I have recently begun an introductory course in Parapsychology with the infamous Koestler Unit at Edinburgh University. We are an intimate group of just 20 people, not for lack of interest but because small numbers encourage the most intense discussion and don’t allow for people to slip between the cracks and be lurkers.
In addition to coursebook reading (An Introduction to Parapsychology), we have specialist reading each week, as well as several expert interviews and articles to write and/or comment on. We are a varied group with people from China, UAE, Malta, UK, Australia, etc. This brings the additional twist of a range of cultural norms and interpretations. Apparently, ghostly happenings are so de rigueur in Malta that house sale contracts come with an extra clause that says, if any paranormal occurrences happen post-sale that were not declared prior to sale, you can renege on the sale and get your money back, i.e. if you end up with a spook and a spook was not listed in the house contents, you can return the house! Wowzers!
The study group comprises scientists, psychologists, therapists, alternative healers, Christians, non-Christians, a metaphysicist, a philosopher, a paranormal investigator, and me – the only one who put it out there and said, “I’m a witch.”
Part of the reason for me taking this course is to fine-tune my bullshit detector. I’m sure we’ve all been with the woo-woo-wah-wah brigade who declare every creaking floorboard to be a ghost, and it’s hellishly frustrating. I have heard tales and encounters and sometimes I call “Bullshit!” and sometimes I think “Interesting.” But each time I am going on a gut-feeling and it’s not always clear-cut as to why I should perceive one thing to be bonafide and the other thing not.
Sometimes it boils down to trust in the individual telling the tale – personal credibility can go a long way. And as to myself, I have experienced some things that are truly inexplicable (according to science as it stands today) and some things that have proven to be a mere bump in the night and I have just laughed off. So I hope to gain some cognitive skills from this course in order for me to say WHY I think something is BS and something is not. That’s the plan anyway.
The Parapsychology course runs for another 3 months. In the meantime, at the end of April I will be starting a course on Ancient Nubian Art & Archaeology. I am totally stoked about this course. The Nubians apparently are the ones who brought high culture into the Nile Valley, and it was due to the Nubians that Egyptian culture became what it did. Again, I look forward to learning about the roots, causes and facts so that I can back up my opinions with evidence and knowledge.
I saw a thread on Facebook the other day where someone was complaining that he had corrected a Fluff about some point or other, but instead of thanks he received verbal garbage about how if person A *feels* that black is white then it is white to him. No. I do think there is a place for Unverified Personal Gnosis BUT some things just are what they are, and ultimately whatever your spiritual choice there WILL be spade loads of reading and learning involved if you want a sincere and authentic experience as opposed to a lifetime excursion of make-believe.
So embrace every opportunity to learn. However much experience you have, you are always at the beginning of your journey into knowledge.
I’m as tall as a cow. I found this out as I walked through the cow fields and one came up and eye-balled me. Cows today must be GM-cows because I’m sure they never used to be that tall, and at 1.75m I’m not short either.
Short. I wish that was the excuse for why I struggle so much with the stiles. Predominantly a British phenomenon:
Doesn’t look too tricky to clamber over, does it? But is it left foot first or right? Which leg do I swing over and when? Usually I get stuck half-way across and sit with a blasé expression, pretending to admire the view while I consider whether to just throw myself off the thing or tackle it limb by limb.
I encountered similar difficulties when getting into the jeeps and pick-up trucks of my family in New Mexico. They live in the mountain desert so it’s high off-roaders only for them. I tried reversing in, but my legs are two short. I tried launching myself in front first and army-crawling my way on elbows over the back seat. Nothing but nothing was elegant. My family found it hilarious. I pursued different options like an alchemist seeking a way to transmute base metal into gold; but my elegance remained tin.
This evening I sat down by the river, watching fish jumping for the evening flies. Four swans floated past, each raising up out of the water to stretch and flap their wings, not together or randomly but one after the other. I saw flowers floating past and thought about garlands of flowers offered on the Ganges. A flock of ravens hiding in a tree was disturbed and raised a great racket as they flew off – I have never seen so many in one group. The pinky-orange sun slipped behind a cloud and I headed home.
On my walk I thought about art group today. There was only me, Woman and Beta Psych, so we just sat and talked. Woman narrowly avoided having her eyes jabbed out with paintbrushes when she TOLD me that I wouldn’t self-harm if I had a boyfriend. I coughed up a fur ball and said, “Cutting is not about being single.” She said other stupid, facile things and contradicted herself, or damned me to hell as irredeemable, by saying that men would be scared off by the intensity of my scars. I’m fucked either way, or not as the case may be. I said, that such people could “jog on” as far as I was concerned, that I didn’t need namby-pamby people who cringed at the sight of my scars around me. Life is too short and there are plenty of people who accept all aspects of me, or who have indeed been there themselves. As an LHP-er I don’t think that I have to surround myself with the twee people to feel good. No I don’t have to be nice about people’s beliefs in angels because that will make me a good person. Angelly-Wangelly stuff does my head in as much as therapy-werapy stuff dressed up under the abhorrent term “life coaching” – both run the triple knife edge of doing nothing, being childish make-believe or doing harm to fragile psyches. In any case you might as well imagine a smurf on your shoulder and listen to what the smurfing hell it has to say to you … you will make just as much progress by channeling your own subconscious that way. You do not invoke an archangel for a cuddle, FFS.
