Tom Cowan’s book, Fire in the Head, explores the independently-developed similarities in shamanic tradition across the globe. I read it a number of years ago, but elements of it are ingrained in my mind.
In many cultures, when someone is “called” to be a shaman, when they develop that fire in the head, they often fall ill. If they resist, if they do not heed this call within a period of time, they die.
In a parallel universe, I’m in a job interview right. this. second. Here and now, I’m not in that interview, and am feeling okay about it. I withdrew last night.
When I was 18, I made choices out of fear, and changed the entire course of my life with one sheet of paper. With one word. Instead of writing “English” on my blanket university application, I wrote “geography”, because I was afraid of a life of poverty—of literal death. As the daughter of a writer consumed by his craft, by the fire in his head, I lived in straitened circumstances, and I was terrified of that same poverty following me into my own adult life.
It was years before I realised that I’d traded one type of impoverishment for another. That single word was my attempt to smother the fire in my own head. I too had been called, and had refused to heed the summons. I was too young to realise the imperative nature of the call. I thought it could be turned off.
And so I find myself today with a fantastic salary, but no sense of comfort or security. I’m poor all the same. Impoverished, and burning up from the fire in my head. It’s true: ignoring the summons does lead to illness. I’ve spent years forcibly trying to separate myself from my nature, and now realise that it’s as cruel and horrifying a pursuit as physically trying to peel my skin from my flesh.
It’s time. It’s time to feed the flames, to stoke the fire, and to start, rather than waiting for my life to start for me. I’ve often expressed that I don’t know who I am, what I think, or what I like; last week, someone told me they think that, deep down, I do know, but that I have trouble reconciling this with my uncertainty as to whether I’ll be acceptable to others. I instantly knew this was true.
I don’t know what this will look like—or what I will look like for that matter, other than messy, filthy, and betimes bloody—but at least I’ll be wearing my own skin.
No more smoke signals, if I can help it. It’s time to let the fire burn true.