Shaman's Boy: Serving A Greater Path

by Raven's Boy, Joshua

An article was posted recently to an online discussion group for spiritual BDSM discussing in detail one couple's conservative heterosexual Christian D/s practices. It was followed by a cry that such exclusive writing might make folks of minority faiths uncomfortable. To the moderator's surprise,one of the few active members of a minority faith responded enthusiastically to the article, appreciative of such a clear portrayal of how D/s fit into a very specific spiritual framework, and asked the group to discuss other individual religious practices rather than restricting conversation to vague nondemoninational spirituality. In response to this I decided to give a description of what my life looked like that week, as it was an clear and specific example of serving the Gods through my service to another human being.

My master was off "pathwalking" during this conversation. He is a shaman in the traditional sense, and does a specific sort of walking between the worlds that requires a large piece of depopulated land to roam while in a self-guided trance. At the time of the discussion, he had been in the woods behind our farmhouse for eight straight days. He could have almost no contact with people during this time, and slept in a small treehouse, bundled up against the autumn cold.

In the months before he left, I helped him to prepare his ritual items. Everything he takes with him on these trips has to be carefully prepared and magically charged in order to function properly and have presence in the Otherworlds. Much of his gear, including his clothing and his notebook, was handmade, and the rest was modified to suit his purposes. I spent many hours carefully decorating the simple items he would need, such as his hairbrush, bowl and socks, with the embroidered and wood-burned runes and symbols he had specified.

Most of my time during the trip was spent ritually preparing specific food for him, to be left on the steps of his treehouse, and running errands for him as requested in the notes he left for me. During the trip, my orders were to make sure he had clean ritual clothing each day, a lantern at night and hot water in the morning. I also bought or prepared certain items for offerings (frequently fruit and alcohol for libations), obtained tools and other gear he hadn't realized he would need, and kept our friends posted on how he was doing, as well as doing both our share of the farm chores. He had asked that none of us interact with him or distract him while he was pathwalking, or he might get thrown off and have to start over, so I had no communication with him besides the notes left with his dishes. If he ran across me or walked by while I was delivering things, I would step aside and lower my eyes, and try to put out a vibe of "I am inconsequential and unobtrusive. There is no reason to notice me."

This might sound like somewhat bizarre slave protocol, but it was what needed to be done. He has orders from the gods to do certain things in a certain way, and for him to do his job properly, it's my job to take care of his needs in a very specific manner. Dealing directly with spirits and otherworlds brings with it strange non-negotiable requirements and taboos. None of it was about what gets either of us hard, or what we think is proper slave behavior. It was not even done out of love for him, or a desire to submit to him. In fact, this part of our D/s relationship is entirely unrelated to sex, fetish, and our romantic relationship. Some of it was for his comfort, but I consider his continued comfort to be vital to his ability to focus and do his job at his highest capacity. For instance, I suppose he could have carried food prepared beforehand with him, but have you ever tried carrying nine days worth of food that won't go bad that you'll still want to eat on day seven? Many people doing this fast for the duration, but my master's health wouldn't allow it. This is all hard enough without starving or living on goat jerky and trail mix, and when you've been outside in the cold rain all night talking to spirits, it really helps to have some scrambled eggs and a basin of hot water for washing appear on your doorstep when you wake up.

To be effective in my part of this, I needed to learn a great deal about my master's spiritual practices and gain familiarity not only with the symbol sets and cosmology, but with some of the very basic ritual/magical techniques. For example, I was asked mid-trip to find a certain pair of boots, mark them with runes, and send them down. He didn't specify what to mark on them, so I prayed for help on the matter that night. I woke up at four in the morning with a short poem running through my head, which I wrote immediately on the boots with a permanent marker. To do this, I needed to not only be able to read and write in the Norse runic alphabet, but be clear-headed enough to ask what the appropriate inscription would be, and know enough of the Norse cosmology to be able to make some sense of the reply. On a daily basis, I needed the knowledge of what different offerings are appropriate for Jotun, Duergar, Alfar, or whatever he would be encountering, and have something of the skill to put a specific kind of energy into each one before bringing it down.

The point of this, however, is that it was all extremely fulfilling for me as a submissive, something which he did not expect. It allowed me to focus entirely on service for most of my day, under very clear protocol. Knowing that my work made his job even a little easier was amazingly satisfying. My master is very much a hierodule, a god-slave, and his Masters are harsher with him than he could ever be with me, so I was glad for every comfort I could provide. Our D/s relationship provides a clear structure for these duties, and makes his journeys run much more smoothly than they might otherwise. He can be sure that I will do exactly as I am told to the best of my ability, in the exact way he asks, without question or argument.

All of this is training entirely unrelated to generic D/s protocol, or for that matter, anything that any other D/s servant would need to know, and it is nothing I was prepared for. In order to be his boy, I've had to learn such things as Reiki, energy work, astrology, runes, mythology, and a little bit of linguistics (in addition to cooking, housecleaning, farm work, and formal table maners) ... and I'm still adding to that training, and will be for years. Even the parts that look from a distance like fetishy activities ... aren't. When you are doing this in a religious context, the religion does tend to overshadow the fetish element to an extent.

