A few weeks ago, I found myself in a very busy airport on a Friday evening. There were no free seats, so I was perched on a wooden ledge, in a corridor leading to the rest rooms. This gave me a front row (and very close up), stomach-level view of a large number people, in all shapes, sizes and ages, coming and going.
When the insight came, it hit me like a sledgehammer: because our culture has lost the concept of honoring the dead and hungry ghosts, we carry the hungry dead (our ancestors who remain tied to earth and unhappy because core needs have gone unfulfilled) in our bodies. We carry them around as surplus fat!
I looked at all those wobbly thighs and bulging stomachs and I saw the faces of the ancestors looking right back at me. We over-eat because they are still with us and they are hungry – but we do not realise that. We think it is our own (physical, corporeal) hunger we are trying to satiate. However, we can never satiate a hungry ghost, unless we know what we are doing and why we are doing it. And we perform a ritual where the essence of the food reaches our ancestors – not our own bodily fat deposits. And then we release them from the Earth realm and have them taken to the right destination in the Otherworld.
I asked myself, is there perhaps a goddess called Obesity?
We live in an era where eating disorders proliferate. The number of people (especially very young people) with eating disorders has mushroomed. This is often blamed on a culture that values appearance and a toned skinniness above all. Social media play their part: we now all “curate” our Facebook page and public image where we “stream” the most flattering pictures of ourselves and our amazing lives.
From a shamanic point of view I believe that gods and goddesses are not static: they evolve through their interaction with human beings (for more about that see my upcoming book Medicine of the Imagination, which will be published in 2020). Not just that, collectively we can create (or perhaps call into being) new deities as well as, modern life creates new causes which unite communities (and require Divine patronage).
I will give some examples. People with anorexia commonly refer to a goddess called Ana just as people with bulimia refer to a goddess called Mia.
One of the most disturbing aspects of eating disorders is the pseudo-religious character that it ends up taking for many people. Let’s take for example (since it’s my story) someone who has anorexia. You start by being anorexic; then you think it’s not an illness but just another lifestyle among many; then you decide it’s in fact the best one and become pro-ana; eventually, you think it’s your way, your truth, your life, and therefore your religion.
People from eating disorders will say prayers to those twin goddesses. In our rational society many people will dismiss them as personifications – but that misses the mark. The veneration of these modern deities comes with its own prayers, rituals and observances:
… people pray to them and, above all, ask them for forgiveness when they “sin” (see below). You can often read things like “forgive me, Ana, I’ve failed you” or “Ana is just and unsparing, Mia is merciful and benevolent” (because when you’ve “sinned” you can turn to her, if you get me).
Yet another example, which has nothing to do with eating disorders but proliferates in our day and age, is the goddess Aya, short for Ayahuasca. Many people no longer attend church, but flying to another continent to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies with “the sacred vine” has become a modern pilgrimage for many. Some people swear by it (they say it opens portals and accelerates the evolution of their consciousness) but there is a dark side too: as a shamanic practitioner I am contacted at regular intervals by family members asking me to do a clean-up job and rescue someone from a psychotropic-substance-induced psychosis. (Could you please make your way to the following psychiatric hospital ASAP...) One cannot stress enough how powerful and deadly serious such encounters (with a plant spirit mother or other deities) are, or at least can be.
Deities have always required sacrifices. Even Jesus Christ was sacrificed by crucifixion. The word sacrifice literally means making sacred, with a connotation of offering it to the gods.
Being pro-Ana is feeling like you’re part of a privileged little group of people who don’t fall into the worldly pleasures of food. Pro-ana and pro-mia girls are princesses; the rest, pigs.
