I make no attempts to hide the fact that I have a more mystical spiritual life than many “Big-R Recons” would be comfortable with —but at the same time, I’m not terribly eager to share much of that publicly. While I admit that there’s a small fear of being mocked mercilessly on the Internet, that really takes a back-burner to the belief that doing so will not only further complicate the more personal aspect of certain mysteries, but will also lead to unneeded indulgences in my own Ego, and being a Leo, I have a hard enough time with that, already. Following that, I also have a legitimate fear for my sanity, as all mystics really should at least be aware of that possibility; fear of other people making fun of me doesn’t even factor in directly after that.
Being “out” about a certain closeness to a deity automatically makes one a sort of spokesperson of that deity, and there is no shortage of the varying degrees of success certain people have with that; some people’s on-line (and even off-line) conduct can reflect on a deity very well, and then there are other times that one’s conduct may actually hurt the image of a deity outside the devotional polytheist community, and not to mention the mainstream non-pagan community. Maybe one doesn’t set out with the goal to be some sort of spiritual ambassador for Deity X, which is fair, but it happens that this is simply how one ends up being seen. I don’t want to abuse my position as a de-facto Ambassador of Eros, so I use a lot of levels of personal “bullshit checks” (or Discernment, in Dver’s far more polite words) to keep myself grounded in certain maxims.
As a ready example for the level of “bullshit checks” I maintain, I’ve had several dreams and visions of being Hyperborean, and not just in the ancient equating of “Hyperborea” with the British Isles; I’ve meditated on this, and the most consistent explanation my Gods give me is that I may be on a path to elevate to that sort of Elysian realm, as if it’s one of the Isles of the Blessed, which seems to be the vague allusion Pindar was going for (“But neither by taking ship, neither by any travel on foot, to the Hyperborean folk shalt thou find the wondrous way.”) —this does not mean, of course, that I’m of a super-human race somehow cast off from my “true” blessed realm of eternal sunlight and goodness and music dancing on the breezes. I’m human; being human can be a wonderful thing, and this glimpse afforded me by the Gods doesn’t change my very human state. Being human is what I make of it, and while I can certainly understand the desires of those in the Otherkin community (or who are simply lumped in with said, despite lack of their own personal identification with said) who may truly believe that they’re something more than human, in my experiences, there are human beings who do well enough with that lot in life, and those who feel ill-fit to it for one reason or another.
That said, I’m certainly open to the possibility of the soul existing independently of the body, and being something that can transcend realms, cross realities, and so on, but because the soul is such an intangible thing, currently even its very existence is untestable by modern technology, I’m hesitant to give those who believe such things too much benefit of the doubt for the simple fact that it’s well-established (and not to mention well-accepted) that the human imagination is a vast thing, and it can concoct all sorts of things in its own realm that absolutely do not exist in this world, things that are biologically impossible for this realm. In my past as an Anton LaVey fan-boy (short-lived as it was), I came across this quote often attributed to him; If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far 100% of the time, but if there’s ever a nagging thought in one’s mind that maybe what they believe is too far-fetched to be genuine or true, then don’t quash that doubt.
Doubt is not the enemy of mysticism. The word “doubt” is from the Latin dubitare, “to question, hesitate, waver in opinion”. These thoughts exist for examination; if we don’t examine why we doubt our beliefs at times, we cannot hope to make them stronger. It’s like Colin Craven in The Secret Garden who’d only ever been told of his vague spinal problem, and was left to grow weaker; only when challenged by Mary to doubt this long-held belief did he attempt to walk, learning that he wasn’t as hindered by his body as he had believed himself to be. Doubt has the potential to break us of crutches we’ve become too dependent on and may no longer need, and thus make us and even our beliefs and spirituality stronger. The strongest and most adept mystics have their moments of doubt, and they become stronger not by denying their doubts exist, but by embracing the doubt like an Olympian wrestler, challenging it, and maybe the mystic wins over the doubt, maybe the doubt proves the victor; you cannot be certain in either way if you just sit out on your hands and declare yourself the victor, and doing so makes one a fool.
Even if we assume that all talk of communicating with Gods and spirits is genuine, and not just the product of a creative mind, it is still healthy to doubt things. How can we be sure that this communique is with the entity it claims to be? The Gods do not punish us for these questions, these doubts. Sure, any truly malevolent spirit is likely to lie repeatedly about who they are, but if we call out to the Gods for confirmation, we are more likely to be answered truthfully than if we do not —that’s just basic logic. If you ask, then you have at least 50% greater a chance of knowing than if you never ask, even a small child knows to ask “why?” and “how?” repeatedly, if only in order to make sense of thing. To blindly accept that any voice is what it says it is just isn’t healthy, mentally or spiritually.
