Deconstructing the Totemic Guided Meditation

I’m still finishing up the book manuscript, but I wanted to take a break from writing to do some writing.

…wait, what?

Anyway, had this post idea come up and since it’s not going to take long to write it out, it gets to be my break from the much bigger, longer piece of writing.

I’ve been thinking about the structures within modern non-indigenous–neopagan, as I prefer to call it–totemism. One of the most common structures is that of the totemic guided meditation. There are countless examples of this; almost every book on animal totemism seems to have some version of it, and even Michael Harner included his own take in The Way of the Shaman in the chapter about finding a singular power animal. And yes, I wrote my own iteration of it several years ago which you can see in its entirety (and even use if you wish) here; it ended up as an Appendix in Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone, my very first book.

So–this thing gets around a lot. Why? because it’s effective. As I have maintained in numerous places, the guided meditation gets a person in direct contact with a totem, but without suggesting a specific animal from the get-go. It’s better than totem cards because you’re not limited just to the animals in the deck. It’s an improvement over having someone else “read” you, because there’s no intermediary to potentially miss something in the translation or add in their own biases. And it allows you and the totem to explore and establish your own unique ways of interacting with each other from the beginning.

The totemic guided meditation also offers you a relatively “safe” place to visit with totems. One thing I discovered early on in this whole Therioshamanism thing is that unlike proper journeying, which takes you deep into the spirits’ territory itself (which can be quite dangerous), guided meditation creates a sort of neutral zone that’s more mediated and less likely to present any dangers. However, it still allows for free-form exploration and communication, assuming it’s not such a rigidly structured thing that even the dialogue is scripted!

And while most totemic guided meditations are supposed to only have you meet your totem, I have found that the same meditation, slightly tweaked, is also quite effective for continuing to use the “neutral zone” to meet with the totem for ongoing work together. It’s simply a matter of going into the meditation with the intent of talking to a specific totem, instead of leaving yourself open to meet any totem, if that makes sense.

So let’s look at the different parts of the basic structure of the totem guided meditation:

The Entrance: This is usually a hole of some sort, either in the ground or a tree, but I have also had people that I led through the meditation travel through a hole in the clouds, or in ice or other water; these were their creations, not my suggestions, as I don’t specify exactly what the entrance should look like. The entrance is the starting point, the threshold between this world and the next. Once you’ve taken that first step in, you’re on your way.

The Tunnel: Traveling through the tunnel is a transition; it allows both the mind and the spirit to make the changes from the waking world to the neutral zone the person is going to visit. The tunnel may be in the ground, through trees, water, etc. It may look the same the whole way through, although the interior has also been known to shift in appearance and even size the further one gets from the waking world. The tunnel is a necessary component in the meditation, because it allows for a gradual and smooth adjustment in consciousness and spiritual state, rather than a sudden, jarring shift. For someone brand new to guided meditation, just spending time traveling down the tunnel, turning around, and then coming back can be good practice in maintaining a basic meditative focus, without the additional pressures of being in a complex new environment. The tunnel is relatively simple, and generally only goes two ways, so it’s easy to come back home as needed.

The Neutral Zone: This is an open arena where the person can explore the environment and see what totems may present themselves in first time through, as well as a known location for continued work. It is nonphysical in form, but it is a midway point between the person’s psyche, and the external spiritual world (though the boundaries between the two are often very blurred). While Harner has people stay in the tunnel, or rather, the tunnel becomes the neutral zone, I like to have people come out into an open environment where they can meet their totems. Again, as with the entrance, I allow people to picture it for themselves, rather than suggesting a specific place. This is because I don’t want them to have expectations of what animals they should or shouldn’t meet; for example, if I tell them to come out in a Pacific Northwest rain forest, but their totem is Koala, then they’re less likely to make the necessary connection. I also suggest that people explore while they’re there so that they can find the place again later. Additionally, since it is a mediated setting, people do have more control over what happens there; for example, I tell people I’m leading in meditation that if they ever lose the tunnel and need to go back quickly, all they have to do is look down at the ground at their feet and the mouth of the tunnel will appear there, and they can go right back home. Finally, it’s important to note any changes made to the neutral zone, whether within a given meditation, or over time. They may reflect changes in the totemic relationship, or even the location of the place in relation to the spiritual world (for example, if the neutral zone starts slipping deeper into spiritual territory, it may take on a wilder, more chaotic nature).

