New Moon – Skin Spirits

It’s the new moon, the time I’ve set aside specifically for work with skin spirits. This time around I’ve been making an effort to really get to know the dancing skins I have; some of the newer one’s I’ve never actually danced with. Additionally, a couple of weeks ago I was idly chatting with the dancing skin spirits while meditating in the ritual room, and they wanted it made quite clear that instead of me working magic with skindancing animals I had worked with before, they instead, for the time being, wanted me to acquaint myself with all of the skins. There are over a dozen of them; my wolf skin, a fox, a pair of reindeer legs someone else had used for dancing, and an Australian possum, among others. Not all of them are in perfect condition, but they’re still good for dancing with me.

It’s a fair request. No time like the present, after all. So this weekend I’ve been alternating among working on DIY Totemism, creating artwork, and getting to know the dancing skin spirits more deeply. Today, my dance partners were the red fox and skunk skins.

Fox-skin (not to be confused with Fox the totem) was quite eager to dance. I’d meditated with him before, but never danced. So I wore him as a headdress, and began to circle the room as I normally do to start getting into the right state of mind. Each skin spirit I’ve been working with has been giving me a unique way to move, either when walking or dancing; Fox-skin was full of nervous tension, taking in all sorts of sensory details around him, especially sight. So that’s what was passed on to me as we continued to move together. I could see squirrels and birds in the treetops that I’ve never really noticed before, and I paid more attention to little details in the room around me, my immediate environment. Sight seemed to be all-important.

Fox-skin then told me that he could help me with divination–not just seeing into the future, but being more aware of details in my circumstances. He called himself “Fox the Finder”. He also reminded me that he could help me with woodscrafting; being in the wilderness would certainly require me to be more aware of what was going on around me, especially if I was attempting to learn how to be more resourceful there. This also made me remember one of the very first magical items I created, something Fox (totemic) told me about way back in the beginning of my practice. I was told to take a black-dyed fox leg skin, paint the nails silver and the pads gold, and decorate it with jewelry made of horn heishi beads and turquoise; its purpose was to help me move through the woods easier. While I didn’t always remember to take it with me, it did help the times I did have it. I still have it, too, and will start taking it hiking with me again. I thanked Fox-skin for his dance, and placed him back with the others.

Later on, I danced Skunk-skin. He was a little shy at first, but warmed up to me quickly. His dance was more of a slow ambling walk–and why shouldn’t it be? Few animals would dare to mess with a skunk! So we ambled. As we did, I noticed myself paying more attention to scents–I kept smelling random objects to see what the differences were; it was rather fun. Skunk-skin told me that scent was his specialty–and not just because of his musk glands. Skunks have excellent senses of smell, and Skunk-skin told me any time I wanted to work on paying closer attention to mine–including when it crosses over into taste–that he’d be happy to help.

I’ll probably do more skindancing tomorrow, though for the night I’ll probably just stick to writing and artwork. I am enjoying having more of a schedule; I get more magic and spiritual work done than I did before, and I feel more comfortable and relaxed about it all. Who’d have thought?

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Balancing the Elements

Working with Earth has been an incredible experience this month. It’s not so much that I’m learning all sorts of brand new things, as becoming aware of the importance of things I already knew, but hadn’t paid as much attention to. I’ve also been making more connections among ideas and practices I’ve worked with. In short, it’s been wonderful for creating a firm foundation.

And I’ll be continuing the process with Air, Fire and Water as well, really applying what these elements are to me in my life. While some of the associations with each one are purely subjective, there are certain qualities that are perceived as, if not universal, then at least widespread. And since I’m working within a neopagan paradigm, the correspondences I work with are the most common there, though with some personal interpretation, of course.

I’m really enjoying this journey. The constructive changes I’ve experienced just in the time I’ve been doing this have been quite noticeable, not only to me but also to my mate, who is the person who has the most interaction with me on a daily basis (and who I am sure appreciates the changes!).