I said, I missed TMIWTM. Woman asked, “What does he give you that you can’t get from us?” I replied, “Everything! I have told him things I haven’t said here, and he knows things about me that no one else here knows or will ever know.” She looked shocked. Beta Psych appeased her with, “One-to-one is very different to a group working environment.” You bet your bejeezes it is. I said that I had never been so emotionally close to a man before. I heard her jaw hit the floor. She doesn’t like TMIWTM. She saw him for a couple of sessions 15 years ago and he told her she needed marriage counselling. 15 years later, she still needs marriage counselling… today she admitted to violence in the marriage on both parts.
Nobody’s perfect. But I do get tired of people trying to heal others when their own lives are fucked; or people in bad relationships telling you that a relationship will sort all your problems; or when people pretend to be open-minded but have surprisingly narrow and sudden limitations. I’m fucked in the head. I know that and admit it freely. You literally read my heart on my sleeve and the state of mind in the scars on my arms; but at least I am honest about it. I don’t bullshit and I don’t play around with other people, pretending to be something I’m not.
If I’m tin, then I’m tin but I keep trying to be gold. And somethings will never change: I will always be as tall as a cow.
My German family emigrated to America in the 1950s. My Oma (grandmother) became an educator (assessor of children’s learning levels and needs) on the Navajo Reservation, where my family also lived for a while.
In my late teens and early twenties I travelled from the UK to spend time living with my grandmother in an area called the Checkerboard because squares of land belong to the Navajo Nation (a dependent state existing within the independent state of America) and some squares belong to the Federal Government of the US.
While there I took up Navajo language classes and met a Navajo woman who worked for the Navajo Nation Government. Her work involved travelling hundreds of miles daily over the Reservation. She invited me to travel with her for four months and during that time she adopted me as her daughter, introducing me to Navajo or Hopi Native Americans as her daughter.
Native Americans are NOT Indians
Native Americans are NOT American Indians
Native Americans are NOT North American Indians
They are Native Americans because they are the original people native to that continent; any other name carries with it a shed load of political hegemony and implicit colonial abuse.
I learned a lot from my Navajo mother and her friends about what was considered acceptable to Native Americans, what were sore points, how their history affected them … how thousands were deliberately wiped out by white Europeans distributing plague-ridden blankets among them; how some native peoples have been completely exterminated. Their history is no less painful, political and rife for misunderstanding than the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Holocaust, to name but two.
After my time on the Reservation, I went to Germany where I spent a year beginning my translation career. There I encountered a heavily sunbedded female with a suede, fringed jacket, plaits and feathers in her hair. She “identified” with “Indians” [sic]. I felt sick to my stomach at her ignorance. No. Don’t give me any bullshit about naive enthusiasm: if you are truly interested in a Native Path then do your research, learn the history, the current politics and the current discussions around the misappropriation of native culture and spirituality, which continues to this day, and is felt by so many NAs to be a continuation of the colonial hegemony they have had to suffer for centuries.
Following on from this: the word “shaman” has become a word bandied around as easily as “witch” (I will deal with that another day). Banging a drum, chanting and speaking to imaginary spirits does not make you a shaman. Pretending that you “journey” every time you touch a rock does not make you a shaman, nor does it make your experience “shamanic.” The concept of “journeying” has also been watered down to be meaningless half the time.
There is no documentation of shamanic culture per se in the British Isles. If you refer to Celtic shamanism, the same point applies as there is no documented proof of exactly what the Celts did except for tales told by Roman historians, and the Romans defeated the Celts … we all know what history is like when written by the victors (blood sacrifice, baby-eating, water poisoning, with the odd truth thrown in – who can say what is true and what isn’t?).
I met two shamans/medicine men on the Reservation and they gave me none of the “foot in both worlds” bullshit, none of the “hang on, I’m just speaking to my spirit guide, Jack”.
If you look at shamanism as practised amongst Native peoples in America (there are many different peoples – different languages, different religious practices, although most will have a name for themselves that translates as “The people” – consider the Navajo word for themselves “Diné”), and if you look in particular at the shamanic practices still found in Siberia you will see a very different picture from the neo-Shamanic practices of British/European wannabes.
As a knowledgeable friend concurred, calling yourself a “traditional shaman” is a tautology shouting “fluff” because true shamanism is by definition “traditional”. However, the word “traditional” sells more books, doesn’t it? Kerching! $££$$£
Shamans are known for communicating with spirits, but again, this is not a running conversation with an ancestor sitting on your knee, your hand up its spiritual backside as you channel its wisdom. No. Communication with spirits is usually within the context of an ecstatic ritual, or within a ritual context that will suspend the natural (or more apparent) senses.
Be warned that not all is what it seems. I have met two shamans. One I had more contact with than the other. But they were not bullshitters.
If you are interested in Native American spirituality – remember that there are many, many different Native American peoples and that not all are the same. Have the courtesy to research their history and their current politics. Read authors such as Ward Churchill – academic historians; don’t just read people with fake names like Starhawk (who is a respectable neo-pagan but NOT a Native American).
And if you come across someone calling themselves a “shaman”, add “neo” in front plus a large pinch of salt. Don’t part with money. Trust your gut. And read around the subject.