The Animal Totems: In the deconstructed guided meditation, the totem is the goal, the manifestation of the intent. Finding your totem often implies success, though I wouldn’t interpret things that strictly, personally–there’s a lot that can go wrong even if you find your totem, and a lot that go right even if you don’t. I’ve elaborated almost ad infinitum elsewhere about what your totem can be, but it basically boils down to: pretty much any animal species has a totem, you’re not limited to a certain set number of totems, the number of totems you have throughout your life can change, not every totem is permanent, and yes, I consider extinct, domestic, and mythological animals to still have totems, albeit totems with a much different perspective on the world we live in. A totem is an intermediary between its species and the rest of reality, to include human beings, though contrary to some approaches to totemism, we are not necessarily the center of a totem’s purpose for existing! (In other words, totemism isn’t just about “Get a totem to make your life AWESOMER!”) What role the totem plays in a person’s life varies from individual to individual; some see them as primarily symbolic, while others spend their lives working totemism as a daily spiritual practice. Again, this meditation can be used to either find a totem for the first time, or continue meeting with it. Just start each meditation with the appropriate intent, even perhaps saying something like “I am going to travel to meet my totem for the first time,” or “I am going to go meet with [name of totem]” before going through the entrance.

The Tunnel Back: The trip back to the waking world is just as important as the trip down the tunnel in the first place. It allows the person to integrate their experiences during the meditation, as well as readjust to being “awake” again. Most people tend to come out of the meditation too quickly, and spend their time grounding in this world with food and other physical things. While this is not bad, I feel it speaks of impatience, and doesn’t take full advantage of this important transitional stage of the totemic guided meditation. I recommend that if you do this sort of meditation, try to spend as much time coming back through the tunnel as you did heading down it.

Troubleshooting: If you’re new to meditation, or if you aren’t a very visual person, you may have trouble staying “in” the meditation long enough to find your totem. If that’s the case, try (as I mentioned above) just exploring the tunnel for a while, then graduate to just exploring the neutral zone a few times without the intent of looking for a totem. Stay in as long as you can before you feel you can’t focus any more, though do try to give yourself time to travel back through the tunnel and make a smooth transition back to being awake. If you’re doing a meditation to find a totem for the first time, and no totem shows up, or isn’t clearly your totem, give yourself a break for a couple weeks at least, then try again. If you are unsure of whether an animal is a totem, and you can get close enough to talk to it, you can always try asking whether it’s your totem or not. Also, while most people only encounter one totem at a time, it’s not at all unheard of to meet more than one in one meditation, and in fact there are some meditation structures, such as The Personal Totem Pole Process, that are created around meeting and working with multiple totems at once. If you end up with a totem you’re not comfortable with, don’t fear the worst. Sometimes it’s the animals that scare us that can really teach us; same thing goes for the ones we think are gross, or not particularly flashy. Conversely, if you get one of the “popular” totems like Grey Wolf or Tiger, don’t assume that you’re just being egotistical. Let things play out as they will no matter what totem shows up; in the end, you’re the one who gets to determine whether an experience was valid for you, not some internet peanut gallery.

…and there you have it–a basic explanation not only of totemic guided meditations, but part of what makes them work. There’s a lot more I could say, but this is just a quick break to give my mind some rest from the big, long, kinda scary book manuscript I need to finish up! I’m open to any questions about this post, if ya got ‘em :)

You Mean I Have To Give a Reason?

I’ve started journeying again since the year turned over. Only once, but it was an important one.

I showed up at my starting place, in the form of a wolf per usual, and was met by the Animal Father. He carried me inside himself up the mountain to his home (no, it wasn’t squishy and I wasn’t making elbow room amid spiritual internal organs or whatnot–more like floating/flying up the trail, but feeling surrounding by the energy I associate with him). Then he set me down on the ground, and we began to talk about why I hadn’t journeyed in four months–or, rather, he began snarling at me about it. In fact, he ended up turning into a significantly larger wolf, bared fangs and all. This served primarily to put me on the defensive, rather than listening to what he had to say.

