How To Introduce Yourself to a New Land

2012 has been a year of travel for me, both for business and pleasure; nothing out of the country, and mostly staying along the West Coast. But I’ve been all the way through California on I-5 and 101, in new portions of Oregon I haven’t visited before, and even to the Texas thornbush country.

Each of these places has its own distinct ecosystem, and resident land spirits/Genius Locii. And crossing their boundaries can be a more complicated experience than a simple road trip.

There are places I have gone into that have welcomed me immediately. The portion of the Columbia River Gorge around Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls took me in as soon as I set foot there, and I’ve had that repeated all throughout the Gorge. On the other hand, the deserts of Texas were a tough sell. Their spirits matched the prickly, thorny, dry landscape–my greeting when I first set foot on the dirt was a sharp, prickly burr in my shoe, and the land felt similarly offputting.

I grew to be more comfortable there, though, even though it was a short visit. And I’ve managed to integrate myself into other places even in brief periods of time. I spoke earlier in the year, over at No Unsacred Place, about the philosophy of my approach to this sort of Land work. Here, I want to get more into the practical side of it.

Just as a note, this may not be suitable for beginning practitioners. It involves opening yourself up to new energies and spirits, so this is recommended for those who feel confident in their ability to defend themselves and maintain their energetic integrity. In all my years of connecting to wild places I’ve not had a horribly bad experience that left me out of balance. The worst was living in Seattle for a year, and that was more just a matter of it being too big a city for my tastes–I still appreciate a visit now and then. Still, having the ability to not let a place “eat” you, as it were, is a must for this activity.

The first step, not surprisingly, is to be open to the Land. The manner in which we approach the spirits of a place can have a very strong influence on how we’re received. While I understand that there are people who find certain places to be very hostile, I do have to wonder how many times it’s because we expect, on some level, for it to be hostile in the first place. On certain levels, yes, a place can kill you. If you go into a deep wilderness unprepared, you may end up dead. And I don’t think that having a good relationship with the land spirits will automatically get you an easy out in an emergency; they may just be sadder if you die.

But before you even get out of the car or step off the plane or train, meditate about your biases about the place you’re going. Do you have any negative attitudes about it, either because of the natural ecosystem or the human society? If you just get “a bad feeling”, can you pinpoint why? Even if you do get that feeling, leave yourself open anyway (if a little more cautiously).

When you have the opportunity, spend some time connecting to the place. This is best done on foot rather than in a vehicle, and with enough time that you can go at your own pace. I’ve gone for hikes in new places, sat at the edge of the ocean, and even gone for a run through a farm-lined suburb. The important thing is to be able to make that physical connection and to not be too concerned about time limitations. Here’s the basic process I go through.

–First, go out into the place at a point where it’s relatively safe on a physical level, taking your outdoor skills into account. Know where you’ll be going and how to get back. If you want to take someone with you, make sure they know why you’re going out.

–Next, start your walk/hike/etc.–your introductory journey. As you go, open yourself spiritually to the place. Take in the ambient energy of the place, and start to shift your energy to match. This may not be an easy or quick process; it can take time to “shapeshift” in this manner, and you may feel some unease, especially if it’s a very unfamiliar territory. Give yourself time and patience to adjust. If at any point you feel too uncomfortable to continue, simply shift yourself back to your baseline state; if you’re having difficulty with that, turn back and try again another time.

–Once you feel your energy has shifted to match the place, start seeing if any of the local spirits seem interested in you. You may just be seen as a temporary inconvenience, or you may be a curiosity. I’ve rarely found anything that was openly hostile, especially after blending myself into the landscape. Interact as you both/all choose.

–If you wish to approach a particular spirit, make sure it notices you, then introduce yourself politely. Proceed (or not) based on its response.

–You may wish to let the Land itself, the Genius Locii of the place, know that you are there, and how long you will be there. You may also wish to discuss protocol for the next time you come through. Some places may not care one way or the other; others may wish for a small offering, or at least a heads-up upon your arrival. If a place is hostile toward you, it doesn’t mean you can never, ever, ever come back. It just may mean that you need to shield more heavily when you’re there, or try more diplomacy.

