Podcast: Play in new window
The topic of spirituality within the religion is something I’ve touched on in past episodes, but I’ve always been a bit hesitant about dedicating an entire podcast episode to it. Since I don’t really have any news stories to discuss or other topics to go over, I guess I’ll give it a shot…
Hitting The Books
Spirituality and the interpretation of how it’s defined seems to depend on who you ask. Largely, the practices I’ve been exposed to seem to either revolve around spiritism or at least were loosely based on it.
First, a quick primer…. According to Wikipedia, spiritism:
“…is a loose corpus of religious faiths having in common the general belief in the survival of a spirit after death. In a stricter sense, it is a religion whose beliefs and practices are based on the works of Allan Kardec and others.”
It goes on to explain the differences between spiritism and spiritualism. Though they are both similar, spiritism attempts to take on an almost scientific methodology to its practices and hypothesizes that the moral and intellectual differences among men can be explained through reincarnation. Essentially, a more pure and enlightened person will result in a more pure and enlightened spirit.
Though I own all five of Kardec’s books, I can’t claim to have actually made it through them all. They were pretty mind-numbing, to be honest… In the 19th century, when this stuff was written, advances in science and medicine made some feel like there were very few mysteries that couldn’t be explained. That view seems to show up in spiritism as well.
One thing I hadn’t realized initially is that spiritism claims to be a Christian doctrine, since even though it has its own interpretations of the teachings of Jesus, it’s still based on those things.
When you get right down to it, even though spiritism is supposedly a big part of the religion, the only aspect that really seems to have been adopted were the parts relating to mediumship.
Finding A Happy Medium
In spiritism, it is thought that spirits communicate with us all. Some people aren’t aware of the communication, but the guidance of these spirits get classified as a hunch or intuition. Others, though, are not only aware of these communications, but are able to actively engage the spirits.
It seems as if the actual method of communication varies from medium to medium. There are those who see spirits, those who hear them out loud, those who hear them internally, those who interpret them through signs and visualizations, and probably there are even more ways and combinations.
My own experiences have all been internal conversations with only one experience I can recall that had a visual aspect to it.
I blogged about my first spiritual experience, if you feel like reading it. To be honest, it freaked me out. Something changed that night for me, though. I went from being someone who simply wanted to communicate with a spirit to someone who could.
While I did eventually have one more experience with that first spirit, the next one is what ultimately became what I’d consider to be my spirit guide.
I’d love to share the details of that initial experience with my spirit guide, but it was apparently exciting enough that I actually forgot to blog about it. Oops. Most likely, I emailed my godparents about it instead. I need to see if I still have that email somewhere… If I can find it, I’ll upload it to the blog. In any event, my godmother wanted me to get a better feel for the spirit, who she jokingly had nicknamed Mr. Warlock. I think that name came from my first misa, where I had been told that there was a dark spirit lingering about… or something like that… and that when the spirit had been alive, it had been into witchcraft and the occult.
Some of you might be listening to this and are thinking, “Well, that’s great for you. But how am I supposed to find my guide…?” I can share what worked for me, but I really have no idea what will work with you. My godmother said she’s been able to see spirits since she was a young girl and said it just came naturally to her. For me, I was nearly 28-years-old when I had my first experience and I just sort of stumbled my way through it all. Everyone is different, it seems.
In Good Spirits
I’ve always struggled with believing in things. Even as a child, I was like that.
I was a pretty young kid at the time, but I remember thinking that the story of the Tooth Fairy seemed unlikely. I decided to test it out. After losing a tooth, my parents told me to put my tooth under my pillow and there would be a reward from the Tooth Fairy in the morning. Instead of doing that, though, I put the tooth in my sock drawer. The next morning, I found money under my pillow. After retrieving the tooth from my sock drawer, I went out to show my parents and tell them about how my tooth must have somehow fallen on the floor during the night and wasn’t noticed until morning. With a confused look, I’d ask why the Tooth Fairy had given me money but didn’t take my tooth. I was told she must have made a mistake, so they asked me to put it under my pillow again. The next morning, the tooth was gone and I had a bit more money. I got away with this same scam during the loss of my next couple teeth, until they finally realized I was taking advantage of them. Still not wanting to admit defeat, though, they claimed that the Tooth Fairy told them that she wouldn’t leave any money for me if the tooth wasn’t under my pillow when she came to visit. Their ability to hold out and insist that the Tooth Fairy was real outlasted my ability to lose baby-teeth.
My attitude towards spirituality pretty much went the same way… It all seemed too unlikely and I was sure there was a way to either prove it or at least take advantage of it somehow.
Ultimately, I went for the latter of the two…
I read plenty of books, websites, and forums about spirituality. In the majority of the accounts, people seemed to fall in one of two main groups.