So he ended up turning into a mouse instead, which relaxed me quite a bit. We discussed the need for me to be journeying much more often–short version is, no more four month absences. This being the first week of school, I didn’t do the best job of increasing the amount of journeying I do, but now that I have a better idea of what my time commitments and schedule will be like, I have a better idea of where I can fit it in.

After this, he asked me how my progress on getting to the Upper world was, since I’d been trying to figure out that conundrum. I told him I was still stuck, and he suggested talking to the resident Owl, one of the totems specific to the area I start my journeys in. So he called hir to show up, and we were joined by Great Grey Owl (totems, for me, are species-specific). S/he and I had a conversation about the Upper world, and why I was having trouble accessing it.

The main thing s/he asked me, and which I puzzled over afterwards, was “Why do you need to get up there, anyway?” And I honestly couldn’t give hir a good answer beyond “To find information”. Owl told me to come back when I had a better answer for hir, and flew away. For my part, I ran back down the mountain with this question burning in my mind. Scrub Jay (the totem this time, not just a scrub jay spirit) and Red Fox both showed up. They offered their help in navigating this world, and Scrub Jay additionally told me s/he could help with the Upper World when the time came. I noted this, thanked them for the offer, and ended up needing to head back home.

For a few days, I couldn’t really come up with a decent answer for Owl’s question. Then one day, as I was on a walk, it hit me–why did I need to get to the Upper World, anyway? I didn’t have a specific reason, a particular piece of information to seek out. The only reason I could think of was “Because it’s part of what shamans are supposed to do–right?” Same thing with the Lower World. And here we get to one of the downsides to not being a part of an established shamanic paradigm–there’s no one to explain why, specifically, I might need to go to one or the other, or neither for that matter. I could read books, but even there the material is limited. I can talk to other practitioners, but how much of what they experience will be relevant to me?

To be sure, journeying is intensely personal, and I think there’s more subjectivity to it than a lot of practitioners want to admit. This means I can potentially look at the different worlds in the shamanisms of other cultures. But would these motifs and experiences be relevant to me, in my cultural context? And how much standardization is there, really? After all, there are other things that are “supposed” to happen in shamanism that haven’t quite matched my experiences. For example, according to most texts on neoshamanism, you’re “supposed” to climb up and down a tree to travel to the various worlds. I climb a mountain instead, one that I’ve visited frequently in waking time. And what I am practicing isn’t necessarily what other people are practicing; I am developing my relationships with the spirits from scratch, not following someone else’s template of expectations. In fact, most of the examples of neoshamanism I’ve seen have a lot of fundamental differences compared to what I’m doing.

This still left me with the problem: if I don’t know what’s in the Upper World or what to expect there, how do I know why I would want to go there? And then it hit me, as I was walking–right after I was presented with that problem, Scrub Jay and Red Fox offered me a solution: Don’t worry about the Upper World right now. Look for answers and explorations in this world first. It’s the closest, and the one I’m most familiar with. Where better to get more practice with journeying than the layer of reality that I’m most accustomed to? Not that everything will be a cakewalk, of course. But it makes a lot of sense.

I’m willing to bet that I’m not the first novice (neo)shaman to get caught up in the “Oooooh, I get to explore the Other worlds!” thing, to the point of neglecting this world. Now, I do tend to be a fairly pragmatic person. I’m the kind who will take mundane solutions before leaping into magical practice. So it’s not surprising to me, this concept of checking around the spiritual portions of this world first, before travelling further afield. I think I just got caught up in that whole “Shamans travel to the Upper and Lower worlds” concept a little too much.

Some of the Middle world stuff will no doubt be “mundane” things–like my venturing into psychology as a profession, for example, or finding other “everyday” solutions. However, I would imagine that journeying, as with various forms of divination, will help expand my perception of possible solutions (altered states of consciousness are good for that). I won’t make too many assumptions, but I think for now my journeys are going to be focusing on what Jay and Fox have to show me. They’ve offered, and I’ll follow. I should probably go to Owl and let hir know my current answer (“I actually don’t have a need to go there yet”) as well.

