Remembering Seb Barnett: Artist, Creator, Shaman

Heather Greene —  October 9, 2016 — 27 Comments

SEATTLE — Over the weekend, the Pagan community in the pacific northwest learned that one of its beloved members, a fellow teacher, talented artist, and close friend, had committed suicide. Since then, shock has rolled through the community, turning into expressions of deep sadness.

Writer Rhyd Wildermuth posted, “The last time I saw you, you gave me a huge hug and called me ‘big brother’ like you always did, and then said, ‘I feel like I’ll never see you again.’ I smiled and laughed it off. Of course we‘d see each other again […] I was fucking wrong.”

[Courtesy S. Barnett / Linked In]

[Courtesy S. Barnett / Linked In]

“Hi. I’m Seb.”

Seb Barnett was born on a farm nestled at the edge of the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic National Forest with its temperate rain forests and majestic mountain peaks. Seb’s childhood was spent in the woods climbing trees, tracking animals, building forts, fishing, and exploring.

In addition, Seb’s world was filled with creating and making art. “I have been making things with my hands since I could hold a pencil. And the more things I create… the more I want to create,” wrote Seb in their Patreon account overview.

And create Seb did. However, as noted in a 2016 Miroir interview, Seb did not define themselves as an artist until 2005. “Before 2005, art was just about me. The mentality that made it more occurred when I started thinking about the impact my art could have on others.”

In 2006, Seb earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cornish College of the Arts in 2006. While attending, they were awarded both the Kreielsheimer and President’s scholarships.

It wasn’t long before Seb was showing in exhibitions. Their first solo show was at the Seattle Georgetown Arts and Cultural Center in 2008, only two years after graduation. From that point forward, Seb continued to exhibit work annually, including shows in New York City and Vancouver.

Seb’s work found its way into print. In 2012, their work appeared in a book titled, “Ink on Paper: The Mary Alice Cooley Print Collection.” More recently, Seb was the featured artist for Hello Horror‘s 2015 Spring issue. Then, in early 2016, Seb’s work was published in the February issue of Miroir magazine, including a brief interview. Seb’s piece, titled “Butterflies,” graces the magazine’s cover.

presentation1

Regardless of all the success and notoriety, Seb was still working to make ends meet as a professional artist. To assist, Seb opened a Patreon account through which their art could be showcased, sponsored, and shared. On the overview page, Seb explained, “One of the best things about this Patreon is that I’ll let you into my world. My world is full of magical ideas, philosophies, and lots and lots of techniques! Not only will I tell you why I make what I make, I will also tell you how.”

Along with being a prolific artist, Seb was also a practicing shaman and spiritual teacher, who “was always able to see spirits” despite a general Christian upbringing. On their website Green Stag Spiritwork, Seb explains their practice: “I do not follow the shamanic traditions of any one culture or people, as I was not mentored by another shaman or indigenous community. I feel that for me to do so would be a disingenuous impersonation. I am an American born of the temperate rainforests of western Washington.”

Seb held workshops and classes on various topics from meditation to divination. Through the Green Stag site, they sold prints depicting various gods, as well as handcrafted jewelry, medicine bags, and other items.

Seb’s upbringing and childhood experiences reflect not only their spiritual work and journey, but also in their creative work. Seb wrote, “The natural world became a great source of fascination” and it’s “tightly woven into [my] art.”

Many works feature plants growing out of the human body, or resting on it and around it. In these cases, the natural is literally penetrating humanity and engulfing it. While these images can be disturbing to view, they are peaceful and invigorating at the same time. And that is the very line that Seb’s work walked, and walked proudly: the strange and the lovely; the unknowable and the knowable.

In a blog post, Seb wrote: “What is often perceived as different, strange, unknowable or unexplainable is easy to be terrified of. However, when we have the chance to know these beings, (or people) we may find that what we thought was malice, was only them being curious. What we perceive as offensive, may just be scared of us. Act first with peace in mind, and be ready for friendship.”

Seb Barnett - The Now 8x10

“The Now” [All Rights Reserved. Copyright S. Barnett]

Seb’s success and vibrancy had no sign of stopping. In fact, Seb was hosting a nine-week S\shamanism class for beginners at the Sacred Garden Healing Center in Seattle. On October 14, Urban Light Studios was to exhibit Seb’s solo show titled De Trop. The studio advertised the event, explaining, “Seb examines what it means to be considered ‘de trop’ (in French, this translates to ‘too much’) in a vast, ever-changing emotional spectrum of day-to-day life.” And, Seb’s last post on Facebook, dated Oct. 5, demonstrates a real excitement for that exhibition.

However, something changed.

News of the suicide came on Oct. 8, shocking both the local art and Pagan communities alike. In a Facebook tribute, Brennos Agrocunos wrote that having Seb as a friend was a “fabulous prize.” Agrocunos wrote, “This world is hard and getting harder. We need more beauty, more art, more love, more wild. We need to hold each other close and make the world safer for people that don’t fit a mold. My heart aches.”

In another public tributeEric Angus Jeffords wrote, “Goodbye, Seb Barnett. My Big Queer Sibling. My Awkward Artist. My Beautiful Tree Person. My Urban Shaman with the Green Hair. You have returned to your grove, and I will sit under your branches and listen to your voice murmuring through the pines. I will read your words in the insects that crawl along the ground. I will smell you in the winds, and in the flowers. I will feel you in the bark and the stones. You have returned to where you were birthed. The leaves never looked so green.”