–If the Land accepts you, it may make an offering of a small gift to you, such as a small stone or stick. Assuming you’re in a place where it’s legal to take such things (many state and federal parks and other lands prohibit it), graciously accept the gift, and give it an honored place in your home. You can even create a place altar specifically for these connecting items.

–You may also wish to leave an offering to the Land. My preference is a small lock of hair, as it’s biodegradable and it infuses my energy into the place. Water also works as a gift, especially in deserts and other dry places. Make sure you don’t leave anything that could be toxic to the environment such as metals or nonbiodegradable chemicals. I also don’t recommend leaving food; many of the things we eat aren’t good for wildlife (such as giving bread to ducks and other birds) and it can encourage wildlife to associate humans with food, which almost always goes badly for the wildlife.

These are just some basic steps to connecting with a new place. Details for each place may arise as you spend more time in them. And don’t be surprised if your relationship with a place changes over time, especially if the place itself is changed. The second patch of woods I played in as a child used to be a happy, welcoming place. After it was mostly bulldozed for yet another new sprawling subdivision, the remains of it now push me away every time I visit, not wanting me to get hurt the way it did.

Keep in mind, too, that this is just the introduction. Anywhere you go, the Land is full of many beings, physical and spiritual. Some of them you may grow fond of; others you may learn to avoid. But always, always go in with respect and appreciation; these things will serve you well in your explorations.

And finally, just a quick bread-and-butter note–if you liked this post, I cover more ways to connect to the land, and especially the animal totems thereof, in the Bioregional Totemism chapter in my newest book, New Paths to Animal Totems, which just came out from Llewellyn Publications. I have copies on hand if you want one signed directly from me–details at the link above.

Chinedere Mountain, 1 August 2012

[I am coming into the final stretch of the festival season; by mid-October I should hopefully be posting more often. In the meantime, here's a bit of something to read.]

Earlier in the month I took my very first solo backpacking trip, heading up Chinedere Mountain southwest of Hood River, OR. I had done this hike before as a backpacking trip with a friend a couple of years ago, but needed to make it my own this time around. So I chose the night of the full moon for the best lighting for late-night bathroom breaks and whatnot, and with a pack roughly a third of my own body weight (I am a tiny thing, so even having an ultralight kit is a lot of weight for me!) I did the two mile hike up to the peak of Chinedere. It’s a relatively easy hike, with a nice gradual climb most of the way, and the scree at the top has been arranged to make roomy paths and some sheltering dugouts on the lee side of the peak to give tents a little extra wind protection. There’s an excellent view of Mt. hood’s north side, too, one of my favorite features of it. Since I was there in the middle of the week there was nobody else there, though I had plenty of phone reception in case of emergencies, and it’s not an area frequented by bears or cougars, so I was pretty safe.

The full moon is the one time during the month when the moon rises at the same time the sun is setting. Where I live in Portland there are too many trees and buildings for me to see either happen, so this was a really unique opportunity for me. I was inspired to a bit more poetry, and so here it is:

In talus nest I sit
Between the sunset and the moonrise,
He sunk as low as she is risen.
They have agreed I shall not be without light while I am here.
For before she beds again, up he will fly,
Over that ridge in the east,
On which she sits, a queen enthroned.
She takes up the tattered hems of his robes
And mends them over her shoulders
Brass into silver.
He draws up a well of ink
With which to clothe her hips,
One last gift to her before he sleeps.
For a moment, Hood blushes to see them
So intimate across the entire sky.
The sun climaxes in a flood of amber and rose;
The moon sings her love in blue and mauve.
Their tenderness rings the world around me,
Safe in my talus nest.

And here is what I woke to in the morning (you can click it to get a bigger version):

Photo by Lupa, 2012

I Am Not There; I Do Not Sleep.

One of my very favorite poems has been making the rounds over on Tumblr. While often attributed to “anonymous”, with several versions floating around the internet and elsewhere, the creator Mary Elizabeth Frye’s definitive version of “Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep” is as follows:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft star-shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

This reminded me of Cat Chapin-Bishop’s No Unsacred Place post from a few weeks ago about green burial as well. I especially thought of the line “I would like you to find me in fresh strawberries, blood-red beets, tenacious bitter dandelions, and the shape of a robin’s breakfast”.