The first group consisted of the Lady Gaga spiritualists, who typically described themselves as being “born this way”. Since I had gone roughly three-decades without any sort of spiritual experience, I was fairly certain I wasn’t in this group.
The second group were full of the faithful and the devout. A lot of these people seemed to come from families who all believed in spirits and grew up assuming that spirits communicating with people was just a normal part of life. My family definitely wasn’t like that. I was raised to be logical and critical. Faith wasn’t really my thing….
The interesting thing about the “believers” is that it didn’t really seem to matter why they believed. So the way I looked at it, as long as I could come up with a process that made sense to me, I figured that would give me just as good of a shot as anything else.
You can read more about it in the original blog post, but my idea was pretty straightforward:
Rather than waiting around for my spirit guide to reveal itself, I could just make one. It’s a bit like playing pretend as a child. So I’m going to pretend I have a spirit guide. Now I just need to ask myself, “What’s it like? What’s it’s name?” and that sort of thing.
It’s actually quite simple. To some extent, I can just make stuff up as I go.
It sounds silly, but I think it’s actually pretty logical. If a spirit can add subtle influences to the way you think, it can help you come up with a “fake” that’s actually quite real. And on the other side of the spectrum, if spirits are attracted to certain thoughts and feelings, the very act of concentrating on the different aspects of the made-up spirit will attract similar spirits.
I went on to rationalize it even further, by adding:
Because I know I’m pretending, I can bypass my usual skeptical/rational side. When trying to believe in something, it’s hard to for me to not find all sorts of alternative explanations. This way, I’m just skipping right past it. Or maybe just doing things in reverse.
Ultimately, the methodology doesn’t matter. As long as it works for me, I can start moving forward spiritually and that’s what is important.
Obviously it worked for me. And it’s apparently not a new idea. I found at least one book on Amazon promoting a similar concept. The biggest difference is that its approach focuses on creating sigils and symbols and was all heavily integrated with more pagan-esque practices… while I went with more of an off-the-cuff approach that relied more on just visualizing details.
To do it right, tricking yourself is actually a lot harder than you might expect.
Is there another method or technique one of you would like to share? If so, leave a comment on the blog post for this episode, so the rest of us can hear it about it.
These are some basic things I’ve picked up while working with my muertos. Agree with it or not, but they’ve been true enough for me.
- Take what is said with a grain of salt. I remember a situation when someone’s muerto claimed something about me that was not true. Defending myself with, “Nuh-uh” wasn’t really going to do much good, so I just did my best to reaffirm my side of the story and let it play out. Some people hold their spirits as dearly as they would a family member — or maybe more so — because their spirit guide is always there for them. As protective as people sometimes are of their guide, I can’t help but wonder how if, in a similar way, these spirits are protective of their people. Do they get jealous? Do they ever tell the person what they think they want to hear? Who knows. But not even spirits can be everywhere at all times, so just keep that in mind.
- Names don’t matter much. Unless you’re trying to summon Cthulhu or something, it doesn’t seem like the name you refer to a spirit by holds much meaning. When I first posted the name of my spirit guide on my blog, my padrino cautioned me against it. He was afraid that if I posted too many details about my spirit, not-so-nice people might use that information against me. I wasn’t convinced and my muerto didn’t seem to care, so I figured, “Why not?” I’ve never had any issues because of it — at least not that I know of. In any event, names seem to be more for the benefit of the person more than the spirit. Instead of using a name to identify a spirit, it seems easier — at least for me — to go off of its feeling or presence. As long as the intent is there and you know who you’re trying to communicate with, you should be good to go.
- Respect your muertos. I recommended not blindly accepting what is said as truth, but you should still show respect. Whether it’s a spirit that’s with you for life or for only a few minutes, it likely has something to teach you. You just have to be open to it. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you don’t want to treat your spirits like a parlor-trick, to be called upon at birthday parties and bar-mitzvahs. When I first started learning about the religion, I read somewhere that, during divination, you shouldn’t ask questions that you already know the answers to. The same thing applies to working with spirits. There’s a fine line between receiving confirmation on something and using it as a Magic 8-Ball.
Chicken Or The Egg
I never did get a definitive answer to my question about whether we are shaped by the spirits around us or whether the spirits we attract are shaped by us. But I look at it similarly to the orisha who claims your head.
Up until you crown, your guardian orisha can change. You may start up with Shango ruling your head, but by the time you make ocha, it’s Obatala who claims you. Were you getting into more trouble when you were younger because of Shango’s influence? Or did your calm demeanor later in life make you better suited for Obatala?
