“One of the most arresting of Lewis-Williams’s and his colleagues’ conclusions in this ground-breaking and important field of study has been the replication of the shamans’ trance states by volunteer subject under controlled laboratory trance conditions. This suggests that trance itself proceeds through three stages, from a light to a deep state. In the lighter stages of the trance the subjects see and replicate what the researchers call ‘entoptic’ phenomena – that is, images that are seen, as it were, within the eye. These are comparable with the effects often produced by migraine: jagged, intermittent streaks of light, streams of dots and broadly geometric shapes passing before the eyes. It can be demonstrated that all these entoptic phenomena are to be identified in the art produced by the societies that practice shamanism, all over the world. In the second stage of trance the geometric shapes begin to take on forms that will be identifiable to the subject, familiar animals for example, or symbols of apprehension or distress”.
~Michael Rice, Swifter Than The Arrow: The Golden Hunting Hounds of Ancient Egypt
I’ve had migraines ever since high school, but they did not progress to be so severe or crippling until later in life, particularly after having been diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I now average at the very least one migraine a week, though I do my best to keep it under control by careful monitoring of lifestyle, such as what food I eat, and my sleeping patterns (which is a complicated issue, as I also suffer from insomnia).
I have always associated my migraines with visionary experiences, and the above quote seems to cement this as a more common or related experience. The “auras” associated with my migraine attacks frequently take the form of landscapes, deities, animals, and other forms. Under a migraine attack I can have some of the deepest and most profound of visionary experiences, but they do not exist exclusively within that spectrum. If possible, I go to a cool, dark room and lay flat on my back. Control of my breathing is key–the more intense the pain, the more important it is to control and regulate my breathing exercises. Commonly under severe pain, people want to take short, sharp breaths. It took me quite a bit of discipline to master my breathing while under this duress, and part of this was due to sheer necessity. Migraine medications don’t always work on me–and especially not over-the-counter medications, so mastering my breathing and “breathing out the bad” is my only recourse. This parallels the visionary experiences of the !Kung, who do not depend on any form of hallucinogen other than breathing exercises, and dancing to exhaustion, for example.
The ordeal path, or the tactics of the ascetic, are common visionary routes. It only seemed inevitable, I suppose, that the spirits and related entities would take advantage of these migraine attacks as yet another vehicle for contact–a very reliable and effective vehicle. During early childhood, I achieved this sort of contact by rocking back and forth, sometimes for hours on end. I have reached trance-states so deep using that method, that people would shout at, shake and hit me, and slap their hands in my face, and I wouldn’t wake up. It was this behavior that contributed to me being diagnosed with a severe learning disability at age seven. Even to this day I still rock, only now with the use of a rocking chair–something I use as a form of soothing and self-regulation, especially after being overwhelmed with too much stimuli. I’ve always found it a very useful form of meditation as well as trance-inducing procedure.
In the end it all boils down, at least to me, to somehow mastering the trials and challenges you’ve been given. I may never get rid of my migraines–just like I may never get rid of my chronic illness, but I can use it in such a way to make it work for me, and maybe ultimately make it work for others, too. Who knows. I’m a work in progress, like all things in life, and the evolution will never stop. I can only hope I evolve in the right direction and therefore, transform what’s around me as well.
Soon there will be a review up here of Michael Rice’s Swifter Than The Arrow, a book I’m enjoying for the most part, as it combines two of my favorite things–cynology and egyptology. I think I would like to do more book reviews here on this blog in general. One of the reasons why I started this in the first place.
My Wepwawet altar, dressed in the left corner (viewer’s right) with a pine cone, candles and Amanita muscaria mushroom representations for good luck in the new year, along with holiday cards. Soon those will be taken down and the altar re-ordered a bit for the coming year.
The hide on the altar is a real black-backed jackal (ideally it should be a golden jackal, but this is the best I could find). A ostrich feather is representative of Ma’at and my moral convictions. The knife in the center is what you would call my “ritual blade”. It is a live blade–a vintage AK-47 bayonet from the Middle East, which serves not only ritual but practical uses (home self-defense and wire-cutting when combined with the sheath), should the need arise. A dog and wolf skull flank his statue. This altar also serves as a reliquary for dog and wolf remnants I’ve collected over the years (bones, teeth, fossils, fur scraps or sheds, etc.) and serves a very practical as opposed to a display or ritual-only purpose. My tiny collection of Ancient Egyptian antiquities are stored there as well. The big bottle of African honey mead is a favorite offering of his, hence it’s display in the center, on top of the current offering plate.