I also thought of Aaron Freeman’s essay, You Want a Physicist to Speak At Your Funeral. It may seem a little odd and out of place in a discussion about spirituality and the afterlife, but here’s a choice line from this beautiful piece of writing: “And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you.” Yes. This fits as well.

I cling to these poetic-prose statements because they’re so rare. Most of the time when people speak of what happens after death, at least in sentimental terms, they talk about heavens or paradises, places where you’ll get to see your loved ones who have gone before you, even your deceased pets. Near-death testimonies aside, we don’t have any hard evidence that these post-mortem places exist, or even that there is anything once our brains go dark for the last time.

Why do we tell the bereaved to remember these places, then? Because when someone we care for dies, we miss them terribly, and we wish they were there with us. But since we can’t see them any more, or touch them, or speak with them, at least not in the way we used to, we hold onto a hope that once we die we’ll be reunited. In fact, the afterlife is sort of the big reset button that so many religions and spiritualities promise us. All the crappy things that happen in life are supposed to be left behind once we shuffle off the mortal coil (assuming you’re not of the belief that you’ll get punished for any wrongdoing, no matter how small, from this life). Regardless, the afterlife is seen as some degree of escape from the realities and challenges of this world, and most afterlife discussions almost exclusively focus on incorporeal things.

Yet it is the raw physicality of another sort of life after death that comforts me when I think about my mortality and that of those I care for. I can guarantee that the temporary collective of molecules that has made up my body—and perhaps my entire being—will fall apart over time after my death. All these bits and pieces, nutrients and atoms, that have been in countless beings and places and things for billions of years, will continue their journeys into new conglomerates. There is, of course, no way to track where individual molecules go, just as right now I can’t trace the ones that leave me through elimination or exhalation or shedding of dry, dead skin cells.

But the general process is what’s important. This body, this form that people have held and touched and loved and interacted with, will disseminate back into the wider cycles of the universe. I will feed other living beings. I will become the building blocks of mountains, or perhaps coral reefs. I will join rivers and the ocean. And who knows where I’ll be? I like to think that my loved ones will remember me not in a specific raindrop, but whenever the sun-parched land is soaked with the autumn’s first showers.

You see? I will still be here. There’s no need to wait til your own death for me to be around. My imprint is saved in the “constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever”, as Freeman said.

And why waste that opportunity waiting for something else that may or may not ever happen? We don’t know for sure if there’s an afterlife, and we won’t know until we each reach that threshold. But we do know that all of us, alive or dead, are a part of that ongoing series of cycles of creation and destruction, matter and energy, that has been occurring since the Big Bang.

I hope that when I have my own green burial, that my loved ones will stand over that piece of land, touch the grass, and know that I am there—and that I’ll be forever expanding my influence from that place onward. Who knows where the molecules that were me for a while may end up next? When I am gone, look to the birds and the snow and the wind to see me again, and remember what I once was.

The Death of the Place That Raised Me

I am in a small town in Missouri, the place that I grew up in. It’s been a trip of many revived memories, as my mom dug a whole bunch of my childhood belongings out of a storage space in my old room, and I’ve been going through the bittersweet process of sorting through everything, deciding what mementos to keep, and which to let go of as resources to send back into the cycle. So I’m already in a mindset deeply tied into my life as it was over twenty years ago.

Which meant that when I drove to the little patch of woods by my old house that I explored so much when I was still in my single digits, finding that it had been entirely leveled and replaced with a brand new building was an arrow to my heart.

I am still in shock, and so disbelieving. I feel I’ve lost a long-time friend, perhaps one that I lost touch with as I moved away, but never forgot entirely and visited when I could. And I never got to say a proper goodbye. I had no idea that the last time I visited would be the very last.

I know, I know. I get that the fact that this place stayed “undeveloped” as long as it did, in a podunk little town pretending it’s a big city, was pretty impressive. It’s actually the second place that I’ve seen destroyed. The woods behind the house we lived in next, and that I am visiting now, was almost entirely removed for a housing development. The spirit there still lives; much-diminished, and much more jaded, it still lives in the remnants of the woods that flank the artificially widened creek that sluggishly meanders through as best as it can.

