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Commercialized Magic?

Original digital painting by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy, 2016.

Commercialized Magic:  Employing supernatural powers or demonstrating the power to apparently influence the course of events via mysterious or supernatural forces purely for the sake of profit and/or financial gain.

That is not what we do here at Iaconagraphy. It never has been, and it never will be. However it has recently been brought to our attention that some people view any use of spiritual gifts in the creation of a product to sell as precisely that, so we felt the need to blog about it, and clear up any misconceptions or preconceived notions that might be held by others of our followers and folks within our customer base.  We’re going to be doing this blog post a wee bit differently from our norm, as Michelle and I are co-writing this one.  She has served as a psychic service professional for far longer than I have, with a combined thirty years of Tarot and oracle card reading experience, though only in a paid capacity for the last two.  I have personally been “tossing runes” for twenty years, as well as reading oracle cards for myself and friends, also as an un-paid reader, until now.  She is ordained; I am not. She is published; I’m not yet.  Therefore, I feel that hearing both our perspectives on this issue is not only worthy, but warranted.

Warning: If you are sensitive to certain types of “language”, be forewarned. This post contains some mild profanity.

So what does qualify as commercialized magic?

Connla:  As far as I’m concerned, anybody who “hangs out their shingle” as a “psychic service professional” based more on what they can gain than on what they can give is committing an act of commercialized magic.  The key word in the phrase “psychic service professional” is service.  If the only thing you’re intending to serve is your own damn wallet, then you need to stop muddying the waters for the rest of us who are actually here to perform a service to other people.

 

Michelle: First of all, I don’t consider “psychic readings” to be a form of magic; I consider magic to be magic.  A psychic reading does not actively attempt to “influence the course of events”.  We aren’t “making shit happen” by doing a reading for you.  We will hopefully be providing you with tools, so that you can “make shit happen” yourself, but no amount of advice “makes shit happen”, psychic or otherwise.  Anyone who tells you that a reading they have performed for you is going to “make shit happen” in your life probably also has a bridge over the Marianas Trench they’d like to sell you!  That’s “snake oil salesmanship” at its finest.  I consider active spellwork to be magic, because that’s precisely what active spellwork is: it is performing an action with the direct intent of “influencing the course of events”.  Neither Connla nor I will ever participate in active spellwork for money, for a variety of reasons.  First, because that obviously is actively doing magic for money (though that doesn’t necessarily mean that even that falls under the heading of “commercialized magic”, as defined above), but our reasons go much, much deeper than that.  Magic always comes at a price, and I’m not talking about money when I say that.  Simple physics tells us that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”: when you perform a spell, there will be some “equal and opposite reaction” incurred.  As such, active spellwork is an intensely and necessarily very personal thing. Neither of us are “into” incurring anybody else’s equal and opposite reactions!  We create enough of those of our ownon our own.  I’m not willing to say that there aren’t people out there who are selfless enough to take those sort of risks for you–the conjure community has been full of precisely those sorts of people going all the way back to ancient Africa–what I am willing to say is that doing readings of the type that we do here at Iaconagraphy is taxing enough, without adding active spellwork to that mix.  For the record, not all active spellwork for money is “commercialized magic” as defined above, either:  if someone is doing that as a service for others, rather than solely for what they personally financially gain from it, then that’s not commercialized magic; that is simply a different sort of psychic service profession from what we do here at Iaconagraphy.    

How is what you do different from commercialized magic?

Connla:  First, and quite simply: we’re here to serve othersnot to serve ourselves or our own wallets.  The financial bottom line is not what I was put here to serve: I was put here to serve the Gods first, and other seekers second.  While the old adage of “a gift for a gift” and an active energy exchange are necessary for our very survival in this world, I made a decision months ago to no longer be a slave to our bank account.  I don’t serve it; I serve the Gods, and I’m here to serve all of you.  

Second, most paradigms of commercialized magic put forth a “here, let me do it all for you” perspective, which makes the person purchasing said “services” wholly dependent upon the person performing said “services”.  This is how things like “Tarot addiction” get started.  The “Tarot addict” becomes as dependent on the Reader as the alcoholic is on their local bartender, or the drug addict is on their local dealer.  That’s how such people keep the money flowing in: they continue to build on that dependence exactly the same way as a drug dealer. “Your life is shitty?” “Here, let me do another reading for you and give you all the answers so it will be guaranteed to be less shitty; that’ll be $200”.  We don’t do that.  Our readings are designed to be stepping stones; nothing more.  They provide advice that could potentially help you improve your life, sure, but they are never put forth as the “be all and end all” answer to all of your problems. We can’t do that; we’re not Gods!

