The Isolated Animist: Respectful Relationships in Postmodern Individualism

As above so below, within as without, except for with other people. I've worked with others as a modern shaman since 2000, and the hardest facet of that role to impart is creating balanced relationship with All Things--especially each other--and live it in our "I" culture. It's easy to feel interrelated in trance, to idealize it in solitude, but to reach beyond the isolation of how capitalistic culture has created us and fosters us poses significant challenges. We end up living the collective experience alone. In this blog I explore new approaches to being an introverted, suburban American animist in an individualist culture, and living that connection out loud.

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Kelley Harrell

Kelley Harrell

Kelley is an author and modern shaman in North Carolina. She writes about the challenges of being a neoshaman and renegade Druid, as well as those of transforming spiritual emergency into a meaningful soul path (while still managing to show up for work every day and put food on the table). She shares The Weekly Rune at soulintentarts.com, and created the Tribe of the Modern Mystic to support and mentor spiritual emergence in community. Find more information about Soul Intent Arts at http:/www.soulintentarts.com , and her publications at http://www.kelleyharrell.com .

As I deeply value thriving in the connection with All Things, I make an effort to live that truth. There's no one way or right way, and when you're a cyclic person, that fact becomes evident right away.

Photo by Jessie Pearl ~ flickr

What’s a cyclic person? We’re many things, I suppose. Women identify with the phrase from the onset of menstruation. Certainly those who cope with challenges to mood and mental health conditions relate. Later in life, I hear more men comment around cycles.

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In the Betwixt series focusing on mundane support for skywalking seekers, we’ve talked about reciprocity with guidestaking the baton from guides, and finding etheric support in the life force around us. What about that of our immediate formed community, as in the people around us? How do they fit into our spiritual, if not animistic, Dream Team? How do we decide who should be on our Team?

Photo by ChinoGypsy ~Flickr

Most new to the path of actively connecting with aliveliness   rely heavily on spiritual benefactors, as in guides, spirit allies, engaging totems in trance or alone in Nature. However profoundly those relationships impact our lives, we can’t substitute them for human connection.

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  • singh pammy
    singh pammy says #
    yes dream team or team work

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Weekly Rune - TiwazTiwaz - Tyr/Thor/Tuisto- I always enjoy seeing this Rune come up in a cast, though I understand why some might have mixed feelings about it.  Maybe more than any other Rune, Tiwaz speaks of final hurrahs and the eleventh hour, and all the emotions that come with pulling our dreams out of the fire.

I think of Tiwaz as the "drama" Rune, in the sense that it forces us to deal with the current state of things, as they are about to be upheaved, and us with them. Moreover, it requires that the current state won't change without sacrifice.

Sometimes we know going into an endeavor that we must be flexible, willing to compromise. In other cases, we realize that the original plan was off track and needs adjusting, that we need to step back a little and rethink things. Tiwaz is none of that. Neither that neat nor graceful, this stave epitomizes aligning divinely with thoughtform, channeling perfect effort into manifestation, putting our heart's desire on the line, and watching it get stomped to smithereens.

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Hagalaz, Weekly Rune by S. Kelley HarrellHagalaz - Hail- Fitting that this Rune presents itself today, as most of my region is plunged into the bitterest cold its seen since the mid-1990s.

Regardless of where you're located, this stave speaks of being frozen metaphorically, likewise berated by the elements. Indeed, as fun as it sounds.

This Rune revealed itself merkstave, or face down, initially, which intensifies Hagalaz's chilly meaning. Generally indicating an abrupt external change, this stave speaks as much about the frozen state it describes, as the destructive force we know hail to be.  It disrupts our flow, it can take away livelihood, mobility, sustenance, protection.  Hail can be a nasty force. Yet, while it holds aspects of frozen Nature, it's also in motion, a catalyst for focused change.

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Mannaz - Weekly Rune on Intentional Insights, by S. Kelley HarrellMannaz - human- Again we have another reversed Rune presenting us with an opportunity to go deeper within. As Mannaz reminds us of the strength in human connection, the power of acting with All That Is, so it's merkstave position calls us to be aware of when we are not connected, when we don't feel part of the greater flow. Note that Mannaz is pictured upright, or bright-stave.

Last week, Eihwaz encouraged us to change, and Mannaz may be asking us to sit with the effects of that change.  It calls us to put down rational thinking and go with gut feeling, which for some may be frightening to do.