And that destruction happened over fifteen years ago, when I’d only had a couple of years to connect with the spirit there. That experience, coming home on the school bus one day to find all the trees save for a few down and shattered–that was a horrible introduction to adulthood, and it really was where my childhood came to an end. Today, even those old wounds pulsed achingly.

I am still angry. I haven’t “gotten used to it” or “grown out of it”. And I feel isolated as I sit in a place where most people wouldn’t understand why I’m so deeply hurt by this loss. I’ve already been told “Oh, but the pharmacy people are so nice!” and given the attitude of “development happens, get over it”. Invalidation after invalidation. And it hurts, it just hurts so much.

That place? It taught me the joy of the outdoors, the fascination with other species, and my place as a human animal. It was my refuge when I began to experience bullying at the age of eight. It was my first minor rebellion, as technically I wasn’t supposed to be over on that side of the hill. But mostly it was a place where I could allow myself to explore, both the physical landscape, and my imagination. I wasn’t just a little girl in a pink coat wandering through the brambles and trying to avoid poison ivy. I was a wilderness seeker, living in a little cabin in the woods. I was a wolf, hunting rabbits in the tall grass. I was a snake basking on a big rock. I was so many things, each time I sneaked through the narrow pathway in the poplars and into the trails around the cedars.

I spent so much time in that place, that little maybe-half-acre of scrub woods, and now–now I can never walk there again. All I can do is hope that the few pictures I took on my last visit, two years ago, are still on my old laptop, that I can have a little more visual aid to help strengthen my memories in the wake of seeing this horrible shift.

Underneath the foundations of that building are the remnants of root systems from scraggly cedar and poplar trees that I hid among when I was young. There, too, are the nesting sites of Monarch butterflies, quite possibly relatives of the one that I watched in its chrysalis every day for two weeks until it emerged one spring day. And there lie the bones of the garter snakes and box turtles that were descendants of the ones I would catch, observe briefly, and release. There are stones that I stood on, lifted up to explore the life hiding underneath–snakes, crickets, centipedes, and more.

I won’t go back this trip. I won’t go back to try and find any last remnants of my place. I can’t bear it. I know I shouldn’t hold it against the new spirit of this place that is just being born. All places have spirits, including built-on ones. And I’m sure the pharmacy building now there will develop its own spirit over time.

But it’s not my place. The spirit of the place I knew is dead. Gone. Living only in my memories, and maybe in the remnant memories of a few other people who saw it as more than just an open lot.

All I have left is one single pine cone. I was going to go back at this trip and collect a few more mementos. I’m glad I have the one that’s left. It’s on my place altar. I hope it can stay safe there. It’s my last physical connection to the place that had so much meaning for me.

When I get home, when I can get back to that pine cone on my altar, I’ll spend some time looking for the pictures on my computer, and put together a mourning ritual to help me grieve. I’ll wait until I get back to a place where I know my anger and my sadness will be respected for what they are, instead of having them minimized and invalidated. I’ll go to where I can be safely held in my hurt, and remember the place that held me when I hurt so many years ago.

Until then, it’s not “just a place”. I’m not just “making a big deal out of nothing”. I have to remember that. I can’t let my grief be derailed by others’ expectations of how I should feel or what should be important to me. I spent too much time living up to the expectations of others, and I’ll be damned if I deny my hurt any longer for a place that formed me in ways no human being ever did.

Souvenir

So in case you missed it, last week I got home from a road trip involving heading down to San Jose for PantheaCon, then heading back up the Pacific coast by way of highways 1 and 101. My partner and I ended up doing some inexpensive (read: free) touristy things. We also spent a good deal of time poking around antique shops and flea markets for inexpensive art supplies and other goodies. I didn’t have a huge budget, but I did find a few really nice things, particularly in the realm of beads.

So last night I made some time to just sit and make jewelry, since I’ve been itching to play with the new beads I got since we got home. The first necklace I made was one that I had been planning in my head as I was collecting beads and findings from here and there, and as it came together its spirit wrapped around me, cuddled up close, and refused to let go. Each bead I put on the wire told a bit more of the story of our trip, and when I was done, I had the perfect souvenir of our adventures together.

