us in turn. And the wights talk to each other, too, so the more of us that are doing this, the better it will be for all of us.-Gudrun, seidhkona
I think one thing that isn't talked about nearly as much as it needs to be in modern society regarding medication is that everyone is different. That is not a convenient fact for the pharmaceutical industry (it makes it harder to put cholesterol ads in Time magazine, for one thing). This means that every individual person will respond a bit differently to a medication. That also applies to different times in a person's life when for many (often hard to quantify) reasons a medication may work better or worse for that person.
Sometimes a deity that you're working with will say that a particular person (possibly you) shouldn't use a particular drug. What we need to keep in mind as spirit-workers is that there are times when a medication is totally the wrong thing for us or a student or colleague of ours. I don't doubt that the deity is right in that case. It may be that another anti-depressant might have been OK for that person to use, or maybe that person just couldn't be on that kind of drug at that time and do what spooky stuff they needed to do. It would be tempting for us to say that this means that particular drug is not OK for spirit work or magic, but it really just means it wasn't for that person in that instance.
There are no easy answers in matters of neurochemistry and spooky foo. This is an area that most of us in the spirit-work community would do well to acquaint ourselves with. The incidence of neurological and/or psychological issues is quite disproportionate among spirit workers. I should point out that I am a big believer in using as few medications as is possible while still being able to function and be safe. Witness that I have Tourette Syndrome, and I am willing to go around barking like a dog rather than deal with the side effects of the few medications that have any effect at all on my tics. And yes, some of that is because the medication side effects hinder my ability to function as a spirit worker (or anything else for that matter), although I would point out that there is a real difference between saying that a medication interferes with spirit-work and that the side effects of said medication do. On an individual medication basis the difference is semantics, but knowing the difference can have a big influence on where you go next.
As spirit-workers, and mentors and teachers of spirit-workers, it also behooves us to be aware of what the consequences of going off of different medications are, and what the proper procedures for doing so are. I know that certain of the medications I take make horsing more difficult, not impossible by any means. If I know that I am going to be horsing a difficult or unfamiliar deity I will make the necessary changes to my medication in the proper and gradual way that the drug calls for in advance of the horsing (advance enough to give me a few days for it to get out of my system). After the horsing I'll go back on the drug in the appropriate and/or gradual way each drug requires.
A full AHFS Drug Information (like the PDR only put out by the national pharmacist organization instead of the drug companies) or even the AHFS DI Essentials or AHFS Drug Handbook should be something that those of us who work a lot with students or who use medication ourselves have available for finding out that sort of information. Plus when a student comes to you saying that the Fae are trying to kill her it is nice to be able to check and find out that paranoid delusions are a withdrawal side effect of the anti-psychotic your student just went cold turkey on before you go starting shit with the Fae.-Wintersong Tashlin, spirit-worker
Some experiential evidence shows that any med, taken long enough, will become absorbed by the system and it's antipsi effects will wear off over time. The more the body "needs" the med in order to function correctly (and in this, I'm adding my experience working with people with seizure disorders, on heavy CNS druggage) the quicker the bodymindspirit adapts to it and it ceases to be a problem.
Specifically, it seems that neuroleptics like Topomax, Dilantin, Neurontin, and the like have a big effect of shutting down psi. However, as the body adjusts, the psi returns in slow doses. Usually I advise people that if the psi doesn't return, it's not the right drug for long term usage.-Del, spirit-worker
The Lich-Hame Connection
There is a lot of material out there, especially in New Age and alternative health care circles, about people who can heal themselves - sometimes of terrible diseases - through the power of prayer or will or positive thinking. This seems like a kind of magic, a kind of spiritual techniques that you'd think that spirit-workers would have mastered. After all, isn't there a lot of stuff in anthropological accounts about shamans healing themselves as part of the first thing they do? Wouldn't it look like that? And if so, why are there so many modern shamans with chronic health issues?
The answer is complicated, and you won't find it in all the think-yourself-well books. There are two ways that healing without any physical cause can happen. The first is that the Gods and spirits intervene, either because someone prayed or because they agreed to do so for other reasons. The latter is what spirit-workers are generally expected to arrange if possible, and the former is probably responsible for at least some of the "miraculous" cures of ordinary people. However, there is a second reason for the "think yourself well" folks, and that is literally what it says that it is - being able to overwhelmingly affect your physical body by your mental state. While a lot of folks talk about that, few are talking about what sort of energy body that requires.
As far as we can tell from our observations, people who are able to do this are people with a very strong lich/hame connection. Their astral bodies are so perfectly linked to and lined up with their physical bodies that influencing the one has a profound effect on the other. The down side of this is that these are also the people who can cause themselves great harm from psychosomatic illnesses, perhaps even unto death. But they can heal themselves, if they try.
Spirit-workers are on the other end of the continuum from these people (with the rest of humanity somewhere in the middle). By the nature of the work that we do, we have a much more pronounced split between our lich and our hame than that aforementioned mass of humanity, and that's necessary. If it wasn't the case, being ergi (often a very psychologically painful situation which encourages both psychological and psychic dissociation) wouldn't be nearly so much of an asset to spirit-work as it is. This is especially the case for classic shamans who have died and come back; the near-death modifications cause a permanent separation between the lich and the hame that can be temporarily bridged with difficulty, but the twain shall never meet naturally or for very long ever again. Even if you're a non-shaman spirit-worker, you work will by definition tend to push the two apart. This is a necessary evil for doing our Work, and if the Work weren't so valuable and important, we wouldn't have to do this thing that is so hard on a human body and soul. Spirit-workers in general tend to be excellent at ignoring pain and discomfort, which is reflected in the accounts of shamans dancing all night until they dropped, and then getting up in an hour to go work in the fields with everyone else.
However, just because we have this necessary handicap doesn't mean that we should just
give up and let ourselves disintegrate. Even if you're a classic shaman and your hame is never
going to stay congruent with your lich again until you die the final time - if your soul is "dead",
even if your body isn't yet - there are ways that this can be temporarily bridged long enough to
keep you reasonably healthy. One that has worked with me is acupuncture, although it may take
far longer for the hame to be trained to respond to it than the lich. It took me about a year of
weekly sessions to get to the point where I could both physically and astrally feel what was going
on as the needles did their work. Other folk have had luck with energy-work session to
temporarily reconnect the two in order to send appropriate energy along those channels.
A few bodyworkers who work with spirit-workers are learning to do different sorts of massage that help to shape the hame when it gets stuck, or to help the lich/hame connection. However, about fifty caveats have to be inserted at this point. Bodyworkers and energy workers who do not understand the nature of spirit-work, and especially the nature of the astral modifications of a particular spirit-worker, should not take it upon themselves to attempt to mess with that spirit-worker's hame. The Gods and wights can sometimes make permanent changes to our astral bodies that may look bizarre or wrong to an energy-worker with vague second sight and no understanding of why things flow in this weird way. We've heard horror stories of spirit-workers who went in for a simple massage to deal with orthopedic problems, and the massage therapist happened to also be an energy-worker, took one look at their unusual hame configuration, decided that it was a terrible problem that needed to be fixed, and attempted to 'fix" them without their knowledge or permission. In each case, it did minor damage to the spirit-worker and took them some time to get it all back to working function. It was certainly a good thing that this didn't happen with spirit-workers who have heavy wards and "booby-traps" on the various modifications to their astral bodies, because that could have gone badly for the energy-worker as well.
All this means is that you, the spirit-worker, have to choose any bodyworkers extremely carefully. If what you're looking for is just physical work that doesn't go any deeper than the lich, it might be a good idea to stick to bodyworkers with a highly medical or sports-massage context to their work, ones that see it all as a physical thing and don't hold with all that fluffy Newage spooky shit. On the other hand, if there are weird physical anomalies that are actually caused by the spirit-work, there will be no good way to explain that, if you feel that it's necessary. The ideal, of course, is an energy-trained bodyworker who understands spirit-work, is willing to learn about your particular "system" and what it's been altered to do, and can deftly work around it.
But there are few of those on the ground right now, which means that it's probably up to
the spirit-worker to "train" their own energy-worker, should they need one. To be fair, there also
needs to be a lot more pooling of information between us about this issue before we can give
comprehensive instructions to bodywork schools. For example, we need more information on the
different kinds of energy-oriented bodywork and how they affect different sorts of spirit-workers.
Cranio-sacral therapy, for example, has been anecdotally cited as a frequent offender when it
comes to screwing up spirit-worker hame "systems", and until we have further information we
feel that it is strongly contraindicated for spirit-workers with serious spirit-created astral
modifications. In some cases, we've heard of even such "harmless" energy as Reiki being
ineffective or causing mild damage, so proceed with care.
How do you tie together things that exist on different levels of reality? In pondering this, I'm trying to find some analogy that could give possible leads. How would you tie Earth and Water, when they are so different in nature? Perhaps by combining elements, sympathetic magic could be used. Air and Fire don't seem as relevant. But Earth is solid, and Water unites, slipping through all the cracks. Earth is physical. Water is more like the Astral. Perhaps applying mud on the chakras? All right, time to pause for experimenting.
I just tried rubbing mud onto my throat chakra, rubbing clockwise, from the point of view of someone standing in front me. Throat went up from 6 to 12 (in my intuitive measuring system). Tried it on third eye; it went from 31 to 41. And they're still slowly climbing. I notice my Sight being clearer than usual. It might be just from the clockwise rubbing, but I think the mud makes a difference. When I've previously tried to "spin" my chakras into higher activity, the results were very short-lived. The mud seems to make it "stick".
As the mud dries, the effect seems to decline. Down to 9 and 37 after about 15 minutes, though I can still feel it active, like a warmth. Perhaps covering the mud to keep it wet would help? With the water gone, it's just earth, so that kind of makes sense. Will have to see if there remains some net increase tomorrow. Otherwise, it's just a temporary fix, and not nearly as useful. Maybe earth and oil would work, so it doesn't dry. Skin oils are the only reason the earth is still sticking onto me, after the water's gone, and it seems to still be working. After half an hour, it's at 9 and 36. Interesting...
I get the numbers by asking my intuition, but another method is using a pendulum over the chakra while lying down. You count how many times the pendulum swings a full circle before stopping, and that's your number.
