Raven Kaldera lives in the United States of America, and has a global reputation as a radical explorer of the bodymindspirit. To find out more about this vibrant character, we asked some incisive questions:
Could you tell us a little about your own magical background?
I’m a Northern Tradition shaman – which means that I do professional shamanism in a tradition from northern Europe – and also an eclectic Neo-Pagan, which means that it’s not unusual for me to be approached by Gods from other pantheons besides the Norse one. I also get clients from all sorts of backgrounds, and I am expected to be able to converse with them regardless of where their Gods might be from. I’m largely spirit-taught, and my magical work is bound up with Nature and its spirits.
You’ve written extensively on gender, sexuality and Paganism; how do you see the relationship of polyamory and polytheism?
When I wrote the book Pagan Polyamory, one of my interviewees sent me a wonderful piece that described how she was both polyamorous and polytheistic, and both – for her – were based in being able to love more than one, be it deity or human being. I also have a good friend who’s a liberal Christian minister who hangs out with Pagans and is polyamorous (although not where his congregation can see it); he refers to himself as “…polyreligious like I am polyamorous – Jesus is my primary, but I’ve hung out with a few other Gods on occasion.” This henotheistic attitude is one that I’d like to see more of, and I try to spread it around.
You’ve also written about Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path; could you say something about the relationship between that approach to self-discovery and devotional Paganism? I’m thinking of, for instance, the devotional literature published through Asphodel Press as an expression of a Bhakti yoga type practise. Is this the literary expression of D/s (Dominant/submissive) style explorations?
Modern Neo-Paganism is new to the idea of devotional practice, and that’s part of why I encouraged Asphodel Press (the press for my Pagan church) to put out all those devotionals. It’s also why I make and sell Pagan prayer beads, and I’m putting up online shrines for Pagan deities where you can light virtual candles and leave them personal prayers. I’m trying to find ways to make devotion easier and more accessible for modern Pagans. It certainly is similar to Hindu bhakti practice, and we can learn a lot through them. Similarly, some people in consensual power dynamic relationships – dominant/submissive, master/slave, that sort of thing – who are strongly spiritual have used the Hindu practice of “gurubhakti” as part of their path. That’s devotion to your spiritual teacher, seeing them as sort of a living votive object that is a door to Deity, although definitely not Deity themselves.
However, the Ordeal Path is a bit different. This is the practice of using carefully orchestrated ordeals of pain and endurance to open one’s self to the Divine, or to gain magical power, or to combat one’s own demons, or to commune with the experience of a suffering God/dess, etc. It is beginning to gain ground in modern Neo-Paganism, coming out of a combination of the BDSM demographic and the body modification/modern primitive demographic. While it’s certainly not for everyone, it had its place in “mystery cults” in ancient times, and is a useful piece of the spiritual pie, as it were. There is huge scope for self-discovery in the Ordeal Path, assuming that one is “wired” for it. It’s more than just a guided tour of your issues – it’s a violent cleaning-out. Some of us like it that way.
Thinking about one of the devotional works ‘A Gift of Maggots’ I wonder if you could tell us something about your own work with Baphomet and how you understand Hir?
I encouraged Ruth Addams to write A Gift Of Maggots, and I’m very glad that she did. The vast majority of the writings about Baphomet come either from a ceremonial-magic perspective – which tends to see Gods as archetypes or “energy forms” to be exploited, rather than powerful entities to be revered – or a pantheistic New Age approach which sees Hir as some kind of generic primal androgyne. Ruth’s book is the first one which is written specifically from a Neo-Pagan, and polytheistic, perspective; more to the point, it is filled with writings from people who have had personal experiences with Baphomet, as opposed to people for whom this deity is theoretical. When you’ve been face down in the mud with that hoof on the back of your head, it becomes much less theoretical, believe me.
I contributed five essays to A Gift Of Maggots because Baphomet Hirself got on my ass and made me do it. I wanted to explore five of Baphomet’s aspects – the transgressively gendered side, the Eater of Filth, the Lover of the Whore of Babylon, the Lord of Perversions, and the King of Freaks and Monsters. (These are not all of Hir aspects by any stretch of the imagination; I was pleased to see someone in the book working with Hir as Queen of Alchemy, an aspect I’d not yet been exposed to.) While this is a bit cross-cultural, to me Baphomet is something like a wrathful bodhisattva, in the sense that S/he demands that we transform our internal filth into something holy, and S/he will make us do it, by any means necessary.