 

 

Michelle:  One would hope that the answer to this question would be self-evident, from my answer to the first question, but just in case it isn’t, let me be overtly honest:  a person who was actually offering readings as a form of commercialized magic (especially of the “snake oil salesman” variety that has been implied in this particular situation) would not be as deeply offended as I am right now!  I lived in the South for most of my life–forty-two years, to be exact–in an area of the country where any psychic ability was either viewed as being “of the Devil” or “fakery for the sake of money-making”.  When I began to read Tarot at the ripe young age of fifteen,  for free, as a service to my peers, I received death threats after they proved to be uncannily precise.  Meanwhile, the local “psychic reader” in our town, who was a complete charlatan, performing readings purely for the sake of making money, was allowed to practice in peace: no threats of burning crosses in her yard; no threats of “we’ll burn you at the stake in the local churchyard”.  That experience taught me at a very young age that if I ever, ever considered making money off of my God-given gifts, someone would actually make good on those death threats!  I subsequently did my level best, for the next twenty-seven years, to hide away my psychic gifts as much as was humanly possible.  When you’re me, that’s a little bit hard to pull off. I consequently became agoraphobic.  I reached a point where I was actually afraid to go out in public and remotely be myself, much less remotely entertain the thought of offering my skills as a service for money.  Three years ago, we moved to Massachusetts, and I suddenly found myself living in the “Girdle of the Goddess”, instead of the “Bible Belt”.  Here, my gifts are seen as precisely what they are: gifts. Here, there is actually an industry based on people offering such gifts in service to the public.  I could finally be wholly myself.  Not only that, I could finally be recognized as what I am: a gifted psychic service professional.  

How do you personally feel about commercialized magic?

Connla:  I feel the same way about commercialized magic that many Heathens feel about the AFA: those people muddy the waters for the rest of us.  Those of us who are really into this for the right reasons get lumped together with all the “boardwalk psychics” and “gypsy fortune tellers”, and get the same bad rap, and fall victim to the same levels of disrespect–disrespect which we patently do not deserve. Just because I perform this sort of service for people for money doesn’t make me a con artist or charlatan, anymore than me being a Heathen automatically makes me a racist!

 

Michelle:  My simple two-word answer to this question would be: that depends.  Depends on what exactly?  Mostly, it depends on whether or not the person in question is actually legit.  If a person is legitimately gifted with the ability to perform magic (and “psychic activity”), and is selfless enough to be willing to do that for other people, and then chooses to charge for their services as a way of either avoiding the necessary “equal and opposite reaction” (energy craves energy; “a gift for a gift”), or as a way of maintaining their lives (i.e., simple survival), then I certainly don’t take issue with that. Go them! I just know that isn’t a life for me, or for Connla. We have enough of our own endemic mental and physical backlash, without courting other people’s.  However, if a person is a “snake oil salesman” of the magical variety, they are actively making our lives more difficult by promoting the stereotype of the “boardwalk psychic” and the “gypsy fortune teller”, and that, quite simply, pisses me off.  Either a person is actively working in service to the community (services for which they should wholeheartedly get paid), or they’re a con artist and a grifter; they just choose to dress up their con and their grifting in the language and trappings of the supernatural.

What’s the difference between a psychic service professional and a “boardwalk psychic” or “gypsy fortune teller”?

Connla:  A psychic service professional does exactly that: they provide counseling services to others, for which they are paid, which rely on their own gifted (psychic) abilities.  They attempt to lead you to a point where you can develop your own answers, providing you with potential tools along the way to assist you in doing that. A psychic service professional understands the old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”  They’re not there to essentially pour that water down your throat.    A “boardwalk psychic” or “gypsy fortune teller”, on the other hand, bases their “services” on either telling the consumer precisely what they want to hear, or the exact opposite (so that they can then provide answers for how to avoid catastrophe), in an effort to keep the money sliding across the table and into their hand.  

 

Michelle:  To me, that’s like asking “what’s the difference between a barber in the Old West (who usually also performed the occupations of surgeon, dentist, veterinarian, and mortician) and a modern surgeon”?  Or, better yet, “what’s the difference between the Seidhkonas and shamans who served our Ancestors and the old lady downtown with the neon ‘Psychic Reader’ sign in her window who is basically only pedaling bullshit for money because she possesses no psychic ability whatsoever?” In the Old West, if you suffered a gunshot wound, you hoped the barber could fix you up; in our modern world, going to the barber with a gun shot wound is pretty much a guaranteed way to die! (Better hope he’s also a mortician; chances are, he’s not!)  In the ancient world, people with actual psychic ability were held in extremely high esteem: we need look no further than the evidence of artifacts within their collections of grave goods to see the truth in this statement.  That they might remotely be a fake was not a factor: theirs was seen as a sacred duty, not only by the perpetrator of the action (the shaman, Seidhkona, or other “magickal practitioner”), but also by the people whom they served.  I see what I do as a sacred duty in exactly that same way, and so does Connla.  The little old lady passing herself off as a psychic while pedaling bullshit for bucks clearly does not!  As Connla said above, a psychic service professional does exactly that: they provide a service to others; they are not merely servicing themselves

Why offer such services for money? Isn’t that a slippery slope?

Connla:  Other people in service professions get paid, why the hell shouldn’t we?  Service professions are defined as professions which require special training in the arts or sciences in order to serve others, and include accountants, dentists, pharmacists, morticians, hairdressers, barbers, psychiatrists, and social workers.  You likely wouldn’t entertain the thought of not paying your hairdresser, right?  Why should it be any different when it comes to us?

Insofar as it being a slippery slope, I would ask you: Do you consider paying your hairdresser the first step down a slippery slope?  Sure, there are people out there who are out to take your money, and that’s all they care about.  That’s been a reality in the Universe since time began.  There are also people like us who are out here to do our jobs.  When you sit down for a haircut, are you thinking in the back of your mind “well, what if they cut my hair crooked so that they can charge me extra for fixing it?” For most people, the answer to that question is “no, of course not”.  That’s because we tend to go to hairdressers we know beforehand we can patently trust.  When choosing a psychic service professional, the same rules should apply: pick someone who has proven they can be trusted.  Otherwise, caveat emptorbuyer beware. No slippery slope necessary.