There’s been a trend in neopaganism, at least as long as I’ve been involved, for people to say “I’m an X element”. Which is all fine and well–except that in many cases they use this as an excuse to not work with other elements, or to convince themselves that they simply can’t work with whatever is opposite “their” element. Now, I will agree that certain people may have affinities for certain elements, and find them *easier* to work with; for myself, I’m glad I’m starting with Earth, because it’s an element I feel particularly close to. However, I’ve heard people try to justify their supposed inability to work with a certain element, when they’ve not shown any real effort–instead, they assume that if they “are” one element, and they don’t have the same easy connection with another, that the latter just isn’t for them.

Sometimes they’ll derive “their” element from their Sun sign. So, by that logic, since my Sun is in Scorpio, I “am” a water element. However, this ignores the whole rest of the astrological chart; the Sun sign isn’t some super-amazing key to your identity–but then again, neither is astrology. I can see *some* influences from my own chart. I have Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus (retrograde), Mars and Uranus* all in Scorpio, and I do have that sting, among other traditionally Scorpio traits. However, that’s not all that I am, and I deviate from what my chart suggests on a regular basis. It’s a guideline, as is the Sun sign/”your” element, and yet I’ve met a number of people who rather slavishly adhere to the idea that somehow “their” element is the key to their ability to make magic happen.

It actually reminds me a bit of roleplaying games–nice, neat categories with a series of traits associated with each little pigeonhole. I think there’s a certain need in many people to have that sort of quick fix–from the daily horoscope to internet quizzes based on answers all about you, from fantasy stories in which a person’s amazing destiny gives them all the answers about who they are to the demonstrated fear of introspection too many people exhibit. Many people just don’t want to think about it. They want their identities set in stone by the time they’re thirty at the latest, preferably earlier. I’m 29, and I’ve been told more than once that I should “just grow up”, simply for the fact that I am still exploring my identity and my concept of myself in relation to the rest of the Universe. A fluid identity scares people and raises their hackles.

But IMO, this is part of why it’s important to achieve balance and experience with all four elements (or however many you have in your personal system). IME, the elements aren’t limited to their physical components, but instead have more abstract qualities. People have been associating certain esoteric and other nonphysical qualities to the elements for as long as we’ve had the basic concept. In neopaganism, Earth = physical matters, Air = mental matters, Fire = sex, spirit, creativity, and Water = emotions, to give VERY abbreviated examples. When it comes to personal development, you have a basic package deal for working with yourself on all levels. If you only focus on one element magically, you probably also are slanted towards it in other ways–and too much of anything can be bad for you.

If you’re still feeling unconvinced, think of it this way: you have all four traditional Western elements in your body, right now. Part of how I’ve been connecting to the elements is acknowledging them within myself. For Earth, I think of claws digging into dirt (my connection to Wolf) as well as my bones and teeth. For Air, I take a big deep breath and picture all the little oxygen molecules flowing into my blood and from there to my cells. For Fire, I just think about the burning of fuel that is cellular metabolism, and I made made of countless tiny flames. And Water….well…70% of my body is water, and the easiest thing for me to think of is blood flowing through my veins.

I’ll be really curious to see how I’m doing next February when I’m back to concentrating on all four elements again rather than each one singly. If I feel this much better now, imagine how I may feel then!

*Crude joke that nobody past seventh grade should find funny but which we grownups giggle at anyway alert–as someone I know through the Otherkin community said, “Better to have Uranus in Scorpio than Scorpio in Uranus!”

Dum Ditty, Dum Ditty, Dum Dum Dum…

A quick administrative note–Wordpress isn’t always showing me the comments on posts, so I sometimes have to refresh the page to actually get them to show up. You may have to do the same if you clicked on a post with comments, just FYI. This seems to be a recent thing.

Now, getting to the main topic of this post, I’m betting at least some of you recognize the source of the subject line. <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Fingers-Thumb-Bright-Early-Books/dp/0394810767″>Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb may not be great, academic reading–but it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I always remembered the “Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum” bit. Great fun.

Of course, it wasn’t just the monkeys that were so entertaining–it was the drums. (And violins going “Zum zum zum, but I don’t play violin.) And, sure enough, last night I finally got to play my drum. I’ve been a bit delayed in doing so, even though it’s been dry for well over a week. Time restrictions and being worn out from said time restrictions have prevented me from really being in the mood to go up and work any sort of magic, let alone getting to know my drum. But last night I managed to set aside a bit of time before I got too worn out (many props to my mate, Taylor, for doing the dishes even though it was my turn!) and went upstairs to get better acquainted with the drum and beater.

