FAQ Update

I tweaked the Therioshamanism FAQ. Part of it was just a few little rewordings of things; however, I also added in the question of whether therioshamanism is based on core shamanism. You can click the link above to see my detailed answer.

One thing I do want to make clear; although “therioshamanism” itself is a recent development, it is composed of the best of what I’ve learned and developed and experienced over the past decade and change. What I am doing, in essence, is taking that material and refining it, adding to the areas where it needs more bolstering. While I say that I am “starting from scratch”, I’m working with a lot more scratch than I was in the 1990s. A lot of what I’m doing is redefining things, reminding myself of what’s important. While I’m starting with the basics, it’s mostly material I’ve worked with before, though perhaps not in as much detail or focus.

So if my path seems to take form faster than it “should”, let me remind you that I’m not a total beginner. Additionally, we all develop at different rates, and really, we don’t ever stop learning. Even as therioshamanism takes a more definite form, I’ll continue to work with it and change it as needed. I am ever the student, and ever-evolving.

Earth Month Off to a Rocky Start

The next four months are going to be dedicated to the four traditional elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) with the totem I associate with each guiding me along. While I’ve spent years working with the elements via these totems, the more in-depth work has been a nice reminder of the nitty-gritty details.

This month (from full moon to full moon) is dedicated to Earth and Wolf in the North. The peak of the full moon was Thursday; however, I observe each day before and after it as well. So I had the greatest intentions of doing my full moon rite to dedicate myself to Earth this past Friday night.

Enter Acute viral nasopharyngitis–otherwise known as our friend, the common cold.

This happy little virus has been making its way around my workplace this week, and decided that Friday afternoon would be a great time to explode in my sinuses. By the time I got home Friday evening, I was exhausted. Rather than muddling through supper as best as I could the way I normally do, I did what I *really* wanted, curled up in bed, and slept straight through until 8 the next morning.

This helped immensely; while I was worn out most of the weekend, it was bearable, and I didn’t feel nearly so awful as I did Friday night. I also had an enormous appetite, and ate anything I wanted–I even walked a block and a half to the local organic grocery store to buy tortilla chips (blue corn chips, BOGO even!) so I could make nachos. I rested when I felt tired, drank when I began to get a bit dehydrated, and otherwise listened to what my body wanted.

The result was that what could have been a really bad weekend ended up quiet, but good. And now I’m back at work, feeling pretty good–people at work who caught the bug before I did are still out today. I’ll be headed to bed a bit early again tonight, just to be sure.

I’ll admit when I first got sick and then watched the weekend slip away as I was too tired to even meditate, I got frustrated. Here I was wasting time that should have been spent dedicating myself to the element of Earth! Yet as I realized, and my husband reminded me, one of the bailiwicks of Earth is the physical body, the fleshly form. The sickness, rather than hindering me, was a very real, down to Earth reminder of the needs of the physical. By tuning into my body and listening to what it needed (something I first really began to grasp when I was editing Taylor’s book, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body) I was able to minimize my suffering. It also reminded me that body-awareness is all too often ignored in our go-go-go world of Do Stuff and Accomplish Things. While meditating on Earth Within and Earth Without, and working with totems, and other somewhat abstract spiritual practices can be healthy, sometimes it takes being planted firmly in my body-awareness to realize how grounded in Earth I really am.

On a somewhat related Earthy note, I did get to do one thing I’d intended for this weekend–get a drum. Or, rather, make a drum. though that wasn’t my initial intention. I live within walking distance of Cedar Mountain Drums, and every morning for the past couple of months when my bus has taken me past there I’ve looked longingly at all the handmade drums in the window. Since I’ve wanted to explore drumming (with me as the drummer) as a method of journeying, and since drums are Earthy instruments, I figured this would be a good practice for the Earth month.

When I got there, I was surrounded by a wide assortment of drums (which should come as no surprise). Unfortunately, most of them were outside my current price range. However, before I could get discouraged, I found a few drum kits, including a small kit (maybe 12″ wooden hoop) that was affordable. It was the only one of its size, and after wandering around the shop without finding anything that leaped out at me, I decided to take it home and try my hand at making a drum for the first time ever.

I’ll go into more detail about the actual process in a later post; needless to say, making the drum was the right choice for this artist. I’ll be working with it over the next month (and beyond), and I’ll be curious to see where it takes me (figuratively and literally).

So despite what might have been a rough start, I managed to not get frustrated (once again, that philosophy of staying motivated and stopping guilt). And the month of Earth has been quite educational thus far. I look forward to more lessons, even if they end up being unconventional and not quite what I expected.

Why, I Otter

(Yes, I like puns–why do you ask?)

Last night I did the Otter ritual that is somewhat of a sequel to the Badger ritual I did a week and a half ago. Now, technically these were both supposed to be New Moon rituals. However, my insanely busy (and exhausting) schedule coupled with remnants of procrastination led to the Otter ritual getting postponed. Rather than getting frustrated and deciding I should just forget the ritual since it was almost the Full Moon, I stuck to my philosophy of staying motivated and stopping guilt. The result was that late is, indeed, better than never.

The Otter ritual was very similar in structure to the Badger ritual (and my skindancing rituals in general). I started by calling on the four directional totems, again doing so without words. My elemental meditations have most definitely been paying off, as the evocations were quite strong and quick, and I’m definitely feeling much more connected to the totems and their respective elements.

I evoked Otter the totem next, using my staff as a channel. Per usual, I did a mild energetic shift to Otter as she arrived, laughing and bouncing, into the ritual room. I then picked up my otter skin and held her so that she could be “seen” by Otter. I then silently explained to Otter what the otter spirit wanted to do to help me, and she agreed to give us an extra boost.

So we danced.

I held the otter skin over my left shoulder, placed the candle in the center of the room, and danced in a circle around it, channelling the energy of both the otter spirit and Otter the totem, as well as my own, in a flood of waves and currents. I started out looping and circling as I danced, very free-form. I then settled into a rhythm of “step-step-step step-step-step DIP” that was repeated every half-circle. The “DIP” involved arcing my body down and then up, like an otter diving into the water, then coming up for air. At first I simply breathed the rhythm, but then began to spontaneously hum and whistle it as I danced.