 

Michelle:  The Seidhkonas, shamans, and other “magickal practitioners” of ancient times were paid for the services they rendered, why shouldn’t modern people performing the same services likewise get paid?  I’ve heard it argued that such people of ancient times amassed all of their wealth because people paid them respect, of which those items were an outward sign.  Isn’t money paid to a modern practitioner the exact same thing? Or are we somehow less worthy of respect, simply because we are separated from that time period by a few thousand years?  I’m sorry, but that is, quite simply, bullshit!  In case I haven’t made this clear enough, I’m sorry, but I’ve been fighting to have my gifts respected for forty-five years!  The primary difference between now and then, insofar as how that respect might be shown, is that back then, part of the respect factor involved not only the giving of gifts in payment, but also bowing down before the person in question as a revered individual.  I explicitly chose the title of Ollamh (essentially: “Poet-Teacher”) at the time of my ordination precisely because I don’t believe any person is worthy of the title  of “reverend”.  People aren’t meant to be revered, only Gods are!  So the modern way of showing that respect is by expressing that person’s worth in the form of monetary payment, which mirrors the giving of gifts to the person providing the service as a sign of respect, as has been done since such services have been practiced by humankind.

Insofar as charging for such services creating any sort of “slippery slope”, I would refer you to Connla’s perfectly eloquent response above.

Isn’t marketing such services almost like a form of “spiritual prostitution”?

Connla:  Gee, let me think: Is a hairdresser practicing “hair prostitution”?  Is an accountant practicing “number prostitution”? Is a dentist practicing “tooth prostitution”?  All of these other service professions depend on a person choosing an occupation based on their gifts.  Hairdressers become hairdressers because they are gifted with the ability to style hair well.  Accountants become accountants because they are gifted with an ability with numbers.  Dentists become dentists because they are gifted with an ability to treat people’s teeth, and an interest in doing so.  All of these professions require years of study and practice.  We don’t look down on them or judge them based on their gifts, nor their active pursuit of said study and practice; we’re just very grateful they had those gifts in the first place, and put in the time to become adept at their professions.  Psychic service professionals are exactly the same, our gifts just happen to be of a supernatural variety, and without years of study and practice, we wouldn’t be professionals, we would be little more than dabblers.  So why is it that when we use our gifts, after years of study and practice, to actually earn a living, we get accused of “spiritual prostitution”, but your local hairdresser or dentist is seen as a valid service professional? That is, quite simply, unfair.

 

Michelle:  have heard some professional readers liken the way their services are treated by tourists to a form of psychic prostitution, yes.  I have also felt that way myself on more than one occasion, when a client has come back six times with the same damn question, simply because they don’t like the responses they’ve received, and are hoping this time they’ll get what they really want to hear.  I’ve also felt that way myself when people expect my services to come for free.  (In fact, I’ve even joked, when referring to the latter situation that I am “patently a prostitute, not a whore”!)  When readings are treated as nothing more than a form of entertainment, rather than an actual serious service that is being provided by the reader, then, yes, this definitely becomes the equivalent of “psychic prostitution”.  But I personally feel that is the case with any Spirit-driven profession.  If you are making what is ostensibly votive art, for example, purely for the sake of “what can I put on a t-shirt this week?”, then that is also a form of “psychic prostitution”.  During the medieval period, when the Catholic Church offered plenary indulgences in return for money, that was also a form of “psychic prostitution”.  For a moment, let me do as Connla so eloquently did above and take the “psychic” part out of the equation.  We are all gifted with something that we’re so skilled at doing that it could potentially be the basis of our occupation.  That’s simply the way the world is designed to work.  Painters, paint (and I don’t just mean the artistic ones; I also mean the ones who paint houses for a living).  Those who are gifted at medically taking care of other people become doctors and nurses.  Those who are good at arguing points become politicians and lawyers.  At what point do any of those professions based on a person’s natural gifts become “pimping your gifts for dollars”?  At the moment when that person–or the people employing their services–views that gift and its subsequent off-shoot-profession as nothing more than a money-making activity; at the moment that they or the people employing their services either overvalue or undervalue the part that the individual performing said services personally plays in getting whatever job in question done.

Why seek a reading from a psychic service professional, when I could just “throw my own cards” or “toss my own runes”?

Connla:  We are all human, and, as humans, we tend to have our own inborn biases.  If you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you can “throw your own cards” or “toss your own runes” without any of those biases entering your mind as you interpret those cards/runes, then you may never need the assistance of a psychic service professional.  That assumes that you know how to read cards or toss runes in the first place, which not everybody does. It also assumes that you’ve put in the same level of study and practice as most people who choose to do this for a living, as a professional.  Finally, it assumes that you have confidence in yourself as an intuitive/psychic.  If the answer to any of those things is a resounding “no”, then a professional reading would be a good investment.

 

Michelle:  If you feel that you can perform the exact same services which we provide for yourself, all by yourself, then by all means, do so.  Also, it is very nice to meet someone else who has put as much time and effort into the study of this field as we have, and with similar psychic gifts. We don’t meet many people like you, so please, let’s chat, hang out, or something!