Current-surfing

Okay, okay–I know I’ve been damned quiet lately. I’ve actually been taking a temporary hiatus from “active” shamanic work (e.g., journeying) the past several weeks. Between returning to school, and a few other significant shakeups in my life that have required me to adjust my equilibrium, I’ve taken a break from active shamanizing. The spirits haven’t been particularly upset about this; considering it’s my belief that they’ve had their hands (paws? wings?) in on at least some of the changes, it’s not surprising that they’ve been patient while I’ve gotten my bearings. Shamanism is still on my mind, though, and once the time is right I have a whole slew of things I want to do. I was pretty active for an entire year, so a break isn’t such a bad idea anyway.

One thing I have been thinking about is my approach to magic. Many pagans think of magic as only something you do through a specific ritualized process, whether it’s a simple spell, or pulling out the stops for a high ceremonial explosion. Either way, it’s an action in which to some extent you step out of your everyday process of doing things, and do something you normally wouldn’t do–how many of us, for example, routinely stitch together little poppets of herbs, or utter intonations in various languages while walking down the street? (I fully expect some smartass answers to that particular question.)

While I do very much enjoy the process and art of ritual, I’ve found that the older I get, the less ritual work I do. However, I’m still working a good bit of magic. Let me see how I can explain this best–it’s hard to find words for something that more makes sense to me in visual images in my head, and quasi-tactile sensations. A metaphor that I use for explaining reality is currents. Basically, a movement/energy/recurring pattern of a particular, unique type. All currents weave together into what we know as reality. A decision may change the current one is in, even if only slightly.

Magic, for me, has become a process of trying to live my life with the greatest possible awareness of the current I am in, and the currents that intersect it to create possibilities. What ritual work has done is trained me to recognize these currents, to the point where I don’t need a full ritual to be able to work with them. Instead, it’s a process of “tasting” (if you’ll forgive the inaccurate sensory comparison) the currents to see which one will work best for my purposes. I then act–in my everyday life, not in a ritual format–according to what my observations tell me. It’s worked quite well–in fact, I’m often getting better results for less effort this way.

See, what I’m doing is instead of dictating how I think reality must be, regardless of what the extenuating circumstances are, I am getting a sense of the extenuating circumstances, and then acting based on the information I have. Instead of trying to bend reality to my will, I am learning to harmonize myself with it. This allows me to take into account not only my own needs, but the needs of other beings/intelligences/etc. that are potentially affected by my choices. That is the information that the currents carry; they are interconnection.

How does this come into play with shamanism? Well, for one thing, magic is not the primary focus of my practice. It’s still important, but the single most important element is the relationships that I am developing with the spirits. Apart from the everyday current-surfing I do, the ritual work that I do is dependent upon healthy relationships with the totems and other beings I work with. It’s not that I couldn’t do other forms of magic; if I wanted to, I could pull out some good old Chaos magic and work from a purely psychological perspective. However, because I have a specific aim with therioshamanism, it best behooves me to stick to the spiritual model of magic and to focus on the relationships with the spirits.

See, that’s the thing about shamanism. Core shamans have this tendency to elevate the techniques above all else–open most books on core shamanism, and you get a bunch of how-tos. You might get a few techniques for how to meet your power animal, and maybe a few other guides, but there’s precious little material on how to actually develop relationships with these beings–and why it’s so important. In my experience (such as it is), the techniques come out of the relationships with the spirits, not the other way around. If I work with a particular totem, for example, I want to get an idea of how s/he best operates. I don’t want to just come in with a bunch of preconceived notions and hope s/he’ll agree. (A well-rounded magician of any stripe has a wide array of techniques in hir arsenal to begin with, and this is one reason why–what if your one-trick pony doesn’t work?)

