Reviving Circumpolar Eurasian Shamanism: 5Qs with Raven Kaldera
Editor’s Note: Transfaith speaks to Neo-Pagan shaman, educator, priest, and activist Raven Kaldera, author of Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition and many other works. Learn more about Raven Kaldera on his website.
How would you describe you spiritual or philosophical perspective?
I practice Northern Tradition Shamanism, the shamanism of my ancestors in Northern Europe and Eurasia, which goes back to the Reindeer people of Germany and Scandinavia.
I am an animist: I see everything as alive, not just plants, animals, and people, but also the earth, rivers, oceans, the sky, stars, air - all of it has spirit. I am also a polytheist, meaning that I believe in, worship, and work with many gods. My main spiritual path is Neo-Paganism, which is also my day job. I see clients, do helping work and provide spiritual counseling. My secondary path is Aghori Hindu; Shivacame to me and I practice as a method of spiritual purification.
I am a minister in my Neo-Pagan church, the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel. As a shaman I am somewhere between a priest and a monk. I am a religious renunciate and have a modified mandate of poverty - although not celibacy. My religion and spirituality flavors and colors my whole life. It guides all my decisions and other work. All of my work is in service to my spirituality and what my gods want for humanity.
How has your spiritual or philosophical practice evolved over time? What kinds of opportunities and challenges have shaped that perspective?
Psychic gifts ran in my family. As a kid I knew that I could hear things that other people weren't hearing. I talked to spirits, small things like plants. Around fourth grade, I started secretly making altars to pagan gods in our basement. By the time I was a teenager, I was getting messages. There was one Goddess who came to me in dreams and waking visions but I didn't know who she was. When I was 29, I had a near death experience. I bled to death in a hospital room; that’s when I saw her face. She is Hel, the death goddess of my ancestors. She owns my ass, she’s my boss.
After the near death experience, the prolonged illness leading up to it, and various chronic illnesses, my signal became much clearer. I could see and talk to dead people, my ability to commune with spirits and gods got much stronger, but I didn't know what the heck was going on with me.
I resorted to sociological studies and found that this has happened to people all over Northern Eurasia, and I discovered that was what made shamans. That was the turning point: I literally had to die. There’s a high rate of people of unconventional gender who were chosen by the spirits in Circumpolar Eurasian Shamanism. I think that's because spirit workers do work with our energy bodies. We shapeshift by altering our energy bodies. It's a hard set of skills to learn.
People with body dysphoria grow up with a glitch: a separation between our physical bodies and our energy bodies. We grow up knowing those are different things. Our energy bodies are looser; they aren't tied as tightly to our physical bodies. That pain, that ambivalent gift, makes us better at doing shamanic work.
What is your work in the world? How does your spiritual or philosophical perspective relate to that work?
My spirituality is the genesis for my work. I juggle a lot of work, but ball number one is working with my colleagues to bring back the shamanic tradition of my ancestors. Ball number two is showing trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming folks that transness can be a sacred path and a part of one’s spirituality, rather than in conflict with spirituality.
Ball number three is about alternative relationships - how to do them right without hurting each other. I see a sacred, spiritual dimension within them, and a political dimension that can change the world. Ball number four is ecology, homesteading, and organic farming. I live on a small organic homestead. I believe the earth is sacred, and that we can attempt to live in harmony with it as best we can.
Ball number five is kink and BDSM activism. Kink and BDSM relate to spiritual practices that have been done all over the world throughout history. Everything that you can do in kink has been used as a spiritual tool at some point in the past. Ball number six is disability activism. My whole poly family is disabled, and I'm committed to talking about what it's like to have health issues that get between you and your life goals, and the compromises people must make in order to create different kinds of accessibility.
When do you feel the most vibrant and alive? What resources and practices do you draw on to nurture your own resilience?
I’m a workaholic; I love to feel like I'm accomplishing stuff. I feel especially alive when I am accomplishing something creative: writing a book, composing music, creating a ritual, or putting together an event. I especially enjoy things that aren’t just creative, but that are going to touch and change people. I also love teaching. I am extremely vibrant and alive when I am in front of an audience, even when I'm exhausted from traveling and sleep deprived.
Prayer, Pranayama breathing, and working with the earth all regenerate me. I'm an herbalist and I love gardening and working with plants. My poly family is wonderful and awesome, they have always been a support to me. I don't know what I would do without them.
What kinds of issues or concerns do you think need more attention in the world?
People need to learn the difference between being right and being effective. It's a hard lesson to learn, especially for folks with anger, which are often the people moved to activism. If you cannot get into the shoes of the people you are most angry with and the most effective way to make change with them, which is almost never what you want to be doing, you will not make change.
To make real change you have to be serious about what you're willing to sacrifice to be effective. If there are things you are not willing to sacrifice to be effective then back out of that area. If you want to make change you have to be effective first.
Raven Kaldera is a queer FTM transgendered intersexual polyamorous Northern Tradition shaman, writer, activist, and homesteader. He is the author of 39 books on sexuality, spirituality, astrology, religion, BDSM, alternative relationships, disability, homesteading, and transgender issues. Raven has been proclaimed by many to be the Evil Overlord of the Transsexual Empire. ‘Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.