How do you determine what to charge for your services?

Connla:  How does any other service professional decide what to charge for their services?  We do it exactly the same way!   First, we figure our overhead costs. When dealing with a service-based industry, as opposed to an industry that is based on shipping actual crafted products, those overhead costs include all the things that are necessary to stay in business: things like your internet connection, maintaining your website, equipment used to perform the service (in our case, cards, runes, incense, and a computer), room and board (because if you don’t have a roof over your head and food in your belly, chances are, you’re going to be physically unable to do any job in the first place!), marketing and advertising, and any necessary further education/study/necessary certifications.  If you’re charging less for your provided service than your overall overhead costs, then you’re doing it wrong.  Next, you consider how much labor (work) your service actually requires: how physically or mentally taxing is the service provided?  This is commonly referred to as labor costLabor cost is why, when you go to a mechanic, you don’t just pay him for the parts!  Finally, you weigh things like experience and skill.  What is your level of experience and skill worth monetarily?  The final price on something is not just a source of income, but also a signal of its worth. This commonly breaks down in the human brain as “cheap cost=shotty service”.  

Our overhead costs include everything on that list in my first paragraph.  This site isn’t being hosted for free. Our internet access is not free.  Our cards and runes did not come cheap, nor did this computer on which I am typing (which we use not only to advertise our services, but also to provide them in the final format of a PDF delivered via email), nor does the incense and other things required to reach an alpha state and perform the readings in the first place.  Our room and board expenses should not be dependent solely on the “good graces” of other people–we are not Stewart from Big Bang Theory!  Marketing and advertising are neither cheap nor free.  Resource materials to improve our skills (such as books and classes) are, for the most part, neither cheap nor free.  Any further certifications in our field (and, yes, that’s actually a thing!) cost money.

Our labor costs are determined based not only on what it takes out of us, both mentally and physically, to perform this service, but also on how much time performing this service takes away from performing the duties of the rest of our business and our life in general.  Every reading is, on average, a good three to four hours that we cannot be working on writing, art, marketing, or “earning our right to live here” (i.e., helping to maintain the household).  When we are done with a shamanic reading (the type of readings we presently offer), we are tapped out.  Achieving the alpha state alone is enough to require a good, long nap. Mentally and physically, this involves a whole lot more than just “getting down on the floor with some cards and some runes”.  Shamanic readings require a psychic connection with the querent, as well as with those entities, forces, and energies which are coming in, to assist in giving answers in the reading.  This service is, therefore, both mentally and physically taxing.  Wearing ourselves out like that shouldn’t come for free, anymore than a mechanic wearing himself or herself out under your car, covered in grease and oil, with the potential of that car coming down on them and crushing them (accidents do happen!), should come for free!

Finally, our worth is high: we have a combined fifty years of experience (thirty on her side of the equation; twenty on mine) with psychic ability and performing readings (runes, Tarot, and oracle cards); she has proven psychic ability, and I’m a “dead guy” and a practicing vitki (which I didn’t become overnight, on a whim).  That’s a level of experience, and those are skills, that you don’t run across every day. That is worth something!  I’m sure you probably have your own distinctive personal skills and experiences which you offer in your own field of work. What if your employer suddenly told you those weren’t worth anything? 

 

Michelle:  When I first began doing readings for money, I significantly not only undervalued my abilities (because I had been led to believe my entire life that what I can do was not only worthless, but also dangerous), I also severely underestimated the toll doing this for a living would take on me, mentally and physically. I neither considered the effects it would have on the time constraints of the other parts of this business (writing and art), nor did I consider the effect it would have on the people around me (friends and family members who also require my time and who patently do not like constantly being told not to disturb me).  I subsequently wound up in situations where I would perform a reading which took me six hours from start to finish and then making $20.  That’s not even including subsequent personal counseling sessions.  In the end, I was averaging making $1.00 or less per hour of my time. That’s way less than minimum wage, in payment for a distinctly skilled labor service profession!  Thankfully, I have Connla, who worked out all of the stuff he talked about above. What we can do is worth more than $1.00 or less per hour! I am worth more than $1.00 or less per hour, and so is he! 

We hope that this blog post and mini-interview clears up any misconceptions or preconceived notions that people might have about exactly what it is that we are doing here at Iaconagraphy, when it comes to offering paid-for psychic services.  Above and beyond anything else, at the end of the day, we are here to serve you: whether that be as writers, artists, or psychic service professionals.  Everything that we do is in the nature of that service: service to all of you, who have supported us on this journey, and service to the Gods, for all of the gifts which They constantly pour into our lives. Anything less than that, and we would not be living to the full potential of who we have been created to be.  We would not only be performing a disservice to the community, but to ourselves, and to the Gods.  When all is said and done, this is about far more than money; this is about living true. And that, my friends, is priceless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in employing Connla’s services as a psychic service professional, please click here. We would be delighted to serve you!

 

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The Death of Trans-Cultural Diffusion

Original digital painting of Bruce Lee by Connla Freyjason, featured within an artist journaling page, also by Connla, 2017.

Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. ~Bruce Lee

I’m writing this today because something recently occurred in a Facebook Group to which we belong that deeply disturbed not only me, but also Michelle, and even my Beloved, Suzanne.  I don’t often like to bring things like this into the blog, but I think this is a topic which is reaching such epidemic proportions that it desperately needs to be addressed.  As the CEO of a business which promotes multiculturalism, this needs to be addressed before someone comes at us, the way they’ve come at the CEO who runs said Facebook Group.

Face it: we’re living in a society full of people who are absolutely desperate to be offended by something.  Which is odd, considering that there are plenty of things to be offended by in our modern world, without having to actively look for something petty to be offended by!  Most of these folks who are so eager to be offended run about chanting big words like cultural appropriationcultural misappropriation, and politically correct, while at the same time casting themselves as supposed champions of multiculturalism. Yet, oddly, none of them seem to know what any of these words/phrases actually mean! So, before I start the storytelling portion of this blog post, let’s get those definitions out of the way:

Cultural Appropriation: (sometimes abbreviated CA)  The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.  Can include using other cultures’ traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and cultural songs without permission.  

Cultural Misappropriation: The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture in violation of the intellectual property rights of the original culture.  Differs from acculturationassimilation, or cultural exchange in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context–sometimes against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

Politically Correct: (sometimes abbreviated PC) Language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society; conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of gender or race) should be eliminated.

Multiculturalism:  The existence of multiple culture traditions within a single community, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an aboriginal or indigenous ethnic group and foreign ethnic groups.  Multicultural ideologies and policies vary widely, ranging from advocacy of equal respect to the various cultures in a society, to policies of promoting the maintenance of cultural diversity, to policies in which people of various ethnic and religious groups are addressed by the authorities as defined by the group to which they belong.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that there are other terms in bold within those definitions? Let’s define those while we’re at it, plus one: Trans-cultural Diffusion:

Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property Rights: (sometimes abbreviated as IP)  Intellectual property refers to creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law.  Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the protections granted to the creators of IP, and include trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets. Artistic works, including music and literature, as well as discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs can be protected as intellectual property.  The purpose of IPR is to “promote progress”:  by exchanging limited exclusive rights for disclosure of inventions and creative works, society and the patent/copyright owner mutually benefit, and an incentive is created for inventors and authors/artists to create and disclose their work.

Acculturation:  The process of cultural change and psychological change that results following the meeting of two different cultures. Acculturation is a direct change of one’s culture through dominance over another’s culture through either military or political conquest (in other words, via colonialism).

Assimilation:  The process by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group.  The term is used to refer to both individuals and groups, and in the latter case can refer to either immigrant diasporas or native residents that come to be culturally dominated by another society (again, colonialism).

Cultural Exchange:  An exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc. between two distinct cultures to promote mutual understanding.

Colonialism and “colonial manner”:  The establishment of a community in one territory by a political power from a different territory, and the subsequent maintenance, expansion, and exploitation of that colony.  Also used as a term to describe an unequal relationship between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and displaced indigenous or aboriginal people. (Note: given the definitions of acculturation and assimilation above, hopefully the problem with the sentence “Cultural misappropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation….in that the appropriation or misappropriation refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner” becomes self-evident…..)

Cultural Diversity:  The existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.  The quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, the global culture, or a homogenization of cultures, akin to cultural decay.  Can also refer to having different cultures respect each other’s differences.

Trans-Cultural Diffusion:  The spread of cultural items–such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages, etc.–between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another, usually resulting in innovation and the betterment of all societies/cultures involved.

 

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way so that we’re all on the same page, the story (without too many details) of what sparked all of this:

We belong(ed) to a group based off of a series of books that promote organizing your life and your business in a spiritual way, with an emphasis on muticulturalism (we thought) and “sisterhood” (or, in my case, at the very least community).  Yesterday, someone came into the group criticizing the author for her use of cultural appropriation on several pages of these books, specifically when urging readers to explore the creation of mandalas (Hindu/Buddhist), seeking spirit animals (which they felt was a specifically Native American practice), participating in shamanic drumming (which they also felt was a specifically Native American practice), and exploring yoga (East Indian) as a practice.  Others then joined in the discussion, adding criticism of the author’s use of images of women of color in her artwork (said author is Caucasian) and dreamcatchers (Native American; specifically Ojibwe, later adopted by other Native Peoples, including the Lakota).  My immediate response was to roll my eyes and mutter privately under my breath that if this same author had only included images of other Caucasians throughout her work and had only suggested “suitably White activities,” they would all be decrying her as a racist instead.  She literally could not win, either way.

The other big issue with these people’s allegations is that they attributed at least two of the things on the list to cultures which patently haven’t “cornered the market” on the things in question: neither spirit animals nor shamanic drumming are exclusively Native American.  In fact, the word shamanic isn’t even of Native American origin–the word shaman is actually from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia (i.e., Siberia)!  Shamanic drumming actually co-originates in the Native American culture, Aboriginal Australian culture, Mongolian culture, and Saami culture (the indigenous people of Scandinavia), as well as many other tribal cultures with systems of religion which focus on trancework and religious ecstasy.  The use of spirit animals likewise covers all of these shamanic cultures, as well as many others wherein animism is practiced. The other two major things at issue–the creation of mandalas and the practice of yoga–are actually associated with world religions: specifically, Hinduism and Buddhism.  Last time I checked, religions are open to people of all cultural persuasions and racial backgrounds, and when that isn’t the case, things like the need for Declaration 127  in Heathenry happen.

