Tag: Shamanism

The Differences Between Traditional and Neopagan Totemism

By Lupa | October 22, 2006 | Leave a comment

Animal totemism is a hot topic among magical folk, in particular pagans and shamans. This, of course, has spawned a growing number of books about totems which vary in quality from excellent to appalling, as books are wont to do. Many of them attempt to be an improvement on Ted Andrews’ works, which spawned the “totem dictionary with some extra stuff” trend. In addition, there are numerous websites about totems, again of varying quality. It’s laughably easy to find the information you seek.

One of the biggest misapprehensions about the bulk of this material is that it is genuine traditional totemism “just like the Indians do it!” A lot of this has to do with the amount of cultural appropriation that first the New Agers, and then the pagans, indulged in in regards to various Native American cultures. From the time Columbus ran into an island off the North American coast purely by accident, til the increase in social awareness in the 1970’s, the indigenous people of the American continent were steadily demonized by those of a European origin. I had a friend who had no idea what his tribal background was, only that he was part Native. His grandfather, the person from whom that heritage came, was incredibly tight-lipped about it due to a lifetime of being ashamed of his genes. Wimmin’s Lib and Black Power in the 1970’s. While this raised some recognition of the heavy bigotry against indigenous people, it also had an unexpected side effect.

All of a sudden, it was COOL to be an Indian. I was born in 1978, but I’ve seen pictures of (Caucasian) hippies wearing moccasins, fringed buckskin jackets, beadwork, and so forth. This was paralleled in the fringe spiritual community as well. The “back to the Earth” movement that began to take hold led to whites wanting to be just like the Indians, supposedly noble savages who lived at one with Nature, spoke with the spirits all the time, and were morally superior to mainstream American culture because of it.

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw an increase in New Agery of all types—including pseudo-Native. While a few people from Native tribes came out with books (the quality of which is debated by other Natives) there were also whites who went so far as to pose as Native Americans, or who at least tried justifying themselves by claiming to have learned from Native teachers (many of whom were unverifiable in tribal records).

The sale of Native culture included totemism. It fell prey to the same homogenization of other cultural traits—people talked about “Native American totemism” as if it were a single conglomerate that held true from the Mayans to the Inuits. The appropriators picked and chose among the lore whatever they found useful and discarded the rest, ignoring the claims of tribal people that “Native belief systems are COMMUNAL, not focused on the individual’s faith like Christianity, and are TRIBE-SPECIFIC.”

In all fairness, most of the New Agers meant well. They weren’t trying to make money off the fad; they simply wanted to find a way to connect with Nature in a culture devoid of that connection. However, even today there are still people being exposed as frauds, and occasional accused of crimes such as rape.

But let’s de-tangentalize and head back to totemism, shall we?

The Roots of Neopagan Totemism

All this blending of ideas hit the neopagan community in a big way, particularly when Jamie Sams and David Carson published “Medicine Cards”, and then a few years later with Andrews’ first book, “Animal-Speak”. Some pagans, being generally more down-to-earth and sticklers for research than New Agers, took the idea and began cutting out the pseudo-Native elements. While the history of totemism, particularly in Native American cultures, was acknowledged, neopagan totemism began to take on a unique flavor.

Neopagan totemism draws primarily from two threads in traditional totemism. The first is the clan/family/etc. group identity totem. Found in cultures around the world, group totemism is a way to define one collection of people from the rest. Exogamy, the process by which cultures determine who may marry whom, thereby avoiding incest in smaller groups of people, is also a strong proponent of traditional totemism in many cultures. And the division between male and female may even be punctuated by sex-based totems. Claude Levi-Strauss, in his work “Totemism”, describes an Australian aboriginal culture that has sex-based totems. If the sexes are at war with eachother, so to speak, one group may kill an animal representative of the other group’s totem as a way to strike a blow to the morale and punctuate their displeasure with their rivals—a battle of the sexes indeed!

More commonly talked about is the personal guide, particularly within the context of certain Native tribes. Traditionally, and generally speaking, at puberty boys (and sometimes girls) would go to a remote area to receive a vision of their personal animal guides. This animal would then guide the person throughout their hir life. A shaman or other magic worker would have specialized guides to help hir navigate through the Otherworld (however it was conceptualized) and to aid in acts of magic, benign or malign.