I sat down and asked them both permission to pick them up; they were only happy to oblige. So I did, and after greeting the skin spirits in them, I began to tap out an irregular rhythm, more to get acquainted with the sounds of the different areas of the drum head than to hit any sort of trance. I’m thinking I may not have gotten the drum head quite as tight as I could have; the voice is a bit deeper than on drums of the same size that were made by the drum shop owner. This isn’t a big deal, except that the spot at the very center of the drum is a bit flat, voice-wise. I’ve experienced this with other single-headed drums, including bodhrans, but the tone might have been improved by a little tighter skin. No worries, though–the surrounding areas had a beautiful variety of sounds.

I found a sweet spot to the side with a really nice tone, and then began to experiment with tempos. I’ve heard that 180-220 beats per minute (BPM) is considered to be particularly conducive to trance work, though I’ve also heard claims of speeds up to 330 BPM! I think 3-4 beats per second is about what I can handle right now, so that’s what I experimented with.

I only drummed for a few minutes, though I was happy to note that my arm didn’t get tired. I should hopefully have the stamina to last an entire journey, though I’ll want to practice before then. If I can get to the point where I can drum continuously for 30-40 minutes, I should be good. I’ve talked to a friend who is a shaman who said that when she journeyed and her arm began to feel tired, her arm, foreleg or wing (depending on her shape in the journey) would feel a bit sore, but not to the point of distracting her out of trance. I may be a bit concerned with my wrists and hands still being a bit weak, though I don’t think the spirits will be offended if I end up having to wear wrist braces. Maybe I can start a shamanic trend ๐Ÿ˜‰

I found a good pace, somewhere probably around 200-220 BPM, where I began to feel the tugging of trance at the edges of my consciousness. I’m going to experiment a bit with different speeds, but this one seems pretty likely. The aforementioned shaman had talked about how her drumming pace varied throughout the journey, so I may see if the same thing happens to me.

Once I was done for the evening, I thanked the drum and beater and placed them back on the floor in front of the altar. It was a good experience, if a little short. I’ll probably do more over the weekend once I don’t have work to contend with.

On Cultural Appropriation

I’m surprised with myself. This blog is about six weeks old (though it sometimes feels longer) and I’ve yet to do a post on cultural appropriation. Allow me to remedy this.

Cultural appropriation is a topic which is woefully neglected in neopaganism, and neoshamanism in particular. People ignore it, pretend it isn’t an issue, and it becomes the elephant in the room (hence the title of the cultural appropriation and neopaganism anthology I’m compiling, Talking About the Elephant). Part of the reason is because nobody likes to be told, “You’re doing it wrong!” There’s a strong sentiment throughout the neopagan community that if the spirit moves you, then it must be right–even if it involves taking bits and parts of different traditions and cultures and slapping them together.

Now, it should be pretty obvious from the influences on therioshamanism that I’m not one to throw stones at drawing from multiple wells. However, I exercise honesty in doing so. I make it exceptionally clear that, despite the common association in the U.S. of shamanism with Native Americans, I am a European-mutt-American neopagan with no connection to any indigenous cultures. Additionally, I have a disclaimer for my artwork, which, due to some of its components, is sometimes mistaken for Native American art. (Not that I find the comparison insulting; however, I don’t want to misrepresent my work as something it isn’t.)

Why the caution? Because I believe that there is entirely too much misrepresentation of what “shamanism” is or may be in modern neopaganism. It seems as though anything with beads and rattles, animals and drums, or anything that puts anyone in an altered state of consciousness, is called “shamanic” (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea). I’ve been called a shaman solely for the fact that I work with animal totems and animal parts. While these are components of therioshamanism, they don’t alone make me a shaman. There’s a lot more to it than that.