See, we started down in San Jose itself, once the convention was over. And when we escaped the urban areas and got into the wilderness, we were greeted by the beauty of redwoods, one of several new experiences for me. The same day I left PantheaCon as it closed was the first day I got to see redwood groves in Muir Woods. Later in the week we drove down the Avenue of the Gods, further north along the coastline once we had reached 1/101. And it was there that we stopped at a little independently-owned gift shop. Most of what they had were either out of my price range ($80 bowls made from redwood burls, totally worth the price for their craft) or not particularly useful to me (yet ANOTHER sweatshirt?) But I found a string of polished beads made from redwood scrap, and three little clusters of redwood needles coated in 24K gold, sitting forlornly on the clearance rack.

So those carried the energy of new experiences–the redwoods, the California coastline, my first coastal storm, and the seemingly endless road trip.

Later that day, we traveled along to Ferndale, a small town a little outside of Eureka. My partner wanted to check out all the restored Victorian homes and business buildings, and was not disappointed. There were gingerbread manses galore, and the downtown district was full to overbrimming with historic locations and 19th century construction that had survived storms and fires and neglect. We visited an artist who had made the town his home for many decades, who opened a studio not to sell his art, but to share it for free, and to teach people his crafts. We took pictures of lovingly cared-for houses and churches. And we explored a little general store of nouveau-vintage items, knickknacks, and an extensive display of period antiques for all to see. At this place I found several strands of glass beads, as well as some dyed freshwater pearls.

A few of these pearls, dyed green-gold, flank the redwood beads. The pearls represent the best of human contributions–creativity, conservation, and art–which were evident not only in Ferndale, but in various communities throughout our trip.

Across the Oregon border, not too far from home, we ended up in Waldport, one of a string of little coastal towns. While my partner chatted up the owner of a local knife and sword shop, I wandered over to a flea market across the street. I poked through various antiques and tchotchkes, and came across a veritable treasure trove of little wood beads of the sort that I use frequently in my jewelry. The seller wanted naught but a song for them, and I knew they’d get used, so they went home with me as well. And as I stepped back out onto the street with my little purchase, looked at the little rows of shops that characterize so many Oregon coast towns along 101, and breathed the salt-tinged air, I knew I was back home.

And these little brown beads–those ground the necklace. They’re not the most flashy ones, but they connect the islands of shiny redwood and pearl together.

And in the same way, home is what makes the moments of exploration and adventure stand out even more. It’s not that home is a bad thing; quite the contrary. My partner and I have created a cozy living situation together, and Portland is a good place to be right now. Home is a safe place to return to when the adventures are through for the time being. And the adventures are all the better when I know I have that anchor if I need it, if I start feeling overwhelmed by all the new things, or tired from driving. The shine and sparkle of new places helps me appreciate home more, and without my good home I couldn’t enjoy travel nearly so often on the occasions it happens.

The necklace I’ve created, then, isn’t just some shiny thing–indeed, I very rarely wear jewelry other than my usual wolf chain. So for me to keep something like this that I would normally release into the wild, as it were, is an occasion to be noted. Right now, as I am easing back into the routines and challenges of everyday life, I am wearing this necklace to remind me of those beautiful adventures and the healing they gave me. I carry with me the redwoods, and the gingerbread, and the crashing waves on bluffs. And I smile, and continue on with my day here at home.

The Goddess Anput

While I’ve been creating ritual costumery and other tools out of hides, bones and the like for over a decade, more recently I’ve been getting into more elaborate projects. One of my most recent endeavors was a ritual costume in which I had a surprise spiritual experience–well, unexpected, but not entirely surprising. Here’s what I wrote about the experience at the time, just about a month ago:

Tonight, a Goddess found me.

For many years, I have acknowledged Anubis–Anpu–Yinepu–as the God of dead things, related to my art with the remains of animals. And he has watched over my work in the background, quietly, only occasionally coming forth to speak if he feels the need to add a bit of guidance. But still…so distant.