Likewise, as this Rune is about connecting with other people, its reversed position gives caution to the way in which we socialize this holiday season. Calling to mind community concerns, it may be helpful to tend the web, itself. It may not necessarily be about any personal need, but to be aware of our interconnectedness, and perhaps give a little extra to the care of our bonds.

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Photo by Kelly Lee-Creel @flickr The origins of our holy day icons are significant, though it's easy to get ensnared in what symbols you "should" honor, what they're "supposed to mean," who gets to claim them, and understanding what they really mean to you. For that reason, in this exploration of seasonal totems I offer the entire Internet for you to peruse and learn about the symbols that have the most meaning to you at this time of year. My hope is that through sharing the seasonal totems that mean the most to me, that others are encouraged to cull out the holiday symbols that move them, connect with their power and bring them more deeply into personal holiday celebrations.

Totems, for most shamanists, are largely revered as soul animal kindred, though those who know me recall that I work extensively with plant and elemental spirits. Bear in mind as I explore the possibilities of holiday power allies that when I refer to totems I include animals, plants, minerals and elements. Generally speaking, totems are complex symbols that move us in some way. For me, the power of totems extends through several layers. I greet them as archetypes -- collective traits found through the particular species, as spirits of nature, as an energetic manifestation specifically visiting me, which some refer to as "Unverified Personal Gnosis" (UPG), and as creatures of the wild, drawing from study of the totem's behavior, habitat and anatomy.

Popular holiday totems today are mostly of Western European origin and influence, such as mistletoe, fir tree, reindeer, the Yule log, doves, geese, holly, ivy. More recent imports are the Mexican poinsettia and Middle Eastern persimmons and pomegranates. Most of my holidays totems happen to be among the fairly well-known; however, my reasons for including them may be a bit lesser common. Also, a couple of them aren't typical at all.

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"Bunch of wanna-blessed-be's. Nowadays every girl with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks she's a sister to the dark ones." - Willow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

I love that quote. It speaks to every judgment that can be made, one Pagan to another, that there is a right and wrong way to "do" Paganism, and that we all think we're better for our way. Not to mention how it characterizes non-Pagans...

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Nature Before & After by Cuba Gallery @ FlickrI've been taking time daily, to connect with the spirits of my space, at work, home, the grocery store, the homes of others, and the commute connecting it all. It seems so silly. I've spent all these years focused on THIS totem, THAT guide, THIS space, sacred on/off, despite that intellectually I've known it's with me all the time. I am it. It is All.

What's the expression--the hell you know--to say nothing of the sacred.

I guess I'm beginning to sit more comfortably with not having to name things, less lines,  deeper relationships--even if they only last a few moments. The realization that whatever I need is wherever I am, etherically, all the time, no matter what, is heady empowerment. It's also terribly humbling.

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Remembering 9/11 -Totems of Patriotism

Listening to radio commentators discuss various remembrances of 9/11, I rattled off the pledge of allegiance in my head and felt sort of... nothing. I wondered how many others find that facet of our identity fraught with conflict, weighted with tension between feeling called to reconnect with the cultural tribe at a deep level, yet paralyzed in disdain or isolation from the national collective.

 
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
 
No, I'm not thrilled with many of the stances my government takes, that politics touts, or how the symbols of our nation are warped to serve specific agendas. 
 
The truth is, my relationship to the totems of our nation aren't about any of that. They are precisely my relationship to the power items of this land, which supports and treasures the people, the societies, all things that live on it, without condition. In that light patriotism becomes more palpable to me, more visceral. When I remember the totems of our country, my connection to them comes before any semantics: the bald eagle, the flag, the seal, the liberty bell, the national flower - rose, the national tree - oakUncle Sam, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the national anthem, the national creed, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence
 
Maybe I could rewrite the pledge to more fit my idea of patriotism, reconnect to other symbols of the United States to form a more personal union. In my ability to honor them as thriving, evolving, spiritual manifestations, I find that reconstruction of them isn't necessary. When I call them in, really merge with their essence, none of the posturing, preaching, gloating, or separatism is present. What I find is a spirit of liberty, respect, equality--the things I focus my daily awareness on as an animist. 
 

SoulIntentArts.com

In many ways, 9/11, itself, is a totem.  To me it symbolizes sacrifice, unity, resilience, and humility.  Though more raw and primal than the virtues of our other national totems, for me that relationship sits well amongst the others, and it reminds me that symbols change, evolve, grow, as do we.
 
