Sunday, July 10, 2011

When You're Not the Specialist Snowflake

You want a truly humbling experience? If you as a Pagan have a practice that is not indigenous to your ancestry, go to a place where people who are indigenous to the practice shop.

I had thought I got pretty slick about doing that - being respectful and being able to conduct myself, only minorly getting the stink eye and generally still winning over the shop employees by the end of my purchase. I felt like I knew what I was doing when it came to Puja by now. So when J. said he found a new puja shop that did flowers too, I was like let's do this!

I didn't know that it was a video store too which threw me off a little (my "usual" place was a kitchen supply store as well which for some reason went together better in my head) and they were snipping and sewing flowers at the speed of life. I stole a glance to their puja wall, sure I could just grab a few things, buy them and then get out as soon as possible.

Shopkeeper's teenaged son (Appears to think: Maybe she wants to rent Freaky Friday or she's lost): Can I help you?

Me (Utter panic sets in when I realized that I recognized nothing): Um, I. I . . .need . . .a clay pot. For a ghee lamp.

STS (confused): A clay pot?

Shopkeeper (steps in to help her son) (briskly): Can I help you?

Me (a little desperate as I can see that my communication skills are going to be a problem here in addition to a terminology issues): Y-yes. I need a ghee lamp.

SK: Oh! Give her the ghee lamp!

STS (hands me something that doesn't look like any ghee lamp I've ever used)

Me: Um, I've never used a lamp like that. How does it work?

(SK shows me how to use the wick with the lamp and essentially appears to tell STS not to complicate things for me when he starts to say something about a five star wick)
(I realize I have become their not-too-bright puppy - adorable, I do cute amusing things, they want to help me because I clearly can't help myself but clearly needs strong supervision)

Me: I also need an offering bowl?

STS (Hands me something completely unfamiliar)

Me: Um, for food?

SK: Oh that's for camphor! STS! Give her a plate!

Me: I'm sorry, I'm just starting out (UGH! For like six years! How can it be that I still apparently know nothing!). I need a bell.

STS: (Gives me a bell)

SK (kindly): Who is this all for?

Me (oh Jesus - wait, wrong pantheon): For Parvati?

SK: Who?

Me (desperately): Parvati?

SK: Gauri?

Me: . . .yes? Um, the Holy Family - Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Kartikeya? (sort of points to the picture of them)

SK (pleased): Oh it's good that you are getting to know God! Okay. You need this bowl for milk --

Me: Just for milk?

SK (sternly): Only for milk! The offering for camphor which is right after the ghee lamp. (despite some communication issues this part is v. clear) ONLY LIGHT A LITTLE. ONLY HALF A TABLET AT MOST OR YOU WILL LIGHT YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE! DO NOT DO THAT!

Me: Alrighty. Um, what flowers would be appropriate for them?

SK: How big is your idol?

Me (oh god) (Makes a small gesture)

SK (giggles) (busily makes a tiny gorgeous jasmine flower garland and puts in big cheerful yellow mums to offer as well while she bustles to STS to the puja wall and makes sure that all my offering bowls and such are an appropriately small size) (rings me up) Here's my card. (writes down her phone number) Call me if you need anything!

I leave in a daze. I spent more than I wanted (but not more than I could afford. I *highly* doubt that was a coincidence) to but honestly? We work *a lot* with the Holy Family and they deserve a nice puja set. But I was used to a *super* tiny set so I had to figure out how this would work. Despite having our altar set up for less than a year, we're already bursting at the seams (there's way more stuff on it now). I eventually came to the conclusion that I should store all the puja stuff in a ziplock bag (I have become militant about that - whenever "like" magical supplies can be stored in a ziplock, I do so. It helps soooo much) and store it under the altar and when it's puja time, we can do that on the dining room table or kitchen counter.

