So I previously bloged about how I’ve long had an interest in Arthurian myth which led me to being a fan of John Matthews and his work on Celtic Shamanism. As a definition, Matthews wrote: “The most important single aspect of shamanism is attunement w/ the Otherworld. All shamans are in touch w/ the inner self who is wiser, stronger, more balanced than they may appear in their normal selves. Trance states are used a great deal to keep in touch w/ the spirit world, including chant, drumming, and various hallucinatory substances.” (Taliesin) Stephen Larsen explained, “The basic nature of this world view is that a human being dwells simultaneously in two worlds [and the] spiritual world – although seemingly insubstantial – is recognized as more potent than this natural one…” (The Mythic Image) Larsen also comments, “The guide of souls must be a friend to the animal realm b/c the soul is, in part, made up of animals.” In psychological terms, he’s talking about the way our minds grasp things in terms of projections. “Children’s comic books have talking animals, which, we are told, make more sense to them than talking adults… The children empathize with the animals and feel them to be peers. Adults are inscrutable and distant… Animals invite stereotypes.”
Totems (animal spirits) were an important part of Celtic shamanism. Totemism harkens back to a time when human beings were more a part of the natural world and recognized a kinship w/ the animals. Animals were not, then, seen as inferior things… and many of the ceremonies which surround hunting “magic” are actually about absolving the guilt of the hunter. (“I’m sorry, Uncle, but I need your fur coat.” “Grandfather, this is painful for me, too.” “Please come back and be w/ us again.”) Among the Celts, as w/ the Native Americans, many personal names and clan names are the names of animals – the animal that was originally the totem and spiritual kin of that tribe/individual. In many cultures it is believed that (often during a coming of age ceremony at which the youth gets his adult name) part of his soul is exchanged for a part of the soul of a particular animal… as if for safekeeping. So with me, for example, they might say that a fragment of my soul was taken out and placed in the body of a hound… and part of the dog’s soul was placed inside of me. Not a bad metaphor, really – it certainly captures how I feel a lot of the time. “More than a mere symbol,” wrote Larsen, “the totem is a vital force on the [mental] level.”
Closely related to totemism is theriomorphism – the practice of transforming into an animal. It’s common in rituals for the shaman to wear the skin and mask of his totem animal. This practice (as I mentioned before) goes back at least 30,000 years… to the time when the first cave paintings were created. Later day myths and legends of animal transformations (like the werewolf) are probably distorted fragments of memories of ancient shamanic practices. In one Norse myth, the hero Sigmund and his son Sinfjoti (ever notice that Scandinavian names always look like a cat walked across your keyboard?) are transformed into wolves when they dawn wolf skins… and our word “berserker” comes from ancient Scandinavian warriors who took on the characteristics of bears before entering combat. (The very so-so movie The 13th Warrior is based on the premise of such a pseudo-Neolithic bear-people cult surviving into medieval times.) Other examples include the Norse wolf-men (the ulfheonar), the leopard-men of Africa, the werejaguars of
South America, and the shark shamans of the Pacific.
So, I mentioned that masks and costumes (skins) were a common part of these transformations. A lot of gear fetishists use this technique in their pup play – using a mask or plug-tail or a collar as a transformative mechanism. When I first started pup-playing, my Owner used a separate collar for my puppy-mode, and changing my collars out was a mental trigger I used to shift mindsets. It’s worth tossing out there that the Greek persona means “mask”… and a personality is a plurality of inner masks. Long before I ever got into pup-play (or even shamanism) I was into role-playing games… which is a fantastic medium for summoning up and working w/ different persona that are buried in our heads.
It’s also useful here to bring-up what “fetish” actually meant before Freud. In anthropology, a “fetish” is an object held in awe and believed to be charged spiritual power – like a voodoo doll, or the Ark of the Covenant, or the various other MacGuffins of the Indiana Jones films… or a collar or hood. So the continuity between religious/magical fetishes and leather & latex fetishes is not too far apart. “The mask,” Larsen wrote (not talking about fetishes in the modern sense – although he could have been), “becomes a transformer of energy, a medium between ego and archetype.” In using masks in his therapeutic work, Larsen found, “that the masks ‘like’ music and dance to ‘explain’ themselves more fully.” Masks and costumes make us stand and move differently… as well as think and feel differently by bringing forward a different persona w/in our personality.