The other reason is, again, because even in neopaganism, shamanism is very often equated with “Native American”. Yet the bulk of what I find in books on “Native American spirituality/shamanism” isn’t genuine, being mixed with New Age and other non-Native concepts. Meanwhile, numerous unsuspecting readers run around saying that they practice the real deal–the book says so! And so they continue to have an inaccurate perception of what Native American cultures consist of, and the actual Native people end up grossly misrepresented. Often they’re victims of the Noble Savage stereotype, which portrays them all as idealized, amazingly spiritual people who live in perfect harmony with the natural world, exactly as it was done hundreds of years ago (even living in tipis!). The less glamorous aspects of the reality–alcoholism and poverty, among others–as well as the fact that many Natives are quite happily Christian, are glossed over. While it’s not all gloom and doom in reality, there are serious social issues that these books, seminars and people completely turn a blind eye to–probably because they aren’t conducive to “spiritual living”.

Finally, there’s the fact that some (not all) mainstream American neopagans who appropriate from other cultures are doing so out of escapism. All they see in their own culture is the strip malls and consumerism, and none of the potential (or the need) for spirituality in this context. I’ve heard people complaining about the flakiness and shallowness of the neopagan community, taking the worst of the bad scholarship and witch wars, and completely ignoring the creativity and growth. Nothing is flawless; nothing is totally horrible, either. I choose to accentuate the constructive and look askance at the silliness. Perhaps not everything neopagans have come up with is historically accurate or will pass the rigid judgements of mainstream society. And yes, there are some pagans who get squicked by the existence of those of us who are openly queer and genderqueer, who identify as Otherkin, who are openly kinky and combine it with magical and/or spiritual practices,or who otherwise might horrify the status quo. But, to me, this eclectic mix of backgrounds and beliefs just makes it all the better.

So I’m perfectly happy working from a neopagan perspective, while keeping a careful eye on some of the negative tendencies *some* neopagans have demonstrated over the years, particularly poor scholarship–and rampant cultural appropriation. Neopaganism doesn’t automatically include these. In fact, I prefer to be a part of both neopaganism, and mainstream American culture to an extent, because both of these environments could benefit from what I’m doing (or so I like to think). I try to raise awareness of cultural appropriation in articles like this one, and I also support the formation of neopagan-specific practices, such as neopagan totemism. As far as mainstream American society goes, while environmental awareness, including issues involving animals, is growing overall, it could still use some help. There are no shamanic figures in mainstream America; we have psychologists and doctors and priests, but shamans and neoshamans are shunted to the fringes as far as most Americans are concerned.

Working within a cultural framework that I’m familiar with, IMO, is more effective for me as an individual than trying to adopt the cultural practices of someone else. It doesn’t make my culture better than someone else’s; I’m not superior to a reconstructionist, or someone raised in an indigenous society. But I see no need, at this point in my life, to try to alter my worldview that significantly when the cultural and subcultural influences can go both ways–I can help them, and they can help me.

And this is something I encourage people to consider. You’re not wrong or bad for wanting to draw from other cultures. To me, the only crime is in misrepresentation, and in taking things that aren’t supposed to be taken without permission. But be mindful of the impact that you may have in doing so. Do the people you’re taking from really want you taking? Are you admitting that you aren’t an uber-seekrit initiate of their mysteries when all you did was read a book? And how do you feel about your own culture? Have you considered the magic that may be growing within it, or hidden away, waiting for discovery–or even something that may be your own creation?

This is how I handle things. I am completely honest about my source material and where I’m coming from. I feel no need to misrepresent myself. I use the word “shaman”, but in a non-cultural-specific manner; I use it more in an anthropological sense than anything else. (Nobody outside of a few Siberian tribes historically used that term anyway.) I’m open about the fact that I’m self-trained (or, if you’ll allow me to explain, trained by a collaboration of myself and the spirits and other entities I work with). While I read books on both traditional and neo shamanism, I do so mainly to get an idea of practices I may not have considered before. When I have a situation that I want to approach as a shaman, I don’t think “Well, how would such and such culture’s shamans do it?”. Instead, I think “What would *I* do?”–and then proceed to do it.

I may not have a millenia-old system of training behind me; and for sure, I’m the sole adherent of my path. I don’t think old equals better; I think that finding the spirits, symbols and tools that make the magic and connections happen (and being honest about their origins) is what’s important. I choose to work with what I know best, within the culture I am immersed in and will probably remain a part of for the rest of this life. YMMV.

