Once again, the Unnamed Path is hosting a spiritual gathering for Men-Who-Love-Men called Stone and Stang, this time in sunny Northern California. This event is open to MWLM of all pagan and alternative spiritual paths.
While listening to the sound of the rain outside, and still completely aware of California’s drought status, I’m writing tonight about the Elements. Many spiritual traditions give particular reverence to the elements, which are believed to be the building blocks of Creation.
The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave.
~C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
According to classical cosmology, Air is in the east, Fire in the south, Water in the west and earth in the North. In my baby Pagan days, I came across these associations in many of the books on wicca or witchcraft. The elements represent many things: the states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma), the building blocks of the body (bones, blood, breath, electrical impulses), etc. It wasn’t until I became acquainted with Native American traditions that I learned that different cultures have their own correspondences; I was fascinated.
In preparing for this post, I picked up T. Thorn Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft, to gain her perspective on the classical elemental view. She writes that while studying in California, she learned from a Tradition that assigned the elemental directions based on what they could see or experience: the ocean is in the West; vast forests own the North; dry heat to the South. The sun rises in the East, which naturally speaks to new beginnings and the clarity of Air. The assignments are not arbitrary but based on deep connections to the natural world.
I was truly struck by her descriptions, which resonated deep in my gut. After all, I’ve lived in California for nearly 14 years; they make perfect sense to me. However, I want to share a little about what the Unnamed Path teaches about the Elements and the Directions. Just so you know, what is revealed below does indeed differ from what Eddy originally said about the Elements, which he broadcast back in 2008. During his continued work with the Ancestors of Men Who Love Men, more was revealed which expanded and shaped his thinking. As the inheritors of his legacy, it will be up to the current and future Initiates to maintain this ancestral dialogue, thereby illuminating more of their teachings.
This emerging shamanic path for Men Who Love Men draws its power from the resolution of polar opposites. For us, the Elements function as opposing pairs:
- Hot in the East
- Cold in the West
- Life in the South
- Death in the North
The assignment of the directions follows a primal instinct, much influenced by our Ancestors as they traveled from place to place, tribe to tribe. For us, the sun is in the east, the source of warmth for the entire planet. It quickens new life in the soil and stirs us all into action. It’s opposite, Cold, rules the west. Indeed, the deepest, darkest parts of our world lie at the bottom of the oceans. Warmth fails in the face of an embracing darkness, and dreams come.
Going even deeper, we have Life in the south, the direction of the tropics and lush jungles. Vegetation and animals are found in abundance. Finally, we look north towards the mountains, places that become quieter the farther we travel. The fewer people we encounter, the more silent and still our journey becomes. The ultimate silence and stillness: Death. Again, two sides of the same coin of duality.
We as shamans stand as a bridge between states of being. We work with and speak to the Living, and to the Dead and Dying. When we call up our sacred space, our Circle, our Crossroads, we stand in the center between Hot and Cold, Life and Death. We see this as a place of power, a nexus from which to summon the energy of Creation into our workings.
Are you familiar with the Powers that stand with you in the Four Corners? You work with them, perhaps even daily, but have you taken the time to stand upon a high cliff and revel in the fleeting nature of the wind in your hair? Have you looked into the flame and seen echoes of the Big Bang? Using your visualization and meditation skills, try journeying directly to the elemental sources and commune with them, feeling them deeply. Learn from them, about what forces they bring to bear in magical workings. Trust your instincts. The Elements are much more than just constructs in our mind, more than tools at hand. They are allies who continually work with the Powers That Be to give birth to the unfolding Creation. Allow them to help guide and shape your magic, just as they help gather and contain the forces that you call up in spell work. As you become more familiar with their power, you become more familiar and comfortable with your own. After all, aren’t we all made up of the essence of stars?
Oh PantheaCon, how I love you, let me count the ways.
If you haven’t yet attended PantheaCon, let me urge you to do so right away! Move heaven and earth if you have to but please join us.