Final notes: The next day, I was still at 9 and 36, and a week later, I am at 12 and 37. The "mud spin" method seems useful in improving the astral and physical body connection in a permanent way, and it increases the function of weak chakras (a 100% increase) more than that of strong chakras (a 20% increase). Though your mileage may vary.-Linda, spirit-worker
Dead Men Walking: Shaman Sickness
The term "shaman sickness" is not one that you'll generally hear outside of most spirit-worker circles, and that's because we have only relatively recently learned to identify it again, after centuries of not understanding what it is that happens to shamans at the beginning of their careers. The term denotes a period of illness (often seriously life-threatening in some way) which is caused by the Gods and wights in order to completely remake someone and turn them into a shaman. The phenomenon of shaman sickness is found in tribal cultures around the world, with remarkably similar sets of traumas. It is the hallmark of the classic shaman in many parts of the globe.
I should disclaimer two things right here: First, in spite of all references about global
shamanic traditions, we are again only speaking for the Northern Tradition. In some tribal
cultures, it seems that their spirit-workers do not go through such changes and experiences. I
can't comment on that one way or another; however, it seems that in the traditions of northern
Eurasia, this is the way things work, the way that the spirits want it, whether we like it or not.
Again and again we find references to this in circumpolar shamanic traditions, and also ones in
other areas of the world. The following century-old comments by Siberian shamans from Marie
Czaplicka's book on the subject are typical both of what many tribal cultures say about shaman
sickness, and what modern classic shamans in the Northern Tradition find to be true today:
Whether his calling be hereditary or not, a shaman must be a capable - nay, an inspired person. Of course, this is practically the same thing as saying that he is nervous and excitable, often to the verge of insanity. So long as he practises his vocation, however, the shaman never passes this verge. It often happens that before entering the calling persons have had serious nervous affections. Thus a Chukchee female shaman, Telpina, according to her own statement, had been violently insane for three years, during which time her household had taken precautions that she should do no harm to the people or to herself.
I was told that people about to become shamans have fits of wild paroxysms alternating with a condition of complete exhaustion. They will lie motionless for two or three days without partaking of food or drink. Finally they retire to the wilderness, where they spend their time enduring hunger and cold in order to prepare themselves for their calling.
To be called to become a shaman is generally equivalent to being afflicted with hysteria; then the accepting of the call means recovery. There are cases of young persons who, having suffered for years from lingering illness, at last feel a call to take up shamanistic practice and by this means overcome the disease .... Here is an account by a Yakut-Tungus shaman, Tiuspiut ("fallen-from-the-sky"), of how he became a shaman: "When I was twenty years old, I became very ill and began to see with my eyes, to hear with my ears that which others did not see or hear; nine years I struggled with myself, and I did not tell any one what was happening to me, as I was afraid that people would not believe me and would make fun of me. At last I became so seriously ill that I was on the verge of death; but when I started to shamanize I grew better; and even now when I do not shamanize for a long time I am liable to be ill."
The Chukchee call the preparatory period of a shaman by a term signifying "he gathers shamanistic power". For the weaker shamans the preparatory period is less painful, and the inspiration comes mainly through dreams. But for a strong shaman this stage is very painful and long; in some cases it lasts for one, two, or more years. Some young people are afraid to take a drum and call on the "spirits", or to pick up stones or other objects which might prove to be amulets, for fear lest the "spirit" should call them to be shamans. Some youths prefer death to obedience to the call of spirits. Parents possessing only one child fear his entering this calling on account of the danger attached to it; but when the family is large, they like to have one of its members a shaman.
During the time of preparation the shaman has to pass through both a mental and a physical training. He is, as a rule, segregated, and goes either to the forests and hills under the pretext of hunting or watching the herds, 'often without taking along any arms or the lasso of the herdsman'; or else he remains in the inner room the whole time. "The young novice, the 'newly inspired' (turene nitvillin), loses all interest in the ordinary affairs of life. He ceases to work, eats but little and without relishing his food, ceases to talk to people, and does not even answer their questions. The greater part of his time he spends in sleep." This is why "a wanderer . . . must be closely watched, otherwise he might lie down on the open tundra and sleep for three or four days, incurring the danger in winter of being buried in drifting snow. When coming to himself after such a long sleep, he imagines that he has been out for only a few hours, and generally is not conscious of having slept in the wilderness at all." However exaggerated this account of a long sleep may be, we learn from Bogoras that the Chukchee, when ill, sometimes "fall into a heavy and protracted slumber, which may last many days, with only the necessary interruptions for physical needs."
Second, this is not something that every spirit-worker is going to go through. On the contrary, most won't. Shaman sickness is something endured by the classic shaman - another reason why, at least in this tradition, I'd like to see the word "shaman" reserved for those who have gone this route, and "spirit-worker" or "shamanic practitioner" (or even "seidhworker", "vitki", or "volva" when appropriate) used for those who haven't. I know that I have no hope of instituting this definition outside of this tradition, and I don't intend to try. However, those of us who work with the wights of this area of the world should understand that for us, this is the division.
There's no need to feel like you're not as good a spirit-worker if you haven't gone through shaman sickness. Rather, you should feel grateful, because it kills people, sometimes quite literally. Every tribal culture whose spirit-workers go through such a spirit-triggered ordeal agree that not everyone survives it, and there is an attrition rate. Not going through this condition means that you retain the ability to make choices with your life. It might also mean that your "wiring" isn't such that it could survive the transition, and the Gods know best about these things. Be grateful that you are still alive, and do the best work that you can with what you have.
When I first met other spirit-workers, many of whom had gone through or were going through shaman sickness, I learned that there were two distinct forms that it took (although sometimes, some people got hit with both at once at full volume). We jokingly, sarcastically referred to them as the One Road and the Other Road. The One Road is the Death Road, and it attacks through your body. Spirit-workers on the Death Road come down with physical illnesses, some of them life threatening; there may be months or years of hideous, painful, chronic illness that slowly wears you down and "kills" part or all of your astral body, not to mention bringing your physical body close to death. In fact, the "classic" end to this road culminates in a near-death experience (or in some cases and actual death from which the individual does not return), sometimes with a vision of dismemberment where one is actually taken apart and rebuilt by the spirits. Usually it's not only one specific illness, but a cascade of them - or one which drags on, lowers the immune system or otherwise throws the body seriously off, and starts the cascade. Sometimes it may even start with a severe physical injury, and goes from there. One of the telltale marks of the Death Road is that if modern medical science manages to cure one of the illnesses, it will either recur in a more virulent form, or something just as horrid will take its place. Shaman sickness is remarkably resistant to modern treatments.
I walked the Death Road. Between a combination of medication-resistant lupus and
secondary congenital adrenal hyperplasia, I sickened further and further for the better part of a
decade, and hemorrhaged quite literally to death at the end. I still wonder if I'd had the luxury of
knowing what was going on, and perhaps another human being who understood to help me
through it, I might have gotten to the end much sooner. Certainly I'm well aware that I came close
to not making it; my patron deity was very clear about that. Still, there was a certain level of
physical death that I had to achieve, and there was not going to be any safe or easy way to
achieve it. Most of what I went through was entirely necessary to make me what I am today.
The Other Road is the road of Madness. On this road, the death is of the personality that came before, and it can come about through a period of mental illness. The mental instability during shaman sickness is especially difficult, because the individual is legitimately experiencing contact with unseen (to most others, that is) entities - and they are also seeing and hearing them through a veil of insanity. Figuring out what is real and what isn't can seem nearly impossible, especially since any mental health professionals that they consult are likely to be less than helpful. They may concur that there are brain chemistry problems, but they will neither believe in any of the spirit-contact nor understand the need to see the illness through to some end, whatever that is. Psychiatric medication may be prescribed, and the individual may end up in the hospital. In some cases, the spirits may drive the sufferer away from medical help if they think that it will retard the process, even if this has them sleeping on park benches for a while. In other cases, the sufferer accedes to the wishes of mental health personnel, but it doesn't necessarily fix the problem.
Psychiatric medications for people who are on the Other Road are an ambivalent subject. As discussed above in the section on whether spirit-workers should use psychiatric medications at all, it will largely depend on the individual in question, and divination should perhaps be done in order to get a clear answer. On the other hand, if you are walking the Madness Road as part of a spirit-triggered shamanic rebirth, They may well prefer to you to experience it fully, without the buffering effect of drugs - at least for a time. And if a particular psychiatric medication interferes with your ve in any way - such as making it difficult to move energy or ground and center - it is unlikely that the spirits will allow you to take it, so as above, do divination first to find something appropriate. This advice includes any herbal remedies, but for the latter, it is imperative that a spirit-worker who utilizes herbal remedies should make an alliance with the Grandparent-spirit of that plant, or it may not be all that effective. (Spirit-workers can't just make assumptions about the use of living things for their aid; we are held to a higher standard, even by wights that we haven't met yet or whose existence hasn't occurred to us.) Also, be aware that herbal remedies can interact in difficult ways with allopathic medications, so be careful.
You may also need to consider how much of the issues brought up by shaman sickness
are chemical and how much are trauma that no chemical can help, and that needs to be worked
through by itself. If, for example, there's a large chemical component that is preventing you from
making any headway on the emotional things, you may be able to bargain a deal where you
temporarily go on medication long enough to throw yourself fully into working out your
emotional issues (assuming that you are not taking one of the anti-empathic meds that simply
repress your emotional issues so that you don't have to look at them). Of course, you'd then have
to dedicate every day to making yourself emotionally stable enough to go off the medications and
deal with the rest of the shaman sickness process without going under. Other tools of modern
psychiatry that some modern spirit-workers swear by for "getting ready to survive shaman
sickness" are DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).
While one might think that the Madness Road is, if not easier, at least less life-threatening than the Death Road, that would be incorrect to assume. A spirit-worker on the Madness Road may commit suicide out of pain and despair, or do something stupid that gets them killed, or go so thoroughly mad that they burn out their own gifts and live practically catatonic for the rest of their (usually short) lives. One of the big dangers of the Madness Road is being too crazy to realize that you're all that crazy, especially if you've actually got wight-contact going at the same time. It's also common for your judgment to be entirely off about all the important things in your life, even the simplest ones.
What the spirit-worker going down this road desperately needs is a sane, reasonable person that they trust who shares the same or at least a similar world view to them to be their reality check. This "reality check" should give them feedback as to their apparent sanity based on their behavior as a human being, not based on some socially acceptable scale of belief. They should understand that talking to the unseen or doing odd ritual behaviors is, for this spirit-worker, not evidence of insanity. However, being unable to hold a sensible conversation or negotiate reasonably and rationally over some mundane matter might be, as might losing one's empathy or ability to see the world views of others, or becoming paranoid about the motivations of your loved ones and attributing unrealistic and sinister motivations to them, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.