Eventually the rhythm sped up, and we danced faster, joyfully spinning, drawing the energy in tighter and tighter, until I lifted up the otter skin high above my head, and helped her to “dive” with the energy down to the candle on the floor. The energy flooded into the candle, and as I laughed quietly at the end of this enthusiastic dance, I let that joy pour into it as well, sealing it at the end. I then placed the otter skin on the same side of the altar as the candle holder, lit the candle, and let the spirit take the flow of energy to where she needed to start the task I’d asked her to work on.

Otter the totem came to me at this point and asked to be able to stay with the otter skin spirit while the magic worked. I gave her free passage into my home as long as she needed. She seemed incredibly concerned for this little one, and wanted to be sure that her (the spirit’s) enthusiasm wouldn’t lead her into trouble, since she was a relatively young being. Otter may not always be thought of as one of the “motherly” totems, but she is, from my experience, quite concerned over her own. She can play, but she can also be quite serious when need be.

I bid farewell to the directional totems after this, as well as my spiritual friends, family and guardians. As I did so, I felt the energies of the elements return to their original sources–some within me, and some in the environment around me.

I’m glad I have the help of an otter with this situation; it could definitely use the flexibility and fluidity, as well as a reminder to not stress too much as things develop! Additionally, I’ve been enjoying developing specific dances for each spirit/totem species; before I would dance however I felt at the moment, though I’m feeling more inclined to have more “formal” dances to go with each animal. I do want to pick up a drum sooner rather than later for use in journeying and other practices, and the dances I’ve gotten so far have good rhythms for drumming as well–which could make for some interesting evocation and invocation practices.

Dark Night of the Soul

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

–St. John of the Cross, from Stanzas of the Soul

Mysticism has sometimes been denigrated by magicians, particularly post-moderns who are immersed in the psychological model of magic to the point of solipsism. However, unlike traditional mystics, many modern pagans and magicians (and others) have made an art of combining mysticism with everyday life, bringing what they learn “back down to Earth”. This can add a dimension to experiences that we’re often left with no answers to. A good example is the Dark Night of the Soul (which will hence forth be abbreviated as “DNS”, adding an extra dimension to DNS errors).

To a magical practitioner, the DNS is often hallmarked by a lull in magical practice, as well as a number of upsets and problems cropping up in the everyday life. However, unlike the usual “My life sucks, everything sucks, I hate life” periods people may go through, the DNS is a period of purification and renewal. Things that are no longer healthy for the individual are purged, and new patterns may be created, particularly as the DNS lifts from the person’s life.

I recently came to terms with the fact that I am in the process of coming out of my third DNS in six years. You’d think I’ve had learned how to recognize these things by now, but each time it’s been different. However, they’ve all been valuable stages in the process of learning and growing as an individual.

The first time started in 2002. I was in a pretty unhealthy relationship at the time. It was exceedingly codependent, and we were both bad enough at communication that there were a lot of important things that weren’t getting talked about. So here we were, ignoring the sinking ship we were both drilling holes in–and I was, quite predictably, miserable. I had gone directly from living with my parents while going to college in my hometown, to moving in with my then-fiance. I’d never lived a day by myself–and what I didn’t realize was that I deeply craved my own space. I felt crowded and unhappy and kept telling myself that love would fix it. While there were good parts to that time period, I got more and more stagnant as time went on, and I felt as though my body itself was beginning to shut down.

This pattern got broken by my job sending me out to South Dakota for three months (without the fiance). Within my newly found breathing room, I was able to suddenly take a step back from my life and figure out just what was wrong, and what I needed. I had felt stunted for a good long while, and this trip gave me a chance to stretch myself out. I read Robert Anton Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy, reawakened my exploration of my therianthropy (which had been repressed for a while), and took the time to do a few things I swore I’d never do. All this contributed to the first real growth spurt I’d had in the process of individuation in a long time. When I got home, I broke off the relationship entirely, got the apartment to myself, and proceeded to spent many months healing deep wounds and questioning who and what I really was. By the time a year had passed, while there was still a lot to work on, I had come quite a long way from being depressed and feeling trapped.

The next DNS was sparked on the summer solstice of 2004. Over the next half year or so I would move three times; go through two painful breakups; explore and come more to terms with my sexuality and gender identity on a number of levels; total my car; and experience a number of other upsets. I also did a TON of magical experimentation that went right along with the state of flux my life at the time. One of the most notable was a six week period in which I deliberately divided myself into four different personae according to some of the second circuit material in Wilson’s Prometheus Rising as a way of getting to know myself more deeply*. (Incidentally, not long after the experiment ended, I saw a Jungian therapist for a couple of months. When I told her about the experiment, she said it was a “creative” way for me to explore myself.) I essentially shattered a lot of preconceived notions along with the rest of my life (though nothing that got me arrested).

This DNS was resolved as I slowly began sorting through the pieces of what was left in autumn 2004. I left a lot behind that I no longer needed (as well as a few things that I missed terribly, but that needed to move on). One of the best things I came out with was renewed creativity, the beginnings of a good relationship, and the outline for Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone. It had been a crazy time of my life, but it left me a lot clearer and more focused than when I’d gone in.