Living in the Bay Area for seven years, I kept hearing through various circles about the annual gathering of Pagans known as PantheaCon (PCon). Every year, thousands of my kin descend upon the DoubleTree hotel in San Jose, CA. There, we meet new friends, network with old ones, expose ourselves to traditions and techniques outside of our personal paradigms and participate together in some of the most intense spiritual rituals. As with most things, you will benefit in proportion to what you put into it, but there is generally something there for everyone. According to the presenters:
We are a conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European and many of diverse beliefs that occurs annually over President’s Day weekend. Well over 2000 people attend more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.
While I could go into great detail about the Con as a whole, I would like to share my personal experiences from the latest incarnation of this amazing event.
You may remember that I posted previously about the death of my spiritual teacher, Eddy Gutiérrez, aka Hyperion, which occurred this past January. Since then, my fellow Initiates in the Unnamed Path have been holding space for each other on a daily basis in an online presence via Facebook. Not all of us were able to attend the conference this year, but for those who could, PCon provided us with an in-person opportunity to share our collective grief and plan for the future of our tradition.
For the past two years, Eddy was approved by PCon’s Programming Committee to present rituals from our Path. This year was to be a return of our highly successful Circle of Bones, a spirit contact circle. Check out the link for more about our sacred holidays. With Eddy’s passing, the community banded together and decided instead to hold a memorial and Circle of Light, a ritual in which Initiates offer energy healing, one of the four parts of our path, to the community. Many, who were unable to attend the funeral services, stood up and offered words of tribute to a man who’s work touched their hearts.
Memories were shared and many tears flowed. However, I was most humbled by how my fellow Initiates stepped up to the challenge of leading ritual space in Eddy’s absence. Everyone contributed to the work, but I am especially grateful to David S. who came up with the ritual’s framework, one that needed few tweaks. Participants later shared with me about the power of seeing all of us perform our circle casting in unison. I feel pretty sure that we did Eddy proud.
This year, PCon was much more about fellowship than ever before. Due to our various locations across the country, it is difficult to have all the Brothers together in one place. The Con provided the perfect backdrop for our continued grief, and many other traditions expressed their deep sorrow over the loss of such a powerful voice in our community. Indeed, I and my fellow Brothers felt very held by the community at large. We began dialogues with other traditions to find out how we can support each other. To T. Thorn Coyle, Storm Faerywolf, Orion Foxwood, Christopher Penczak and many others, we are forever grateful.
Among the myriad happenings, one other stood out in stark relief: Taking of the Veil, a ritual led by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. According to their website, the Sisters “use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.” While I have seen firsthand the generosity of these men and women, who work tirelessly to enrich the LGBTQ community, I had not yet been fortunate enough to witness to power of their Priesthood. They may be known at large as nuns or Sisters, but these individuals are deeply in touch with their Inner Power, and I could only marvel at the power and majesty that was revealed. I am in debt to Sisters Krissy Fiction and Dirrtie San Chez for their puissance.
Finally, I must take a moment to honor my new Mom, Vicky G. Vicky is Eddy’s mother and she has embraced me and my fellow Initiates as her own sons. She attended PCon this year for the first time, after acquiescing to Eddy’s repeated requests. I know it was a bittersweet time for her, but like everything in life, she jumped in and allowed the spirit to move her with abandon. It was truly an honor to have her witness rites of the Unnamed Path, the legacy left behind by Eddy.
This year was a first for me, as I let go of the need to attend a session during each time slot. More important was the time that I spent in the company of like-minded, yet fully individual souls who are pursuing their own unique paths to Spirit. Namaste my Brothers and Sisters.
I choose to write this week about Dancing. Now you might wonder what this has to do with shamanism, but it is a tried and true technique for accessing inner power and for reaching the shamanic worlds.
I’ve always enjoyed music: I played musical instruments in school and I taught myself to sing. Both pursuits bring me a great deal of joy, but especially singing because I feel I am creating an energetic vibration with no props, just me. However, my love for music took an incredible turn when I turned 21. I walked into my first my gay bar and as they say, “the rest is history.” Talk about a rite of passage! There on the bar, just inside the entrance, was a vision of manhood, dancing his ass off to excellent music. I remember thinking, “I have arrived.”
There were of course many “firsts” that night, but the biggest takeaway, one that still resonates at a high level, is moving my body. The more tribal the beat, the better. This may sound a little crazy but it was as if my body knew what to do on an instinctual level. Granted, I already had an outstanding sense of rhythm, but even back then, I understood that I could enter a state of altered consciousness just by letting my Self go, allowing the DJ to take me on journey into my inner landscape. I would close my eyes and dance for hours, transported to a magical world that I could feel was shared by everyone around me. So what is it about body movement that causes such a shift?
