Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ask the Witch: Mythopoeia

Whenever I find myself writing something on social media that's longer than a few paragraphs, I like to put it here, so it's easier to find in the future.

Recently, in a sorcery group, someone asked: "Has anyone with clairvoyance/clairaudience ever tried to summon spirits to chat with them? I don't mean in a mundane way, but there are accounts of shamans and poets telling myths and things like that while posessed, and these stories later helped develop rituals, moral codes, whole pantheons and the like. I thing this would be a good practice to develop."  (not super relevant, but I want to quibbly a little bit: for the most part, rituals and practices do not develop out of myths.  Rather, myths arise later to explain, contextualize, and teach rituals and practices.)

As regular readers probably know, this is a topic I have thoughts on. :) Here's my answer:

A more technical and specific name for "telling myths and things like that while possessed, and these stories later helped develop rituals, moral codes, whole pantheons and the like" is mythopoeia.  You can read pages and pages of me talking about mythopoeia here.  (skip to page 4) . I do A LOT of that kind of work, in a variety of contexts and methods. 

My personal practice in mythopoeia is founded on a lifelong relationship with the gods of Greece, who provide a constant, exhausting, and endlessly fascinating stream of ideas for mythopoeia and ritual (primarily, but not exclusively, with the spirits of the cultures eastern Mediterranean) These days, I mostly channel this into professional mythopoeia. You can order my soon-to-be-published inspired translations of and commentary on the Orphic Hymns here, for example.   Here are some random bits of mythopoeia I've published here over the years.  Check the dates, and you'll (hopefully) see them improving:  Sarai.  Hekate & Artemis.  The Fairy Widower.  The Arcadian Hymn to Hermes.  Grandfather Ohio.

I'll talk about my own practice some at the end, but I suspect you actually want to know how YOU can do it.  So, here's a collection of my previous public teachings on it.  This is a skill I've been working on for about two decades.   IMO, learning to be a better mythopoet centers on working on three separate skills, and then combining them.  Like almost any skill, it is partly about natural talent, but its very, very improvable through a combination of quality teaching and continual practice.

1) Storytelling. I strongly recommend Ursula Le Guin's Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.  However there is absolutely no substitute for telling stories, out loud and on the fly, to a live audience, ideally audiences including both children and adults.  You will NEVER learn mythopoeia without doing that.  A lot.  Like shamans, mythopoets work for, with, and in service to community.  If you don't have a community who wants a mythopoet, then you're going to have to find or create one.

2) Spirit Communication.  I've written about how to learn this before.  The first method I learned wa automatic writing.  I wrote about that here.  I think this is the easiest method for beginners.  I wrote more on how to get spirits to want to talk to you here.  Also, a small tip for clairaudience: just like a big cloud of smoke, or a bowl of ink, or clouds, or a wavery candle flame in a dark mirror, help provide a chaotically dynamic medium in which for spirits to visibly appear, if you want to hear them, you're going to want a similarly chaotically dynamic sound.  Drums, rattles, rain, wind, and rivers are all traditional means for this, but noise machines also work.  Recordings are harder, because they can't adapt, but they can still suffice.  I REALLY like this website of noise machines.  Crowded restaurants or other places where there's a lot of people talking all at once are great.  Heavy traffic noise also works well.  I often use my dishwasher.

3) Trance Descent.  I think these skills are MUCH MUCH better learned from a person rather than from a book.  Personally, I learned two different kinds, and I think both serve me well.  First, I learned shamanic journeying.  I learned this in a two-year training program with Caroline Kenner of Gryphon's Grove Shamanism School.  She has since retired from teaching, however, several of her students (including me) teach her methods.  If you cannot find an in-person teacher, my teacher recommends her teacher's (Sandra Ingerman) book: Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner's Guide

I also do a kind of kabbalistic trance descent called Merkavah, which is taught in the Book of Ezekiel.  Honestly, unless you're not both Jewish and already deep into kabbalah, I don't recommend trying to learn it.  It's basically a much, much harder to learn version of shamanic descent.  It's powerful and amazing, but only if you're going to keep it in the cultural context in which it lives.  If you strip out all the weird idiosyncratic bits that distinguish it as a living tradition embedded in a specific cultural context, you're going to get more or less exactly the soccer mom shamanism I talked about above.  If you want to learn a beginner's version, try the novel The Seventh Telling: The Kabbalah of Moeshe Kapan.  Ignore the stupid nonsense in the middle with the girl.  You'll know the part I mean when you read it.  I occasionally teach this, under the title "Kabbalah: You're Doing it Wrong".

I combine those practices with a kind of Norse oracular descent called Seidhr or Spae.  Basically, you trip down to the underworld, and then post up and ask questions of the ancestors and gods. It's not a solo practice; you do it with and for an audience. In its modern form, it was reconstructed by Diana Paxson, Laurel Mendes (from whom I learned it), and several others in CA about 30 years ago. While I learned it in a traditional Norse context, my personal practice .  If you can't find an in-person class, I know Diana has two books on the topic:  The Way of the Oracle and TrancePortation.  However, I have not read them.  But, I assume they're similar to what I learned in class.  Since Seidh cannot be practiced alone, I wouldn't bother learning it until you have a regular audience.

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