So this latest DNS started in the summer of 2006, after a series of very rapid changes:

July 2005 – Meet Taylor, my (now, not then) husband, in person for the first time
Autumn 2005 – Agree to let Taylor move out to Seattle with me (from Pittsburgh)
March 2006 – Move to Seattle, end up with a job in a warehouse
May 2006 – Finally have the circumstances to rent a place to live rather than staying with family; end up in a too-small place
July 2006 – Get married to Taylor
August 2006 – Quit warehouse job to embark on quest to find job using my writing/editing skills

This began nearly a year of increasing stress and unhappiness. First, although I agreed to let Taylor come with me and I wanted to marry him, I didn’t realize that I still had so many personal space issues under the surface. I figured I’d lived alone for three years–wasn’t that enough? And gods knew I was crazy about him, *and* we had a solid foundation to our relationship despite the quick progression from dating to marriage. Still, any relationship goes through a lot of changes in the first year, and compound it with being stuck in a small space when one of us is feeling seriously crowded, and it was a recipe for disaster. On top of it, in order to live in a part of Seattle that was accessible to where we each worked, we were stuck right in the middle of the city and had to deal with massive amounts of traffic. We barely ever got out of the house, let alone out into the wilderness for some much-needed hiking. And Taylor found he had absolutely no connection to the place whatsoever, so he grew increasingly miserable with his hour-plus driving commute each way, and me getting more unhappy for no obvious reason…

It’s probably a good thing I was working on the Field Guide at this time, since it was research and theory-based, not magical-practice based. My practice went almost completely dead, I felt an increasing disconnection from spirituality in general, and this was probably the closest to the classic DNS I experienced. Things slowed down, stagnated, and, quite honestly, sucked.

This has been the toughest DNS to work my way out of. It really shook the foundations of my relationship with Taylor, though to both our credit we managed to keep communicating and working through things and processing them as they happened–no nights spent with one of us at a hotel or friend’s house, no throwing things at each other. It got tense, but even at the worst we kept communicating. I think we both really wondered if we’d survive this.

And yet, we did. This past spring, Taylor convinced me to give moving to Portland (OR) a try. We’d visited there a few times and found it to be much smaller and greener, and with a TON of people who really wanted us to move there (not that our Seattle friends hated us, of course). So we did this past June. The move was pretty easy, and we managed to get the exact apartment we wanted, half of a house that we share with three of our best friends. Taylor got a job right before we moved, and I got one less than a month after. We’ve managed to get out to hike (there’s a great place 20-30 minutes from our front door, driving). And we live in an awesome neighborhood with a two dollar movie theater, lots of nice restaurants, and a huge park a five minute walk away. In short, we’ve found an excellent place to live, and to recover.

And we have been recovering–me from my DNS, and Taylor from dealing with the fallout. Therioshamanism is one of the products of this recovery. This need for a more formalized path, and a renewal of spirituality, is one of the things that was freed up by the removal of all the drek that has been removed by the most recent DNS. But it hasn’t stopped there; along with my spirituality, I’m reevaluating everything from my communication patterns to my wardrobe. In short, everything is bound together in this, and therioshamanism has been a way for me to focus and centralize that effort.

While I’m not where I’d like to be, I’m working on it. I make my mistakes, pick myself up, and keep going. This rebuilding from the ground up is even more intense than before, but I have more to work with this time, too. And I have my partner, my lifemate, and numerous relationships, spiritual and otherwise, that I’m working on deepening. There are still aftershocks to deal with, but as I come out of this DNS into a new day, I realize that what hasn’t killed me really has made me stronger, spiritually and otherwise. It ties into all things in my life, just as therioshamanism does; spirituality isn’t just something to be kept in a box, a mysticism that stays way up in the clouds, only to be accessed as an escape from the pain of this world. Spirituality is that pain, as well as the recovery from it, and to separate it from everything else, to ignore its role in even the darkest times of life, is to miss one of the greatest roles it can play.

Spirituality is the dark night, and it is also the spark of light that brings us through. One cannot happen without the other; both are necessary for completion.

* If you’re interested in reading more about this experiment, I did a full writeup in Magick on the Edge: An Anthology of Experimental Magick

More Elemental Work

It’s kind of funny; I’ve been doing my elemental meditations for a few weeks now, and while I’ve tried doing them everywhere from the middle of the mountains to downtown Portland, I had never tried them at home except my usual ritual work (i.e., calling on the directional totems at the beginning of a ritual). So tonight, sitting in the comfort of my home, curled up in my chair with my laptop in its proper place, I gave it a shot. BAM–instant connection to each one in turn. I felt the elements in myself and in my home, and I felt the presence of the totems very strongly.

I know this shouldn’t surprise me. It’s my home; I’m familiar in it. But for some reason I assumed that the strongest connection was limited only to the designated ritual area, and to deep-in-the-woods wild places. Apparently home isn’t just where the heart is–it can be a potent “power spot”, so to speak, even if it hasn’t been “officially” dedicated as such. We’ve only been in this place a few months, though my “stuff” has strong sentimental value, and the spirits have free run of the place.

It was a nice surprise, though, and a comfort. I have generally good connotations of “home”, but it’s nice to realize just how much the presence of the totems in particular has saturated it. It’s a good reminder, too, that I do have access outside specific “special” places. Again, things that are incredibly basic, but which I really needed reminding of.

It amazes me to no end how I suddenly feel like everything is fresh and new again. It’s really incredible, if I think about it. After having spent a year or so in a Long, Dark Night of the Soul that I’ve only recently been emerging from, to be able to come back out into the light in this manner is really a blessing. It brings into sharp focus the idea that the lows in life do serve to make the high points even more appreciated.

I’m glad to be on this journey, and sometimes it’s all for the (relatively) small things.

Totems and Taboos (No Relation to Freud)

A private post on someone else’s journal got me thinking about the nature of the totems I work with. While I don’t consider totems to be the exact same thing as deities, I see them as the theriomorphic counterpart in a lot of ways. And while I have worked with a few deities over the years, my work with totems has been much more extensive.

The thing that I’ve noticed with totems, in my experience, is that relatively speaking they’re pretty laid back when working with me. By this I mean they don’t make difficult demands of me. They’ll make requests, but they seem to have a rather large amount of patience with my inconsistencies and mistakes. Rather than punishing me, they let me pick myself up, dust myself off, and go on–and may even give me help if I’m struggling.