Photo credit:  9/11 Healing Totem, given to NYC by the One Voice Arts & Leadership Program of Monterey County, California, in commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. Wally Gobetz @ flickr. 
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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for this. I found myself distancing myself from the news this past 9/11, but even so the energy of remembered grief, an
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    The Pledge of Allegiance was created by the US Civil War, primarily for rebels being repatronized. Also pledging to "God" was ad
  • Pegi Eyers
    Pegi Eyers says #
    Nation-states like the U.S. and Canada are artificial colonial constructs that have managed people's affairs and decimated the bea

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Loblolly by the-specious@flickrI'm always reminding clients and students to use their totems, not just visit them in trance and arrange them just-so on altars. I don't know if it's a Western habit or a general human one, but it seems a constant reminder is needed that we have resources, we have help. Isn't that the crux of animism? We're not alone. We don't have to do everything alone.
 
One of the key components of shamanism that makes it viable is the engaging of totems in holding space, not just acknowledging them every now and then, but actually allowing them to help us create, hold, and be the space. Any time, any place.
 
Case in point: After a long hiatus from working out due to chronic health conditions, I've recently begun running again. It's been a long time since I've run, actually. Over the last two years I've done all sorts of other workouts sporadically, though managing acute asthma took a toll on sticking with consistent activity. In that timeframe my body has been telling me to run, and I've avoided doing so, partly out of sheer fatigue, but also out of fear, trepidation that I'd trigger the awful episodes I've worked so hard to control.
 
Last week I threw caution to the wind and decided it was time, not just to engage in duration exercise, but to do what my body has been telling me it wants to do: run. I've started with short duration and gone a little longer each day, climate-controlled, nice and tidy. The other day it was cool outside, so I ran outdoors. Once I got past the initial aches and moans of an asphalt half mile, I found my rhythm, then minor annoyances abated. However, other chatter began. My lungs began to burn and that familiar choking sensation crept through my airways, wrapped my throat, and I began coughing. I started stressing.
 
I slowed my pace but stayed moving, soothing the worried voice in my head. As I did, I noticed birds singing, a soft breeze blowing in the treetops, dogs barking, rasping cicada tymbals. I smelled pine, freshly mown grass.  Surrounded by Nature, I decided to take my own medicine. I realized my inherent soul connection to the elements around me, and thanked them for supporting me on my run. I invited them to tell me what they need from me, and was told to engage them again, and again. I really felt like I wasn't running through the elements, but with them, actively.
 
These weren't new spirit visitors or Nature friends. I've worked with many of them before in fleeting engagements. I honor them each time I create sacred space in my home because they are the Nature Spirits of my land, its Elders. However, bringing them into my daily routine was a vastly more validating experience, interactive not just in my senses, but my cells.
 
And yes, my breathing eased. I finished the run with no problem.
 
No, they weren't my personal totems. I don't have likenesses of loblollies or cicadas on my altar. The thing is, they don't have to be. Even in off-the-hook shamanist and totemist circles, there still pervades the idea that we're locked into certain totems, forever and always, that we can't just honor drive-by connections, or ones that suit specific circumstances. Such limitation is what inhibits deep animistic connections. It's just too easy to move through the space around us and not notice all the support that's there. Yet it's equally easy to pause for a second and consider the spiritual surroundings, the waiting support.
 
I say it over and over, but the hardest part of mindfulness and forging an authentic spiritual path is to remember to pause.  When we remember the pause, we recall to choose how we move forward.

SoulIntentArts.com

I haven't run outdoors since, but I will. I have, however, driven through my neighborhood every day, seeing it, hearing it, experiencing it with different appreciation, a fuller sense of being.
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When I was in fourth grade, our teacher told us at the beginning of the year that she wasn't going to tell us what words mean. I thought Mrs. Parker was joking, though true to it, anytime one of us asked what a vocabulary word or morsel in a personal reading selection meant, she wouldn't even glance from her desk. She'd just say, "Go look it up," then point to a bookshelf lined with Merriam-Websters, one for each of the thirty of us.

I hated it. I just wanted to know what the word meant. I didn't want to have to make a big production. I didn't want to wait that long to understand what I was reading. This, after three years of vocabulary lists being drilled into us like catechism and pats on the back for even showing interest in learning definitions. It was outrage. It was offroad.

You see, fourth grade was my first year in public school. I grew up in a small southern town, and my grandfather insisted that private schools better prepared young minds than public. Of course in our area all private schools were affiliated with churches, so acquiring primary skills came with a healthy dose of censorship, not just in what was taught, but in how it was conveyed. What meaning wasn't readily supplied we were expected to ask. No resources beyond teachers were provided, let alone referenced.

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