After Jow stopped laughing at my story (and I was sure to point out that he owed me big time because I go through all the awkward stuff generally in the name of our magical projects and he gets to reap the rewards), he had a moment of "OMGs, we are doing this rong! How will we puja!" And then I got to laugh at him. I'm not sure that our puja format is perfect (I'm a'guessin' it's not) but I think it's close enough at least. As far as I can tell from my previous puja instruction (from various sources) and recent puja instruction, the basic puja layout for the Holy Family should go like this: (and if anyone knows better, please pipe up. I'm not proud)
Ring bell
Eight Directions
Honor Ganesha
Honor Agni
Ohm for the Holy Family
Offering of Camphor
Offering of Incense
Offering of flowers
Offering of milk
Offering of food
Thank Ganesha, Agni and Holy Family
Eight Directions
Ring bell

As much as this outing felt like sticking my face in a blender, it was really good for me because it reminds me that I really sort of know nothing, despite some diligent effort on my part. I have a big gorgeous Hindu temple near me that has an online site which includes directions on how to go to the temple so that's my next step, along with doing puja regularly again (we've never done full puja here in the new house, the Holy Family's puja supplies mysteriously went missing in the move). I wish the temple did a Hindu 101 but they only do that for children. Maybe on a festival day? But I'm sure if there's one to be found I will find it.

This also brings me to (again, despite some diligent effort on my part) I know nothing about Shamanism and I want to read more and go to some powwows and maybe figure out how to finagle going to a sweat lodge again at Free Spirit (I would need to put plastic retainers in my piercings which is a huge pain in the ass but . . .I think it would be worth it) next year.

My goals with Hinduism/Shamanism/Hoodoo/Voudon is to become an educated layperson who can perform basic layperson functions.

Somewhat unrelatedly, Mrs. B is partly to "blame" for all these revelations because I was inspired by her entry to start offering my gods first bits of dinner and start a hearth light so that was also part of what I was shopping for. ;)


Anonymous said...

I feel I should add that IMHO you did very well and I am quite proud of you.

In order to progress at anything you have to keep at it. This does not mean that as you keep at it that it will be pretty or awesome. Quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Humbling--and awesome. How many people stay away from indigenous spaces because heart-of-hearts, they're afraid of criticism, correction and hearing the dreaded words "you're doing it wrong"? I'm laughing, but I'm sympathetic--I've been there myself and I'll be there again, and this is dealing with traditions that ARE part of my ancestry, so there's some shame and frustration, too. None of us is born knowing. Some people go to great lengths to protect their ignorance; some people do what's necessary in order to kill it. Thanks for reminding me of that, and thanks for keeping it real.


Alexis Kennedy said...

Wow, what a great experience, even if it was painful for you! Thank you for sharing it and reminding all of us of how little we know even when we think we know something. HUGS

RevAllyson said...

All wonderful and good things are born in pain. :) Beautiful!

impchild said...

for a comparative religions class i took we went to the hindu temple. i loved how the energy danced.

definitely call the temple and ask if they will show you around/help you they may not have an adult 101 class but they may have someone who is willing to be your mentor. the temple we went to offered to talk to anyone who had serious questions.

it was an interesting comparison for me. i have been to a tent revival an the energy is straight like an arrow. most pagan rituals i have been to the energy spirals. and at the temple it dances. it goes up and down and swirls it was great fun.

Shelly said...

You shouldn't have to take your piercings out unless it is a personal choice. I've been sweating for years with and without piercings and never had a problem.

Not sure exactly where you are, but the folks that run the FSG sweat lodge are in my tradition. We do sweats every other month during the cooler season in Delaware. Here is the website with more info if you are interested :

We also have workshops and classes in Philly, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. I know there are two events you might be interested in- A day on Shamanism in Springfield, PA on July 30th with Caroline Kenner and T. Thorne Coyle is coming to Georgetown DE on Sept. 30th.

We have lots of stuff through out the year, so keep an eye on the website if you are close and interested `;~)


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