Apparently all of these people are operating on the same misguided notion as most of their compatriots who scream “that’s not politically correct, that’s cultural mis/appropriation!” every chance that they get: that a culture can or even should hold intellectual property rights on those things which are uniquely representative of that specific culture.  Rather than make a summary proclamation on whether or not I actually feel that that should or should not “be a thing”, let’s take a look at what our world would be like if it actually were…..

The year is 1271.  A seventeen year old Venetian sets off for Asia on a series of adventures with his uncle.  They spend 24 years, traveling along the Silk Road to Mongolia.  While on those travels, he refuses to write anything down, because he fears being accused of cultural misappropriation.  He returns home, and centuries later, people all across Europe continue to pay for their goods either via the barter system or with bags of gold. Paper money is never invented in Europe.  Eyeglasses are also never invented in the West.  People continue to send mail via carrier pigeon, because the postal system, which already existed in Mongolia, is never introduced in the West.  The Industrial Revolution happens in Asia, rather than in the West, because coal is never introduced as a primary fuel source in the West.  North America and South America exist only as small colonies of Scandinavia and the Irish because none of the other explorers ever go there, because they do not have the inspiration of Marco Polo to spur them forward.

The year is 1954.  “Race music” emerges, consisting of influences from African oral storytelling, heavy rhythmic influences, and call and response song styles.  Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, and Gospel music never develop, because America’s “black population” fears cultural misappropriation: they do not want to participate in the same level of colonialism as their Caucasian oppressors.  Rock and roll and Rockabilly also never happen. Country Music as we know it today never happens.  Elvis Presley never happens. Western culture remains segregated by race. 

The year is 1959.  A Chinese-German immigrant from Hong Kong who is a senior at Edison Technical School in Seattle begins teaching non-Asians the martial arts.  He does so for five years, dropping out of college in 1964 and moving to Oakland, California, where he continues to practice his reverse-colonialism and subversive reverse cultural appropriation of teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians.  He draws the line, however, at adopting from other Asian forms or even from the fighting styles of other cultures, making sure to keep his style–the style he is teaching to non-Asians, remember–distinctly Chinese Gung Fu in the Wing Chun style.  When invited to attend a Karate Championship hosted in Long Beach in that year, he refuses the invitation.  When approached by one of the foremost authorities on the Korean fighting style of Taekwondo, he refuses to take the call.  Finally, in outrage, the Chinese community issues a challenge: stop teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians. He complies.  Bruce Lee never happens. The entire genre of martial arts action films never happens. Some of the greatest philosophy ever written never happens.

This is the sort of world we are destined to live in if we cling to the battle-cry of being “politically correct” and not practicing “cultural misappropriation”.  What myself and others, including that poor author whose group we just left, are trying to promote is multiculturalism via trans-cultural diffusion, a phenomenon which has existed since humans first began having contact with other humans.  Trans-cultural diffusion gave us many of the things which we consider necessities in life: paper money, technology (via the Industrial Revolution), integration, and the global community that we live in today.  It also gave us many things which it would be very hard for us to imagine living without: martial arts films, rock and roll, pasta, and even Chinese takeaway.  When we scream for intellectual property rights to be applied to cultural heritage, we are likewise begging to rob our children and future generations of innovation! So take a few minutes to roll that around in your brain.  Are you so selfish, whatever your cultural heritage might be, that you don’t want future generations to benefit from having known that culture? Shall we stop growing, as a global culture, simply because these few people fear being offended or offending someone else?

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Symbiotic Shamanism: Huginn, Muninn, Geri, Freki, and the Norse “Soul”

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, except painted raven feather (ArtLife; upcoming). Verse original by Connla Freyjason.

In a biological symbiosis one organism typically shores up some weakness or deficiency of the other(s). As in such a symbiosis, Odin the father of all humans and gods, though in human form was imperfect by himself. As a separate entity he lacked depth perception (being one-eyed) and he was apparently also uninformed and forgetful. But his weaknesses were compensated by his ravens, Hugin (mind) and Munin (memory) who were part of him. They perched on his shoulders and reconnoitered to the ends of the earth each day to return in the evening and tell him the news. He also had two wolves at his side, and the man/god-raven-wolf association was like one single organism in which the ravens were the eyes, mind, and memory, and the wolves the providers of meat and nourishment. As god, Odin was the ethereal part—he only drank wine and spoke only in poetry. I wondered if the Odin myth was a metaphor that playfully and poetically encapsulates ancient knowledge of our prehistoric past as hunters in association with two allies to produce a powerful hunting alliance. It would reflect a past that we have long forgotten and whose meaning has been obscured and badly frayed as we abandoned our hunting cultures to become herders and agriculturists, to whom ravens act as competitors.–Bernd Heinrich

 

