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.

Giving My Hands a Break

I’ve been typing entirely too much as of late, so I’ve been giving my hands a break this weekend. However, I do have something for you to read:

Cultural Honesty: Creating Neopagan Totemism

This appeared in this week’s roundup of Witchvox articles. The basic concept mirrors a lot of my philosophy with therioshamanism in general. Feel free to take a look, and let me know what you think 🙂

Thanks, and I should hopefully be back to writing later this week.

Global Totemism

The other day in my post about omens, Ash made a good comment, asking about the geographic considerations of totemism. While I replied, I wanted to elaborate more on that in today’s post.

You can probably tell from some of my writing on totems that I already have a rather unorthodox view of them. I don’t interact with them in any indigenous cultural context, and my work has a decidedly neopagan flavor to it. Additionally, I like to experiment with magic in general, and so a lot of my recent magical activity has revolved around taking totemism in new directions. This includes working with a wide variety of totems, rather than limiting myself to Big, Impressive North American Birds and Mammals (BINABM).

I can definitely see the argument that it makes more sense to work with the animals native to your area. This sort of geographically-oriented totemism can be incredibly helpful in getting in touch with your local area, where you live and who shares that place with you. All four of my directional totems are BINABM that can reasonably be found near where I’ve lived (though they may be a few hundred miles away, depending). And the fact that they’re all found in North American temperate zones helps me to connect both with them, and with where I live. The daily elemental meditations I’ve been doing are a good demonstration of this connection.

However, I am not only a product of my geography, but also of my culture–and I live in a globally aware culture (relatively speaking). Americans may not know everything about every country outside the U.S. (and in fact may be criticized for international ignorance) but we are as a culture at least aware of the fauna of other places, from Australian marsupials to the creatures of the African Savannah. In my cosmology, every species of animal has a totem, regardless of whether that totem is widely acknowledged or not. And since learning about a new animal is literally a Wikipedia article away, having an odd creature we’ve never even heard of show up in totemic form isn’t cause for utter confusion.

Case in point: two of the totems I’ve worked with recently are Silver Dollar and Bachman’s Warbler. Both of these came up in meditations with an experimental system I’ve been developing. Silver Dollar is a fish commonly seen in tropical aquarium setups; before I got into contact with him totemically I had no idea he was of South American origin. As for Bachman’s Warbler, this little bird, either exceedingly rare or possibly (though not officially) extinct, is native to the Southeastern U.S. and Cuba, and I’d never even heard of that species until the totem came popping in one day. True, she’s still from the U.S., but the totally opposite corner and thousands of miles away. That’s a lot farther extent than the fauna knowledge of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest had for most of their history.

Additionally, as we become more globally aware, we can’t ignore what’s going on. A current example is the struggle in Burma–I’ve been watching this with interest for a variety of reasons I won’t get into, as I don’t want to start a political debate here (that’s what my personal blog is for 😉 ). Needless to say, it’s an important thing, even if it isn’t happening here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. In the same way, my relationship with totems isn’t just me taking and taking from them; it also involves helping them. Part of my work with Bachman’s Warbler involved giving her aid in trying to locate any remaining physical representatives of her species were left. And one of my goals with therioshamanism is to be able to aid animals around the world with both mundane and magical actions. While there are plenty of endangered species right here at home, some of the most threatened live an ocean away.

Therefore, it behooves me to learn to make contact with totems in all places. Just as it’s important to know what’s going on with humans worldwide, so is it good for me to be aware of animals globally, to include on a totemic level. Totems can make requests of specific ways to help their physical “children”, and while this does not replace mundane actions such as donating to animal-based nonprofits, writing to political figures, and consuming consciously, it is one of several avenues I can take to help improve things.

I have talked to people who claim that working with spirits outside of their geographic location makes the local spirits angry. I haven’t had that problem; I primarily work with totems (particularly the global ones) in my own ritual area in the upstairs half of our apartment, and none of the “local” totems or others have complained. I do make sure to honor the locals (including the directional totems) before each evocation, which I would imagine helps. What I’ve found is that while, to an extent, totems do behave as, well, animals, I don’t end up with conflicts between them, such as Wolf attacking Deer. They realize why they’ve been called, and I haven’t seen any indication that predatory totems need to feed on prey totems, or that anyone feels the need to start a dispute when in what’s essentially *my* territory (which is essentially safe space for all I allow into it).

So this is why I work with such a variety of totems, rather than sticking to the BINABM. It works for me, though as always YMMV.

LOL n00b!

Hi, again! First, a quick note to my LJ-feed folks–could you do me the kindness of posting your comments to my entries to the actual therioshamanism.com site, rather than the LJ-feed posts? I don’t get comment notifications for LJ, and I don’t really have the time to go back and check my recent posts. However, I do get comment notifications for therioshamanism.com. Muchas gracias!