This vision of Baphomet may not be much liked by either Neo-Pagans (who like their deities safer and more squishy) or ceremonial magicians (who tend to dislike being forced to evolve spiritually). For that matter, the reality of Baphomet as I, and Ruth, and many other people I’ve spoken to have experienced, isn’t comfortable for anyone. But our comfort is beside the point when faced with the Western version of a wrathful bodhisattva who says that it’s time to own your shit and then purge yourself of it, even if it hurts. That’s part of why Baphomet is one of the patrons of the Ordeal Path. We need it, and S/he knows it.
Could you tell us a little about your take on Norse Paganism (again in relation to the ordeal path, your work with giant symbolism, etc)?
Well, the obvious God of the Ordeal in Norse Paganism is Odin, who inflicted many ordeals on himself in order to gain wisdom – including tearing out an eye and hanging himself on the World Tree for nine days. There are other deities who work with ordeal as well – my patron Goddess Hela is one of them – and the whole set of three pantheons are bloody enough that they’d rarely turn down some of that as an offering. The “giants” – or, rather, the Gods of the pre-Indo-European peoples of northern Europe, who were demoted to “giants” rather like the Greek Titans, as often happens after conquest – are Gods and Goddesses of Nature, red in tooth and claw. They are brutal because they reflect that aspect of Nature, and ordeals are how they teach you your strength. Not everyone in Norse Paganism does ordeal, of course – one of my partners is a Freysman and his path is the very different “Love all, serve all” – nor should they. But it keeps cropping up as a useful spiritual tool, and those who are drawn to it need this information in order to learn how to do it cleanly.
How do you feel that Paganism has changed since you first became involved and in what ways do you see it evolving and changing? How do you see the emerging relationships between the Pagan community and wider culture?
I was first converted to Wicca at age 14 by dating the eldest child of a Gardnerian British-Traditional-Wicca high priestess. I wandered from there into a variety of Pagan and non-Pagan earth-centered traditions, including Dianic, hippie-granola-witch, and six months in an Umbanda house. I saw the wave of Wicca – which I refer to as “Wicca is to Neo-Paganism as Catholicism is to Christianity – and I’m more of the equivalent of a Mennonite!” – be shouldered aside by the wave of politically active people looking for radical earth-centered spirituality, and creating intuitive (and some would say sloppy) models rather than structured (and some would say rigid) ones. In more recent times, I’ve watched the rise of polytheism, and the clash of primary source material versus personal gnosis, and while the bloody wars around that problem sadden me, it does herald our coming of age as a religion: we are actually starting to discuss theology now, and that is going to mean more arguments. At least we have thousands of years of examples in how to do it wrong! I hope that we take advantage of that. Really.
So I expect to see more discussion on theology, which would have been unheard of ten years ago – I couldn’t have written Dealing With Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology back then and had it taken seriously. I certainly couldn’t have co-authored Talking To The Spirits (with Kenaz Filan), which discusses how to judge one’s personal gnosis from the Gods, and had anyone understand it, back then. I expect to see more discussion around the conundrum of the people the Gods talk to and the people who can’t hear them, and what that means. I expect to see more of these hard questions asked, and a lot of anger and argument over them, because we are all human. I hope to see more devotional work, and more interfaith work. I am hoping that we can handle that without trying to bowdlerize ourselves – not throwing more controversial Pagans under the bus in order to look nice for the non-Pagans, that sort of thing.
What work (or play) are you most engaged with at the moment?
I’m currently in the process of writing six more books, travelling and teaching, and being a bridge between the BDSM demographic and the Pagan demographic – actually, bringing any kind of spirituality, not just Pagan, to the BDSM folks. And working in reverse as well! I’m managing my wonderful poly family, some of whom are disabled, and trying to keep everyone going in the face of illness, poverty, and general difficulty. I am still taking clients in my shamanic practice, usually people from sexual, gender, or spiritual minorities who have nowhere else to go. I am still working with my Pagan church, and I’ve been doing a great deal of travelling in order to teach to several different demographics – Pagan, sex/spirituality, BDSM, transgender, radical queer, etc. I build bridges, I am the Walker Between Worlds. It’s my job.
Thank you very much Raven.
Stop Press! We have just heard that Raven Kaldera will be in the UK during May 2014, including a weekend workshop May 24-25 in London, called “Shamanic BDSM: Mapping the Underworld”. Stay tuned to thebaphhouse.com for details of this (NB When booking your time off work in advance, check that you use the dates for the 2014 visit!). NW