I’ll readily admit that I’m in a bit of a “unique position” when it comes to this stuff, being what I am and where I am. Crossing over violently, as I did, apparently leads to a bit of a “shattering” of the four parts of the “soul”, as we understand them as Heathens/Norse Traditionalists.  For those unfamiliar with the Norse concept of the “soul”, it differs a great deal from the view with which we are traditionally raised in Christianity, or even in other World Traditions, such as Buddhism.  According to Norse Tradition, the “soul”, rather than being “one simple thing” “cloaked” (or even “carried around”) in an “earthly shell” (i.e., the body) has four parts: hugr, hamingja,fylgja, and hamr.  I encountered the inherent truth in this Tradition before I ever actually knew anything about this “concept”, or ever had a framework of words to put around it. In fact, I didn’t gain such a framework until about a month or so ago when I picked up the fictional novel, Fenris: The Wolf and the White Lady by L.W. Maxwell.  The way this author presented the fylgja in particular set me to digging deeper: finally, I had a word for something I had personally experienced!  The research-journey since has led to the writing of two entries in the Heathen/Norse Traditional Devotional on which I am presently working, two pieces of votive art, two artist journal pages, and the blog post you are about to read….

Most Western and Eastern philosophies/religions have left us with a soul/body dichotomy in which the soul is one thing–who you truly are–and the body, another (generally treated as “nothing more than” a shell that the real us “travels” around in while we’re on this earthly plane), but the ancient Norse fostered a much more holistic view, best exemplified, I feel, in the relationship between Odin (representing us, as humans), his ravens (Huginn and Muninn), and his wolves (Geri and Freki).  Rather than promoting a dichotomy of one thing versus or even within another, the Norse believed in a four part soul which included the Hamr–“shape” or “skin”–as well as the fylgja (“follower”; intimately tied to a person’s character and fate), hugr (mind; thoughts), and hamingja (reputation; legacy).  

Huginn and Muninn are the ravens of Odin.  Their names translate loosely as “Thought” and “Memory”, and it was said by Odin that he feared the loss of Huginn (“Thought”), but he feared the loss of Muninn (“Memory”) far more.  Modern scholars have theorized that the two birds symbolize the shamanic aspects of Odin, and I find it hard to disagree: certainly, thought and memory are two things which become more vital (and perhaps more dangerously fleeting) with each trance-state journey.  Some scholars have even drawn a correlation between Huginn and Muninn and the fylgja and hamingja,  and while I can definitely understand the correlation between Muninn and the hamingja, I find it a bit odd that scholars have linked Huginn to the fylgja, rather than to the much more obvious Hugr.  The Hugr would best be understood by us moderns as the “inner self”: a person’s personality as reflected in their conscious thought processes; very much in line with the oft-misquoted Buddhist ideal of “what you think, you become”.  Meanwhile, the hamingja, represented by Muninn, is often loosely translated as “luck”, but might be better understood as “fame” or “reputation”: how one is remembered; their legacy.   Therefore, Odin’s feelings towards the birds, as told to us in the Grimnismal of the Poetic Edda, might then be understood on an entirely different level: 

“I fear the loss of my inner self and my individuality, yet the loss of my reputation and to be remembered ill, I fear far more.”

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, except the pair of wolves (created especially for this piece of art). Verse, original by Connla Freyjason.

Odin also has two wolves: Geri and Freki.  Their names translate loosely as “Greedy” and “Ravenous”, and are basically synonyms of each other.  When we consider the theory of Huginn and Muninn as hugr and hamingja, together with Bernd Heinrich’s theory of these four animals together with Odin as a shamanic microcosm of the symbiosis between humans, ravens, and wolves, Geri and Freki may then be understood as correlating with the two remaining parts of the Norse “soul”: the Fylgja and the Hamr.  The fylgja (literally: follower) is an attendant spirit which enters life at the same time as a human being, and often takes the form of an animal.  This relationship goes somewhat deeper than what we normally think of when considering the concept of Spirit Animals or Totems: the fylgja is literally a part of a person’s “soul”; not something separate from them which they call upon, but something deep “within” them, or, more accurately “alongside” them throughout their lives. Its well-being is intimately tied to that of its owner—if the fylgja dies, its owner does also. Its character and form are also closely tied to the character of its owner: for example, a person with a very primal nature (and possible anger-management issues!) might have a wolf (Note: personal gnosis has also suggested wolf as the fylgja of extremely loyal, family-oriented people) as their fylgja, while a person who is extremely sensual might have a cat. The Hamr (literally: skin or shape) is a person’s form or appearance. Generally in both Eastern and Western Traditions, the physical shape of a person is viewed as something that is more of a “vessel” carrying the soul, rather than a part of it, but the Norse have a different view (and, by my experience, a much more accurate one): your physical appearance in the physical world is part of what makes you you, therefore, it’s as much a part of your “soul” as your mind (Hugr), your character (and the fate that is tied to it) (Fylgja), or your legacy (Hamingja). Those who are deeply in touch with their Hamr are also those most likely to be gifted with the art of shapeshifting. The process of doing so is called skipta homum (“changing hamr”) and those who are so-gifted are said to be hamramr (“of strong hamr”). So beyond the obvious associations of shapeshifting (face it, most of us immediately think “werewolf” when we hear that word!), why should Geri and Freki be associated with the Fylgja and the Hamr? Because Fylgja and Hamr are the two physical aspects of the Norse “soul”, while Hugr and Hamingja are the mental aspects; earthly animals, such as wolves, are most often associated with the element of Earth, and, therefore with physicality, while birds, such as ravens, are most often associated with the element of Air and with the mind.