I don’t like the word “shamen”, but I accept that it’s probably the best word to describe some practises. I admit that a reason I have such a problem with the word is because my first boyfriend’s Cherokee mother made it very clear that she had a problem with the word, and the way many exploitative whites will market Native / First Nations spirituality as “shaman”, a word that has no etymological connection to the various religious beliefs and practises of the native tribes of the Americas, that this is a Siberian-rooted word and its use regarding indigenous Americans is an act of racism used to suppress cultures. Or so this is how Tiene put it, and so this is the definition that has been so deeply ingrained in my mind since adolescence. On the other hand, I have, in only the last few years, learned to accept the anthropological definition of “shaman” as one in a religious community who acts as an intermediary between the mortal and Divine realms, and / or between man and spirits, typically using ecstatic practises and states to send and receive messages. This definition is very loose and amongst anthropologists, and so through that many modern pagans, polytheists, and Western animists, this is the definition of such practises regardless of what culture or pantheon they’re tied to because it’s simply easier to have a single word to describe a thing, sometimes, than it is to have a paragraph. While I don’t believe that communication with the divine is bound to consulting a shaman or being one, I do believe that certain practises to take down one’s natural mental defences temporarily will make certain direct communique far easier. It’s like the difference in communication between letters and voice mail over face-to-face interaction; both people are still communicating with each other, but sometimes it’s best to keep one’s physical distance and write a letter than take a risk and meet up. If you have a brother in the military, and he’s stationed abroad during a time of war, communicating with him in letters helps to maintain a distance for your own safety; sometimes that indirect communique really is for the good of every-one. That’s basically what shamen are doing, they’re putting themselves right out there between realms with regularity that can be dangerous to one’s sanity or even physical well-being, and not just for untrained people. There’s a reason that the ancient Hellenes associated madness with nymphe worship.
As some of my friends are aware of, there’s some-one whose blog has been a focus of mockery and derision in the last week or two, as it’s written by a person who either really wants to be a mystic and is letting their imagination run away with them, or has experience as a mystic, but left their guards and defences down and let malevolent daimons in. According to one or two people from a list I’m on or group I’m in, this person is a friend of their other friend and has never been very well-hinged, so either is equally possible and it’s also unlikely that this person is intentionally sowing seeds of discord.
It’s easy to mock the unhinged mystic, and even easier to mock the unhinged pseudo-mystic for rather obvious reasons. I’m not entirely innocent here, and my only solace is in the fact that some of my meaner comments about this person have been in private. In all seriousness, I’d probably try to help this person out, if I could, or direct a friend of mine who could to them, if I had such a friend. I feel sorry for them, and the only response I’ve given them directly is blunt logic in a dim hope that maybe this would help them ask some needed questions, maybe get them on a path to getting out of this mess they’ve made of their apparent sanity, but if I had any good effect in that regard, I may not see a glimmer of a result for some time.
I’m not fond of the fact that a lot of mystics and such are inherent solitary by nature, meaning that there’s a reduced “safety net” against this sort of occurrence. At best, we communicate on the Internet, and only when we can stand each-other, which definitely has its benefits: There also seems to be a tend in mystic and intermediary communities towards one-upping each-other in regards to deity relationships. I don’t believe this is always a conscious thing, I don’t even believe it is conscious half the time; I just believe that whenever there is a vocation or avocation where a great amount of skill will set apart people even within that field, there is just going to be some level of competition acted on, even when people don’t realise they’re doing it. While there’s nothing wrong with self-improvement and bettering one’s skills, there’s a point where such a drive can become obsessive and, as has been established, that may not be good in mystic fields as it can easily lead to carelessness with one’s guards and check-points, and thus sanity can unravel. It can be good for mystics to keep our distance at times, but a support network is still something that one is better off with than without. It’s like a fire extinguisher for your soul; you may not ever use it, but if you ever need it, and never needing it can be a good thing, but just in case hope fails, you’ll be glad you have it if and when you need it.
I kind of had a point when I started this, but I forgot what it is now. That’s what I get for starting posts when I’m half falling asleep and deciding to finish them after I wake up. Still, I’m posting this cos I definitely feel it needs to be said, maybe not necessarily by me, but by as many people, in as many words as possible. Any potential mystic starting out on that path needs to know that while this can be a beautiful, enriching path, to take along a bullshit metre, cos this is a path where one can easily fall victim to such. Make some experienced friend on a similar path, just in case the need for a fire extinguisher ever happens.