For example, when my master has clients, he has to do a few hours of preparation beforehand. Besides meditating and praying, he uses certain sexual activities done in a ritual context as a way to open himself to the spirits, and it's my job to make sure that it gets done properly, with the right attitude on my part. We don't do this because it is our particular kink. He does it because it works, and I do it because he needs it done. Thinking that we are "just doing our job" for these sex acts seems terribly unromantic at times, or at least not very sexy, but it is certainly fulfilling in its own way. There's a great deal of contentment in knowing that you are doing exactly what the Powers That Be intend. The sexy and romantic parts can happen at other times, when the spirits aren't knocking.

In the most basic form of the spiritual D/s relationship -- the master-student dynamic -- the master is simply the focus for the servant's work. They are teacher and guide; they help the servant develop grace and perfection in their service. This sort of discipline has a monastic quality to it that is very comforting and natural to me. Executed perfectly, it is the spiritual equivalent of raking sand in one of those Zen rock gardens. It is taking a blade and honing to an fine edge. It is a beautiful thing, striving for an ideal of perfection.

I am learning, though, that there is a deeper sort of sacred service: the experience of serving someone who has a calling, an Assignment. Something that eats their life; something to which they have given themselves over entirely. Something inherent in them that differentiates them from the common world. The easiest secular example for this is the artist or musician or writer whose talent so consumes them that they are often little more than a channel for it, or the political activist who is consumed entirely by their dreams and goals. For these people, there is nothing (or nearly nothing) in their life but their Work. All too often, they need a servant to support them and take care of their mundane needs, a servant to be an interface with the rest of the world.

I call this role in all of its forms the "Shaman's Boy", but it speaks to a larger archetype. The image is of the shaman's calm, polite boy explaining the wild-eyed shaman's strange behavior to the client or anthropologist, as best he can. He is translator and receptionist. He tells the client, "This is what is happening. Sit here. Drink this. Do not be afraid." He does the aftercare for the client.... but more importantly, he does the aftercare for the shaman. People on the outside don't see that part, but that is his real function.

Image: The shaman is god-possessed and throws himself into the icy river, spinning wildly, communicating with the heavens in a language which is no language. That sort of thing is hard on the body, and the boy's job is to care for the body, to care for what remains of the human the gods have taken and so thoroughly changed for their purposes. The boy is there afterwards with a warm blanket and some hot tea and a little something to eat, in the same way as one services the writer who shuts himself in his room for days at a time, occasionally absently eating the sandwiches left at the door.

That is the job of this sort of sacred servant: being the one who makes their sandwiches and draws their bath and brings their tea. He is the one who quietly supports them when they rail against the Universe, and helps to pick up the pieces afterwards. It isn't about providing luxury services, but rather the simple the comforts that help them continue to do their job. The relationship isn't about the servant being used, because the master is being used harder than most people can possibly imagine. The focus is entirely on the master.

In my last essay, I compared the master and servant to the candle that produces light and the mirror that reflects it. In this kind of relationship, being the "keeper" who tends to the "chosen" one, it's usually true that the reason the servant stays and does this task is because this particular candle burns so fiercely bright, with such great impact. In being the support system to this flame, you do more than serve one person; you support a much greater goal that serves many others. There's a particularly satisfying feeling to knowing that you are part of something that much larger than you. There's also the fact that the brightest candles tend to burn themselves out, and it's your job to prevent that from happening.

In this job, the sacred servant is not raking sand in a Zen garden so much as hoeing potatoes. It is a rougher archetype; using the blade rather than honing the edge. There is less precision and polish; less concern with the details and protocol except as they must be perfect in order to sustain the master's path. It's not about the proper way to serve tea; the tea is not served as a meditative act or a demonstration of perfect grace in service, although these are beautiful and valuable things. It is done to get some nice hot tea into someone who needs it, and for them, that is enough.

Where the protocol comes in is on the religious side of things. Whenever you have a really successful mystic in myth or history, generally they have a support staff of servants who both take care of their physical needs and set things up ritually for them. If what they need to protect themselves is a circle of red chalk and owl feathers, then that's what must be prepared for them. If they need someone to sit and drum for five hours, then it must be done. If all their food needs to be ritually cleansed or charged or simply carefully and mindfully prepared without taboo ingredients, then it's the job of the religious servant to do it. In ancient temples, these folks were often low-ranking priests themselves; one is also reminded of medieval monks and lower priests whose job it was to tend the shrine of a specific saint. In these cases, although the saint may have been just a statue, it was treated as if it was a living being, and its clothes were changed and offerings managed in the same way.

There have always been mystics who were cared for by a staff of servants, from the Pythian Oracle at Delphi to the Catholic Hildegarde of Bingen. In some cases, part of the service was not only to take care of their bodily needs and mediate between them and the world, but to discreetly protect them from authorities who might hear any divinely-inspired controversial words. The archetype of the "handmaiden" also fits here, in the woman who is "at hand" when the female mystic needs some kind of aid. It is a position of service both to a human being and to the higher spirituality that the master or mistress serves; you are clearly in a hierarchy, and there is nothing human at the top of it. This can be comforting, especially when it means that there are built-in safeguards in the doctrine as to how badly you can be treated, and the rules and protocol are followed not out of the goodness of the master's heart, but because they are part of his or her spiritual path.

Part of being a good servant is taking pride in doing things correctly, and that includes one's spiritual path. Those of us who serve in spiritual hierarchies are doing so not out of mindless obedience, but out of mindful love. We may not be the ones out front, but we know that our efforts are worthy and useful, and it can be a wonderful thing to know that you are doing exactly what the Universe intends for you.