It is important to remember that the mark of a shaman who takes the Madness Road is that they only suffer from those extremes during shaman sickness, and then they recover. A functioning shaman may have odd social behaviors that are the result of his bargains with the spirits, but s/he is fully aware of how they look to others, and can communicate patiently and sensitively past that hurdle. They are able to have healthy relationships and negotiate sanely with others. They need to be sane, in order to do their jobs - not just because the job is so stressful, but because it requires them to understand and empathize with many different clients. They need to be able to live in this world as well as in the Otherworlds, or they are ineffective. This means that in order to function as a shaman, they need to come back from that illness. It's important to have faith in the wights who guide this process, as they understand how to bring someone back from it, but it's also important to have a human support system who can help you with regular infusions of reality about how you look and sound to "normal" people.
At the same time, there will still always be a faint air of insanity about people who have
walked the Madness Road, even when they are acting completely sane and normal, just like there
will be a faint aura of "death" around those who have walked the Death Road - and for people
with the Sight, they may be able to see and smell Death in their auras. (That "smell of death" is
difficult for most non-Sighted people to interpret, and they may end up associating it mentally
with "evil" or "wrongdoer" or just "creepy". Even if they are lawful and upright people who never
harm anyone, people may just "feel" after being around them for five minutes that this is
someone dangerous or harmful.) That's because shamans don't ever really come all the way back.
One spirit-worker, however, pointed out to me that walking the Madness Road has one
significant benefit: A shaman may well be asked to deal with people who are broken in all sorts
of ways, and having spent time insane can give insight and compassion in those cases. When one
spends time delving into damaged psyches, it's good to know the territory intimately.
I remember seeing a beggar in the New York subway during my sickness. He was shirtless and filthy: he had open sores on his skin and was staring down intently at the concrete, his cupped and dirt caked hand extended in front of him while his shoulders were hunched like he was getting ready to spring. He was also sitting in a full lotus position: to this day I've rarely seen another American who was able to do that. And I realized that in India he would have become a sadhu, and people would have known exactly what was going on with him. But in our culture he was just "mentally ill."
I wonder about the distinctions between schizophrenia and shaman-sickness. One possible distinction might be: "You recover from shaman-sickness; schizophrenia is a chronic and degenerative condition." But this leads to yet another question. How many cases of "schizophrenia" are just untreated, or badly treated, cases of shaman-sickness? If I had received "psychiatric help" during my 1994 episode of shaman-sickness, I might well have decided I was insane. I would never have listened to the voices: I would gladly have taken whatever medications were required to silence them, and today I'd be living in a welfare hotel and collecting a disability check - or I would be yet another suicide statistic. Winding up on the streets self-medicating with marijuana was one of the luckiest breaks I ever got: things could have been a whole lot worse.
I got better once I stopped fighting the voices and started listening to them. I also noticed that my spirit-voices spoke in complete, coherent sentences (or at least clear thoughts and images). The neurological noise, by contrast, tended to be garbled words or sentence fragments repeated inanely. I still get those when I am tired or under stress: I treat them as a warning buzzer and have managed to work with and around them. I'm still given to logic-leaps and mental tangents which are common to schizophrenics and creative folks alike, but I'm able to dial it back to "charmingly eccentric" instead of "drooling nutcase." But the scars are still there. This is one of the things which can make the whole question complicated: "in contact with the spirit world" and "bug-fuck-nutty" are not necessarily mutually exclusive, even after shaman sickness has run its course.-Kenaz Filan
Modern psychiatry is not, of course, terribly supportive of people's claims that they are hearing spirits talking to them. And, to be fair, only a tiny percentage of cases of mental illness (or, for that matter, life-threatening disease) are actually manifestations of shaman sickness. It is likely that if shaman sickness were an accepted diagnosis in this culture, many mentally ill people would claim it as theirs. We know this because it does happen in cultures where it is accepted. One example of this is the central figure in Margery Wolf's ethnographic paper The Woman Who Didn't Become A Shaman, a Taiwanese woman who started having alleged possession incidents and claimed to be speaking to unknown gods. Local shamans were called in and examined her, but decided that she was merely mentally ill and not actually suffering from any culturally acceptable form of shaman sickness. The author, watching the episode from an academic Western (and aspiritual) viewpoint, felt that the reason for the rejection was that the woman in question was of low status, or something equally socially unfair. Not really believing in the "spirits" of the actual shamans, she was mystified as to why those professionals would claim that those spirits were not in evidence for the afflicted woman.
This means that someone who ends up on the Madness Road is going to have to be very, very careful as to what they say to any mental health practitioner. If you are actually hearing spirits in addition to the sockpuppets in your head - or hearing them through a field of distortion - then this is something that you're going to have to work out on your own, perhaps with help from a trusted diviner. No psychiatrist is going to be able to address the root of the problem if they don't actually believe in it.
On the other hand, sometimes the Gods want you to clean out your mental problems in
preparation for this soul-wearing Work, and they may want your feelings clear and loud so that
you can deal with them. Talk-therapy may be useful here, as long as you stay away from spirit-work and keep on the subject of your ordinary human problems, of which you likely have just as
many as any non-spirit-worker, whether you believe that or not. If there are major issues
cluttering you up that will interfere with future Work, your patron wights will do what is
necessary to make you clean them up.
Recently I learned that there is a Third Road, the Art Road. This was described by someone as being the road for the spirit-worker who has dedicated themselves to some Art. They live it, they breathe it, it is their identity and the source of all the joy and creativity in their world. The Third Road forces them into a position where they must give it up entirely and walk away, never to touch it again. I have little more information on this Road - unfortunately - but I would assume that it would lie close to, or lead to, the Madness Road. (There is also that the Roads cross each other. Severe illness can be accompanied by bouts of mental instability, and mental illnesses can have physical side effects. Most cases of shaman sickness will involve a lot of one and a little of another.)
One thing that must be stressed is that shaman sickness is a long process. It's not some sort of weekend-long epiphany after which the individual claims to be completely changed. It is long, slow, and agonizing. It can last months or, more often, years. It can also recur if the Gods and spirits feel that you have reached a level where more work needs to be done. If you're mired in shaman sickness, understand that it is going to take its own time. Lay in supplies as if for a long siege, and the best supplies are patience, devotion, and doing as much spirit-work as you can manage, given your situation.
We do know this about shaman sickness: It is triggered by the Gods and wights, and once it starts, even they cannot stop it. It has to go through to its end, whatever that may be. While there's nothing that will make it stop, or reverse, there are some things that may help to speed it up. One of these is deliberately going through ordeals. Not everyone is cut out for, or should go down, the Ordeal Path - but for those who can do it, it can bring the body and mind closer to death and thus speed up the process. Taking these multiple trips to the personal Underworld of body and soul brings you closer to Death, and gets you more quickly to the point where they can do their astral modification work and get it over with, and get you out the other side. For more information about the Ordeal Path in the Northern Tradition, look for that chapter in Wightridden: Paths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism. For more information about the Ordeal Path in general, we recommend Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM And The Ordeal Path.
Shaman sickness doesn't happen to every spirit-worker, but when it does it can be pretty frightening. First, though, I want to distinguish between Kundalini sickness and shaman sickness; they are related, but not the same thing. Kundalini sickness is what happens when you are changing the way your body runs energy from 110 to 220 volts. Kundalini energy is basically this coiled energy that sits in the base of the spine and comes up. Working on that channel connects your genitals to your brain, and has other benefits like making your brain work better. Upping the voltage makes your core go from idle to forward motion within your energy system, but when that comes up, it comes up quite violently. It can break things, if you're running too many volts for your wires - or too many amps. Your wires will melt, things will get damages, your capacitors will burn out, and you can really seriously damage yourself. You can damage your kidneys, you can give yourself migraines, you can fry your nervous system permanently.
A woman that we know actually died from it. She had a site dedicated to the dangers of Kundalini sickness. As it stands, it's quite easy to prevent it from happening. You just need to do your Kundalini exercises carefully, drink lots of water, know that it can happen and back off if it starts to happen instead of doing more. It requires your whole body, eventually. It is a kind of natural modification that slowly rewires everything for 220 instead of 110, as it were. You can go through months of not being able to eat, puking everything up. People go blind for minutes or hours at a time. There are weird wandering depressions.
Some of the symptoms of shaman sickness are related to Kundalini sickness. Some of it is just that the spirits have to get you close enough to death to receive their modifications. Part of it can happen just because they have kickstarted the thing, waking your energy body. There are all sorts of blockages in your energy system because you haven't been using it properly and they will smash through it. Then once they've done that, they start to kill it off. They make sure it's all working, and then they just drain the life away from it. It's terrifying, painful, and depressing. I certainly thought that I was dying. There can be psychotic breaks, despair, long drawn-out illness. You can't get healed. You have to hit bottom somewhere.
I don't know if you can help it along. There are things that would slow it down, but I'd be more interested in trying to speed it up. Certain meds can slow it down, and so can fighting it, but that will just kill you in the end. I think accepting it speeds it up. Ordeal work can speed it up. The problem is that speeding it up can bring you too close to death too fast, and that can kill you too. The knowledge doesn't come from people, it comes from solitude and suffering. The Inuit will stick you in an igloo for months without much food, for the initiatory ordeal. Of course, maybe that's for the safety of the tribe as well. Because part of your karmic record has to be cleared away, you act out every imbalance that you have, with grotesque violence. So I was just horrendous to be around during that period. You're a source of bad luck, and certainly a source of bad vibes.
We ended up having a full-on funeral for a very large part of who I was. A part of me was laid to rest and chose to die, because I had become so sick and dysfunctional. I was depressed, I had terrible asthma. That part of me - she was so sick and hypervigilant, she gathered all of that into her and took it to the grave with her. And now she's feasted as a hero; she's one of my ancestors now. It was rough, though; it still upsets me to think about it.
How do you choose what part of you gets to die? First you have to know who they are. This requires a lot of meditating and introspection. They need a name, they need a history. Write a saga about them. Write the end of the saga "And then they died to save me." And they need to be ready. Just because you want them to sacrifice themselves and go die now doesn't mean that it's the right time, and that they're going to want to do it. They have to want to do it. You can't just kill them, because you become what you kill and you have to take the karmic load. It's actually much better if they can do it themselves, because then you who are left don't take the karmic load. If you kill them, you still have the karma. If they kill themselves, they take it with them. It's easier on what's left. Of course, some of them don't go down easy. You can ask the spirits to kill them, because then the spirits will take the karma. But then you have to make sure that the spirits will take only them and leave the rest intact. Or you can ask your deity to kill them. Then you have a proper funeral and mourn them, really mourn them.