Dancing has been a path to the sacred since before the dim and misty. From the earliest times, cultures the world over recognized the special power that dance holds over our bodies. There’s something primal that gets activated through dance. My brain shuts down and the active chatter of ordinary consciousness flows away, allowing me to connect deeply with my divine spark. When I touch that, I touch the Gods.
Dance is a very potent and expressive Art. Through ritual dance, the observer can catch a glimpse of the natural world and states of being. The performer learns how to tap into the very essence of animals, plants, stars, birth and death.
Because our minds can become more still, dancing allows us to feel our emotions in a much deeper way. Joy, Hatred, Ecstasy and Despair are given creative expression in a ritualized context, which can free us from the old fears such as “Am I good enough?”. The wise men and women of old recognized this unique characteristic, this ability to embody something outside of ourselves, and used it to heal our broken spirits. They would ask:
When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence? ~Gabrielle Roth
I have both laughed and cried on the dance floor, swept up by the music until the raw feelings just come pouring out. Cher sings in The Music’s No Good Without You, “I pray that a DJ will lift my Heart.” Indeed. I recently chatted with a DJ from Los Angeles, Ryan Jones, who said that he was once told to “find the God in your work.” He understands his role in helping us to pray while celebrating the joys of being alive. Check out his Soundcloud to listen to what I mean.
My favorite poem by Jewel Mathieson said it best:
WE have come to be danced
not the nice invisible, self conscious shuffle
but the matted hair flying, voodoo mama
shaman shakin’ ancient bones dance
the strip us from our casings, return our wings
sharpen our claws & tongues dance
the shed dead cells and slip into
the luminous skin of love dance
Through dance, we can access our most hidden aspects, the parts of us which do not always wish to come to light. For those who follow the Unnamed Path, we know that this “shadow” work, which I will touch upon more in a future post, is essential to to finding our true power. At my Initiation, I used dance as the vehicle to open me up to deep possessory work, allowing my patron deity to “ride” me into ecstasy. Easily the most advanced technique that we work with, possession would not have been possible if I had not been able to shake things loose through dance. I simply could not wrap my brain around such a working, but my body knew instinctively what to do.
You don’t have to aspire to a possessory experience to reap the shamanic benefits of dancing. The next time you are feeling called to expand your mind via meditation or journeying, try warming up first with some dancing. Put on some good music and let your body move! Alternatively, find out if a Sunday T-Dance is still happening in your area. If I happen to see you out on the dance floor, I’ll not only be gyrating like crazy, I’ll also be channeling energy to the crowd, a fun exercise that Eddy taught me. Together, we can let our hair down and do that “shaman shakin’ ancient bones dance”. No one else has to know. But we will.
“What is Deathwalking?”, you might ask. Well, I’m going to guess that you’ve heard of something like it before: necromancy. Now, before you run away screaming, let me explain.
Specifically, Deathwalking is the branch of my spiritual tradition, the Unnamed Path, which deals with spirits of the dead. While we do use particular magical techniques to assist us in communication, I like the way our founder once put it:
Deathwalking…is more of a lifestyle than a magical art.
Especially when I consider the relationships that I maintain with my Ancestors, both of blood and spirit, I have to agree. Yes, eventually, practitioners of our path learn to speak with spirits on behalf of friends and loved ones, acting as messengers. Yes, we can assist a person with the process of crossing over as a midwife to the dying. However, I think the most significant aspect that sets our way apart from necromancy–and who doesn’t automatically hear “necrophilia” in the back of the mind?–is that we develop real relationships with certain spirits.
I count myself lucky indeed that my maternal Grandmother is among the spirits who surround and speak to me, assisting in all aspects of my shamanic work. Her presence is so cherished, so real, it’s as though she’s just a phone call away. Except now, we just speak directly to each other when we want. Any time.
Other spirits, one whom I met while still living in Austin, are also old friends. One of them literally has my back, as he guards the energy point on my body that is most attuned to the energy of spirits. My Spirit Guardian anchors me on journeys to the Spirit World and protects me from harmful energies.