Current-surfing allows me to get a sense of when it would be a good idea to work ritual magic, take a journey, etc. It also helps me to keep tabs on the spirits I work with, since my relationship to them includes aligning my own current to theirs. (Hmmm–this sounds a little like an RSS feed ;) ) I then already have a good idea of what sort of context I’ll be working ritual in, as well as what I perceive to be the best way to focus said ritual. I also find that I don’t do rituals for things that simply require me to make everyday decisions in a conscious manner.

Less effort, better results. Works for me.

Something Bigger

Recently I had cause to be part of a discussion as to whether anyone else had been feeling currents of change building up towards Something Bigger. I see this a lot in the various spiritual subcultures I’m a part of. Something Bigger is usually seen as a mystical/spiritual trend beyond our ken, sometimes with an apocalyptic bent that grows more common as we approach the legendary 2012. The general pattern is this:

–Something bad or otherwise significant happens to someone; or, someone starts to feel fluctuations in the energy around them.
–The person(s) then goes into hyperawareness mode, looking for any potential explanation for what’s going on beyond mundane explanations.
–This may then spiral into a huge self-reproducing cycle of worry, anxiety, and speculation that defies any more down-to-Earth theories of what happened.

Now, I know damned well that there’s more to reality than just what we can interpret with our (subjective) five physical senses. What I disagree with about the above cycle is that although such occurrences may indeed be linked to Something Bigger, that Something Bigger is often closer to home than we may suspect.

A good example is this past week. Last Tuesday, I took my GREs, having graduated from college seven years ago almost to the day–I did well, but it was a significant event for me, and it wiped me out quite a bit. Since last Thursday, I have developed and been recovering from a bad case of strep throat (I don’t recommend it, by the way). During my recovery, we had a squirrel get caught in our upstairs, and I had to do some fancy maneuvering to get it back outdoors. Needless to say, it’s not been a fun few days, but I managed.

It would be easy for me to blow this whole week out of proportion, given that most of it wasn’t so great. However, I’m really a fan of Occam’s Razor–the simplest answer is the most likely. Not the only answer, but the first one I look to. In the case of my week, there is a very simple set of explanations:

–I have a weak respiratory system to begin with; I was that kid who caught every single cold and other upper respiratory bug that came through (except, amazingly enough, chicken pox, unless I managed to get a “spotless” version thereof). Saturday night my husband and I went out to a club, where you have a whole bunch of people in close quarters, so that’s most likely where I picked it up, though I may even have gotten a quick-incubating version when I took the GREs. Needless to say, respiratory germs love me; I can’t say the feeling is mutual.
–Taking the GREs stressed me out some, and additionally my sleep schedule got a little wonky, which meant there were a couple of nights where I didn’t get as much sleep as I needed. Additionally, I began my period last week, which also can temporarily lower the immune system.
–As for the squirrels, we’ve been dealing with them since last year. It was only a matter of time before they actually got inside.

I did talk to Squirrel, just to be sure. At most, the situation with the squirrel in the attic was a good lesson in observing how I deal with stressful situations, but for the most part, it was just a matter of an urban squirrel finding a cozy spot to live (albeit an inconvenient one). That I managed to learn something from the situation is a good sign, but I can learn from just about any experience–life is a process of learning, something you’ll hear from everyone from shamans to neurobiologists.

I think there’s a lot to be said for one’s perception. Say you have a crappy day, where nothing seems to go right. You may actually have some good things occur, but you’re so focused on the things that have gone wrong that what’s gone right goes unnoticed. In this case, your perceptions may have much more to do with your luck than any outside force.

Do I think there’s Something Bigger? Absolutely. However, I don’t believe it has anything to do with me in specific, any more than anyone else. Too often the kind of cycle I mentioned in the beginning of this post is accompanied by a feeling of “Ooooh, I can sense something, what does it mean for me? What is it about me that makes me able to sense this, while no one else knows what’s going on?” People try to make a bigger deal out of the situation than they really need to.

When I think of Something Bigger, at least in regards to the human species, I think less of apocalyptic myths, and more about the concrete cumulative detrimental effect we’ve had on the environment, on each other, and on ourselves. Perhaps the energy, the soul, of the Earth is changing. Perhaps we are feeling large-scale shifts in what we’re perceiving. However, I figure it’s less about the potential for a whole slew of angels and demons pouring out of a rift in the sky for a huge battle, and more about the building damage we’re inflicting on this world and its inhabitants (ourselves included), physically and energetically.