So I don't know if that has to happen to everyone, but I suspect it's not that uncommon. But that's a big undertaking, to decide that this is what's needed. If you are going to do that, you need to talk to other shamans. If you can't, do lots and lots of divination, and get confirmations from omens, so that you can get a clear idea that the divination is correct. "I want to see a freaking billboard that has her name on it somehow, or I want to drive past something with a huge grave on it, or something. I want that level of clarity." Because if you do kill a piece of yourself off, there's no going back.
Of course, I don't think you should even contemplate it without advice from your patron deity. What I'm concerned about it someone going to a workshop and saying, "Oh, I saw my totem animal guide and it told me that I should kill myself." You need to have a long-term established relationship with a patron of some kind. They can trigger the shaman sickness without showing themselves to you, or you can be too thick-headed to notice that they're there. Usually in anthropological tales, the spirits come first. Those who go through it without hearing their spirit patrons end up dead.
But mainly it's about letting go. Meditations on emptiness. Meditations on letting go. Relaxation exercises. Dissolving work. Letting go as hard as you can.-Lydia Helasdottir
I was mentally ill for three years. I wasn't even aware of what was happening until I managed to contact a few other spirit-workers online and they told me what was going on, after which things really took a turn for the worse - kind of like, "Okay, so you know what's going to happen to you - hold on, here we go!"
I had several violently psychotic episodes as well as "missing time" and memory lapses. There were numerous bouts of insomnia, some of which lasted as long as four days at a time. I became paranoid and convinced that people secretly hated me, and what little sense of self-worth I had was beaten into the ground. I was severely depressed and overreacted to everything with wild mood swings. My judgment was likewise disabled -- once I freaked out completely when I accidentally locked my keys in my car, and had to be talked down over the phone by a friend, who likewise had to solve the problem of my locked-in keys because I couldn't think straight or reasonably.
My life turned into a bad country-western song. I lost my job, my car, my social life, even my cat. My family, from whom I hid the fact of my shaman sickness, kept haranguing me about being unemployed and acting strange, which stressed me out further. Basically, my entire life fell apart and I was helpless to do anything about it. What made all of this even worse, though, was that except for a couple of dear friends who were busy having and raising a baby, I was geographically isolated from everyone I cared about. Days would go by where I wouldn't talk to anyone I knew, or maybe nobody at all if I didn't leave my apartment, and once I figured I had gone about four months without even touching another person. Not having hardly any human contact all that time was in and of itself an ordeal.
I think that for a lot of us, shaman sickness can be described as a Hobson's Choice sort of affair - either you die fast or you die slow. Either you get Cweorth and burn on the funeral pyre, or you get Ear and you rot. I rotted. I don't really remember there being a single turning point in all of this - in that respect, I didn't have a classic sort of shamanic experience. But things slowly began to resolve themselves. My life got rearranged differently. I was being internally rearranged as well - I lost a lot of old emotional baggage, and my self-esteem was built from the ground up, much stronger than before. I lost any uncertainty about my experiences being "real" as well. And I was lucky; despite being unemployed and nearly incapable of taking care of myself for three years, I did not wind up homeless, nor did I starve. My family turned out to be surprisingly understanding when I finally told them what was going on, as did all of my remaining friends.
Then one day, Loki said to me that I was done, the shaman sickness was over. And I managed to survive, somehow. I feel fortunate.
I didn't have a near-death experience like other spirit-workers I know, but there are parts of me that rotted away and were buried and are gone forever now, or that were taken by Loki or Hela and replaced with other things. The most significant aspect of shaman sickness is that whoever you were before it began becomes more or less irrelevant after it's well and truly over - you vaguely remember what it was like being that person and feeling her feelings and thinking her thoughts, but it may have so little connection to who you are afterwards as to seem like another person entirely. So yeah, I think it's true; you don't come back all the way, whether you actually die and are brought back to life in a physical sense, or whether you just get killed off a tiny piece at a time.
What I did, after my initial reaction of "No, this isn't happening to me!" was simply to accept it - that my life was going to implode, that I was going to go crazy, and that there was nothing I could do to stop it. I know that's the last thing most people are inclined to do, but if you're going to be shaman-sick and the spirits are going to put you through the wringer no matter how loudly you protest, you might as well make it as easy on yourself as possible.
Just as people get injured more often in auto accidents because they unconsciously brace for the impact, if you try to resist, you're just going to be hurt worse. You have to go with it - you have to ride the pain and loneliness and insecurity and fear without letting it drag you completely under. It's hard, but it can be done. You have to keep in mind that it will end, and that when it does you will be a stronger person for it, and will look back with amazement and hopefully, some compassion for yourself for the things you went through. Yes, there is the chance you won't make it - some of us don't. Some people die, or are broken forever. But you can decide not to let that happen to you.
No matter how much things suck, no matter how bleak the future looks or how unprepared you feel or how scared you are, you can survive this. If there was no chance of your survival, the spirits would never have done this to you. You are not the first nor the last person to ever go through this, and you are not alone - even if you're geographically isolated or stranded among people who don't understand and are hostile to the whole thing, you are not alone.-Elizabeth Vongvisith
Mental illness has historically been what I'm hit the hardest with, and this time seems to be little different. I'm emotionally unstable, and prone to wild mood swings, deep depression, anxiety, anti-social behavior, and the occasional manic episode; I can behave very badly and hardly realize it. The depression can be overwhelming; it's arrested my ability to work and if I'm not careful I become sick for not taking care of myself. Even though I've had to live with it my whole life, the instability that comes during shaman sickness is unique (and interestingly enough, when I'm doing my job and not dealing with sickness, my depression is nearly nonexistent; I don't even have to be medicated for it). The mood swings and weird behavior alienate people and I've lost long-time friends over it. My fortune and circumstances have also been screwed over, which seems to be just par for the course.
How to make it pass more quickly? Hop into it headfirst and try not to hang on to any part of your life so hard that it breaks you when it's ripped away. Obeying all necessary taboos will keep things from getting as bad as they could be, and doing your job can win you some small assistance from the spirit world. But you can't go through that kind of crisis - emotional, physical, and spiritual crisis - and not be dramatically changed for it. I can now look at some of what I went through and say, “Well, at least it's not that again!” The relative difficulty of whatever mess is in front of me is readjusted accordingly. It removed the doubt of the validity of what I was experiencing; some things end up written so deeply that no amount of rationalizing or self-doubt can argue against it. On the surface that appears to be a good thing, but speaking for myself, some of the ways I achieved that knowledge were horrible (and others simply monstrously unpleasant). The way I understand it, part of the purpose of shaman sickness is to saturate you with poison; in the way that fever drives out illness, shaman sickness strikes at the illness of your life in order to heal you. Getting to the harmony and “health” necessary for a spirit-worker isn't accomplished by comfortable forms of healing - it's amputation and fever, like cutting out cancer or making the body such a toxic environment that whatever invading parasite is driven out or killed. The life that was originally present is forever altered because it was “sick” by the standards of spirit-work. When you're “healthy” you are by necessity a different person.-Jessica Maestas
Early on, I was shoved down the path of Madness. I took quite a few steps on that path and sank deeper and deeper into an often suicidal depression. I was blessed by Loki to be given a choice, though: He allowed me to take a long term look down the madness path and quickly chose physical death instead. It's a hell of a lot easier - for me, anyway. I still carry shards of memory and scars from my experiences of slowly feeling my sanity and hold on reality slipping away (and there are times where the terror of that time still rises up in some perverse shamanic PTSD), but I managed to not go too far down that path. I instead chose to walk the Death Road.
Once my choice was made, I was immediately struck ill for a fortnight. I was unable to eat, drink, could barely urinate and lay flat on my back in feverish agony. After that, things slowed down and progressed at a more stable pace. Having walked the Madness path for a little bit, I have motivation to keep moving down the Death path. I know that if I hesitate too long in what needs to be done, or refuse certain challenges, I'll be thrown back into madness. It's... um….incredible motivation.
My shaman sickness involved losing myself. I started having intense visionary experiences with the Gods that I was honoring. Then things started being taken from me: I lost my apartment, my job, the physical mobility that I'd enjoyed as a dancer, my career, every single one of my friends, and the religious group I was working with at the time. Had it not been for the kindness of the priestess who had trained me, I would have ended up living on the streets. I was forced into emotional and spiritual darkness and for a time, I thought I was back on the Madness road. I think I did go mad for a time. It was as though my emotional landscape was being ploughed up, forced through a sieve, halved and carefully planted with new seeds that would eventually blossom into skills of priestcraft and shaman-craft.
In many ways, I got off easy. I know that just as I must now go through a series of ordeals, I may be taken into another cycle of shaman sickness. Odin has hinted at this strongly over the past year. I'm not quite sure what exactly this will entail, though Odin seems to favor a workable blend of mental and physical anguish.
I don't think there is anything that will make shaman sickness pass more quickly. I think the way to survive is to surrender to the process and to trust in one's Gods and just bear up and go through it, knowing that if one endures, there is a light at the end of that very dark tunnel. This was the only thing that allowed me to get through it … that hope and an inborn stubborn streak. Finding a community of other experienced shamans and spirit-workers and having a good spiritual foundation can help immensely too but ultimately the only way out is through.
Of course, the saying is true, you don't really come back all the way. How can one come back fully from the type of traumatic experience that shaman sickness is? The whole purpose of the sickness is to break a person down, change and re-pattern them into something the Gods and/or spirits can use; to open them creating a vessel or tool. The person as they were before the sickness essentially dies. What returns is different, and the person carries with him or her the scars and remnants of their sick-time. It defines their path and work from that moment on.