I know, for my part, that there’s really only so much I’m willing to take as far as demands go. If I’m going to work within the parameters of a particular religion, spirituality, or deity/totem/etc., there has to be a good reason for it; it has to contribute to my growth without adversely affecting other areas of my life. I have had experiences where I thought my life was falling apart, but they always turned out to be for the best in the end–appearances may be deceiving. Still, I have my limits on how much I’ll take. While I definitely see the need for boundaries and respect those who go through some pretty intense experiences with some severe boundaries, that’s not where my personal allowances lie. I’m willing to compromise myself, but only to a certain extent. And I tend to prefer a primarily self-directed experience; the situation I’m in with therioshamanism and with the Animal Father is a first for my pagan path. There’s more discipline (though again, primarily self-directed, but with more outside structure) and I’m putting in more effort that’s not directed solely at myself, and learning more about generosity without being guilted into it. Even then, it’s more a partnership than anything; we all give something, and we all get something. I don’t feel like I’m being inconvenienced, only shown where I may give a little more than I originally thought I was capable.

I believe the totems respect my self-direction, and have for the duration of our relationship. They’ve sometimes nudged me to one side or another in an attempt to keep me from going too far over the edge, but they’ve not really openly interfered. Rather, they’ve trusted that I would end up at this point on my own power, a point at which I’m becoming much more receptive to working with them more regularly and with their needs as well as my own in mind. I’ve needed a lot of room, time and growth to get here, and they’ve been generous and patient in allowing me that space.

However, I also have to wonder how subjective the relationship is. How do we know that we’re doing it “right”, regardless of what we’re doing? For instance, I know some pagans who have pretty intense relationships with their gods, with a number of proscribed taboos and other restrictions. Yet other pagans work with the same deities and report a much more laid-back experience. Sometimes there are disagreements about how to “properly” worship a particular deity, with accusations of “You’re doing it wrong!”

I’ll admit I tend towards the more laid-back, free-form approach with both totems and deities. Honestly, a few of the situations I’ve seen or heard of make the gods seem more like the Boogey-man–“If you don’t do this *just* so, I’m gonna GETCHA!” (Or at least this is the sense I get from some of their more stringent devotees, who have conniptions over the antics of eclectics.) Granted, this is me looking from an outsider’s perspective, but I know that I wouldn’t be up for a relationship of any sort, deity or otherwise, that puts so many conditions and expectations on any of the participants.

However, I’m not here to judge others’ experiences; if this is what spiritually fulfills people, then that’s what’s right for them; different people have different needs. This includes when working with the same deity or other entity. But how do we tell who’s doing it right and who isn’t? Does the person with the more intense, sacrificial relationship automatically get more points with the Divine than the one who has a bunch of statues of deities from around the world on an eclectic altar?

I think my biggest question would be: what effect does a relationship have on an individual basis? Does the person get something out of the relationship, regardless of its nature, and is it worth the cost? For instance, people in very intense relationships may appear to be in the spiritual equivalent of an abusive relationship–yet this may be a positive experience for them (the same could be said of lifestyle submissives or slaves in a healthy BDSM context). And the aforementioned eclectic may have very close relationships with a diversity of deities, without ever worrying about whether it’s being done according to the correct breed of dogma. Yes, there needs to be room to give back as well; that’s been an important lesson for me of late. But I don’t want that gift to be wrested from my hands. Just as I do not make demands of the totems, so they do not make demands of me; we make requests of each other.

To bring this back home, my relationship with the totems is decidedly unorthodox, and almost entirely created of UPG. I work with totems from different ecosystems. Granted, I haven’t met much in the way of those who have intense-to-the-point-of-distress relationships with totems (with the exception of those who go on shamanic journeys which may in themselves be intense). The closest I’ve seen have been proscribed taboos regarding not eating the meat or otherwise using the remains of the physical version of one’s totem–and many times that seems to be taken on by the person, not demanded by the totem.

So why is this? Are animal totems naturally gentler? Or is it because the majority of people who work with them today (in a neopagan context, at least, which is my context) don’t expect them to be anything but helpful, or at the most, neutral? If more people expected totems to be taskmasters, would there be more pagans making huge sacrifices of time, effort and convenience for the sake of totemic relationships?

Furthermore, am I doing something wrong because I’m not getting these great demands placed upon me as conditions of my relationships? Am I not giving enough because I still enjoy giving, or because I haven’t given to the point where it hurts, or because we make polite requests of each other? I don’t think so. I think we all end up with the relationships we need, though they may not be the ones we initially *think* we need. We may start out thinking we need A, but when we get A we may find that B is actually closer to what works for us, despite initial impressions. And we age and change over time, which may necessitate revised or even new relationships.

While I don’t think spirituality is all about what we can get out of it, I do think that our relationships to Spirit are a lot more subjective than sometimes assumed. Perhaps we are attracted to paths that appeal to us aesthetically; I have had success, for instance, with paths other than neoshamanism, but this is the one that has been best for me. I don’t think it’s a flaw in the systems, so much as it is finding my little slice of infinity. To limit the gods and other entities only to one way of perceiving them does a disservice to them. After all, our relationships with other people isn’t based on a single model. Perhaps the totems are kind to me, and perhaps with other people who expect a harsher relationship, they may bite more.

All I am sure of is that, in this moment, I have found what is most effective, practically and spiritually, for me AND for the beings I work with. That, to me, is the surest proof in the pudding. So I’ll continue with my request-based relationships unless/until the time comes to renegotiate.

Staying Motivated and Stopping Guilt

Uh-oh. I’m at that point again.

I’m at the point in my daily practice where my enthusiasm starts to drop off a bit, and I start missing “deadlines”, so to speak. I’ve never been all that great at daily practices, mainly because I’m easily distracted. That doesn’t mean I never get anything done; quite the contrary. However, historically I’ve worked best on an inspirational schedule–when the mood hits, take it and run with it. That’s how I’ve managed to write two books, with a cowritten on the way, and two partial manuscripts in the works–not to mention all my artwork and other projects. So I’ll spend literally all my free time for a number of days or even weeks engrossed in a particular project–and then at the end get sick of it and put it down for a bit. It gets things done, to be sure, just not in any organized manner. I can break that to an extent, especially if it’s work for someone else, such as editing manuscripts for Immanion Press. But I still have my preferred way of doing things.