So how do all of these disparate parts fit together in the microcosm of a human being, or even in the shamanic microcosm of Odin?  Let us begin with Grimnismal in the Poetic Edda, before discussing my own personal gnosis as it relates to this topic:

Freki and Geri does Heerfather feed,
The far-famed fighter of old:
But on wine alone does the weapon-decked god,
Othin, forever live.

O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.

First, in these passages we are told explicitly that Odin’s relationship to both the wolves and the ravens is symbiotic: he feeds the wolves with physical food, but does not eat it himself; he sends his ravens forth to fly, but then fears for their return.  The wolves do not eat of their own accord, nor do the ravens just “go off flying” without first being “set forth to fly”.  Odin–the central “identity”, which can be understood as a person who is whole, or “in their own totality” (to put it in a rather Buddhist/Taoist fashion)–is responsible for both.  Each “part” builds on the other in order to form a whole; a microcosm, if you will. Fylgja and Hamr are fed by the central “identity”, rather than feeding itHugr and Hamingja do not “go off flying” of their own accord, but rather are “set forth to fly” by the central “identity”.

Given all of that, let’s consider for a moment what this tells us about the average person who isn’t either Odin or a shaman, and their “soul”, from a Norse perspective.  Considering yourself–the you that is “in their own totality” as a whole being; what might be best defined as your True Self–as the central “identity”, as Odin is in the previous passages from Grimnismal, do you feed your fylgja and hamr, or do they feed you?  How can you tell which is the case?  The person who goes through life constantly worrying about their fate, as though it is something they can actually control, constantly changing their behavior, and perhaps even their overall character, according to what society dictates, and, therefore, spending most of their lives with a highly detached feeling of “who the heck am I?” is being fed by their fylgja, rather than being the feeder of it.  The person struggling with issues such as body dysmorphia, or who somehow feels that their physical form is the complete definition of who they are is likewise being fed by the hamr, instead of being the feeder of it.  Again, considering yourself as the central “identity”, as Odin in the previous passages from the Grimnismal, do your hugr and hamingja just “go off flying” of their own accord, or do you “set them forth to fly”?  Listening to “negative self talk” (or even external negative opinions) to the point that you “believe the hype” and let that dictate your actions is an example of letting your hugr “fly off on its own”, rather than you “setting it forth to fly”.  Not believing in your own legacy-to-the-world, and or getting so caught up in attempting to build a reputation that doing so curtails the normal living of life is likewise an example of your hamingja “flying off on its own”, rather than you “setting it forth to fly”.

One part of this microcosm cannot survive without the other three: fylgjahamr, hugr, or hamingja on its own throws the “totality” of a person completely off-balance, to the point that they are no longer truly themselves, in life, or even in death.  This is the point where  my own personal gnosis enters the discussion, so if you are put off by such things, consider yourself duly warned!  I began my introduction to “life on the other side” violently (and, no, I will not give details), and at first, I found myself completely expressed as fylgja, in the form of a Raven.  Coming from a Buddhist/Taoist and sometimes Christian perspective at that time, I had absolutely zero clue what the heck was happening to me.  It was frightening, as I guess death is supposed to be, but on an even deeper level than what one might expect because I had no spiritual framework in which to place what I was experiencing.  I knew there was more to me than “just a bird”, but try as I might, I couldn’t seem to get a handle on my physical shape (hamr), or even on the thoughts that had previously defined me as a person (hugr) or the legacy that I deeply knew I was leaving behind in the wake of my “untimely demise” (hamingja).  I was in a place where my fate–as a “newly dead guy”–overrode every other aspect of my identity as who I am “in my own totality”.  Thankfully, I was able to find some assistance with all of that, through contact with a young woman who had no clue at that time that she might even be a shamanic medium.  Through attempting to explain to her who the heck I was (and why part of the time I appeared to her as a bird, and part of the time in my physical shape), I was able to regain a handle on my hugr–the thoughts that define me as, well, me–and also my hamr–my “normal” physical shape, who she could recognize.  But it has taken me twenty-four years to get a handle on the final piece of that puzzle: my hamingja.  A lot of that struggle has had to do with the hard-to-put-down belief that my legacy–my reputation–was the one I had left behind, rather than the one I am building every day right now, thanks to her, and to the work that I do here at Iaconagraphy. Of all the four pieces of the Norse “soul”, the hamingja might be the one that can come to confuse us the most, because we tend to think of being remembered in the past tense, but the truth of the matter is, our legacies are living things, and so long as we are still building one, no matter which “side” we’re on–physically clinically living or physically clinically dead–we are still alive.

I am well aware that not all of you reading this are Heathen/Norse Traditionalists; I am even more well aware that, for some of you, the very fact and nature of my personal existence may require more than just a simple “suspension of disbelief”, but I hope that this discussion–however brief–of the Norse concept of a four part “soul” can perhaps inspire even those of you for whom that is the case to start an inner dialogue about whether it is better to go through life with a view of the soul that promotes a drastic dichotomy (soul/body; soul vs. body; body vs. soul; spiritual vs. physical; physical vs. spiritual), or with a view that is decidedly more holistic. For the Norse view of the “soul” draws no such separations between the physical and the spiritual, but instead invites us into a much larger world: the same larger world to which we strive to open a door with everything we do here at Iaconagraphy.