Progress! And the Spirits are Ganging Up On Me….

First off, a quick note to the good folks on the Livejournal feed for this blog: I welcome comments; however, I do not get comment notifications for comments made to the LJ feed postings. Please click through to the blog itself at therioshamanism.com and make your comments there; that way I know you had something to say! Thank you muchly ๐Ÿ™‚

I also tweaked the FAQ again, specifically the question about whether you can call yourself a therioshaman. To be honest, I’d really prefer people didn’t use that term as a self-signifier. A lot of it is because therioshamanism, at least at this stage of the game, is my personal path, created from a very specific perspective and using very specific resources (though that may change later on–read on to find out why). While it is flexible and fluid, at least let me get it into some semblance of a formalized path! *grin*

I’ve been at this for over two months now, and while that may not seem like a long time, again keep in mind that I already have a significant amount of material from over a decade of study and practice to work with. At this point I have a pretty good idea of what my basic training for the next four and a half months will be–more focus on specific elements, and then a month of work with all four traditional elements again, as I did last month, though with the experience of single-element months taken into account.

I’m better at holding to a schedule, and I will say that I have learned and developed a lot just in the time I’ve been doing this. The Earth month, as you’ve probably read, has been exceptionally important for getting me to pay attention to both the internal and external environments, though the focus seems to be more on the internal–getting my body and health into shape. I’m thinking that while the first six months’ focus on elements is meant to increase focus on the elements inside and out, that it’s important for me to get my own house into order, as it were, before moving outward to a greater extent.

A lot of the changes are little things that I notice on a day to day basis, too many to list systematically here on a blog. Needless to say, I feel more grounded and focused, and more confident as well. I’m calmer, and more likely to catch myself in the act of re-acting, rather than letting my re-actions get the best of me. I’m working to be healthier, and taking active steps to do so. And there’s so much more…and it all adds up! I’m patching the holes that I’ve noticed in my practice, and feeling less like spiritual Swiss cheese.

On another note, I received an initially alarming request from the totems and other spirits I work with recently. I was kicking around the idea of eventually putting this all into book format (not that this should surprise anyone who know this bibliophile well). I figure I’ve already had a few people tell me that they’ve gotten quite a bit out of what I’ve written here, that it really resonates with them, all of which makes me happy–if my journey can include aiding others along their paths, so much the better. Granted, a book would be a few years in the future, most likely, since this is still in the growing stages. But it’s a possibility for somewhere down the line.

So I was bouncing ideas around in my head as I was walking from work to the train station, when I got that familiar *ping* that tells me the spirits want my attention, so I listened to what they had to say.

“We want to you to teach students the way we’re teaching you”.

(This is why I added the “OMGWTFBBQ” category to this blog.)

I know people who have taken on students. It’s a ton of work. Not necessarily a horrible thing, though I have heard horror stories of student-teacher relationships that went very wrong (and didn’t even involve sex!). Aside from the time commitment, though, I don’t even have therioshamanism complete as a path yet!

So I grilled them for more information (as well as calling my mate and talking to a few friends online about the whole thing). Basically, it appears that I wouldn’t even have to think about starting this process until after my six months were done (i.e., after I get done with the months of elemental work ahead of me). And I, of course, wouldn’t stop my own training and learning, particularly since the first six months are designed to be largely self-directed. The closest I can come to a comparison would be the grad student who student-teaches a freshman course while continuing to do hir own graduate work. I also wouldn’t have to worry about long-distance students–local, in-person students only. This would cut down on the number of potential people I might have to wrangle to make this work ๐Ÿ˜‰

The spirits were quite insistent about this whole thing. It does make sense, though. The spirits have been exceptionally generous in helping me along the past decade and change; they’ve given me quite a lot and asked for very little in return. I’ve always felt, though, that I owed them something for it, and this would be a good opportunity to repay them. They want this material out there, and while I have some trepidation about the whole thing, this is a vote of confidence in my favor.