I hadn’t really intended to do daily practice with therioshamanism; however, the elemental work that I received via this ritual has essentially become just that. I’ve noticed that this week, despite the benefits I’ve experienced as a result of it, that I’m beginning to get bored. This isn’t surprising. However, I’ve also noticed that I didn’t do the Otter ritual I’d intended this past weekend, either, and it’s been almost a week since the New Moon, which is the time I’ve designated for working with skin spirits. Believe me, I’ve tried all sorts of things to correct this habit–journaling, marking off calendar dates, working in conjunction with another person. Every time it hasn’t worked because I’ve gotten bored, or frustrated, or made excuses, or gotten distracted.

Here’s where I normally get frustrated with myself, tell myself I suck for failing my goals, and get so disgusted that I quit, or at least let everything trail off into inaction. I put a LOT of pressure on myself to succeed. It’s one of those things I picked up early; I learned as a kid that if you do well, you get praise and positive attention. If you don’t, you either get ignored or only told what you need to do differently, not what you did right. So, having fallen for the carrot and stick routine, I became a little addicted to carrots. This has carried over into my adult life to the point where I’ve historically held myself to almost impossible standards. Even minor criticisms would throw me into paroxysms of guilt. Rather than doing anything to do better the next time, I’d melt into a pile of self-pity and resentment (and very strongly resemble Hostile Weakness from transactional analysis by way of Prometheus Rising).

More recently, though, especially in the past couple of years, I’ve been able to undo some of this conditioning. I’m a LOT less sensitive to destructive criticism, and I can pretty much tell whether someone genuinely wants to help me improve, or is just taking out their own insecurities on me. Additionally, I have had some successes as far as carrying out long-term projects go. Publishing my first book was a good impetus, but following up with a second, more research-intense book demonstrated to me that I wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. In fact, writing in general has given me good structure for my life and shown me that I am capable of a lot more than I used to think. And in the past couple of months I’ve been able to break through the boredom/disinterest stage with several smaller habits and patterns and completely reprogram those parts of myself permanently.

One key to this has been letting go of the guilt. Guilt is a controlling tool, and unfortunately has been overused. Additionally, it can perpetuate a negative attitude which isn’t conducive to making positive change (if you’ll forgive me for sounding a bit cliched here). I realize that in some cases guilt is used to point out what a person did wrong in case they didn’t realize it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel remorse if, say, you punched someone in the stomach for no apparent reason. However, guilt is way overused in our society, to the point where it’s actually destructive rather than constructive.

In this particular case, guilt is being used to punish someone who is genuinely trying to improve hirself. Look at dieters’ guilt–if you break your diet and feel guilty about it, you may very well “punish” yourself for being so weak-willed by going out and proving it through binge eating. In the same way I punished myself for daring to miss a day of meditation by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed that if I missed even one day, it meant I couldn’t hack it, and that I’d eventually just give up. And you know what? I was right–about the giving up part, anyway.

But I’m wrong about being a failure. My recent successes with perseverance have demonstrated that. So the first time I realized I missed a day of my elemental work rather than starting into my usual re-action of “You failed!”, I caught myself instead. And I realized that I could still continue to build up the momentum, taking as much time as I needed–one day at a time. After all, I managed to integrate other habits into my everyday life even though I missed a few days with them when I first got started. But the “misses” got fewer and further between over time, and eventually nonexistent.

So it will be with my meditation. A mistake isn’t an automatic reason to give up. It may serve as a reminder, but I only stop if I allow myself to. Five days out of seven is still five more than I could have if I gave up.

Exercises in Perception

I’ve been attempting to get out and hike at least twice a month. It may get tougher as winter comes on and the roads become less reliable, but I’ll do my best–I may just end up going to a large park nearby if necessary.

I’ve been looking forward to today’s hike for a couple of weeks now. My husband spent the day at his life coaching classes, following the new stage of his own path, and didn’t need the car, so I had a perfect opportunity to spend as much time out in the woods as I needed to. I went out to my usual spot in the Columbia River Gorge. There are enough people there that I feel safe going out there on my own, but not so many as to feel too touristy. A nice balance all around.

Today I made it my goal to go all the way up to the summit of the mountain, which, if I went the whole way, would have added another mile and a half to my two mile hike up. I got up this morning a little before 9 am to get ready. The Animal Father nudged me and mentioned that meat and cheese proteins would be a good idea. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much beyond a partial box of precooked bacon that I used for pizzas this weekend, and some shredded cheese that I needed for supper tonight. Not wanting to detour to the store on my way, I opted to stash the bacon along with some trail mix and granola bars, and the big water jug (since I left the smaller bottle at work, not thinking).

So I got started on my hike right at 10am. Almost immediately I noticed that I was wearing out quicker than usual–I hadn’t even made it a quarter mile before I was out of breath and my legs started to feel like lead. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it up to the first stop, let alone the rest of the way up! But I decided to continue on; the message I got from the Powers That Be was “Slow down; take a break as needed; enjoy the scenery. You have all the time you need–don’t push yourself too hard. Allow yourself to be what you are right now”.

So that’s exactly what I did. I ended up stopping every couple hundred yards on the steeper parts, and took my speed down a couple of notches. Taking a layer off helped once I got warmed up, and I drank more water than I really needed specifically to lighten the load in my backpack. I figured, too, that I probably hadn’t gotten enough protein this past week; my appetite’s been a little on the low side. Still, with water and food and a good pace I managed to make it up to the first stop before the trail that went to the summit. Once I got to that point, it was time for a break. I ended up playing unofficial trail guide, helping the lost find their way at this crossroads. Having done a bit of reading on Jungian archetypes in storytelling as of late, I was rather amused at my temporary role as Gatekeeper.

I felt better after my break, so I decided to continue on up towards the summit. I only made it maybe another half mile, but that was all I needed–the rest of the trail was one huge loop that I went a little way down before I was told to go off trail to a small clearing–still in sight of the trail, but removed enough for some privacy. The clearing itself wasn’t very big, maybe eight square feet hemmed in by fallen trees covered in moss. But it was a nice patch of sunlight, too, and it was perfect for what I needed. So I set my stuff down in a corner and settled down onto the ground.