And if we perceive more unhealthy patterns around us, shouldn’t that tell us to look at our own health? Remember what I said about how having a bad day can contribute to feeling like everything sucks? Given how many people just in the U.S. suffer from a host of bad experiences and resultant conditioning, and how psychologically damaged even healthier people can be, it’s not at all surprising when people project that outward onto the world around them. We aren’t raised to have healthy relationships with ourselves, or with others, or with the environment, and it’s hard to keep ignoring the result of this lack of social health. While some people have done a lot of healing in this regard, it’s tough to find someone who is completely untouched by some trauma or issue.

The obsession with a mystical, out of our hands Something Bigger is simultaneously self-centered and self-denying. It focuses on the perceptions of the self, and the idea that the self may be more special in hir unique perceptions, or even more special by virtue of the Universe caring enough about the individual to enmesh hir (and maybe a few friends) in some vast cosmic plot–or even that the plot has to do with humans in particular. However, it is self-denying in that it neatly removes responsibility for any major changes from the individual. Angry spirits? Explain them away as an impending apocalypse on the spiritual planes rather than pissy land spirits who aren’t happy about the pollution and being ignored by most people, and ba-boom! No more responsibility! Or, alternately, explain it as something that’s absolutely fated and inevitable and there’s not a damned thing we can do to change it–again, we’re left free and clear (relatively speaking).

This is not to say that there’s absolutely no truth or possibility to the idea of an apocalypse. However, when I think of Something Bigger, my first thoughts go to things that directly tie it to the simplest answers. Only after definitively ruling out these possibilities will I look further. The exception may be if I get a direct message from a spirit that gives more complexity, but even then I don’t automatically believe everything I hear, no matter who it is. And I still test what messages I get against Occam’s Razor.

In my experience, when something is decidedly not simple, there’s no doubt about it in my mind. I may have to ask around for specifics, but there’s a certain “feel” to something that’s More, and it’s different than something that’s important to just me, even something so important to me that it feels Earth-shattering. We are capable of feeling very deeply on our own, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is involved. Lose a partner through breakup, divorce or death, and you may feel that your life has no meaning–but the world goes on anyway. There doesn’t have to be any significant impact beyond the people immediately affected by a situation; while our actions have ripples, not every action ripples indefinitely. My getting sick and dealing with a wayward squirrel in the space of twenty-four hours doesn’t have to mean anything more than a few germs and a wild mammal converging on me at the same time.

I do think that the culture I am a part of puts too much emphasis on intellect and ignores a healthy approach to intuition most of the time. However, tossing intellect out the window with the bathwater is not the solution to salvaging intuition’s damaged reputation. You are not more spiritual the more wacky your stories get; healthy spirituality is that which can still interface with the rest of reality, rather than running at odds with “mundane” reality. Something Bigger does not have to be about the improbable–look to the very possible first, and then work your way out from there (if it’s even necessary). Even if Something Bigger ends up being more than meets the eye, at least you’ve made yourself aware of the more immediate issues and can work on them as well as the weirder ones.

Oooooomennnnssss, wooooooooo!

Heh–I’m feeling just a little silly. Sleep dep’ll do that to me now and then.

Just as a side note, while it is my amazing and great intention to post here every single day at least once, if it doesn’t happen, it’s not because I don’t love you ;) Mainly it’s going to be due to either A) too much stuff happening (e.g., work, taking a vacation from teh intarwebz) or B) not enough stuff happening (e.g., can’t think of anything to write about, ebb in spiritual/magical activity for a few days).

Now, to the post itself.

I’m nowhere near being the biggest fan of omens. I like Occam’s razor; it’s a good tool to have on hand when dissecting spiritual experiences. To put it very briefly, it states that the simplest answer is the most likely. Therefore I tend to look askance at the idea that because you see a crow outside your house every morning, that must mean that Crow is your totem. (Have you asked your neighbor where all that bird food is going?)