I’m still going to be cautious; while the *ping* I received was one I’ve gotten used to over the years, I’m going to revisit this topic with them once my six months are over with. I want to be very sure it isn’t just my ego speaking, though I was pleased to note that my first reaction was “You want me to do WHAT?” rather than “Oh, people will think I’m so great!”. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be a good opportunity to pass on some things that both I and the totems and other spirits see as very important, and which at least a few people have expressed interest in. Still, I realize that this is a major commitment for a long period of time (of course, so is therioshamanism in general) and not to be addressed lightly. Just to be sure, I’m going to include some reading and other research on pagan teaching with the rest of my reading material over the next few months.

At this point, it’s a “Let’s see where I am in four and a half months” rather than a “Yes, I’ll do it!” situation. However, I figure that if the spirits have this sort of confidence in me at this point, it’s a good sign that I’m doing something right, at least. All the warning flags seem to be in the arena of things that I’ve seen screwed up in other peoples’ experiences, rather than a deep, intuitive/instinctual “STAY AWAY!!!”. But, as I said, we’ll see in four and a half months.

Surrogate Traditions

I’ve been reading Shamanism: A Reader, the academic anthology that Graham Harvey put together a couple of years back. It’s been an interesting read thus far, and while some of the heavier reading has been a bit tough to slog through, it’s been worth it. One of the themes that has cropped up a couple of times in this and other works on shamanism has been the role of hunting in a lot of the cultures that feature shamanism of one sort or another. Granted, the specific roles and rituals vary per culture, and even from time period to time period (there’s a fascinating bit of writing in the anthology about how one particular African tribe’s use of ecstatic trance has changed in just a couple of centuries). Still, among the wide array of spirits that may need to be placated, cajoled and/or befriended are the spirits of animals that have been killed for food and other resources.

Now, I’ve never been hunting in my life. I fished a lot as a kid (though I always caught itty-bitty sunfish way too small to eat) and I tried chasing rabbits, though I never caught one. But I’ve never done the whole get up early in the morning, take a rifle or bow out into the woods, and shoot a deer routine that so many people still go through on a yearly basis. Hell, I never even went *camping* until I was in my early twenties. My girl scout troop mostly did “girly” things like make woven potholders–the closest we got to camping was a night of sleeping bags in an old bakery where the only wildlife was a collection of roaches big enough to carry a few of the scouts off into the night.

My understanding of hunting rituals is entirely academic. However, I remain undaunted. Therioshamanism is a (neo)shamanic path for the version of reality I subscribe to. So while learning to hunt and being able to kill my own meat to be an honest omnivore is on my list of things to learn before I die, I’m not going to put spirituality on hold.

Rather, I noticed a correlation between the apparent role of hunting rituals–or rather, placatory rituals for the spirits of hunted animals–and my work with skin spirits and food totems. While I don’t acquire my own meat prior to the “buy at the market/grocery store” stage of things, and I have never hunted an animal for meat and/or pelt/etc., I still work with the spirits of the (deceased) animals that come into my life in various ways. After all, in pretty much all cases, unless there’s some sort of religious activity going on that I don’t know about, the people who did take these animals’ lives weren’t particularly mindful or respectful of the act of doing so.

So the role I see for myself is one that attempts to take up the slack, to try to right some of the wrongs done. Modern Americans may not have as tight a set of taboos as, say, traditional Inuit cultural practices, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no possibility that angry spirits could be causing problems. In fact, if my experiences have any weight, the “food” totems, such as Crab, Chicken and Pig are plenty angry for what’s been done to their physical children. How much influence they’ve had on modern Americans is another story altogether, and I’m still making progress just on getting them to be willing to work with me.

I don’t feel that the only reason I should be working with these spirits is to try to avoid further retribution, whatever that may be. Instead, I do it because I see the damage that’s been done, how upset the balance really is between humanity and other animals, and part of my goal is to do what I can to right that balance in the manner that best fits my personal reality (rather than trying to shove a square peg into a round hole).

