Will Spiritwork Destroy Your Life?
This is an older article I am shifting over to my blog from my website – expect several more of these as I re-order a few things. More details to follow soon.
[The following comments were originally written in response to a blog post by a person with concerns about how pursuing shamanism or spiritwork might negatively affect her life.]
A lot of the negative things written about becoming a shaman (or spiritworker, or similar vocation) are definite possibilities, recognized as such by many traditional cultures. Deadly illnesses, lives destroyed, sanity broken. But I do think that sometimes modern spiritworkers and shamans get a little too wrapped up in those aspects; they start getting proud of all the hardships they’ve endured – and while there often are true sacrifices needed for these paths, and one certainly has the right to be proud of what one has endured… well, it can get to a point of almost idealizing the tortured, shaman-sick state, rather than seeing it as an initiation into something beyond that. Of course that’s not everyone, just something I’ve seen here and there in the various communities. However, everyone seems to walk a slightly different path, and some people, for whatever reason, end up suffering a lot more than others.
Will being a spiritworker ruin your life? I think that depends on how much your life needs to be ruined. And I would say perhaps “destroyed” rather than “ruined.” For instance – leading up to my becoming a spiritworker, my long-term relationship ended, I had some major financial upsets, I started living alone for the first time in my life which was terrifying for me, and I ended up moving to another state. Lots of turmoil. But the thing is, I couldn’t have been a spiritworker with the life I had before, for a lot of reasons. They (the gods and spirits) neededto break that down, and break me down, before They could build my life up again into something that worked.
Now my external life is pretty good (love the city I live in, decent apartment, good relationship, good job) but that’s because those things all feed into my spiritwork rather than distract from it.
At the same time, I will never have certain things because of my choice to walk this path. It takes way too much energy and time to ever hold down a full time corporate job, so I will probably always be on the poor side (not that I think I have to be – no vows of poverty here, at least not yet – just that there are more important things to do with my time than make money). I will never get married, because I am bound to my gods and spirits first. I will never buy a house even if I had the money, because I am not supposed to be tied to one place. Now, not all of these issues would necessarily apply to any other spiritworker, though many times they do. We each have our own taboos, obligations, etc. But I do think that a spiritworker or shaman needs to be willing to make such sacrifices, needs to put the Work first, and everything else second. And that’s a serious commitment.
Will the gods and spirits abuse us, and do we have to lie down and take whatever They dish out, because They are bigger than we are? I guess I’d say yes and no. Yes, They are bigger and stronger than we are – so when They really really demand something, either we do it willingly or They will force our hand (or just give up on us altogether, which might be worse). On the other hand, They usually respect someone ready to bargain respectfully. Sometimes They need to be reminded, for instance, that our human bodies are frail, and we just can’t do that 24-hour 7-day fast with no sleep (or whatever), because it will kill us, or drive us insane, and then we won’t be of any use to Them at all. So there are definitely times when refusal (or at least compromise) is necessary. However, I find it generally works best to go along with what They are requesting, because it usually benefits me as well, even if I can’t see it in the moment.
Will the gods and spirits accept that our approach to Them has changed over the centuries, and we no longer feel obligated to serve Them this way? They might understand that humans have changed our beliefs or perspective, but that doesn’t mean They accept that when someone is contacting Them, and asking for assistance. You understand that customs in a foreign country are different than your own, right? But if you go there and you need help, you would make an effort to do things by the rules of that culture, rather than your own, as a show of respect. I don’t think the gods have just stopped requiring certain behaviors and attitudes from us simply because we have changed our beliefs.
Not everything is about us, not everything or Everyone in the universe is geared towards satisfying our desires, sometimes They have their own agendas, and They certainly have Their own personalities, and those things don’t always mesh harmoniously with our own. Sure, one can have very mutually beneficial relationships with deities and spirits – I certainly do. But I never assume a level of equality that I haven’t attained.
What happens if the relationship with a god or spirit seems detrimental to us? In the short term, I usually go along with Them. Because I trust that the god/spirit has a wider view than my own and has a good objective (this is assuming this is a god/spirit that I know and trust and work with already, rather than some random attack). They tell me to leave my human relationship, and I fight that and end up miserable for years. Or I go along with it, am miserable for weeks or even months but end up in a much better place, and much more equipped to be useful to Them and my community. (Not that I would just jump and do it the moment They mention it – I would ask questions and think long and hard about it, seek outside divination, etc.) If the misery never ends, and never seems to lead to anything positive, then yes I would question that, and perhaps that spiritual relationship just isn’t going to work.
If you are called to shamanism or spiritwork, is there ever a way out afterwards if you change your mind or it’s too hard? I think this depends on the person and the situation. If the spirits have chosen you, and they are of a certain type, then yes sometimes they will torture you until you relent (and accept your calling) or die. If you are made to be a shaman, not being a shaman will at the very least make you miserable, because you are not fulfilling your wyrd.
If you are not born to this, or forced into it by gods or spirits, but rather choose it… I think that’s a bit different. I think then it’s a matter of what oaths you have made. If you have really made a commitment and then you decide it’s just too hard, I would expect there to be some repercussions from that, to say the least.
I do think there is usually some room to negotiate, and there are also times you have to suck it up and suffer for awhile. You may not get to choose what kind of life you have after this. You don’t get to say, I want to be able to talk with the spirits and gods 24-7 and heal people and receive oracles and go into trance, but I also want to have a house with a white picket fence and a 50-hour a week job and three kids. That’s probably not going to happen. This is a whole lot of work, constant work, distracting work, and it pretty much becomes a full time job. Anything on top of that is gravy. Again, that’s not to say you can’t be happy – I am happier now as a spiritworker than I ever was before in 29 years of life – but it might not be the life you expected.
If that’s not something that appeals to you, and if you’re not being called (and I mean seriously called, where you can’t help but go forward, where you are in ruins when you don’t do the Work you’re called to do), then I would advise to seek a slightly less demanding path. Something that incorporates those things that appeal to you, but isn’t full-fledged shamanism.
Some people seem to think that if you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right. As I said, I do think there is a certain idealization of suffering amongst some spiritworkers. But partly that is a response to the fact that many of us do suffer, in some way, a lot of the time. This is a harsh path. The human mind and body were not necessarily made to go so far Out There so much of the time. It takes a toll. Even if you’re past the shaman sickness, life-destroying phase, there is constant exhaustion, self-doubt, threat of madness, general life craziness, stress from having to deal with the mundane world as well, etc. So I would say that you shouldn’t be suffering all the time, and there should be times of joy in this, and boons received for your Work. At the same time, if it never hurts, if it’s never painfully difficult, if it’s always smooth sailing and all the gods and spirits appear to be just rushing to help you in any way they can… I would question that being a real shamanic experience.
Shouldn’t the rule be that if your magical or spiritual path is negatively affecting your mundane life, it’s time to reconsider? That’s a good rule in general, but I think it stops applying when you get to the shaman/spiritworker stage. It’s just too complex with us – sometimes one’s mundane life does have to suffer in order to produce a better shaman. In reality, we stop having an exclusively mundane life the way other people do, the Work bleeds into everything. A shaman has a foot in each world – so the mundane life certainly can’t and shouldn’t be ignored (something some of us forget at times), but it will never again be the only priority.