Then the day came when the hide of a black coyote came into my possession. Even having lived and died a half a world away and thousands of years past the jackals of Egypt that gave their form to the God, this coyote carried that energy, inexplicably and completely.

Almost.

Except this coyote was female, and held onto that beyond death almost defiantly. And through that skin spirit, Anput made Herself known to me. Where Anpu had been distant, though not uncaring, Anput settled Herself down in front of me, and in the same way Artemis had done so long ago when I was younger, She looked at me and said “Doesn’t something look familiar?”

Familiar? How could I even know what to look for, when I knew not Whom I beheld? I knew scant little of her, as did anyone today–the feminine aspect–some said wife–of the better-known Anpu, had had little surviving lore and few adherents today. “Goddess of the 17th nome of Egypt, with the standard of the jackal” told me little.

And so I returned to Her, perplexed. And before I could say a word, She saw my confusion, and She spoke. “I am the Goddess of funerary arts. When the stones were carved into the faces of pharaohs long-dead, My hand guided the chisel. When each set of canopic jars was formed, I shaped each detail and applied every stroke of the brush. And now, when you weave hide and bone into sacred art, My hands wrap around yours, and I see the work through your eyes”.

The black coyote then wrapped around my shoulders, wishing that I would prepare her to move on to the next person in her afterlife, for, as for so many, I am only a threshold, a transitional point. And so we enmeshed ourselves, for three days and nights, in the sacred preparation and creation of what would carry a piece of each of us.

And at the end of the three days and three nights, I wore a cloak upon my shoulders, with the sacred mantle and hood as the Goddess directed me and as the black coyote concurred and as I created. Khepri stretched his wings wide, and the name and standard of Anpu—Input—cascaded in hieroglyphs.

This, then, was our inauguration, the Goddess and I. The black coyote would go forth as Her emissary while I would remain here and continue the sacred work as I always had, only with the consciousness of She who guided me.

***************

This headdress is dedicated to Anput, the female counterpart to Anubis. It is in no way meant to be an authentic replication of any traditional Egyptian creations, but is instead a hybrid of my own style mixed with elements inspired by a very general Egyptian aesthetic, guided by sacred inspiration (and many pictures of old statues and paintings from various dynasties!).

This headdress is based around a black (melanistic) coyote hide; this is a rare, but naturally occurring mutation in this species. This particular hide came from a small female, black with a white blaze on her chest. She is complete with all four paws and claws; the only piece missing is her lower jaw, which was removed for the purpose of this project. Her ears and face have been reshaped to a more natural appearance; they were originally rather flat and misshapen, as many hides are after tanning. Her face has been given painted details, to include hold around the eyes, and gold accents on her nose. I inserted gold and black leather in her ears to mimic the striping often found in the ears of depictions of Anubis.

The leather is one whole tanned lambskin hide, dyed black, and then with an overlay of gold on one side. It forms the side panels of the hood, again striped, as homage to the Nemes headdress that Anubis and other deities were commonly depicted wearing; there are very few images of Anput Herself that remain, and as I was working on this inspired piece this is what She indicated She wanted.

The mantle over the shoulders was the most difficult portion of this. I drew out the scarab and wings with a black fine tipped paint pen, and then colored it in with acrylic and oil paint pens in two shades of blue, green, and red, and detailed in gold. I tested all these on a scrap of the same leather to be sure of the colorfastness. The hieroglyphs descending from the mantle read “Input”, an alternate of Anput’s name, and below that is the standard of 17th nome (district) of Egypt, over which She reigned.

The beaded accents on these leather pieces are a combination of new (reproduction) faience scarabs, and genuine old Egyptian faience beads (exact dynasty unknown). Each one of these dangles is about 1 1/8” long.

The headdress ties on with straps under the chin, and the forelegs also are tied together with more leather strappage. It is one size fits most; for scale, I am 5’4” and 115 pounds.

This project did take me the better part of three days and nights with only small breaks. It is by far one of the most ambitious pieces I have done, and represents a shift to more elaborate and involved crafted artwork.

