My Shaman Class: If you don’t ask the right question/ every answer seems wrong

As some of you may recall, I stupidly agreed to give a workshop on Totemism 101 for my local Pagan Picnic. I made sure my notes were perfect. Decided on my clothes (changed my mind about what I was wearing as I was unexpectedly engaged and would likely be running into wasband friends/other judgey people there. It’s been three years since my divorce, wasband has been engaged since last year, he left me and did’t want to work it out, Jow and I have been together longer and waited longer to get engaged than he and fiance #2 did, we bought a condo together, blahblahblah not that any of that stops anyone from judging with great vigor because I am not the Pagan Prom Queen. For my younger peeps: expect if you fuck where you pray for that to bite you in the ass for many fun filled decade(s) to come). So being socially anxious staring down the barrel of giving a class that would be hard for me to give *and* knowing that I would be judged by some of my peers with great enthusiasm as if I’m the Elizabeth Taylor of the local pagan comm (for the record, I was married only once before to wasband. We were together for seven years total) didn’t fill *me* with great enthusiasm esp since I was going alone. I baked my bread to share like a good pony and packed my spinning.

To my surprise, it was a light turn out. I did realize to my chagrin I was definitely not a baby pagan anymore (and man do they dress differently – for us it was all gothitygothgothgoth with cloves for them they look like something out of an Urban Outfitters ad – all floral rompers, huge sunglasses, wedges and american spirit cigs). So I settled in comfortably with those of my grove who made it and dealt with my bits of Requisite Pagan Drama. I got excited when I thought no one would show up to my class, but eventually eight people trickled in. Fine. I was ready. I had my scope defined narrowly from a modern Neo-Pagan perspective as Lupa advises and was ready for some jerk to start shit with me and call me a plastic shaman.

Well. I was prepared for completely the wrong thing. Some of the people in my class were youngish so I wasn’t sure what they knew.

Me: Does anyone not know anything about Shamanism?

::all hands raised::

Me: Okay! Um, no problem. Has anyone not meditated before?

::all hands raised::

Me (feels cold fear like I never have before)(thinks: Oh shit. Whatever I say is actually likely to influence these people)

I managed to conduct the class just fine, everyone came back from the meditation in one piece. I talked about grounding a lot and how acting normal after is subjective based on whatever is normal for them. They asked some good questions (Is it like normal for your totem to be mad at you when you meet them for the first time? Me (dryly and immediately): Yes.), everyone met their totems and seemed thoughtful about the experience. But there were definitely some rough patches . . .like when I was explaining how Shamans can be called through a near death experience and/or dreams of being ripped apart by animals (the poor young guy in my class looked terrified. I was like look, not everyone is a shaman by far. But you can still work with your totem in Neo-Pagan context and in fact that’s what you should to to start with) and I actually lost a couple people in explaining that while we are all going internally and not externally and I would do my best to make sure everyone was okay and help after if needed but I couldn’t *promise* to be able to “save” you . . .that was not well received. But seriously? I don’t know you people at all, I have no idea what your inner landscape looks like or what’s horribly broken in you or what will work for you to help. I just learned your names, dude!

While it went well ultimately, I have to tell you, I’ll take someone trying to undermine me and get into an argument wit me any day over complete newbs. That was terrifying. *sigh* Something to look forward to for my Rutgers Pagan class on Hoodoo 101.

I also got to go to a public rit done by another ADF grove. It’s amazing how we all have the same basic ritual format but how going to my grove is like going to a tent revival in the back woods – half carnival show, half sincere worship and it’s what I’ve done all my ADF career (ten years now) but for one other public rit by another grove so it’s what I’m used to. Going to their rit was like going to a Catholic Church after only having been to tent revivals. I was like, you say some of the same words and do some of the same things and you sure are dressed up fancy and give fancy offerings but this sort of makes my skin crawl, y’all. No offense! I think you’d say the same about us!

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  

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One Response

  1. Roma Kast

    It's better the newbs have you than someone who would take advantage of their newb-ness for their own gain. I've been to classes and seminars before where people reveled in their supposed superiority over the class and got a high off the power trip. Not cool.

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