So if you're going through this, pray. Utilize consistent devotional techniques like centering prayer as a lifeline. Do what you can to keep yourself as physically healthy as possible—no use adding extra strain. Avoid psychiatrists—they don't understand the spiritual and nothing they do will accomplish anything but prolonging the inevitable. You'll likely have no luck with most modern "core"-type shamanic practitioners, because they haven't gone through this and the nonconsensuality of it may frighten them. Try to find other classic shamans and spirit workers, those who have already been through shaman sickness. They may not be able to do anything to help, but just having a support group of people who understand and can reassure you that you're not going crazy, who have gone through the sickness themselves, can be immensely stabilizing. Unfortunately, I really do believe the only way out is through. Do whatever you have to, whatever your Gods are suggesting to open yourself to the process and just endure. I don't know of any other way to survive it.-Galina Krasskova
Shaman sickness itself causes drain, never mind when it's synergistically combined with emergent gender issues and emotional rebirthing. I tend to think of them as inextricably linked in the cases where they occur together. In my particular situation, I've dealt with insomnia, major depression, malaise and physical exhaustion, frequent illness, digestive upset, food intolerance, self-destructive episodes, and gender dysphoria. Then there are the bouts of profound self-doubt, extreme spacey-ness, forgetfulness, various kinds of madness, fairly extreme changes in emotional response (including rage which requires a physical outlet) and a desire to run from deity. Never mind the actual day-to-day world collisions and near dissolution of everything I have financially, romantically and career-wise. Your whole world suddenly becomes very precarious. I've known others in my position who have had these same or similar experiences.
Having a good support system is really important. This can also be tremendously difficult to achieve when the people closest to you are alienated at times by your behavior and inexplicable changes. You're in the process of dying and being remade, and your loved ones may not recognize or like who and what it is you are becoming. Things you are required to do by the spirits seem contradictory to what is sane and healthy behavior; these things may be seemingly injurious to your person, financial stability and ability to help maintain a functional household. It's no wonder that people around a shaman-sick person have a hard time dealing with it. It's important to keep your lines of communication open with any significant others. This can be tremendously difficult when people are judging you harshly, but you absolutely must be forthright. If things are going to fall apart, there is little you can do to change it anyway, so it might as well happen honestly and succinctly. Being as honest and open as you can manage gives the other people in your life the opportunity to either rise to the occasion or bow out. There is, in the end, no use in prolonging the inevitable or in denying yourself potential support.
My advice is to find other people who have experienced these things firsthand. For a quiet introvert like me, finding and accepting community support was a difficult task. It was also one Hela insisted on and I cannot thank Her enough for it. I have found a community of warm and helpful folks who actually understand my predicaments and have useful advice to offer. It's a terrible thing to navigate this experience blind, with most people around you convinced you are simply going off the deep end to no avail.
From my own experience and what I've seen in other situations, fighting deity and running from responsibility is not something that ever ends up helping in this process; in fact it is personally devastating. I spent a good amount of time being avoidant and it has resulted in punishments and a work backlog. Things seem to go better when you're doing what you're supposed to, and if your experience is anything like mine you're going to be exhausted either way. It's a lot less painful when things are running smoothly ... well, most of the time. Much of the work is grueling and sometimes pain is just part of the process.
The initial stage of shaman sickness seems to me to be a lot like boot camp. You get hazed and ordered to work and be productive, and you scarcely know what you are even doing. For me it's been a sink-or-swim situation a lot of the time, and the only thing I can do is have faith and try. You might get tossed "on-duty lights" that seem way out of your league, all the while trying to navigate your own personal issues. It can be immensely difficult and intimidating, but you have to step up to the plate.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about why things are the way they are and my intuition screams that They do things this way because it's Necessary. I know that my patron Hela in particular is motivated by Dire Necessity and Purpose, two things I constantly work at keeping in mind while I struggle with my work. All my life I've had this sense of needing to do something incredibly important (and frankly being bothered by it), and I've spent a lot of my life wondering what that was. I'm not a very ego-centric person and am not drawn to accolades, so I had trouble wrapping my head around this inward push. I think I'm beginning to understand.-Steph Russell
My shaman sickness took roughly 6 ½ years and resulted in excessive weight gain, extreme depression, suicide attempts and a completely changed personality. Collectively, they created a situation in which my family members rejected me and eliminated my support base. I'd say that it was primarily mental illness, with physical side effects. The only advice that I can give is to stop fighting it and dive right in, as the more you deny and struggle the harder it becomes. Also, contacting friends you trust and people who may have lived through it for venting or guarding you during the difficult period is helpful. Life would have been far easier if I could have just gone into seclusion and dealt with the spirits rather than holding down a regular job, but this is the modern era and there's nowhere for novice shamans to go. If having friends who've survived isn't possible, finding knowledgeable people to explain it to your loved ones (if appropriate) could help.
One thing that might help is to find the culture most akin to the manifestation of sickness and see how they handle the transition. Echo it as much as possible. That's what I did. For those without such a culture, you might review the lore of an accepting culture as well as the lore of yours, and see the parallels - then work the parallels to help the transition.-Aleksa, spirit-worker
Know that it will pass and do not act rashly or irreversibly when not sane. Mindfulness of external word and deed is vital. Suicide is an act of weakness, not a sensible option. Perseverance is all one can do. Don't lose your sense of humor or your will. Don't forget how to love. There is a profound absurdity to a lot of it; see it for what it is.-Krei, spirit-worker
Astral Body Modifications
One thing that modern spirit-workers of all sorts are beginning to talk about when they get together is the fact that often, our hame is different from those of other people. Some may have mild to moderate changes, and those may have grown slowly, over time. Others may have dramatic astral changes of the sort that can only be implemented by major spirits, as explained above. Nonhuman bloodlines can create hame anomalies, which can become more severe if those bloodline-gifts are exploited for spirit-work, as they usually are. Constant shapeshifting can also take its toll on the makeup of the hame, and the spirits themselves can move through you and change you, leaving traces of their nature that can build up over time. It's not uncommon for the attributes of a patron deity to leave their mark as well; one spirit-worker whose patron is Odin developed eye problems. My own patron, Hela, limps, and so do I a good deal of the time. Like her, I am not made bilaterally due to skeletal malformations, and my physical and astral meridians are also very different from side to side - one side is always more "dead" than the other.
One example of a minor spirit-modification that has become immensely popular is a Reiki attunement. When done in the classic way - and not just in the way of many folks who claim to be able to attune anyone in two minutes by waving their hands at them - a bit of your aura is scooped or "cored" out to make room for a "port" that will connect to the Reiki energy and download it through your hands. The various symbols are used for control of the flow. Some Reiki masters warn that for the next 21 days, the astral body needs time to get used to the modification, and may reject it. Many already-modified spirit-workers have found that Reiki attunements just won't take on them; that "port" may be already in use for other purposes.
This is a new and uncharted area, and we are working on tiny scraps of knowledge. One thing that we have noticed, anecdotally, is the issue of the chakras. (Yes, this is Hindu and not northern-tradition, but just as every lich has the same acupuncture points, every hame has chakras, regardless of what you want to call them.) Chakras have many purposes, but one of them is as attachment points between the lich and the hame. We've noticed a lot of changes in which chakras are strongly and permanently attached, and which ones are "normally" detached for spirit-workers. The biggest offender in this latter category is the second chakra. Ironically, it is associated with the reproductive organs (as opposed to the sexual organs which are root-chakra) and there is a long tradition of spirit-workers being sterile or childless. In some cultures, women are not allowed to do shamanic work until they are past their childbearing years. While a minority of spirit-workers (especially those who are closer to "priest" or "priestess" than "shaman" in their work) do breed, most don't, even today. This is sometimes due to the pressure of the Gods and spirits - if your entire life is dedicated to them, there's no room for the responsibility of children - but it is strikingly often due to physical reasons. At a recent yearly gathering of spirit-workers from various Western traditions, only one out of the entire gathering had ever had a child, and that one became sterile soon after a single difficult birth. When the bloodline-goddess Hyndla gave me an astral modification in the region of the second chakra, she commented that if I hadn't already been sterile, it would have made me so.
Other anecdotal knowledge suggests that different chakras are used for different sorts of magic, and thus get modified differently, if only through continual use. Sex magic, of course, uses the root chakra the most and tends to make slow changes over time there. Both shapeshifting and body-temperature control seem to make strong use of the third chakra, over the diaphragm. Heart chakras are the second biggest "offender" for being frequently disconnected in spirit-workers, although that may be due more to continual trauma than anything else. Making sure that the heart chakra is at least temporarily connectable is very important for a spirit-worker, who is in a service position and must not fall into contempt for the people that they are serving, nor forget how to love. Throat chakras tend to get slightly modified from doing years of galdr or other "shaman singing". Third eye and crown chakras are often heavily modified by the spirits, especially the latter if the spirit-worker is a horse for god-possession. When I underwent my shamanic death, my crown chakra was permanently shut down and moved to the back of my head, where it became a sphincter-like "port" that could be opened to receive information, energy...and deities, should they wish to use my body for their purposes. (For more information on the phenomenon of god-possession, please see the next book in this series, Wightridden.) Other horses report that the spirits use the existing crown chakra, or in rare cases the heart chakra.
Many of us have theorized, as discussed in the chapter on bloodlines, that those of us who are spirit-chosen have been nabbed due to the nature of our "wiring", of lich and hame and ve. It may well be, especially for those of us who go through shaman sickness, that we have been chosen for wiring that can not only manage the basics of spirit-work, but has the best chance of surviving shaman sickness and the ensuing spirit-modifications. It may also be that those spirit-workers who do not get heavily modified and sent through shaman sickness are spared because the Gods and wights, in their wisdom, do not feel that they are "wired" in the right way to be a good risk for survival.
Another thing that we've noticed is that no matter how strange and extreme the astral modifications are, the basic energy meridians and points described in acupuncture are still where they are in "normal", unmodified people. We conjecture that this is because moving those meridians and points would cause the physical body to become unbalanced, ill, and die. That means that even a modified spirit-worker can still get acupuncture, use acupressure, and work with those physical meridians. No matter what is done to us, we still remain here in a human body, and have to work with that.
It's not unusual for modern spirit-workers to "anchor" an astral modification to a physical
body modification such as a tattoo, piercing, or cutting. In some cases, the wights actually did the
astral modification simultaneously with the physical one, as in the case of the nine symbols on
my back that gift me with the protections of the Nine Clans of the Iron Wood. During each piece
of the tattoo, I had a vision of the chief of that clan coming to me and putting something into me.
Another spirit-worker had a set of modifications done for purposes of signal clarity - the large ear
piercing was for better "hearing" of the spirits' messages, the labret (lower lip) piercing was a
"microphone", and the tongue piercing made sure that she spoke the messages properly.
