I had a dream the other night. It was about someone I haven’t seen in years, and virtually never dream about. We were close at one point, but time and circumstance eventually decided otherwise.
In this dream, I was faced with a decision: I wanted to try to take on some of a soul debt that they’d incurred, to make things right again. I kept being told that I couldn’t. It wasn’t mine to take, and nothing I did was actually going to “fix” things.
It’s a bad habit I have. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to manage people’s moods, to keep mommy from getting screamy, or my younger siblings from getting in trouble. I’ve always been sensitive to noises as it is, especially a raised voice or the sound of a slap. Even now, as an adult, the thought drives nails into my brain and twists my stomach into hard, acidic snarls. Like Kiko, who immediately searches for the source of the sound any time she hears a video of a kitten meowing, I tie myself in knots to make all of the bad things stop. While “trying to fix things” seems to be helpful on its face, it’s not a good habit to have. The ability to sit with discomfort and know when not to interfere is a skill worth cultivating.
This is all some very roundabout exposition to justify asking one question: Why do we do what we do?
The person in my dream once called themselves a shaman. There’s a lot of stuff tied up in that one word, many even hesitate to use it because it often comes with a heaping side of appropriated cultural practices. It’s one of those words, like “tattoo,” that is a loan word for a widespread thing. In some cultures shamanism was just called “journeying” or “hedge riding” (much as tattooing was called “pricking” or even “embroidering”) so using a distinct loan word from another culture had appeal. For most people curious about communicating with spirits through altered states of consciousness, it isn’t necessary to turn to appropriated cultural teachings. Your elders know the ways.
This person called themselves a shaman in a tradition where they were an outsider. But why?
Was it the appeal of gaining secret knowledge?
Was it an attempt to adopt something new and “exotic,” like a hermit crab coiling into a painted shell?
Or was it a genuine desire to use these skills to help their community?
Unfortunately, it didn’t end well. They lost friends and loved ones. They were pushed away. In the end, they weren’t any better off than when they started, and neither was their community. Whatever it was that they had sought, they didn’t obtain it.
I know another person who called themselves a green Druid witch. They were a powerful witch, too. But working within the framework they chose came with rules, so they found sly ways to work around them. So why adhere to a tradition to begin with?
Was it to position themselves as an expert?
Was it out of genuine belief and respect?
Was it because they thought it would fill a personal need?
In the end, that didn’t work out so well either.
I’ve also known doctors who seemed to practice more “eminence-based medicine” than anything else, so this isn’t restricted to people in the metaphysical/religious/esoteric community. There is no shortage of people with ulterior motives, even if they don’t realize it themselves.
In the pursuit of any knowledge, self-interrogation is important. Do we seek titles? Recognition? The uncovering of hidden talents? A broader set of skills for interacting with the world? Why do you do what you do?
Know yourself. Know your motivation. Self-deception always leads to loss.