***************************

In the weeks since I created this headdress, Anput has been a quiet but strong presence in my workspace, and she has actually brought Anpu Himself forward more as well, not that I should be surprised. The feeling I get is that they are aspects of each other, rather than spouses, though perhaps the distinction isn’t so strict. Sometimes I work with them both, sometimes Her alone.

And as I work with the Divine in my art, I am beginning to feel the inklings of others who wish to have creations in their honor. I have long done this work with totems; every piece I create has been a tribute to the species’ totem as well as the individual animal spirit, whether a full dance costume, or a simple leather pouch. But there are other beings stepping forward now, adding yet another layer to what I am creating.

And I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this will take us all.

******************

Just as a side note, the Anput headdress is not meant to stay with me, nor are the rest of the creations I will be making. The Anput headdress may be found here on Etsy. If you are interested in giving this work a home, or in commissioning your own art, please feel free to contact me.

Bear Work and What Grad School Taught Me About Being a Shaman

So we’re down to the line here as far as grad school goes. In a week and a half I will be done with my internship, and with luck by the middle of September I will be able to put M.A. after my name!

It’s been incredibly stressful–not all bad stress, but still, stress has an effect. I haven’t had as much time to do a lot of my usual self-care techniques, but I have taken up meditation again. Brown Bear, who has always been my help with healing both myself and others, has been guiding me in meditation with small affirmations. These affirmations are to help me remember certain checks and balances against the negative effects of stress and other pressures. I have a small antique ceramic bowl in my ritual area that I’ve filled with small slips of paper with the affirmations written on them. I try to meditate at least once a day, though if I feel the need for more, the meditation is a brief break to help me ground and re-center myself.

Bear is coming back into my life more strongly, too. Not that s/he ever left, but school had a way of draining me to where I didn’t always have the energy to maintain my totemic and other spiritual connections as much as I’d like. Bear is patient with me, though, and that patience has been invaluable during this time. It’s not just that I appreciate being the receipient; it’s also good modeling to remind me to be patient myself, with myself and with others. I feel pretty confident that our work is going to continue and deepen as I enter this new phase of my life.

This sort of small, simple practice, while it certainly doesn’t replace more intense journeying, is just one of the things I’ve learned to appreciate more in the past few years. One of the main reasons I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in counseling psychology was that I wanted to be able to help more people. Outside of indigenous culture, the United States doesn’t really have a central shamanic role. There are, however, some professions that I consider to be analogous, to include counselor, and rather than trying to shoehorn post-industrial nonindigenous Americans into quasi-indigenous, pseudo-tribal artificially created pigeonholes, I see there being the greatest value in A) adopting those analogous roles, and B) if we feel the need for some archetypal shaman role, that we create it ourselves based on where we are, not where we wish we were. So for me, my training as a shaman hasn’t been at the hands of indigenous people, trying to convince them that this white girl is worthy of their amazing spiritual secrets, but instead in an education that is more tailored to what I’m used to. Not that it isolates me; on the contrary, my internship at a high-risk inpatient addictions treatment center has brought me into contact with an unprecedented variety of women from all sorts of racial, cultural, spiritual, familial and other personal backgrounds. I doubt I would have met any of them if I’d just hung up a “shaman” shingle and waited for people to show up.

Because let’s face it. Most Americans of all races wouldn’t go to a “shaman”, either because their religion forbids it, or they feel that sort of animistic practice is nutzoid. Native Americans are more likely to go to their own holy people and other such community figures. Most of the people who would come to me as a shaman are going to be similar to me–white, middle-class in origin, college-educated to some extent, and either neopagan or New Age of some flavor. However, people from numerous walks of life go to counselors, sometimes mandated by courts, but also often voluntarily. And I want to be accessible to all of these.

Even though I intend to go into private practice as a counselor once I graduate and get my degree, I am still going to keep my hand in on the community level, with some low-cost slots for the uninsured, as well as doing some research that I hope will benefit my internship site as well as the clients who use it. Yes, to an extent shamanism is about offering myself, but I can’t just go in saying “Here, take this!” As with any counseling or shamanism, it’s about finding out, collaboratively, what the client needs, and going from there. With counseling, I can offer a much wider set of possibilities to a broader range of clients.

And that’s one of the most valuable lessons I learned.