So when confronted with sightings of animals, I tend to look less at the esoteric meanings of said critters, and more at where their closest habitat might be, whether they’re known to be territorial, etc. A common example I like to use to illustrate this point is the hawk. Raptors in general have gained in numbers, especially in the past couple of decades, thanks to the ban on DDT. For those who aren’t aware, DDT was a pesticide in use until it was banned in the early 1970s. DDT would wash into the waterways where fish would absorb it. Certain species of raptor, including some hawks, which ate fish would absorb the DDT, which then caused thinning of egg shells, leading to fewer successful hatches. Hawks are territorial as well, and are somewhat adaptable to urban areas (or at least the suburbs, though I once saw a hawk down a pigeon near the baseball stadium in downtown Pittsburgh). So if you start seeing hawks regularly, chances are good you have a mated pair whose territory includes your home.

Ironically enough, it was a hawk that sparked this post. Since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen very few hawks–only one in Seattle, and until recently, none in Portland. I’ve actually seen more bald eagles than hawks. However, yesterday as I was walking from work to the train station, I saw what looked like a juvenile Northern harrier (marsh hawk) fly right overhead. Now, this isn’t surprising–though I work in a suburb of Portland, it still has a lot of greenspace, including some wetlands, perfect for more adaptable species. I’ve seen muskrats in the grass right next to the sidewalk, less than a yard away from me, and there’s a blue heron in the marsh near my building. So a hawk isn’t surprising.

However, the reason it made me take notice was that in my elemental totem ritual this past weekend, one thing that Hawk, my East/Air totem, specifically mentioned the fact that I hadn’t seen very many physical hawks here, compared to the Midwest, where I saw redtails all the time. It was a nice reminder that Hawk was still here, even though of all the directional totems, he’s the one I’ve worked with least on a magical level.

However, more importantly than that, it was a reminder of something from that ritual. I was told to spend some time this month (every day, preferably) observing the interplay of the elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in my life in different environments. Now, while I mean well, I can be a procrastinator, and I also have a spotty memory–which means I don’t always do what I’m told, not because I’m being willfully argumentative, but because I either forget it or don’t get around to it. So the vivid vision of the first hawk I’ve seen in Portland was a good mnemonic for this.

Ordinarily, I would have just seen the hawk as a hawk, and considered it a cool thing. However, because of the temporal proximity to the ritual and the nature of Hawk’s conversation, and the fact that the sighting triggered a specific response (hello, Pavlov!) I considered it to be an extraordinary experience. Do I think that hawk materialized only to remind me of Hawk-like things? Nope. However, I do like the idea of synchronicity, and this was a vivid example.

It reminded me, reflecting on it at the bus stop this morning, of something I read in Lon Milo DuQuette’s The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford*. DuQuette, speaking through the fictional (though no less entertaining and educational) Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford, makes the point that everything in the world is a message to him from G-d. Now, there are several ways this could be interpreted. One way is the “Everything is an OMEN!!!!” (in an omen-ous voice, no less!) method, in which anything even remotely out of one’s usual routine is seen as important (and often negative). Then, of course, there’s the option of just ignoring everything (but where’s the use in that? You need to pick up the phone at some point.)

I tend to see things as variable in importance. Looking at the beauty of Nature, that’s the Divine saying “Hey, look at me–I’m gorgeous! And balanced! And you’re a part of this, too, remember!” And being with my mate is “Love is a wonderful thing, and it bestows blessings (even if there are occasional curses)”. These are important, but relatively everyday. Occasionally there’s something more specific, a “Wake up and pay attention!” kind of thing. And that’s how I saw the hawk yesterday–not as something that was manifested solely for my benefit, but as part of the interwoven complexity that is the Divine.

This doesn’t mean I never get premonitions, of course. I’ve had those times when my intuition went *ping*, and I knew something big was in the offing. But I don’t generally get them through as indirect a means as seeing a hawk fly by–usually the experience is anything but ambiguous, and there’s no doubt in my mind.

And sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy watching a hawk wing its way across the marsh–that’s magic in its own right, as far as I’m concerned.

*Hell yes! I’m a Chicken Qabalist!