In Heathen (pre-Christian) times in Europe honouring the ancestors was seen as one of the key obligations of the living. At certain times of the year people would not only visit graves, they would have picnics and feast sitting on graves, so the dead could participate too and have their fill of food and drink. Christian priests cracked down on this. It was one of the customs they disapproved off and eliminated (quite successfully too). They even created a specific Day of the Dead, where masses are said for the dead at the time of year also known as Halloween, Samhain, or Alfablot (Northern Tradition):
All Saints' Day is a feast day celebrated on 1st November. All Souls' Day, 2nd November, is a time to pray for departed souls. All Saints' Day (also known as All Hallows' Day or Hallowmas) is the day after All Hallows' Eve (Hallowe'en). It is a feast day celebrated on 1st November by Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
The religious leaders of that period were successful: today many people give their ancestors no thought at all. They will say: “They have got nothing to do with me, they are long dead, I never knew them!” The great unspoken here is that you are alive today because of them. You have your body, your talents, your quirks, and even certain problems/struggles, all because of them. The fact that you will not acknowledge this fact, does not make that fact go away. It does not send your ancestors packing either - they will find many ways of trying to get your attention. You will not understand this and interpret those ghostly echoes, those cries for help, as illnesses, family problems or freak accidents.
When I speak to some people about the importance of honouring ancestors (and I write articles on the topic as well, inevitably people will say: “My ancestors were abusive, they were alcoholics (etc.) and they do not deserve attention or honouring!” I have also heard this phenomenon referred to as “toxic ancestors”. – I am not denying that your ancestors did many dysfunctional things (we only need to read up on world history to know that this is true) but they are still your ancestors, they are in your bloodline and if you are not going to reach them and balance whatever seeks healing – who will?!
And if you don’t, you and your children, even your children’s children, will remain entangled with those ancestors and energetic tracks they set in motion. The fact that you choose not to believe in this and not give it a place in your personal cosmology – will not make those problems go away.
We live in a world where children as young as six months old are diagnosed with e.g. leukaemia (blood cancer: cancer of the blood line!), while children as young as four years old are diagnosed with eating disorders and hugely distorted (and destructive) body-image.
One night at London Stansted Airport I suddenly saw her: a goddess called Obesity. And yes, she is OBESE! She is huge, VAST, a giantess!! I saw her walking behind all the overweight people with wobbling rolls of fat, the voluptuous women, oversized children and the “pregnant men” who look like they are about to give birth.
Through being overweight, through eating too much and eating the wrong things, they have become worshippers in dark mystery cult – but do not even know it. Obesity is a goddess of Abundance. She wants to feed all her human children. She wobbles as she walks. She offers one pathway back to Divinity – but it is a painful path. Addiction or Eating Disorder is a very risky and dangerous path of healing. For many it is a lethal path.
She is the Holy Mother of all Hungry Ghosts, of all those beings in the Other World who are still seeking to have primary creature needs met through their connection to Earth. She is not picky. She accepts anyone who joins her Tribe.
Rather than pretending that she does not exist, it would be better to name her and honour her and to set appointments for healing sessions for the members of her Tribe. It would be preferable for groups to gather to do this work, regularly, on behalf of large numbers of hungry ghosts.
This work will of course need to be matched by efforts to make locally grown organic produce available and affordable for everyone.
Before Christianisation people in my country of birth (The Netherlands) believed that the dead became seeds, literally planted in the Earth!
In the Northern Tradition there is a close connection between the (male) ancestors and the land, fertility and good fortune. The early Church Fathers deliberately broke that connection and we are playing the price for that outcome until today.
Imelda Almqvist, draft written mid-Atlantic (just flying over Iceland) on 9 November 2019, edited in London on 2 December 2019
Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. So far she has published two books: Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) in 2016 and Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) in 2019. She has presented her work on both The Shift Network and Sounds True. She appears in a TV program titled Ice Age Shaman, made for the Smithsonian Museum, in the series Mystic Britain talking about Neolithic arctic deer shamanism. Her third book, Medicine of the Imagination ( Dwelling in possibility) will be published by Moon Books in 2020.
Imelda was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She is a regular presenter on The Shamanic Path with Sounds True. She appears in a TV program made for the Smithsonian Channel (the series is called Mystic Britain) about the Mesolithic site Star Carr in Yorkshire talking about arctic deer shamanism! Imelda divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She has just finished her third book “Medicine of the Imagination: Dwelling in Possibility” and is currently working on her fourth book, about the pre-Christian spirituality of The Netherlands.