So from the identity focus of group totemism, and the individual focus of the personal guide, we get the hybrid that is neopagan totemism. This isn’t surprising, given that American culture tends to be very individual-based. Few of us live in the same area as our extended family, and we rarely make strong bonds with more than a few people outside of our nuclear families—if even then. We don’t live in villages with all the people we’re related to, interacting with the same folks our entire life. So socially traditional group totemism doesn’t apply very well in our personal context. In addition, our obsession with identity makes us add the identity of group totemism to the intimate bond with the personal guide, given extra flavor with the lore of the guides of the shamans and magic-workers whom we may want to emulate.

Does this mean that neopagan totemism is illegitimate? Not at all. I have practiced it as my primary paradigm for a decade now and have had great success all the way. The key to neopagan totemism is custom-tailoring it. Since we don’t have any ancient traditions of our own that must be upheld, we can pretty much experiment with it as we go. The thing to remember, as with all magic, is is it works for you, use it. However, the lesson to be learned from cultural appropriation is to also recall where your information comes from and how you represent it to others. Reading “Animal-Speak” does not make one a genuine real live Indian—nor is there any need to make that claim. Neopagan totemism is developing into its own paradigm, and is uniquely created by us, the neopagan community. Instead of trying to be like the Natives, why not try being like ourselves?

Recommended Reading

  • “Animal Wisdom” by Jessica Dawn Palmer – one of the best dictionaries out there
  • “Totem Magic” by Yasmine Galenorn
  • “The Personal Totem Pole” by Eligio Stephen Gallegos – totems + chakras = works surprisingly well! Not neopagan-written, but very relevant
  • “Power Animals” by Steven Farmer
  • “Animal Spirit” by Patricia Telesco and Rowan Hall
  • “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic” by Lupa (yours truly) – if you liked this article, you’ll love the totemism chapter. I drew a lot of my information for this article from my research for it. Also, for paleopagan totemism, try these:
  • “Totemism” by Claude Levi-Strauss
  • “Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography” and “The Power of Animals: An Ethnography” by Brian Morris
  • “Animals of the Soul: Sacred Animals of the Oglala Sioux” by Joseph Epes Brown

Finally, I also highly recommend reading “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community” by Sarah M. Pike for the chapter on pagans and cultural appropriation.

Lupa
Author of “Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic”
The Green Wolf


Vodou Shaman, by Ross Heaven

By Mike Gleason | April 10, 2004 | Leave a comment

Vodou Shaman: The Haitian Way of Healing and Power, by Ross Heaven
Destiny Books, 270 pp. (+ appendix, notes & index),2003

The author is one of a small, but growing, number of cross-cultural initiates who are willing to take the time, effort and expense to explore the little-understood “primitive” system of religious/magickal thinking known as Vodou (aka Voodoo, Vodoun, Vodun, etc.). Too many people have gotten their knowledge of this religion from Hollywood “B” movies, novels, and tabloid newspapers. It has been all too easy to dismiss it based on such sources. Continue reading


Progressive Trance

By Xi O'Teaz | November 26, 2002 | Leave a comment

Subject: Re: animal powers
Date: Nov 2002
From: “Xi O’Teaz” < xi_o_teaz[AT]yahoo.com >
To: The zee-list

>>so, how do you, my fellow zees, enter trance, how
>>did you come across the methods and how long did it
>>take to work?
> >There are many many ways. It depends on what you want
>to achieve. Trance throuh ecstatic dance is very
>powerful. I usually use electronic music (especially
>in raves, since all the air is charged with energy),
>but sometimes, other kind of percussions can work
>very well (you can try Kodo). So you dance and dance,
>feel the music through your skin, feel your body
>disintegrate and become music, let go all feeling
>of “I want”, “I am”.

I personally find that “progressive trance” is the single best type of music for Energy Work and Trance.

I find “progressive” music best for Energy Work, with the constant progression of energy, intensity, and complexity of the music.

I find “trance” music best for, well, general Trance Work ;-)

I like general electronica/”rave music” to be a combination of classical music (lyrics are de-emphasized–focus is on intensity and subtle musical nuances) and shamanic/”tribal” music (constant, repetitive beats and a general high energy level, even during the breaks).