The first thing the Animal Father had me do was to lay back against a fallen log that had a nice layer of natural “mulch” on it. While there were some insects around, it wasn’t a highly creepy-crawly area, and so I didn’t end up swatting bugs the whole time. In fact, they didn’t bother me a bit, even though I knew some were around me. I spent about 15-20 minutes (times are estimated since I didn’t have a watch and wasn’t that concerned) doing so, allowing myself to ground and clear my mind of all the worries about things that might await me when I got back to the “real world”, and the other little annoyances that may interfere with meditation/etc. It was good to let everything clear out, including a couple of “false starts” as far as communicating with various spirits and entities went. I sometimes forget how useful relaxing thoroughly before making contact can be–makes it so much easier!

Once I was done, I sat up. I did a very mild invocation of the Animal Father–or, rather, he very “lightly” connected with my consciousness, just enough to help me shift my perception a bit. I had been looking for a bird that I heard a few yards away in the trees, and had had no luck in seeing it. The Animal Father slowed me down, and showed me how to take in what I saw without jumping from place to place to place. It was a much more deliberate way of seeing things. By that time the bird had flown off, but there was more for me to see.

He had me look down at the ground right in front of where I sat, about a twelve inch square space hemmed in by logs and sticks, as well as my legs. Then he told me to look very carefully at every individual thing I saw. I spent quite a bit of time studying fir needles in different colors, tiny little fir cones the size of my thumbnail, and two little mushrooms, each of a different species–I think I focused on about three square inches total. It was fascinating, the mixture of colors and textures of twigs and leaves, cones and needles. Occasionally an itsy-bitsy spider (with no waterspout nearby) would walk through, reddish brown with translucent amber legs, body no bigger than a poppy seed.

After what I think was about 15-20 minutes of this, I turned a bit and focused on an inch-long beetle, either dark blue or black, crawling through the leaf litter. Normally insects that close to me creep me out just a little, the worry that they’ll crawl on me or get into my bag. However, I thought about what it might be like to have a chipmunk bounce through the clearing, and the delight that might cause. I took that sense of wonder, and applied it to the beetle–and spent a number of minutes watching this tiny little animal share my space for a bit. (Crab would be proud, since once of her first observations was that I felt detached from arthropods because of the exoskeleton/endoskeleton thing.)

Then came the third exercise. The god had me look at a spot directly ahead of me, about ten feet out. I did this for several minutes until my perception began to narrow down to just that spot–extraneous thought floating through my mind stopped, and nothing else mattered except for that tree trunk. Next, he had me look at a leaf on a log about twenty feet away. My focus became sharper. However, at the same time, I found myself suddenly aware of everything in my field of vision. It was like one of those Magic Eye graphics, only instead of seeing a 3-D image where a 2-D pattern had been, my awareness of everything I saw suddenly popped into prominence, even though the center never wavered from that leaf. I took in falling leaves to my right, blowing branches to my left, clouds of insects dancing across the clearing–but I stayed focused on the leaf.

Finally, I looked out to about thirty-five to forty feet away, about as far as I could make out in the dense trees ahead, and focused on a small patch of sunlight through the leaves. By this point I was quite nicely nestled in an altered state of consciousness, and it was no trouble to continue to see everything at once. Everything became interconnected rather than being individual branches, leaves, trunks, bushes, etc. I saw angles, and colors, and lines, all creating one big tapestry–and once again, my focus stayed on that one sunny spot.

Then, for some reason, I began blinking very rapidly, in bursts of fifteen to twenty seconds, about half a dozen times in a few minutes. This created a temporary strobe effect similar to that gained by use of a Dreamachine or Mind machine. I couldn’t keep it up for very long, but I could tell that if I had kept it up, I would have slid into a much deeper state of consciousness. I believe this was meant to be a cue that at this point in such a meditation, the introduction of another form of sensory stimulus could be useful (I was still aspecting the Animal Father to an extent at this point, and I am pretty sure this was his doing).

At this point, it was suggested that I “come back up for air”, ground myself, eat a bit, and then start heading back down the mountain. So I did, stopped at the crossroads to record everything in my written journal, and then had a very refreshing hike back down the mountain–I felt tired from the hiking, but very recharged from my experience.

I think the main theme for today was in perception. I have the short attention span and impatience of many of us raised in the era of television and increased commercial stimuli, as well as the instant gratification of web surfing. Additionally, living in an urban area I’m exposed to numerous stimuli on a daily basis, from negotiating traffic (whether as a pedestrian or, less frequently, a driver), to keeping an eye on other people, to looking to see if my bus is arriving, and then some. So I’ve become very conditioned towards favoring quickly changing stimuli–I used to actually have trouble watching movies all the way through, and I still occasionally will get up in the middle of an hour long show (on DVD–I don’t watch TV on a regular basis) to wash the dishes or check my email. I found that this actually hindered my experiences in the woods–I’d miss small animals on the side of the trail because I wouldn’t look long enough to see them there, and I didn’t enjoy the scenery as much because I’d be looking all over the place.

My fatigue made me stop and really look at things as I was climbing the mountain; additionally, continued use of my elemental exercises helped me to connect to where I was. But it was the final exercise in perception that really cemented in me the need to be able to focus longer. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it; working magic naturally requires focus. However, over the years I found myself finding ways to alter my consciousness more quickly so I could get into the ritual in less time, and I think this hampered my ability to hit deeper states of consciousness. Since deeper trances (such as those used for journeying and soul retrieval) are something I consider necessary to learn for therioshamanism, it’s not surprising that I was shown the importance of changing my perception, and told that I needed to practice this as I’ve been doing the elemental work.

Again, this seems like an incredibly basic exercise–and it is. However, I’m finding that being able to start all over at the beginning, rebuilding from the ground up, has been exceptionally healthy for me, just in the few weeks I’ve been doing it. I’m paying closer attention to my health, and making steps to make my life a better place for learning and developing. It’s not an instant cure-all, of course, but it would seem that answering the urge to formalize my path has had a lot of added benefits.