The sadness has come in waves, being expressed over social media and well beyond as people come to grips with this loss. Seb Barnett was a deeply loved person, a friend, a teacher, an artist, and a “modern shaman practicing old school shamanism.” Seb’s spirit will live on in the natural world of their birth, in their visual art, and in their words:

I want to honor pain, grief, ‘monsters,’ the strange, and the outsiders by portraying them in a beautiful, but also honest way. […] ‘Come here, this is beautiful… but wait, it’s also painful.’

There are some people who are so magical that we break reality. Rules don’t apply to us in the same way, and the laws of the universe warp like mirages in the heat of the intensity of us.  Do not wish to be like us. We break harder, love harder, die repeatedly to only continue living, and are alien in a world that won’t believe in us. We are mythic.”

What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

A memorial fund has been set up to help cover funeral expenses. No date has yet been published for any public services, rituals or memorials

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and journalist, living in the Deep South. Professionally, she has worked for Grey Advertising Global, Coca Cola Company and GCI. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League and has formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts.

  • Damiana

    I wonder how Native Americans viewed the obvious cultural appropriation by Seb?

    • RabbitWarrior

      let’s look at the etymology

      (won’t let me post link)

      “1690s, “priest of the Ural-Altaic peoples,” probably via German Schamane, from Russian sha’man, from Tungus saman, which is perhaps from Chinese sha men “Buddhist monk,” from Prakrit samaya-, from Sanskrit sramana-s “Buddhist ascetic” [OED]. Related: Shamanic.


      Might want to read up on the NOAIDI of the SAAMI people, the last surviving European shaman that were wiped out by Lutherns (state religion). Could visit people’s houses OBE and move objects.

  • Fedora

    Thank you for writing this. Also, Seb’s show is October 14.

    • Heather Greene

      Thank you. The date has been corrected in the article.

  • Damiana

    I wonder how Native Americans felt about Seb’s very obvious cultural appropriation?

    • thehouseofvines

      This Native American thinks Seb’s art was pretty awesome.

      • Damiana

        How lovely for you.

        • thehouseofvines.com

          Just wanted to make it clear that even though you have taken it upon yourself to speak for us you don’t, Mr. Phelps.

          • Damiana

            That doesn’t even make any sense.

    • This Native American thinks you’re being completely inappropriate on a post remembering a member of the community who has left us too soon. This Native American also thinks that even IF there are issues with cultural appropriation (which I am not convinced there are, here), there are ways to discuss it that don’t involve being a completely insensitive tool, especially in the wake of someone’s death.

      The Elders I know would have some very stern words for me if I were ever so disrespectful of someone immediately following their death.

      • thehouseofvines.com

        Agreed. As a Blackfoot and more importantly as a human being I found the comment utterly vile considering it was made on a memorial post. More to the point I just did a google search and couldn’t find any of Seb’s art that seemed even remotely influenced by indigenous cultures, so I’m assuming Damiana is basing that on the photo above where Seb is posed with a frame-drum. In which case WOW is that inappropriate considering many, many, many cultures across the globe and throughout history have utilized that or similar instruments.

        • DverWinter

          Maybe that person thinks that all shamanism belongs to Native Americans? Which would be funny, since the word shaman actually comes from Evenki/Tungus, on a totally different continent. And unlike the plastic shaman sorts who love to affiliate themselves undeservedly with some ancient mystical tradition, the article clearly quotes Seb as saying “I do not follow the shamanic traditions of any one culture or people, as I was not mentored by another shaman or indigenous community. I feel that for me to do so would be a disingenuous impersonation.” Which seems like they are doing their best to be respectful of cultural traditions while following a method of practice that is shared amongst a wide variety of religions across the world.

          • Damiana

            Oh, I know the origins of the word.

          • thehouseofvines.com

            Do you know the meaning of the words decency, compassion, respect and piety? Because your actions suggest otherwise.

          • Damiana

            Go try and micromanage someone else. Oh, what is that sound I hear? It’s your life calling you back to it. Have a nice night.

          • And many Native Americans have said they hate the word ‘shaman’ being used for their medicine people.

        • Damiana

          No, your assumption is wrong.

          • thehouseofvines.com

            Not as wrong as your trolling of a memorial post.

          • Damiana

            Trolling? I excesses an opinion. I’m a regular commenter.

      • Damiana

        How nice for you.

    • ShakerGirl37

      How about you get a clue and show some respect for this great departed soul? Shamanistic practices and the drum do not just belong to US Native American tribes. At all. Wake up. Grow up.

      • Damiana

        Great assumptions. Clearly, you haven’t figured out yet how to think like a grown up. Good luck with that.

        • ShakerGirl37

          Assumptions my arse. Studied Native American culture for over 5 years, been a studied Witch for over 15 yrs, pretty well versed, homie. You are the one who chose to use a memorial article to insult the decedent. Grow up and stop being an unrepentant troll just because you are bored and have an axe to grind.

          • Damiana

            My axe to grind is justified. No one cares what you have studied.

  • Damiana

    No, it’s completely in line with my criticism of Pagan appropriation and joining up with trendy causes to protest or participate in without doing much of the actual long term work to make changes.

    It’s interesting that you and another commenter conveniently trot out your Native credentials yet your advertised spiritual practices don’t indicate any Native training or ethnicity.

    • thehouseofvines.com

      Obviously you haven’t read far enough back on my blog. Regardless, I’m done engaging with you as this is neither the time or place for such discussions.

      • Damiana

        Yeah – like I’d wanna read through your whole blog. No thanks. But it’s clear that your alleged ethnic background lacks related spiritual practices that you give much time or energy to in your writing. It is sort of interesting though.