It was late July, 2003 and I had just moved out of the dorms and into my first apartment in college. My other roommates wouldn’t be there for another two weeks, so I had the whole four-bedroom apartment to myself. I had a part-time job washing dishes at a local restaurant, but I spent most of my time either drinking, watching DVD’s, or hanging out at the local Barnes and Noble.
One evening after work as I browsed the book shelves, I came unwittingly close to the “New Age” section.
At this point, I’d never looked at anything related to Pagan belief, but one book in particular caught my eye. All these years later, its glossy cover design still lingers in my memory.
I spent the next two hours sitting on the floor flipping through the pages of this and several other titles on the shelf. There was no escape. I was hooked and just had to learn more. Finally, I chose the title above and made my way to the check-out.
“Finally decided on this one,” the girl at the counter said with a grin as she scanned the bar code.
I nervously glanced over my shoulder, looking if anyone saw what I had bought. She handed me the bag and said “Have fun.” Maybe she knew something, maybe she was being sarcastic, because the next 12 hours were nowhere near fun.
Before I go any deeper, let’s establish some context here. First of all, Shamanism is its own unique world and doesn’t usually fit nicely within the great tree of Paganism. Shamans were individuals within a society which had special insight into both the spiritual and physical worlds. To be a Shaman was not part of a religion one could join, per se, but a calling to an individual to serve their community.
Within the Pagan traditions (most of them anyway) humans aren’t viewed as the only creatures with free will. There are a variety of spiritual species who know of us, but only a few of us know of them. Many of the Pagan traditions (such as the Fey) believe in these creatures and acknowledge daily interactions with them. Like us, the Fey choose between positive and negative actions which may affect us. If we aren’t careful of how we interact with them–even an innocent mistake–the consequences could be harsh.
So I get home, make a rum and Coke, and dig into my new book. I can’t remember everything about the book, but there was great discourse on ritual processes, power items, “journeying” (we will cover that later), and energy manipulation. It talked about dreams as spiritual devices and windows into another realm…All of this utterly fascinating stuff and I just couldn’t stop. There were warnings throughout not to go too fast, and to even seek a real teacher, but I was hooked.
I can’t remember what I did, but whatever it was, I had pissed off someone…or something.
Just before I fell asleep, there in the dark, I felt something watching. You know the feeling. You’re just standing there, maybe in the line of a store, and the hairs on your neck stand. Someone is staring at you. That’s what I felt. I thought I was alone in the apartment, but not that night.
The feeling became more and more intense, as if more and more eyes fixed on me as I lay in bed with the sheets over me. Then, there was sound. At first it was like a breeze, a gentle whistle in the air, only I was inside. Sweat dripped down my face as I trembled. Out of nowhere, everything went quiet. By this point, I was holding my breath. I sighed and sank back toward sleep.
Then, the nightmare began.
I’ve lived in eastern North Carolina most of my life and sat out many hurricanes, so when I say that the next eight hours was like standing outside in a hurricane, I mean every implication of the word. A deafening wind howled around me. I rolled into a ball and held the sheets over my body as if at any moment the fury of the event could lift me away. The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever been through before or since. Eight hours of absolute terror. Finally, when the sun rose the next morning, I found myself with my hands clamped on the sheets, my head pounding, and the sheets soaked with sweat. The wind and rage was gone, and from that point on, I cannot sleep comfortably alone because I always know something is there. In fact, the only time I really sense it is if my wife is not in bed with me–as if she blocks the energy somehow. I’ve never been able to explain what happened.
That was my first experience with the wider world of Paganism, so forgive me if I’m a little nervous. They say a shaman becomes one after a near-death experience, and I felt closer to death that night than any other in memory.
Looking back, I think what happened to me perfectly illustrates the world of magick and the spirit realm. There is no “black magick” as we see in popular television shows and movies. For the Pagan world (generally speaking) there is only magick and how you use it. Magick then, is like fire. Fire in an of itself is not good or evil, however one can manipulate it for different uses. This is where the Wiccan Rede comes in. If you surround yourself with negativity and misuse magick or the spiritual realm, don’t be surprised if it comes back and bites you. I cannot stress this enough: Wicca and the overall Pagan arts aren’t something to take lightly. You don’t just “sign up” or give a declaration of faith and POOF, you’re in. There is a great deal of learning that goes into the process before initiation even begins.
This is why it’s important that I have a Mentor this month or any other month. She is a very experienced teacher and has me on a very specific, regimented learning program. She knows how to play with fire, and doesn’t want me to get burned.
Have you ever had an intense experience with the spirit world? How about a strange ritual episode? What mishaps or even positive experiences have you had without intention?