Taking Back the Soul

It all started with a dream (as such things often do).

I dreamed last night (or this morning, if you prefer) that I was getting ready to go to some sort of party. I was already running late, it was Saturday, and it was already 5:38pm–and I was bemoaning the fact that I’d spent my whole day just getting ready for this party. So there I was in what looked like a bad 80’s prom dress (which just added insult to injury). Then the dream took a weird twist.

All of a sudden, a vampire attacked! Not the modern concept, but a Dracula-style vampire, complete with the ability to control animals. And control them he did–the room I was in was suddenly besieged by an odd assortment of critters, including birds, and a very persistent hedgehog. So, this being a dream, I figured that spiritual techniques would work as well as “physical” ones. Taylor, my husband, happened to be there with me, and we began doing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram to banish these beasties.

I got through the initial Qabalistic Cross just fine, but then I forgot the pentagrams, and began mixing up the archangels. To make a long story short, my LBRP fell to pieces. As this was happening, the vampire had somehow defeated Taylor, and was standing behind me, mimicking his voice to make me think Taylor was still there. As soon as I noticed, I began to run. Unfortunately, since I’m very wolf-identified, the vampire was able to use his ability to control animals to control me. The dream ended before he caught me, but it was still a very telling dream.

Every so often I’ll have a dream where I’m attacked (usually, though not always) by a male adversary. Most times I’ve tried fighting back using techniques from the self-defense classes I took back in Pittsburgh, techniques that would drop a person quickly. But in the dreams, I’d end up weak, and my attacks would be so faint as to be useless. Last night’s odd twist on the concept prompted me to meditate on this during my morning commute.

The central theme seems to be powerlessness. I haven’t the strength to fight back in some of these dreams, and I can look at the areas of my life where I do feel like my hands are at least somewhat tied. I admit that I can occasionally be a bit of a control freak, and that if things don’t go exactly the way I want them to, I get bent out of shape. Rationally, I remind myself that while I have little control over the world around me and all its denizens, I do have control over my actions and reactions, the decisions I make. But what happens when I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do, or where the options are Bad and Worse? (DO NOT WANT.)

Further meditation brought me to the conclusion that, more often than not, when the situation looks bleak, part of it is because somebody, somewhere, has worked to make me feel powerless (whether it was personal or, more likely, not). Something that has been said or done has had the effect of making me feel powerless–and the source of that something has gained in power through what it has taken from me–or, rather, what I have given it. Granted, a person who loses power may be under extreme duress in certain situations, such as someone literally at the business end of a gun. But there are numerous less deadly situations throughout our everyday lives wherein we give up our power to others out of fear.

While there are genuine cases of threat, the majority of the time the perpetrator is a bully, someone who knows that all s/he has to do is apply the right kind of pressure, and s/he’ll get the exact fear-response out of others that provides hir the power s/he feeds on. In truth, if we were to stand up to such people, we would retain our power. Yet from day one many of us are conditioned to give over our power through fear–“Don’t do X, because you’ll get hurt” “Go tell the teacher, because if you get in a fight you’ll get hurt” “Toe the line and be safe, because otherwise you just might get hurt, and what if you get hurt? That would be BAD”. And then if someone does take a chance and happens to fail (even if they end up picking themselves up and moving on), there’s a chorus of “We told you so”, and “That’s why you don’t do X” (never mind that numerous other people may have had success with the same thing, and even most of the “failures” end up surviving to live another day). No wonder bullies find so much easy grazing!

I cannot stop people from trying to feed me fear. Nor can I inoculate people against the insecurity that causes bullies. But what I can do is take control of my own self, my reactions, and my decisions. A good reminder of this came to me last night; I was on the last leg of my commute, the bus that drops me off near where I live, and this guy was handing out handmade bookmarks he’d created with four or five leaf clovers in them, and little sayings and quotes–just to be nice. The one I got was this quote by Charles R. Swindoll:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.

While simply having a good attitude won’t fix all your problems, it does go a long way in what decisions we make. And the attitude I’ve been trying to cultivate has been one that acknowledges dangers and potential problems, but doesn’t get entangled in fear to the point of immobility. This includes being aware of all the ways I can take action, rather than sitting around, bemoaning my fate.

So it was appropriate indeed that I had the dream I did last night, because it reminded me of the stumbling block that (perceived) powerlessness is, and gave me a reason to meditate on how to combat that ill feeling. There is, after all, a difference between healthy fear, and unhealthy fear-obsession.

I gave some thought on how to really take back my power that I’d given up (and/or had been taken from me). While rationally I realize, with my left brain, that I have a lot more control than I sometimes realize, emotionally, the right-brain part of me has absorbed entirely too much negative conditioning, enough that although I’ve been chipping away at it for years, it’s still a major problem in my life. It’s difficult to get to the root of the problem when it feels so enormous and overwhelming–individual facets are easier to deal with, but working through them individually takes a long time.

And for me, “power” isn’t the best word. The negative conditioning I have states the power is bad if you have too much of it, because it can turn you into a bad person. It’s that whole fear-of-pride thing, the idea that if you happen to rise above everyone else, you deserve to get cut down to everyone else’s level again. It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron, in which everyone was forced to be equal with everyone else. So there’s a pernicious part of my conditioning that sabotages my efforts to extract it by saying “You don’t deserve to be anything more than what you are now–and you’re already pushing it!”

However, I’ve been reminded, through the formation of therioshamanism, of the concept of the soul–specifically the idea that the soul can fragment and be lost. To me, soul is equated with power; the more of our soul we lose, the weaker we are. And “soul” is much more personal a concept than “power”–I more easily become indignant and angry at the concept that someone has taken a piece of my soul, than taken power from me.

I still don’t feel confident enough in myself to do a soul retrieval, not just yet. But I know exactly whose filets of soul I’ll be going after once I am ready for that point. Granted, therioshamanism is focused on the animals; however, I believe it’s important to learn various, more generalized techniques–to make a parallel with doctors, even a specialist must get a good education in general practice.