Modified Invisibly: Changing The Hame
by Lydia Helasdottir
Astral body modifications are changes to your astral/energy body that make it different from that of usual people. Some you can do yourself, but the big ones generally have to be done to you by a deity or wight. It's not something you were born with yourself. Some might serve to up the amount of power you can handle on different frequencies, or allow you to even work with those frequencies. We see this whole thing from an engineering paradigm, so if you could draw a wiring diagram of the astral body, there'd be a new component.
The milder modifications are usually widening of the pipes that carry the chi around your body and reinforcing them. That's a typical low-end, low-invasiveness mod. You can do that yourself, slowly over time, from doing various sorts of maegencraft, body energy work. Maegen is cognate to the German and Dutch word for guts, stomach, and in Chinese medicine the guts are where the astral battery is kept, which I find to be an interesting coincidence. Anyway, these make your pipes wider. When one starts to build an energy defensive system, or to improve one's aura, or whatever, that's a mod. So maybe you've got a thing that's made of energy and that looks like an egg around you, and it acts like a filter or a pressure suit, depending on where you're going - that's a mod. But those are just enhancements of existing technology.
When we're talking about higher mods that are given to you, you might have a body part that has been replaced on the astral. For instance, my one hand is a Fey hand, and both my feet are Fey feet. I was badly burned, and we were working with the Fey at the time, and I made a deal that I would carry out some activities for them, and in return they gave me new hand and feet skin. This gives me my fleet running ability - it's sort of like having Fey boots that I can't take off, so I might as well call them Fey feet. This sort of thing is also in various sorts of lore - Nuada of the Silver Hand and so forth.
Then we have mods that are related to physical body modifications - tattoos and piercings and other transformations that become a physical carrier to hold the astral changes. These are quite simply wiring modifications. I've got one that connects my power chakra to my heart chakra, like a thick piece of wire on the astral. It makes sure that those two are always connected together, so I won't be evil. I used to have trouble with being either too gullible or too cruel, and when you connect those two centers, you are neither too gullible nor too cruel, because the two have to work in unison all the time.
Another modification - although some people have it as a natural extension - is that when you've done enough internal alchemy that you can manifest both the male and female, you might manifest genital bits of the gender that you physically and genetically aren't. All people can learn to do this, although it's not easy for most, but most choose not to and it's a damn shame.
Then you have things like plant-based mods. You might be working with a vine, for instance, and receive a subdermal mesh of green reinforcements to the connection between your physical vehicle and your energetic vehicle. That's actually a plant, it's not part of your body at all. It's some other creature in a symbiotic relationship with you, just as your mitochondria are symbiotic in your body. Then you've got specialty mods - for example, if you have to navigate strange spaces a lot, your patron deity might give you a little navigational beacon installed in your head. Some of these things can even show up on X-rays - there are three stones in my head that show up on X-rays! In that case, the story was a funny one because these three little emeralds disappeared out of a sealed envelope and could not be found. Then we investigated and it kept saying that they were in my head, and then the next time I had a head X-ray they were there. That was pretty weird. Since then, I never get lost, either physically or astrally. I can just triangulate.
Reiki is an example of an astral body modification. When people get a Reiki attunement, they get an astral mod in their crown chakra that makes a very big pipe out through the hands. Then you have mods that are unfriendly - infections, implants, and so on. This is where it starts to sound crazy, but if various wights can put something nice on you, then they can put something nasty on you.
How do you tell when you're getting a mod? Usually you feel really sleepy and have to lie down. When you wake up you feel weird, and if you scan your body and look at what used to be there and what's there now, you'll find that things have changed. Maybe there's an extra bright glowy thing, and you have to go find out what it does. It's generally believed to be impolite for deities or spirits to install mods without telling you what's going on, unless they own you. But it's rare, so don't assume that every time you fall asleep with a funny tiredness that you're getting some sort of magic modification or something.
You can have them checked by an energy worker that you trust, to see what they look like. But then once you have them, you can't let energy workers just work on you any more. You have to set up your energy system prior to seeing the acupuncturist, so that whatever they do to you isn't going to screw up the mods. Generally, things like craniosacral therapy are not all that helpful any more, because it will screw with the mods. But if you know about this beforehand, you can protect yourself from whatever the energy worker is doing, if they're clumsy, by roping them off and putting them in a Faraday cage for the time being. If you're very heavily modified, sometimes you just can't do certain therapies. I have a mod that, while I was getting used to it, I just had migraines for two years. Headaches and migraines seem to be a side effect of energy changes, and of Kundalini rising.
There's a lot of debate as to whether it's better to open one's chakras from the top down or from the bottom up - the water method or the fire method. We generally think that it's safer to use the water method, dripping slowly down from the Source to gently relax and open the chakras, so that when it opens all the way down to the root chakra, everything is already open and relaxed. Whereas the more Hindu method, the fire method, winds it up from the bottom up, smacking into the next chakra, and you feel it - "Wow, something happened!" - and if you do it by the water method you don't get these dramatic effects. But what can happen is that Kundalini will hit the next chakra that isn't open, bounce back down and come out, and manifest itself through the chakra below it. Let's say that the heart chakra is blocked, and the Kundalini comes up, and smacks into the heart chakra. It will go down into the power chakra, and you'll manifest all sorts of power chakra imbalances, like tyranny and inappropriate severity. If your throat chakra is blocked, the Kundalini will come up and bounce off of that, and come out your heart, and you'll have emotions you can't talk about, you'll be put upon, unable to speak with command, and get taken advantage of all the time, because your heart's wide open, inappropriately.
A seer can usually see your mods, unless they're cloaked. The other thing is that there's only so many ports, usually, and often the ports on some people are taken up by attachments on either prior relationships or earlier hangups and traumas. If you scan your body, you'll see them as these little feeding tubes coming in. For the most part, you need to unhook them and send them back. That's a perilous thing, though, because sometimes when you unhook them, if the person who put it there was feeding from you in this way, then they'll notice that you've noticed, and that you've unhooked it, and you will get a lot of attention that you didn't really want. But generally these tubes are just emotional ties to parents and lovers and such. If you don't want to be that disconnected from them, you can send out connectors from your heart level which you control, and which hook into their heart instead of involving your power center. How do you notice it? Chi follows zi, energy follows the attention. Sometimes they will remanifest if you invite them back.
Some mods you can override and some mods you can't. Generally the ones that deities provide are not easily overridden. I've also seen things like big information and energy downloads in the back of the head or neck, or other species/race body parts - I've got Jotun blood, but I've got a Fey hand and feet, which gives a lot of internal conflicts. There's a guy I know who is basilisk totem who has a very hot furnace, and he could suck in poison and burn it up in the furnace. He could extend spikes on his back; his armor was always switched on and he looked like the Batmobile. But he didn't realize that he didn't need that, and that the armor will switch itself on when there's incoming nonsense. So we taught him to switch it off at will, and now he has shimmering skin that looks more like fish scales. It's more approachable and sensitive, and he can get more information...because when you wear plate armor, you're blind and clumsy, and you get tired quickly, and it's dark in there are you can't get sunlight, and you look like you're looking for a fight, which means that you usually get one. So now he looks astrally like a human with slightly shimmery skin, which is more inviting, but when you become aggressive toward him, with energy or with your hand, the heavy black chitin-type armor will pop up automatically as it's needed. That makes it much easier for him to run the system and to get fed. Another thing that he's got is extendable finger-spikes - green ones for feeling the energy, black ones like blades with tiny hooks to reach into someone's energy body and hook out what shouldn't be there, stainless steel ones like hypos to suck things out of someone's arm, and guides in his wrists to let him know what the poison is before he lets it into himself. But sometimes you'll see scared people with monster armor on, and they can't take in energy, and they get starved.
To integrate mods, do energy work that runs your energy through your whole body, over and over, including through the new stuff. Draw pictures of yourself with the new stuff, or wiring diagrams to get used to the fact that it's there now. Use them a lot. They are basically prosthetics...so how do you get used to a prosthetic? Get out of the wheelchair and walk around on it more and more often. Some can be switched on and off, some are permanently on. Some are like hardware, some are like software - like being able to decode languages quickly.
Keep your tongue up. If you keep your tongue up on the roof of your mouth, the energy will come down around and make a cycle instead of blasting out the top of your head. That can help with a migraine, keeping your tongue up. It's in all the decent ch'i-gong books, but it's just this minor thing that everybody says, "Oh that can't be important!" It's interesting to just do breaths with your tongue up, just do a breath that runs from the bottom of your spine over the top of your head and down the front of your body. Do that twenty or thirty times, then put your tongue down and do the same, and see how it's different. And if you're overexcited and want to go to sleep, you can run the energy up the front and down the back of your body. Try that tongue-up and tongue-down.
Spouses, Partners, and Other Hapless Bystanders
In the histories, legends, and anthropologies that we collect, it is not at all unusual for shamans and spirit-workers to be single. (The exception is in some tribal societies where marriage is a very different institution from ours, and shamans have a higher status.) In fact, the classic archetype of the shaman is not generally thought of as someone who has a spouse - someone with whom they argue over the breakfast table about whose turn it is to clean the catbox, someone whose anniversary they must remember, someone whose arms they lie in at night and take comfort. Yet this calling comes to many people, partnered or not, and the partner may have no choice but to either stay and hold on while everything takes a back seat to this spiritual whirlwind, or walk out and leave their lover during this most difficult of times.
Probably the hardest thing to come to terms with for a spirit-worker's partner is the fact that you will never be the first and most important thing in your partner's life. The work will come first, always. This is made more explicit when the spirit-worker is a god-spouse and the mortal partner isn't even the primary one, but even those who simply work for and with the Gods and wights will have to put them first. If that means getting out of bed in the middle of lovemaking because there are dead people at your window who need help, or missing your spouse's company picnic because a particular rite needed to be done right now, no delaying, well, that's the price that both people will pay.
One thing is certain: If the partner actually gets in the way of the Work, or if the partner's
disapproval or lack of understanding is used as an excuse to avoid the Work, the Gods will
arrange to remove the obstacle. Yes, this is a warning to both spirit-workers and their lovers.
Don't be that obstacle. Don't let them become that obstacle ... if you want to have any hope of
keeping them, that is.
Children are a particularly thorny problem. Unlike the adult partner who can choose to be there and be supportive or walk, children are stuck and have no choice. However, the Gods are not unaware of this. While the majority of spirit-workers that I've met have been childless (some through choice, some through physical issues), those who have had children have been cut some extra slack during the period of the child's youngest years, and longer if they were single parents. I was given time to see my own daughter to maturity before taking on this job full-time; in the meantime, the deal was that I would learn as many skills as possible in preparation for that time. The Gods, of course, may have a different idea of what "maturity" means; they decided that my daughter was old enough when she was in her teens and still years from being a legal adult.