One thing that has been made clear to me since embarking on this quest is just how much I don’t know. Now that I’m reevaluating my path, I’m beginning to see the holes in my experience that need to be filled. For example, for all the neat stuff I’ve been able to do with animal magic and other paradigms over the years, and for all the bad habits I’ve deprogrammed out of myself, I still have yet to successfully put together a daily meditation or other practice that consistently lasted for more than a week. And while I’ve had some experience with various altered states of consciousness, I could use more control in more advanced states outside of shapeshifting-related trance (both totemic and therianthropic).

When I first came to this realization, I will admit it was a bit of a blow to the ego. I thought to myself, “Well, what the hell have I been doing screwing around the past decade and change?” Actually, I’ve had this happen a couple of times in response to multiple experiences recently that showed me where I need work. It didn’t help that my first “assignment” from the totems was basic 101-level elemental work.

Needless to say, while I haven’t entertained any thoughts of giving up, I have felt pretty down on myself lately, questioning whether I’ve wasted the past 10+ years and wishing I’d been more focused. There were even times when I questioned the magical stuff I’ve written, whether I had the authority to write Fang and Fur. Hello, self-absorbed pity party.

However, after having done the elemental exercise that the totems suggested in this ritual for a couple of days, I was able to see progress, and to appreciate why they’d brought it up. This, coupled with some conversations I’d had with my husband, Taylor, helped me to stop focusing on my perceived “failures”, and instead to accept that going back to the basics doesn’t make one inferior. It may simply mean that when you’re rebuilding, you start from the ground up. And since I have more to work with than I did all those years ago, I’m in a better place in a lot of ways.

I’ve been learning a lot the past decade and change. And I’ve been able to convey some of what I’ve learned through my writing. Starting over doesn’t negate or lessen what I’ve already done, nor do I have to throw everything out the window. Even if I find that I don’t see things the same way as I did a couple of years ago, it doesn’t mean my experiences then were less genuine. It simply means that I’m continuing to refine my experiences, rather than letting myself stagnate into a pool of dogma. In a way, my writing has been a record of my evolution as a person, and even if I find that I don’t agree with it all ten years from now, that doesn’t decrease its value. Each article, each book, each journal entry is a snapshot of who I am and what I’m doing at that time, and is one step on a continuous path.

And as for the insecurity and egocentricism? These are things to work on. They don’t make me a terrible person, nor do they automatically disqualify my from what I’m doing. Rather, the acknowledgment that they’re there and that I can work on making myself better in those regards is a step in the right direction. Rather than being crushed by humiliation, I can be refocused through humility and self-honesty, and take away some of the fear-based barriers in my way.

So I’m okay with doing some 101-level work. It’s a good reminder of why it works, and it helps me to create a more solid foundation for a new stretch of my path.

An Addendum to One of Yesterday’s Posts

I do have another post planned for today, but wanted to pop this up here while I was thinking about it:

When I talk about looking at the Otherkin concept from a metaphorical perspective, this is not to the exclusion of other angles, such as reincarnation. As I mentioned in my essay, I see the metaphorical angle as well as psychological and spiritual angles. While for me, personally, reincarnation isn’t a part of the spiritual aspects, it is for plenty of other people.

What I want to make clear is that multiple theories of explanation are not necessarily opposed to each other. It is quite possible to look at a situation from more than one perspective and have more than one explanation for what happened. For example, in regards to my therianthropy, from a purely psychological level it’s a product of early imprinting and conditioning, as well as ego-identification with Canis lupus. However, that doesn’t negate the spiritual/totemic aspects, or the mythological/metaphorical aspects. It’s not a situation of either/or. It’s one of both/and.

I think that one of the shortcomings of the Otherkin community is that as a group we’ve* too often bought into the rational OR metaphorical argument. Since what we believe about ourselves is often challenged anyway, we scramble for the most “solid” explanation we can come up with, which is usually reincarnation; those who don’t have past life memories often beat their heads against brick walls for years because they feel that’s what they *must* exhibit in order to be “legitimate”. And because we live in a society that demands as much literal proof as possible, and since reincarnation is the closest we have (since people with past lives almost always see them as literal, linear events that actually happened in this reality), people sometimes fear “diluting” what literal proof they do have.

However, that’s buying right into the overly literal/rational perspective that dominates modern post-industrial thought. Sometimes we want so badly to be accepted that we’re willing to play by the mainstream’s rules, even if it cuts us off from other possibilities.

When I espouse a metaphorical perspective on Otherkin, I am not saying that you have to give up whatever other views you have in order to embrace it. Rather, I encourage people to look at themselves on multiple levels–in fact, reincarnation can easily be seen as a part of one’s personal mythology, specifically the mythology we tell about ourselves. “Mythology” has unfortunately been given the connotation of “not true”, because it may not be literally “true”–but IMO, that doesn’t make that a correct assessment. Metaphor is true–it’s simply true on a different level of reality. Therefore, while reincarnation (as an example) can be literally true in that one believes that somewhere in linear time one was incarnated in another life, it can also be metaphorically true as a part of one’s personal mythology that helps one to understand the macrocosm in relation to the microcosm.

* Should also add that when I say “we” I mean the community in general, with the understanding that individuals’ mileages may vary.