The life of the Spirit is not one that shuns death and keeps clear of destruction; it endures death and in death maintains itself. It only wins to its truth when it finds itself utterly torn asunder. It is this mighty power not by being a positive, which turns away from the negative, as when we say of anything it is nothing or it is false and–being done with it–pass on to something else. On the contrary, spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face and dwelling with it. This dwelling with it is the magic power that converts the negative into being
Originally posted here.
The photos within are beautiful. Truly an awesome resource for any devotee of Wepwawet (or lover of wolves in general).
That and really…the jackal-stereotype only goes so far. They didn’t call his cult center Lycopolis for nothing. And, as it turns out, the jackal that folk seem to love referencing in connection to him, the more popular black-backed jackal, probably wasn’t nearly as popular, prevalent and otherwise prominent to the Ancient Egyptians during that time as the golden jackal (also known as the “common” or “Asiatic” jackal, C. lupus aureus, var. lupaster in the Egyptian region). What is more appealing isn’t always what is the most accurate–although all jackals would technically fall under Wepwawet’s sphere as well, the common/Asiatic/golden jackal was generally more, well…common in that area–see here. And technically, as it turns out, genetic and cranial studies show that this animal is more related to the wolf, dog and coyote than either the black-backed or side-striped jackals.
However, when it comes to wolves, clearly the wolf common to that region was the Arabian wolf, which is taxonomically very similar to the golden or common jackal. Compare photos, and you can clearly see. Back then, one must realize too that the Ancient Egyptians didn’t have use of the Linnaean Classification System, so the common jackal and the Arabian wolf were probably not nearly as delineated in the human mind as they are today.
It would just be nice if people had some sort of basic understanding of the biology of these animals, and the interactions they had with humans during this time period. Especially those who claim to have a strong dedication to a specific deity associated with said animals. The display of disinformation and ignorance amongst those of a Egyptian/Kemetic path is a bit disconcerting at times (like one person I saw who used what she thought was a photo of a jackal as a Wepwawet icon, when the animal depicted was really…a bat-eared fox).
Posting some old posts I made from my LiveJournal, which I thought would be appropriate for the focus of this blog–and which I should probably have originally posted here in the first place. Originally posted here.
Recently a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous at this time) wrote a long rant in their lj about totemism on the internet. I was going to copypaste the whole thing, but in lieu of that, I’ll mainly just try to write briefly on certain points he made regarding things, and lift some select quotes (with permission).
During the course of the entry he dubbed the word “poketotem”, something that elicited in me a rueful and knowing laugh. Gotta catch them all, right?
I guess what I’m saying is that I find the common online version of this to be complete and utter bullshit. People slamming through these humongous lists of “energies” long enough to come up with one or two pathetic catch phrases to describe them, like captions in a yearbook. That’s insulting to your ancestors, animist societies, and the animals themselves. They’re not fucking Pokemon.
I can definitely understand the frustration. As a practicing animist, I sometimes feel a profound disconnect from other animists. Mainly because I don’t take the Poketotem Approach. I can’t rapidly go through multiple animals at once, compiling “totem dictionaries” that shoehorn animals into limited, specific definitions. Granted, I love exploring animal symbolism. But that symbolism should be explored from experience and research (yes, that would include scientific research), and not from the fantastical minds of those who spend way too much time on the internet, or locked in their own fantasy worlds. It’s pathetic. And that’s one big reason why I can’t stand totem dictionaries, aside from the vast majority of them being very poorly referenced and researched, and highly flavored by the person writing them.
Most cultures agree that it takes a lifetime of dedication to assign yourself the sort of title most of you so readily jump on, and no, putting a “neo” at the start of it doesn’t make you look less of a jerk. So if you find yourself churning through the entire Encyclopedia Animilia , a day or a week per species, please consider that there just may be something wrong with your approach.