In some cases, the Gods may also decide that it is better for the other parent (or other family members) to raise the child, leaving the spirit-worker free to work, however painful that might be for them. Generally if this is the order and it is refused, they will do what it takes to lever circumstances until there is no other choice. I've seen this happen worst when someone has been fingered by the Gods, is rebelling against their Wyrd, and getting married and spawning is part of their attempts to get away from their future. That's ended in divorce and loss of full-time custody more times than I can count. If you are going to fight the Powers That Be, my advice is not to bring a helpless child into it.
I spoke to one spirit-worker who had felt the push by the Gods to give up her small child in favor of the Work. She demanded of the mother goddess of her pantheon to only send the primary care of her child away if she could be guaranteed by the Gods to have him pass to a home that was more loving and more appropriate for him than anything she could give. Less than a month later, they visited her brother's farm, and her son fell in love with everything there, including his cousins. Her brother and his wife offered to take her son in temporarily while she got her fluctuating health situation together, with as much visitation as she wanted. Feeling the push by the Gods, she sadly and reluctantly agreed. The arrangement went on until he was an adult, and twenty years later, both feel that it was the right choice.
This does not mean that every spirit-worker should give up their children - as I pointed out above, many manage with the help of other parents, or by making bargains to wait until the children are old enough before taking on the job fully. There is a reason why women, in some cultures, are not allowed to become shamans until they reach menopause - and why their psychic gifts often burgeon at that time. The survival of the young must come first. It is difficult, if not impossible, to take on responsibility to the spirits and the community concurrently with raising young children.
The comments below were gathered from the partners of some of the spirit-workers
interviewed for this book. They ranged from the completely nonreligious to those who were
spirit-workers of various sorts themselves, and their attitude toward their partner's work varies
from skepticism and worry (in the case of J.K.) to complete acceptance. I deliberately kept in the
more ambivalent comments, because it's not unusual for partners to go through several of these
stages, including the ones that are not all that flattering to the spirit-worker, and they are
perspectives that need to be honored. It's not an easy thing, especially in this day and age, to have
a lover who has been grabbed up by a path that may seem so bizarre to society. However, the
hope and devotion inherent in many of these testimonies tells us that love is possible no matter
what the Gods may have in store for you.
As I helped to edit my spouse's unfinished shaman sickness article, I jokingly added certain humorous yet true comments to her text. While I was doing so, she commented that I could perhaps lend some insight into the trials of being on the other side of the fence.
I would imagine, given the nature and severity of such a process, that many relationships falter or fail completely due to the incredible stress put forth by the 'awakening'. I would also guess that the level of closeness in the relationship would have more to do with the actual ability to accept the inherent changes and alienation occurring during said process. Although I am no stranger to spiritual awakening, I have but a faint murmur at this time, compared to my mate's thrumming spiritual pulse. At times she seems consumed by it, her every waking moment seemingly being spent thinking about her past tasks, lessons, and work to be done.
There are many levels to this transformation that I have watched happening. In her article she wrote: "You're in the process of dying and being remade, and your loved ones may not recognize or like who and what it is you are becoming." This could not ring more true, and as she also stated, it really is reminiscent of a 'boot camp' experience. Depending on where you are in your relationship, this alone may cause a disconnection. Once again, communication is key, I know personally that I could not initially accept many of the circumstances that came with this journey. At times I reacted quite poorly, rejecting the notion of it entirely, isolating myself from the truth and reality of the situation at times. Ultimately, though, whether you want to address it or not, having a significant other that is in the shaman-sickness process makes you part of that process. It may awaken things within yourself that you may personally be unable to handle, or afterwards, contain. It may cast a light on the spiritual path that you are to take, possibly even shoving you unwillingly onto that path.
This shamanic journey is such a strong thing that you become involved via osmosis. The energies and gods that interact with your mate - in your own home - will affect you, whether you like it or not. It really isn't something to be taken lightly, but talking about things and not harboring resentment is crucial. In order to have an understanding, even when there is hostility, one must think constantly of how this feels to them. They may not be handling this painful transformation very well themselves. In the end, though, it will be much better for everyone if you talk about things rather than hide from them.
I believe that balance is a major part of what makes the 'big wheel' turn, and as life during this time will be frequently turbulent, once certain benchmarks have been crossed, it will get better. Know that this process is ultimately going to make them become what they really are meant to be, and that if your love is truly 'unconditional' (as I'm sure you have told them many times), when they arrive at their 'true self' they will be a much happier and centered individual. The person you fell in love with is still there, but over time we all change. These changes are healthy and necessary; remember that. Take heart that many of the problems and baggage that plagued your mate in the beginning will probably be addressed, if not worked though entirely. I have realized that this is all part of the journey, and that dealing with 'skeletons in the closet' is part and parcel of shaman sickness. It won't be pretty, and it will likely involve more effort than the energy possessed ... but they need you now more than they ever have. Being supportive doesn't mean agreeing with or liking everything that happens, but you will be surprised at how much of an effect you can have on their journey by being a positive influence if you really do love them.-FX, spirit-worker's husband
Being a spirit-worker myself (though not a shaman), it made the whole process of watching my partner Wintersong's shaman sickness both easier and harder. I could see that what he was going through was necessary, and I could ask Them and get the answer that no, I couldn't help too much, because that was not the point. That all helped, because I didn't feel like I was flailing in the dark. But at the same time, I knew that I was going to have to do something myself eventually - not what he was going through, but something. Seeing what he was going through made me very nervous, no matter how many times I asked and was told that I was going to go through something different. That answer only made think of different and equally painful ordeals that I might have in store for me.-Fireheart Tashlin
I met Aleksa near the end of her "shaman sickness". My part in the recovery was, and is, being a stable grounding for her to anchor to, and to be there as a steady support mechanism for her while she does her work. We're in many ways the opposite sides of a coin, so I can understand what she needs, and having my own brand of magic makes it easier for me to help out with any required background work.
Sometimes the Ancestors request (or demand) certain behaviors or lifestyle changes, but so far those have all been very rational and easy to take, as well as educational. I believe Aleksa has mentioned the growing insistence on a seasonal, local, and organic diet, for example - sure, it takes some work to shift from our usual supermarket shopping habits, but it's less of an inconvenience than a truly better way of eating and living.
I feel very blessed that Aleksa's work is very much ancestor-based. Because of this, I've never had the issues that some spirit-workers' spouses may have with having to "share" her with a Deity, spirit, or the like. In fact, it's rather the opposite, in that Family (living or dead) is the primary core of her community, so that once the Family (especially her dead great-grandmother, who is her spiritual mentor) had accepted me into the family, there was no conflict. Overall, in my case, being the spouse of a spirit worker presents far more blessings than hardships.-James, spirit-worker's partner
When this all began to happen to my wife, I was confused, and then angry, and then confused some more. At first I refused to believe it - I was a Pagan, but nothing like this had ever happened to me or anyone that I knew. As some of the other partners of spirit-workers who were there in the beginning have pointed out, we didn't sign up for this kind of a relationship. We didn't sign up for a partner who has to rearrange the furniture in the house because the Gods want a room all to themselves, just for altars....and then she would spend half the night in there, talking to no one, as far as I could see. This stuff grew and grew until it took over her life. She quit her job to do runes for pay, but so far it hasn't paid off like her job did before, and I've had to pick up the financial slack. That's been the biggest problem. The second biggest problem is that it takes up all her time, morning and night. It's like being with someone in the Army, with no paycheck.
I would try to help with things, only to have her tell me that I wasn't doing it right ... or worse, that I was doing it with the wrong attitude. That really burned me. OK, later I realized that I was desperately trying to make this part of her life somewhere that I had some say, some control, but at the time I just felt like I was trying and being rebuffed. Why would the Gods care about my attitude? But things that I would buy her and give her for her work would mysteriously break, while the "magical" gifts of friends would stay together. I accused her of deliberately, or even unconsciously, breaking them. She would cry, and I would yell, and it would turn into a fight. Which would always end with her steadfastly saying that she had to do this or that, there was no choice in the matter. I'd storm around the house, trying to get her to see that this was crazy, that she only thought she had to do these things.
Until the day that I, in a rage because she was gone out in the middle of the night for hours after telling me she'd be back soon, I walked by an altar and the hand-thrown pottery chalice I'd given her to use for Freya fell off and shattered in my wake. It was like a cold finger ran down my spine. I went to pick up the pieces and put them back on the altar, and I couldn't do it. I literally couldn't make myself do it. It was like someone had put out a hand and stopped me cold. I know that it sounds crazy, but I felt like a sword had just whistled past my head, deliberately missing me. I had never experienced that before, and I was so freaked out that I had to leave the house for four days.
When I came back, I couldn't approach the altars at all. Not because I think that the Gods will hurt me - although I think that I came really close, there - but because I think that I can barely understand the powers that my wife has to deal with, and they scare me. Maybe I can't hear them, but maybe I don't want to. Anyway, I believe her now when she says that she has to do some things or the Gods will hurt her, or that they break things they don't like. I have more sympathy with her now, although there have been nights when she's come to bed exhausted as the dawn is breaking, from doing what I don't know, and I have to yell at the Gods and curse them. But they don't answer me, and truly I don't know what I'd do if they did.
But having seen her relationship with the Gods, it's changed mine. I used to think of them as entirely kind and good - why I don't know, because I can read the myths as well as anyone else, but I guess I put that down to the people long ago having hard lives and seeing the Gods like they saw each other. Now I know that the Gods have goals, and even if those goals are good ones - and I still do believe that they are - they will do cruel things to people in order to reach those goals. That's something that I can't talk about to my Pagan group. But the Gods use her, and they use me to support her. If I love her, which I do and I guess the Gods know that, then I can't leave her, I have to stay and do what they want. My relationship with her is worth it, and I see how much she tries to make space in her life for me, to not let them take over everything. I guess I've gone from believing in the Gods and not trusting her to believing in her and not trusting the Gods, and it's hard.