The point is, we don’t just summon up a spirit to “divine” things, and certainly not just for fun. We commune with them, and they are as real to us any friend in the material world. But they are also teachers. When I have questions about working with plants, I speak specifically with one spirit. She worked with plants so much while alive that she feels almost like a plant spirit herself. These spirits teach us things that no one else can, so you know I pay attention when they speak to me!
The focal point of my work with them is my Ancestor altar, which just recently found a permanent location in my home. Previously, I had set up this special altar only when I needed to do specific work with a spirit. After Eddy’s death, this altar has become more important than ever in my continuing work.
That’s my beloved Teacher Eddy there in a place of prominence. My partner’s grandparents are there too. Don’t they deserve to be treated to rum, chocolate and crystalized ginger? I think so. I will continue to add to this as the year goes by; so many loved ones to commemorate. If you would like to see some of our work in action, and will be at #PantheaCon 2014, be sure to join me and the Brothers of the Unnamed Path as we pay tribute to Eddy at 7:00pm on Saturday.
Or in this case, endings and beginnings.
This blog is about my personal spiritual journey and is intended to finally give voice to my ideas, desires, triumphs and tribulations. As with most things in life, I look back and see what appears to be a singular chain of events. However, for those of us who keep an eye out for such things, I know that my path has led me over hill and dale, so to speak. Shakespeare wrote:
Over hill, over dale,
Through bush, through briar,
Over park, over pale,
Through blood, through fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moone’s sphere;
A winding, twisted way through choices, both my own and others’, that has brought me to this moment. However, before I can go forward in this new beginning, I need to honor an ending.
If there is one person that I can point to as a Teacher, a lynchpin for the various parts that make up my personal path, it would be Eddy Gutiérrez, aka Hyperion. I first came to know Eddy through his amazing work on the Unnamed Path, an emerging shamanic path for Men Who Love Men, which started out as a series of podcasts on all kinds of subjects. He talked about what some might call the “Old Ways” in a manner that made it more accessible to me in today’s world. It was also the first time that a tradition called deeply to me as a gay man.
The quote above reads, “Through blood, through fire,” which is precisely how I would describe the process of becoming a shaman or medicine person. It’s just not possible to read a book or two, wave a magic wand and poof, you’re a shaman. It’s about going deep within and finding those roots which connect you to your Ancestors, cultivating them so that they grow strong, and developing strong relationships to incorporeal beings who will stand with you in the fire. These things take time and much patience.
Eddy was gentle yet uncompromising in his approach. He would give his students information which then had to be picked apart and put back together again, with the hope of instilling a new wisdom along the way. I found this way of working to be an essential component in facing the ultimate challenge to those who walk the path of the shaman: Death. As painful as the personal soul-searching can be, it pales in comparison to standing naked before our own mortality. When the true face of the Dark Goddess is revealed, the aspect that makes you “you” is no longer able to maintain any sense of cohesion. Some liken it to being burned alive, others speak of horrible dismemberment. Whatever way shows up, the student is required to merge with All That Is, separate once more and reconstruct the Self from scratch. Not recommended for the lazy or faint at heart.
This is what Eddy’s teachings gave to me: the ability to understand myself from a new perspective and the recognition of my own inner strength. Qualities which cannot be given by another, but the path to such self-enlightenment can be revealed.
Others have written much more about Eddy the person and what his accomplishments have come to mean for Men Who Love Men. Check out this beautiful piece from Jason Pitzl-Waters of the The Wild Hunt. Eddy, my Friend, Rise in Power.
And so, we return to the beginning. Eddy’s death has compelled me to emerge from the shadows of my past, the dark places of “not good enough” and “but, I don’t know enough.” This blog is part of my healing process, but will also serve to honor the memory of a man who helped me open my eyes–finally and completely–to see that Magic is Real. In the words of Aughra from the Dark Crystal:
End, begin, all the same. Big change. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad.
I hope that you will find something here that resonates with you. I will touch upon many things, some of which will definitely be NSFW. There will be links to art, music, books and many other nuggets of wisdom that have helped define a lifetime of spirituality. This is my way of walking upon the Unnamed Path.
Take my hand.