My roommate’s fiance’ is doing a school report on the “club culture” for a music class (she’s a music major). We were discussing the different “popular” types of music, and how different electronica is compared to genres such as country, rock, rap, pop, r+b, blues, etc… most notably in the use of lyrical poetry…

Having words in a song can be distracting, unless they are simple and repetitive–personally, I like the human voice to be tweaked and looped with just a few repetitive lines. Too much vocal complexity and my mind begins to Attach itself to the words in a rather Grounding sorta way :-(

>”- what? behind the rabbit?
>- No ! It IS the rabbit”

LOL

The correct answer is often just under our noses–if only we could see with different lenses. Such a great analogy!

We are always in some sort of Trance state. All states of Consciousness are merely lenses with which to see the world. A Trance would be anything other than a “baseline” state of Consciousness–only I have yet to find a “baseline”, so *all* states are “altered” states (ASC = altered state of consciousness), IMHO.

So saying that you “can’t enter a trance state” is a bit silly, eh?

Become Aware of your State of Consciousness–chart it’s various fluctuations, and you will soon see that you are constantly fluctuating through various Trance States (focusing on Work, TV, etc…). E.g., those who think they are “immune to hypnosis” go thru the hypnogogic state (essentially identical to a hypnotic state) *every night of their lives*. Etc.

“What ASC would you like to Experience today? and more importantly, Will it Match your Outfit?”

“Know Thy Selves”

~~~3 Coyotes Dancing~~~


Animal Powers

By Xi O'Teaz | November 22, 2002 | Leave a comment

Subject: Re: animal powers
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002 14:52:34 -0800 (PST)
From: “Xi O’Teaz” < xi_o_teaz[AT]yahoo.com >
To: The zee-list

As someone who works with Animals frequently, I thought I’d share some Experiences (finally):

<< my dreams have featured a variety of animals lately, and i’m looking for ways to explore this.. >>

Oh, Elephants Yeah!!! (sorry)

<< how do people work with animal powers? >>

I would agree with all that the other Zees have already written.

In addition, here are some techniques that I also utilize:

Adopt the belief that all Wild Animals are Avatars of their respective Atavism. Watch a National Geographic Special (or Animal Planet, or Discovery, or…) on the Animal Power you wish to Learn about. The animals in the zoo have little, if any, of their Power left, so you need to see them Wild, and NG is as close as your TV, video store, or internet. Unless, of course, you can travel to the Animals’ natural habitat and observe them yourself, but this isn’t a valid option for many of us, for many Animals.

Ask people what they think of when they think of a certain animal. This is a great technique for gathering folkLore on anything, Animals included. What is this Animal known for? How is this Animal represented in Myth and Art, and more importantly, *why*??? This could include anything from cartoons to Native oral myths. E.g., Bear = hibernation, digging into beehives for honey, protection of young, walking on 2 legs, etc. Now ask yourself, “What do these things represent on an Esoteric level?”, or “How can this Teach me more about _______?”

Look at the Animals of an area/ecosystem as a Pantheon. What would they each be “in charge of”? Obviously, looked at in this way, you could Work with them in any way you would any other godform, including invocation and evocation (although I always felt silly doing a full “ceremonial magick” type rite for them).

You could also do cross-Associations, i.e., assigning all the Animals to symbol-sets you already have Programmed. This could include Tarot, Runes, I Ching, Elements, Sephiroth, etc…

Another thing to Observe is what quality sets this Animal apart from most others. Is it that ability to fly, or its ability to borrow? You get the idea. Another important question is “What specifically, if anything, does this Animal have that is (relatively) Unique to the Animal Kingdom? Whether it be the echolocation of Bat, the singing of Whale, or the survivAbility of Coyote, many Animals have a fairly unique quality–this seems to be tied into their Power.

Read all the Native myths you can find. I can’t stress this enough.

And finally, don’t think yourself “better” than our fellow members of the Animal Kingdom–there is much subConscious Programming that must be unDone here, if you live in the West.

<< evocation/invocation techniques? >>

If you’d like–see above.

<< have newagey ‘shamanic’ techniques been useful? >>

Yes, especially Shamanic Drumming and Journeying to the UnderWorld.

<< i really dislike the tone of that kind of writing, but perhaps i should dig through it for techniques.. >>

I dislike the tone in the *vast majority* of Occult books, but you gotta pry open a lot of Oysters if you ever want to find any Pearls.

Hell, I’m going through Tyson’s New Millenium Magic again for some info on Number and Geometry Theory, but I’ve gotta wade thru all the bullshit about how if you step outside a magic circle, you’ll likely die, blah blah blah.

Damn, that shit stinks!

Speaking more regarding Shamanism and Animal Powers, I like Harner, and various other (mostly native) authors. But you can still Learn from people like Kenneth Meadows, even though he shows his ceremonial magic roots by overcomplicating things way further than I care to go. Good ideas, but not my style. And I think he focuses too much on “the Loving Light”, but I could be thinking of someone else.

Use what works,
Discard the rest.

Journey Well…

“Know Thy Selves”