But it's only been a few years and we'll see how I feel about it in ten more. I was proud when we went to a gathering in western Canada and people were coming to her in a flock, asking for help. She worked herself to exhaustion and never got to go to any workshops with me, but I was proud of her. Even if by the end of the gathering I was "the seidhkona's husband". She does good work as a seidhkona. So maybe I'll get used to this after a while, being the seidhkona's husband.-Haley, spirit-worker's partner
I am kind of a skeptic about all of this stuff. I believe in ghosts and spirits, but not Gods. I grew up in a really traditional household in Korea in the 70's, and my family saw shamans and made offerings. and still see the shaman at least once a year in this country. This means that I don't get freaked out around all of my partner's spells or anything, but I pretty much view it as psychosis of some kind.
I try to be supportive. I have respect for the intensity of her faith, but I also see it as an excuse in a way not to deal with immediate problems or goals. It's much easier to blame the Gods because things are not fortuitous than to change them. When my girlfriend went out and spent $1000 we did not have on archery equipment because the gods told her to hunt (which is hilarious because she is totally uncoordinated and does not eat meat), or spends most of the extra money around the holidays on liquor that goes into the ground, I realize all I can do is support her and chalk it up as her eccentricities.
Early on in our relationship she told me that her religion came first, but I had no idea what that meant at the time. At the time, she had a really high paying job she liked, went to graduate school which she loved, had a great apartment she owned, a big religious community, and lots of friends. Over the past two and a half years, almost all of that has gone away. She's gained lots of weight, been really depressed, started having health problems and lately seizures which she refuses to get help for, and claims to have been told by the gods to quit her job. She is looking for work, and she tries really really hard and stays up all night working on resumes and articles, and fails time after time. She told me that this is called shaman sickness. I think she might be going crazy. There are days where she does not leave the house, she won't go to noisy places, smells bother her, she claims she is forbidden to drink alcohol, and needs a ridiculous amount of time by herself because she needs to meditate or pray or whatever. We were just on vacation in the mountains and she made us leave the area because she claimed to be harassed by elves. It's obviously hard to put up with, sometimes rather like having a child with a zoo of imaginary friends.
She cries herself to sleep a lot of the time because she thinks that the gods don't care about her. She thinks that they are holding back her luck and nothing she does is right. I don't know how to give this credence. It's hard. I try really hard to be supportive and loving, but I also know that insanity runs in her family. I've also seen people in her religious community exploit her kindness and hurt her time and time again. It hurts me to see her in all of this pain.
Most of the time I just feel powerless to help her, and I just try to understand her within her world view and focus on her goodness and generosity and compassion. She has stopped talking about it with me for the most part, but I do see her psychosis progressing and I am afraid for her. It's my job to make sure she eats and gets out of the house and does not turn completely inward. I see it as everyone has problems and baggage, and hers is a really tortured soul. It's the lesser of many evils, I suppose.-J.K., partner of spirit-worker
I knew from the beginning that he was a devout pagan and “a shaman”, but I didn't actually know much about either of those things. Early on, he sat me down and told me there were two very important things he had to discuss with me. First, he wanted me to know that this spirit-work he did was not a hobby he could take up and put down as he chose. He told me that even if it became a great source of discontent between us, he would always do this work. At the time, I was not a very religious person, but I had a great deal of respect for religion and didn't like to see it treated lightly. I understood this shamanism as a spiritual vocation, not much different than being a minister of any other faith. I assured him that I would hope a clergyperson would not consider putting their romantic affairs above their calling. I understood his priorities, and I respected him for them.
The second thing he told me took longer to sink in. He told me that one of the consequences of doing this spirit-work was that it made him and the people close to him face their issues. He said it speeded up their "karma". Since he is a very intense and keenly insightful person, I didn't doubt that any intimate relationship with him could bring all manner of psychological issues to the surface. We'd already had a number of interactions that had made me seriously rethink things about myself and my understanding of the world. I liked this about him, and tried to assure him of that. I didn't really understand what he meant.
Later that weekend, out of nowhere I had a big cathartic episode about something I had been doing for the wrong reasons. I hadn't discussed it with him, it had nothing to do with our relationship, and he had no opinion on it. I just suddenly realized that what I was doing was at odds with what I believed in, and instantly I became incredibly uncomfortable with doing something I had done for years without much thought. Afterwards, I asked him if this is what he had been talking about. He seemed worried that I would be angry at him - perhaps after years of lovers reacting in this way - but I just said, “Well, this is really going to suck, isn't it?” He still teases me about that.
I don't see it as a bad thing. It just means living under closer spiritual scrutiny, quite literally. The gods and wights are a much more tangible presence in my life than they ever would be otherwise. While I am not a spirit-worker, I have become a deeply religious person. I cannot doubt the presence of the gods in my partner's life – not because I trust his word (though I do), but because I can watch him and see things happen that would make no sense otherwise. Eventually I became exhausted by the increasingly bizarre mental gymnastics required to explain it all away in “rational” terms. After a while, Occam's Razor left me with the conclusion that this is all entirely real. It gives me a certainty in my spirituality that seems unique to the god-touched and those close to them.
I have a new appreciation for “superstition” based on this sure but limited knowledge of powerful and ever present forces which I can scarcely perceive. If I'm cleaning the table and my partner has left something there that he's asked me not to touch, I'll get clarification about whether he meant that literally before I move it, and not because I'm worried he will be upset with me. Spirit-workers have things that normal people really ought not to touch. Curiosity is a dangerous trait when live in their home. In fact, unless you have good reason to, you'd often do best to not spend too much time handling or even looking at the spirit-worker's things. They are not only trained in how to handle these things properly, they are equipped to handle things that normal folks simply cannot do safely.
I remember watching the Saami movie Ofelas (Pathfinder) and there is a scene where the old shaman has just killed a bear and taken his spirit, and for the whole next day no one is allowed to look him in the eye – or the power of the bear spirit would harm them – except through a magical ring which the young female assisting him holds up to her eye. I wondered if I was the only person in the audience besides my partner who appreciated this as a perfectly rational and necessary safety measure, not some primitive superstition. So not only do you have to put up with your partner's strange activities (sometimes in public), but you often end up doing some strange actions of your own, out of self-defense.
The most difficult thing about spending time with my partner and other spirit-workers is that as his assistant I need to know a great deal about the practice of spirit-work, but I can't actually do any of it. I've studied a bit of magic and energy work in order to do my job, but I have limited aptitude. It is especially frustrating when folks assume I can perceive things which I cannot. I've had to deal with a lot of feelings of inadequacy about that.
My partner doesn't have a great connection to his body, and doesn't always think about taking care of his physical needs. I think a lot of spirit-workers ignore their bodies, which is a terrible thing because spirit-work is actually a very physically demanding job. People often don't realize that. They may not look like they are doing much besides sitting on a stump for a few hours, but they often come back from it starving and exhausted, and in no shape to prepare themselves a healthy meal. The spirits can drive a person to their physical limits, and sometimes the spirit-worker can get so accustomed to it that they don't think to take better care of themselves when they have the opportunity.
There is a good deal of scut-work involved in this work, and as his assistant, I try to take care of as much of it as I can. If he's going to have to drag himself out in the middle of the night into the cold to talk to some wight who doesn't have the good sense to drop by at a more convenient time, there is nothing I can do about it. But I can at least remind him to wear his gloves, get together appropriate food or drink for the wight, and have some hot tea ready when he returns. In the morning I can pull the offering dishes out of the snow bank and wash the grime off the special coat that the spirits insisted he make of white wool, even though he has to run around in the woods in it. It isn't much, but it helps. Every little bit helps.
Living with a spirit-worker, I think you eventually have to either accept that their worldview is basically accurate, or accept that they are profoundly delusional. There isn't a lot of comfortable middle ground where you can both politely accept each other's differing but equally valid religious views and not make a big deal of it. You don't have to like what they do or worship their gods, but if you don't believe that their spirit work has a strong basis in reality, how can you come to terms with how they live their life? Their religious beliefs and practices guide every decision they make – food, clothing, employment, finances, hobbies, friends, ethics, everything. It isn't as simple as going to different churches, or celebrating different holidays, or not discussing theology at the dinner table. For a spirit worker, their theology is their reality. It starts becoming your reality too, if you stick around long enough.
Suddenly, gods and wights are everywhere, whether or not you can perceive them. Every single day your partner is doing something for or with the spirits. Altars spring up like mushrooms. Votive figures seem to multiply while your back is turned. Things that used to be fine are now taboo. Every conversation comes back to one spiritual thing or another. More and more of their resources go into this work. They buy gifts for the spirits, and then don't show up to your birthday party because they were “busy”. It is worse than them taking another lover, because you can't hope to compete with it. You can't woo them back. Getting angry at them doesn't help. It just keeps escalating and there is nothing you can do but hang in there and hope that when they come through this, there is still a place in their life for you.
A related important job that the partners of spirit-workers often end up doing is being their link to humanity, and reminding them to appreciate being human. Being in such close contact with the spirits can blind them to the fact that most people – even deeply and sincerely religious people – are not. You can end up in the position of mediating between them and the outside world, or explaining one to the other. Spirit-workers often have a hard time knowing how to describe what they do or believe to other people. Their pragmatic and utilitarian view of religious practice can be nearly inexplicable (not to mention irreverent) to the average religious person, who is guided by tradition and what feels right to them, not by what gets "results".
On the other hand, the spirit worker can have a hard time understanding what the average religious person's relationship to the gods is like. Most religious people would consider themselves blessed to have a single experience of personal, direct divine contact. It would be a defining moment in their lives, not a hassle that got them out of bed at 3 a.m., again. Many people can't imagine that level of connection even being possible, let alone ordinary. They shout their prayers into the void, and struggle to maintain a sense of connection to the divine presence. If they turn their minds away from the gods, the gods will not chase after them with a stick.
People base their religious beliefs on sacred texts, and tradition, emotion, and philosophy because they don't have a whole lot else to go on. You can't really fault them for that. One spirit-worker commented that people arguing over theology looked like dogs fighting over scraps on the floor, because they couldn't see up on to the table. I don't think spirit-workers always appreciate how far away that tabletop looks to most of us. The spirit-worker's job is often such a burden to them, and their experience of the gods so ever-present and overwhelming, that I don't know if they can really appreciate how much the rest of us cherish our little scraps, and how easy it is for us to become jealous and defensive over them.
However, although I don't have that kind of access to divine presence, being partners with a spirit-worker has let me know just how possible that is, and I get to watch that, if only from a distance. There are spiritual experiences that I've had and information that I've been given just from being around my partner that I never would have had otherwise, experiences that are incredibly moving. It's all worth it for that.-Joshua, spirit-worker's partner