I’m not ready just yet, but I have a goal to work towards.

Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger (But No Mushroom)*

A significant part of my practice over the years has been working with skin spirits. This is my term for the spirits (or residual energy, if you prefer) that are in skins, bones and other animal remains. I have found that I can communicate intuitively with these spirits (whee, animism!). Generally I use this to help determine how to incorporate the remains into my artwork. I do this to give these spirits a better afterlife than hanging on someone’s wall, as well as to help them move past the almost invariably traumatic deaths they experience.

While most of the skins and bones end up with other people post-art, I do have some that stay with me. This includes a collection of skins I use for dancing and other forms of invocation and evocation; I have one particular section of my half of the ritual room where they all hang out. The way my altar is set up, the skins are always to my right when I’m facing it, keeping them in nice, close proximity. The walls in the alcove where the altar sits are also covered in animal skulls that have decided to camp out in my home for the time being, and the spirits therein tend to act as general guardians and spiritual company.

This past Sunday I decided to do a ritual for prosperity in conjunction with a particular project I have in the works. So I pulled out a deck of totem cards that I use specifically for determining good totems to ask for help for specific situations. However, before I’d even gotten the cards shuffled, I “heard” (obviously not with my physical ears) two of the skin spirits speak up to my right. “Me! Pick me! I can help!” each one said. So I went over to the lineup of skins, and both the badger and otter skins I have “jumped” out (again, not physically!). I won’t go into the details of how each one would help me, since it’s still a rather personal project. However, needless to say I was quite appreciative that they volunteered.

I decided to use one of my favorite forms of magic–the humble, often taken for granted, candle burning. Out of all of the various types of magic I’ve used, and the numerous objects I’ve charged with energy for a specific purpose, I admit that I have a definite fondness for those little two-hour candles as receptacles for collecting and focusing energy and intent, and subsequent release thereof. With skin spirits, I’ll generally dance with the skin and the spirit in it, and sometimes the corresponding totem will also join in, and then take the energy of the dance and place it in the candle. And that’s exactly what I did. Since I was a bit tired, I opted to just work with one of the skins that day, so I chose Badger–Otter would wait til the following weekend.

When I called on the directional totems, I tried something a little different to tie in with my elemental work as of late–rather than speaking out the evocations, I called up the element corresponding to whatever direction I was in, as well as shifting my energetic body to the form of the corresponding totem, and used that to evoke the totems. I found that this actually produced the strongest evocations I’ve ever had. It also worked for the various spiritual Friends, Family and Guardians that I routinely evoke for ritual attendance. This isn’t surprising, given that I’ve spent the past week and a half attuning myself to the elements on a several-times-per-day basis, and that I’ve been working with these directional totems through energetic shifts for years. Still, it was a nice reminder that my current elemental work does have practical applications beyond reminding me that the elements can be found everywhere, even in downtown Portland.

The “main course” of the ritual involved me laying the candle for badger energy on the floor in the center of my ritual space, draping the badger skin over my right shoulder, and dancing in a circle around the candle, invoking both the skin spirit and Badger the totem. Each species I dance has a distinctive way of dancing, and Badger/badger ended up giving me a sort of scuff-step-scuff-step pattern. As the dance progressed, I danced faster and faster, feeling my energetic body take on a distinctive badger shape. At the height of the dance, I stopped, “grabbed” the column of energy I’d raised, and “pushed” it down into the candle, condensing it into that container, sealing it in. I then placed the candle in a holder on the altar, set the badger skin near it (but far away enough to avoid accidental flaming badger skin) and lit it to release the energy in a more focused manner.

I said farewell to all the beings I’d evoked, again wordlessly, to great success, grounded, and went and ate since I needed it after all that dancing. The ritual itself went wonderfully, and it also gave me a chance to work with a couple of skin spirits I don’t work with as much as I’d like (I’ve set aside the new moon and the time around it specifically for working with skin spirits). Plus the validation of my elemental work was a nice additional perk. Of course, the proof is in the pudding, but I’m confident that the badger skin spirit can help me manifest the prosperity and opportunities I need. I’m looking forward to working with Otter this coming weekend.

On a different note, my hands are feeling better. Since I spend a lot of time on the computer at work and at home, I sometimes end up with sore wrists and hands–not as bad as carpal tunnel, but I’d like to avoid worse complications. Part of this is because I never learned to type correctly, so for years I was a four-finger hunt and peck typist. Plus I tend to push the buttons down hard! So I took my ergonomic keyboard to work (my home laptop doesn’t seem to cause me problems on its own), along with new wrist splints. I’ve also been training myself to use all ten fingers for typing, as well as type more *softly*.

However, in addition to this, I’ve asked my husband, Taylor, to do some healing on me every evening. Taylor is quite the accomplished energy worker, and was one of the main reasons I can still walk after all the damage I did to my knees a couple of years ago. I was working as a meter reader reading utility meters in rural Pennsylvania, and 4-10 miles of walking, plus getting in and out of a truck a couple of hundred times a day, hurt a LOT. I also wasn’t eating all that well, so I’m sure my body was cannibalizing the connective tissues for protein. I didn’t want to go to a doctor because s/he’d just tell me to stop working for a while, and I was out of sick time.

I noticed a distinct difference once Taylor started doing daily healing on me. Along with improving my diet, he did energy work every evening when I got home. Within a couple of weeks I was pretty much off the Tylenol, and after a couple of months I only rarely had any trouble, even though the workload was the same. And once again, I’m noticing a drastic improvement in how quickly my hands are recovering with this combination approach. His healing is definitely one of the better pieces of proof (for me, personally) that magic *works*.

I’m thinking I should ask Taylor to teach me the more subtle uses of energy work. While I can certainly sense and work with energy, I don’t have the fine-tuned ability he does. This would be quite useful for extractions of unwanted entities/energies in healing work.

* If you don’t get the reference for the title of this post, check out this link and make sure your speakers are on.