~~~3 Coyotes Dancing~~~

.?!


Trance

By Xi O'Teaz | November 10, 2002 | Leave a comment

Subject: newbie Trance stuff
Date: Sun, 10 Nov 2002 03:43:04 -0800 (PST)
From: “Xi O’Teaz” < xi_o_teaz[at]yahoo.com >
To: The zee-list

(Sorry ’bout that. Still a little Tranced out…)

< ahem >

I was Dancing this evening, and I had some things occur to me that I wanted to tell to newbies before I forgot… so here goes:

Oftentimes people new to Magick will incorrectly think that they “can’t Let Go”, meaning they feel they cannot achieve a Trance state (to do Magick). To paraphrase my earlier comment,

All States
are
Trance States.

Now admittedly, the self-narrative is more prevalent in some States than in others (especially Utah ;-), which leads me to my first Observation/Exercise:

First, take an activity that you lose your Selves in, more than anything else. This could be listening to Music, reading fiction, Drumming, counting the Breath, Dancing, etc. The best way to tell if you lose your Selves is to notice when you are finished with your activity, if Time has distorted, you seem disoriented in your immediate environment, or you were “somewhere else”. For me, Music is an easy Trigger to Magickal Trance States–especially if I’m Dancing.

Now that you’ve thought of an activity that you enjoy enough to lose your Selves in, before you begin the activity next time, ask a Self to *unobtrusively* Notice/record the shift in Consciousness. The problem with *you* trying to Notice is that as soon as you Notice, you snap back. So either re member the shift immediately after you perform it next time, or (as I have done) ask some part of you to let you become more Aware of the Shift in ASCs. I have what I call an Observer Self that performs the above function. Sometimes I like to think it’s my “raw Awareness”, but that’s just an amusing thought I have sometimes. Anyway…

The point is that once you perform it enough with Awareness (it’s really quite similar to going to sleep), you can Train your Selves to more readily “let go”, and they will be better Trained to do so. I.e., the advantages will carry over to all areas of Trance work, be it Meditation, Sex Magick, or whatever.

Another Exercise/Observation is to take this activity and incorporate your Magick *into it*. Do a Divination while performing your activity (or at least immediately after, if you forget). Or do Magick, or do whatever. For me, that means that I Focus on a Sigil or Entity that I wish to Unite with (e.g., send energy, Invoke, Evoke, etc.) whilst “completely gone” on the Dance floor.

In addition, you can take this (pre)Programmed activity and Intensify it, thereby pushing your Selves to better control the Trance, so that you may extend the duration, “sink deeper”, etc. To give a simple mechanical example with my Dancing, I wear a thermal shirt under my other one, to help raise my body temperature–I somewhat seriously call this my “portable sweat lodge” ;-) Obviously, I also have learned to Control the Dancing Trance in other ways as well, that can’t really be explained, but can be reCognized by those who Practice, Experiment, and Notice.

Notice what Trance states you go to and come from, throughout your day.

Awareness is the first step to both Change and Control–States of Consciousness and otherwise.

Well, there’s 3 Exercises (many, many more if you look beneath the surface), and hopefully this will stimulate you all to better

“Know Thy Selves”

~~~3 Coyotes Dancing~~~

.?!


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