Neoshamanism is, I feel, a valid practice. How it is applied, however, can be open to some debate–and is. But there is a reason why I call myself a “shamanist” instead of outright “shaman”. Curiouser and curiouser are the cases of what I call “internet shamans” who will preach the importance of respect and whatnot, but as soon as they get a little taste of popularity, the “ist” in the “shaman” slowly begins to get dropped and when this happens, I strongly begin to consider what, if at all, they have contributed to their society, to their “tribe” beyond further opportunities for people to stroke their egoes.
Because doing this Poketotem bullshit is professing the exact opposite. It is quite blatantly saying that you, yes you, are advanced and important enough to know what is significant already. That they are there for our use spiritually as well as physically, for us to pick meanings from and apply them to our lives, or ask for ridiculous favours, regardless of the intricacy and depth we know, or should know, is actually there amongst the instincts and history of these other peoples (as you so often call them.).
Well, none of us know what is significant. Even back then, the early animists didn’t. That’s why they turned to things like “elders”, and things that dwelled “beyond”. That’s why we journey, why we seek what is beyond the periphery of our bodies and our societies. For wisdom, for knowledge. People assign meaning to things to shed light on the unknown, the mysterious. I can understand the frustration though. I’ve seen totems used far too often like mascots for concepts or ideas, or crutches for people’s own shortcomings and inner demons. If animism is the idea that everything is alive in some way, then life is far more complex than a paragraph, a set of definitions, a summary.
If you feel you need some sort of internet-paced community built up around you to start this pathway, then so be it. But when your spiritual revelations start reading more like the badly written horoscopes used as filler in the back pages of cheap newspapers than real insight, step back, take your time, and go on your journey. It’s okay if you don’t get everything right away, don’t feel bad about it. That’s just our too-fast-hurry-up culture talking. This is supposed to be an individual experience that will translate to you the meanings behind your own world and place in it, and it is a journey that takes a lifetime of dedication and introspective thought. Deep down, you know that, and it was either that or the want for some pathetic internet celebrity status that you chose this path in the first place.
And here…I can’t argue with anything here. I’ve seen it far too often on the internet already. This “too-fast-hurry-up” culture really does talk. One of instant gratification and hyper-individualism. Way back when, it was the group/society/tribe before the individual, now the roles are reversed, and how we deal and work with animistic pathways is affected as result. Does this make it wrong? Depends on the perspective. I am a very individualistic person, but I was also raised and put in situations in my life that caused a sacrifice of ego and self for the betterment of group or family. I have a taste of both sides, I think both sides have much to offer in a person’s perspective. I’m not going to fall into the danger of nostalgia and the “good old days”, but I guess that can have its merits, too. But this Fast Food Animism is not one I can relate to. I may not burn through totems as rapidly as some people, I may take a longer and considerably more painful route with my shamanistic practice, but that’s my choice. I’m not going to say that my path is better, because I really don’t know the answer to that. I just know what I don’t want to be a part of, what I feel is far too shallow for me to adapt or relate to.
This post wasn’t spawned by anything in particular other than my friend’s post (which, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t spawned by anything in particular, either). It’s helped me crystallize some thoughts rolling around in my head lately.
Plus, an addendum to this post, originally posted here
It’s not that I don’t think totemism isn’t valid for those modern animists who aren’t a member of an indigenous or tribal society, as it where. Hardly (I’d be a hypocrite obviously). It’s just that I don’t always agree with how it is applied. Then again, how it is applied may vary from society to society, so you can’t pin it down to any one particular group of people. Even still–there are ways of going about this sort of thing that doesn’t have to be shallow, careless, half-assed, and ego-serving.
Or, to put it another way, when one invokes “cultural appropriation”. Strong words, and important ones, yes. But one must also remember that cultures, religions and related have been appropriating from each other since the dawn of time. This does not justify all forms of appropriation. When all you take out are the bits you find to be attractive to you and leave out the rest, you are not doing anyone or anything any sort of justice, and you certainly aren’t helping yourself by doing so either.
Or, let me try to explain this again. The TL;DR Version: just remember to do your freaking homework. Haha.