I spent last weekend with Maebius and his family at Four Quarters Farm’s “Drum and Splash” gathering. Like last year, it was lots of fun, though attending with the Maebiuses and without Mr. Nettle made it a different kind of fun. I had some experiences this year that were more intense than anything that happened there last year. Last year, I just wanted to have a good time what with the drums and the splashing and the dancing and all. This year, I needed something more, and am glad to say that I got it, mostly by spending as much time as I could in the sweat lodge. I needed that even more than I knew I did and I’m still figuring out the transformations that happened there.

I thought that what I was getting in my tattoo was a symbol of something. I wasn’t sure what it was a symbol of, or why it was important that I get that particular symbol – if I had to give a superficial explanation, which I have to a few people, it’s that it’s symbolic of my devotion and commitment to the figure that gets called the “Horned God” – Cernunnos or Herne or what have you – though none of those names have attached to the being that I experience, reading about others’ experiences with those figures leaves me feeling like we’re talking about someone who is at least in the same family. So to make it easy, I say to other pagans, yeah, it represents Herne, because no one ever seems to know who Gwyn is but they seem to get the right idea from me calling him Herne. Yup, that’s my tattoo of Herne and yeah, it’s cool and all that.

Except that’s not really true except on a really superficial level. It certainly does represent my commitment to that being – having a god tell you to get permanently marked because he says so, and then doing it is a commitment, for sure – but that’s not really the what or the why of it. I might also mention my work with Deer, and people who are familiar with that sort of thing seem to know what I’m talking about, but that’s not really it, either.

It’s not a symbol at all. It’s a tool. I’m still learning how to use it – I’m slowly being taught how to use it, actually – but, to my complete surprise, it’s a tool for use in healing work.

The term “healing work” makes my hackles rise a little bit because it sounds so horribly New Age. I associate “healing” in that sense with people who are trying to figure out how to make money off of other people’s pain. I associate it with cynical charlatans and faith-healers and those who would exploit the pain of others. I don’t have any particularly good thoughts around the entire concept of “spiritual healing” – it seems as bad to me as “original sin” – the concept that we are all broken and need to be fixed. With that comes the assumption that we will never actually be healed and must always rely on someone else to absolve – er, heal – us. I don’t accept that view. We all go through trauma as part of our human existence, and that becomes part of us and shapes us into who we are, makes us into fully complex adult humans  – to much of what I read and hear about spiritual healing wants to deny that, to make all of life into some kind of wonderful peak experience. Since that isn’t possible, it’s a particularly pernicious New Age paradigm that makes everyone into perpetual seekers, always looking for the cure for reality.

I don’t deny that there are people who need help dealing with various traumas of the physical, emotional or spiritual kind – of course there are. I have never seen myself as someone who wanted to offer that kind of help. My herbalism studies are frankly much more motivated by my love for the plants than my love for the people that they can help. I like it that I know what plants to turn to when I need some support and I’m glad to share that information with anyone who asks, but I surely don’t think of that as “healing.” It’s the plants that are doing the healing; my only role as an herbalist is to let people know who their friends are in the plant world.

It’s not that I don’t care about people (in the general as well as the specific sense) and wish to help them; I just don’t see that as my role. It feels uncomfortably manipulative. I appreciate the sincere and qualified professionals who help those are suffering, but I’m also wary of them and it takes a while for me to come to trust a new doctor or therapist or acupuncturist or whoever – as soon as I feel like I’m being sold something, I stop going back.

So why am I suddenly being called to this? I’m not even sure what “this” is. I dipped my toe into it earlier this year and I’m being pulled to wade in deeper. Ever since I got tattooed, every time I sit down to do my spiritual practices, Deer shows up and insists that I do healing work first. This usual involves something as simple as visualizing someone that I know is in need of help and sending him or her some love. Sometimes it gets much more involved than that, but it’s always Deer leading the way and sometimes I have no idea who it is we’re working on. Afterwards, I feel very refreshed and clear-headed and slightly euphoric and can go on to do my normal practices. If I don’t follow the lead and do the work, I tend to get headachey and grouchy.

I don’t know if this is having any effect on the subjects of my attention. I haven’t told anyone who has been worked on that I have done anything and I haven’t heard back any reports of miraculous bunion healing or anything like that. I don’t even know that I am really “doing” anything at all. I don’t even know if that’s the point of this.  Right now, since I’m not sure what I’m doing or where this is going, I feel kind of weird about drawing other people into my practice – as I said, that feels a little manipulative – but I guess it’s not that different from praying for someone who is having a hard time. It’s mostly just about love anyway, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with loving someone in an abstract and nonpersonal way without their permission.

So I think my tattoo is a tool and imparts something to my being that wasn’t there before – it’s more than a symbol and more than a decorative embellishment but almost like an extra sense – not sure that is the right word, but I’m not sure there is a right word for what I’m trying to say.

One insight I brought home from Drum and Splash is that I NEED a (human) teacher for this work. I have relied up to this point on information gleaned from books and the leadings of my guides and guides and the faeries, but I know I need some human help in figuring out where to go from here. I am at a loss as to where to turn for that help, though. I’m hoping that my path will lead me to bump into the right person at the right time but I know it doesn’t always work that way. I don’t know what else to do, though.