Thursday, February 16, 2012

Death and Shamanic Dismemberment

Death. It is inevitable and unavoidable.

I heard a story once about a man's encounter with Death. The man was in the market one morning when he saw Death staring at him. Fearing for his life, the man bought a horse and rode out of town as fast as it would carry him. Eventually, the horse would go no farther, and the man had to continue on foot. Late that night, weary and exhausted, the man became aware of another presence on the road. It was Death. Unable to run any further, the man turned to Death and asked "Why did you look at me so strangely this morning?" Death replied, "I was confused. I knew we had an appointment here tonight and I wondered how you would make it." Then Death collected the man's life.

For believers in reincarnation, death is a natural part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It is a change that all living brings must eventually go through. It is our egos that fear death. When our bodies die, our souls live on and reincarnate in new bodies. Our egos, however, do not. They fear the loss of identity that comes with death. To conquer our fear of death we must first conquer our ego. Every tradition has some form of initiation designed to force the initiate to assert control over the ego and face his or her mortality.

Those who practice shamanism eventually experience what is called shamanic dismemberment. During this process, a spirit, or group of spirits, destroy the journeyer's "body". It is then remade. This is a type of initiatory experience that simulates death and rebirth. Shaman's will experience this multiple times over the course of their lives. By the time they grow old, a shaman's familiarity with death, partly through this experience, allows them to meet Death as an old friend instead of fearing it as an enemy.

A shaman that I studied with briefly conducted an exercise. She had everyone pair up and do a journey for their partner. Because there were an odd number of us, she partnered with one of us. The woman who journeyed for the shaman said that the spirits told her that the shaman was going to die. The shaman laughed and said, "They are always telling me that." She then went on to explain the dismemberment process and told us that was what the spirits were referring to.

It was not long after that I had my first experience of shamanic dismemberment. In my journey I met a spirit with the body of a man and the head of a jaguar at the top of a Mesoamerican pyramid. He instructed me to lie down on the altar in front of him, which I did. Then he ripped out my heart and ate it. He replaced the heart with one made of a neon blue light, but the flesh around it smothered the light. He breathed out a swarm of insects that completely devoured my body. When they fell away, I had a new body made of the same blue light. When I returned to my body I  felt a sense of empowerment, like something inside me had been cleansed. Since then I have also been eaten by wild animals and ripped apart by a horde of zombies.

Death is a part of the natural process. It is a consequence that follows the choice to be born. However you choose to deal with it, it is something that you will have to face sooner or later.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I don't believe in fate. I don't think our lives are predetermined. Our choices make our lives what they are. But I don't believe in coincidences either. I believe everything happens for a reason. The choices we make determine the course of our lives and synchronicity pulls events and people into our lives that reflect those choices.

Because I believe in reincarnation, I believe your choices begin with the choice of being born. With that choice you accept all the consequences of life, including eventually death. You also choose your parents and everything that goes along with them. Everyone says you don't choose your family, but you do. Everything after that is a result of your other choices.

For me this belief affects all parts of my life. I don't complain about my bad relationships with the rest of my family. I chose them. I think the reason I chose to be born to christian fundamentalist cultists was so that I would reject their madness and begin my path as a pagan and eventually discover my calling as a shaman. Bad things don't happen to me without being allowed into my life by my own choices. That means I am responsible for everything that happens to me. It also means that if I don't like something, I have the power to change it by changing my choices. Every time I talked to my parents we fought over my choice of spirituality. So I made a different choice and now we don't talk at all.

A long time ago I read a book that had a very strong influence on this belief, "The Celestine Prophecy". If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.


Cernunnos is a Horned God, usually pictured with various animals including the ram horned serpent, and holding or wearing a torc. Nothing is written about Cernunnos. What I know of him has come from inferences based on his images and direct experience during shamanic journeying.

 He is a primal, cthonic god. His antlers and occasional depiction with an erect phallus show his connection with the male aspect of fertility. Cernunnos is strongly connected with the land and I have only ever encountered him in the underworld. He is also shown with a money pouch indicating that he is associated with mateial wealth as well as fertility and the hunt.

 The animal that is unique to Cernunnos is the ram horned snake. When a composite animal is shown it is usually to stress or invoke certain attributes shared by both creatures. The ram is a powerful animal. During the mating season, the males butt heads with tremendous force to compete for the ability to mate. For this reason the ram is a symbol of male fertility. Have you ever seen a snake that was about to shed it's skin? Their scales become dull and their eyes cloud over and they look like they are close to death. Then something miraculous happens. They shed their old, dead skin and emerge with new vibrant scales. This is why ths snake is such a powerful symbol of rebirth. The snake is also associated with male energy because of it's phallic shape. The horned snake emphasizes Cernunnos's role as the male aspect of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Most of the pagan groups I have met have focused of the goddess to the exclusion of the god. I was made to feel second class because I am a man. It has been great to find a god to work with that acknowledges and embodies the importance of the male in the cycle of life.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

crazy week

I still haven't finished my first C post yet. It has been a crazy week. On Wednesday my paycheck bounced; one of the hazards of working for a small business. I deposited a new check on Thursday but the money was removed on Friday. So I spent all weekends and Monday trying to find out what happened and get my money in my account before the bank started charging me fees.. I discovered that the risk department of my bank put a freeze on my deposit because the first check bounced. They won't release the money until Friday when they can be certain that it won't bounce this time. But it wasn't all bad last weekend though. I had a bunch of friends over and we played Settlers of Catan til the wee hours of the morning Friday and Saturday nights. Tuesday night we worked a prosperity ritual. The last time we did that, I got a new job after looking for work the previous three months. So we'll see what happens this time. Tomorrow my paycheck will be released and I can put all this madness behind me. I will work to catch up on my blogging, and I should get the first D post out on time. Life happens. Deal with it and move on.

Friday, February 3, 2012


For those of us in  the northern hemisphere, Imbolc happens on Feb 2, and in the southern hemisphere on July 30. Imbolc immediately follows Yule on the wheel of the year and is the first of the spring fertility sabbats, the other two being Ostara and Beltane. Imbolc celebrates the first signs of the coming spring. It has been a very mild winter where I live and we are indeed seeing the signs, although we would normally still have snow on the ground.

While doing research for this post, I learned something new (I love it when that happens). The crone will make winter last as long as she has firewood to keep her house warm. On Imbolc she goes out looking for more firewood. If the weather is good, she is able to gather lots of firewood, and she will be able to make winter last longer. If the weather is poor, she can't find enough firewood and will have to end winter early. When I read this story, I had a lightbulb moment. I had always wondered why the winter would last longer if the groundhog could see his shadow.

I hope everyone had a blessed Imbolc as we celebrate the return of spring!