I have no clue. But I don’t think it matters. The end result is that, by the end of things, you and the orisha are well suited for one another. I see no reason why muertos are any different.
Proper Care And Feeding Of Your Spirits
Whether you’re working on building up a connection with your spirits or you are at the point where you’ve already established a relationship with your spirits, the general consensus is you need to have an area for them.
This is different from your eggun shrine. Your eggun are your ancestors, but not all of your spirits are your ancestors. For many, there might not be any ancestors that are communicating with you. For those of you who don’t get along with your family members, well, maybe that’s a good thing, right? The important thing to remember is that eggun and muertos are different.
In the same way as an eggun shrine acts as an area to focus yourself on when honoring your ancestors, a boveda works the same way for your spirits.
A boveda can be as simple as a glass of water or a complex as multiple fishbowls.
The thing I love about the boveda, and — really — the spiritism aspect of the religion in general, is that it’s completely personalized. With religious ceremonies and things, there’s considered a right way and a wrong way to do things. But with this, you can really have some fun with it. Go with whatever feels right to you.
What I was told when I first started out is that the spirits will help guide your creation of their space. If you’re having a difficult time with it, perhaps you can try going to a misa and working it out that way. In the beginning especially, it’s easy to trip yourself up with self-doubt and a lack of certainty.
In addition to placing items with the boveda that make you feel more connected to your spirits, such as dolls, tarot cards, or trinkets, you can also try using items that represent things you want your spirits to help you with. If it feels like you lack direction in life, maybe a compass would help. If it feels like you are without options, perhaps a key will help unlock some doors for you. Just start small and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
As I said, everyone has their own preferences for how to approach things. When I work with my boveda, I usually stick to very minimal offerings. I make sure that the boveda is clean and full of fresh water and might light a candle or burn some incense. I like to keep it very low-key. Even though when I work with eggun, I have no problem offering food or liquor, somehow that just doesn’t seem right for my spirits. Just use your instincts. Maybe you’ll want to add perfume or fragrant oils to the boveda water or incorporate fresh flowers into it. Everyone does things their own way.
So… What Now?
What you do with your spirits is really up to you.
For me, I mostly just stick with some internal one-on-one every now and then if I have a decision I need to make or something I’m unsure of. I have a difficult time asking other people for help. Most of the time, I feel like I either already know what to do or at least can figure it out on my own. I view my muerto almost like a personal assistant, in a way. And I hope that doesn’t sound horrible. But I think it helps clarify the role we each have.
My muerto can be a sounding-board to run ideas by or can help give some piece of information that I might be missing, but I’m ultimately the one calling the shots. My muerto can quit at any time or put up with me and hope it leads to something better in the future. I feel like it’s a mutually-beneficial relationship, though.
As for misas, I never really got into that stuff, myself. But I’m also just not a big fan of people I don’t know. I’m sure if it was just with a couple close friends, I’d get more out of it. If you’re a bit more social than I am — and I’m sure most you probably are — maybe give it a try. Maybe you’re spirit can help someone else. Or maybe someone will help you better work with or understand your spirit.
That’s All, Folks!
I think I’m just about tapped out on things to talk about for this episode. I’m sure once it’s been uploaded and I relax for a little bit, some idea will pop into my mind about something else that would’ve been great to bring up…
But for now, I’ve got nothing.
If there’s something you feel like I missed or maybe you have your own experiences you’d like to share, go to YearInWhite.com and let me know.
Oh, and I know a lot of you were wondering whether I had made Ocha yet or not. Nope, not yet. I’m still slowly raising funds for it. This week, I got an extra twenty-bucks added to the pile, though. The donation was made by a pagan podcaster by the name of “Silver Shadow“.
Once I get done paying for all of this wedding stuff, I should finally have enough money set aside to get crowned and start living “La Vida Ocha”… or something like that. There’s a link on the YearInWhite.com site to donate some money, if you haven’t already. Even a contribution of a few dollars helps out.
Before I end this episode, I want to give a quick update…
My godfather and I had a long talk about this podcast and what — if any — benefit was coming out of it.
My original intent behind creating it was to make a platform, for sharing my experiences along the way with others. Sort of an audio journal of sorts. I wanted to share books I had read, news stories I had found, and stuff like that… I wanted to share just how interesting and beautiful the religion is, without all of the drama and distractions.
Somehow, things slowly shifted and I started giving my opinion and even advice on things.
I’m not a priest or anything… So there’s a lot I still don’t know. And a lot I still mix up or forget.
With that in mind, I think it’s a good time to take a break.
Once I make ocha, and if I have my godparents’ blessing to do so, I’ll pick this podcast up again and see if I can get a bit closer to my original goal.
Thanks to everyone who has helped me so far and I hope to see you all after ocha!