This, to me, is *my* version of hunting rituals. I may not hunt the animals myself, but I still deal with their spirits to try to placate them and show them that *somebody* cares enough, at least, to give them notice. I don’t think I can say in good conscience that they should go back to their kin and tell them how well they were treated in death, but I hope I can at least demonstrate that they aren’t being completely ignored. And I hope, as I try to make better connections to the food totems in particular, as well as improve my relationship with the skin spirits, that I can determine what (if anything) they’ve done to voice their displeasure. After all, many (though not all) shamanic cultures considered that bad happenings might very well be caused by broken taboos or angry spirits, and the shaman’s role was to help restore that balance. (The anthology I mentioned earlier actually had a really good discussion on the “confessional” atmosphere of shamanic rituals to that effect in traditional Inuit society.)

I’m not about to go work in a slaughterhouse or a fur farm; however, I can be even more mindful of the relationships I do have with the spirits at hand, and work to achieve a greater understanding. The dynamic that I work in parallels that of shamans and hunting rituals, though these necessarily differ thanks to the particular environment and culture that I’m in. And if I can get some suggestions as to what people in this culture can do to treat these spirits better, to make them less angry, then I’ve accomplished part of what I’ve set out to do.

Earth, Continued

So the saga of Lupa Remembers Hir Body continues apace. I’m over the cold, but apparently my stomach did NOT care for the extra acid from the vitamin C in the multivitamins I just started taking a little over a week ago. This has quite firmly entrenched in my mind that what I put in my body does indeed have an effect on it. I’m now taking a closer look at what sorts of things I put into my body on a daily basis. Some of them are environmental and can’t really be helped on an immediate level, though continuing to pressure my elected reps and choosing to lower my everyday use of chemicals can have a long-term effect. Others, though, are much more in my grasp, such as what coats or combines with the food I eat. Do I really need pesticides, wax and other such things on my produce? Or hormones, antibiotics, and additives in the meat I eat, meat from animals that probably weren’t particularly healthy to begin with? The effects may not be immediately apparent, but on a more subtle level, they’re there.

I’ve been exclusively working with Earth energy in my meditations and finding that although I haven’t grounded on a regular basis in the past, it comes quite easily. It’s an almost instant connection, sort of a “thwump” wherein my energy sinks into the ground, and I literally feel like I’ve gained a few pounds. If I’m doing a walking meditation, it actually gets just a *touch* harder to walk, like I’m walking through mud. A good way for me to connect my Earth energy to that of the ground is to visualize wolf claws digging into dirt, or to think of the calcium in the dirt as being connected to the calcium in my bones and teeth.

And I’ve been learning some from my drum, and my spirits. When the drumskin first dried, I picked up the beater and began playing rhythms on the drum–without asking the spirits in the drum and beater permission to pick them up and play them. This was made quite clear to me. So tonight I went back up to try again. I was told, “Your drum is not a toy; you don’t just pick it up and play with it”. So I started by looking at the drum and beater on the floor before me, simply observing. I then asked permission to pick up the drum, and s/he agreed.

I ran my fingers over the smooth goatskin, and thought about the goat that once wore that skin. Leather is a more abstract form of animal remains in my mind than, say, fur. And rawhide is even moreso than other sorts of leather, because the texture is entirely different. So rawhide seems a lot more “manufactured” and I have to remind myself that this wasn’t just fabricated in a building somewhere. I spoke to the goat spirit (a billy goat) and asked him to show me his old home. I saw a barnyard, with other goats, with him a brown and black and white goat with horns in the middle of it all.

Next I talked to the cow rawhide that made up the strings binding the goatskin to the frame. I saw a red cow in a stockyard, just briefly, and felt my hands running over smooth-haired hide and warm skin. I felt the goat and cow spirits merge in the drum, separate yet combined in this one instrument. I looked at the pale roundness of the drum, and saw the Moon in my hands for a moment. I thought about what I should rub into the skin, which was a little dry.

Then I asked permission to pick up the beater. I spoke with the deerskin pieces that I wrapped the head in, and felt where the coarse hairs once sprouted from the surface of the skins. I thought about woods and fields, cold winters and warm springs, mosquitoes and ticks and musk in green leaves.

And I brought these all back together into my ritual space, and into the drum and beater, two parts of a whole, sacred and not entirely recognized. Then I laid them back on the floor before the altar, and said my goodnights. I would play another night, I decided. Each time I pick up the drum, I need to remember to thank the goat, cow and deer spirits. This may be a drum dedicated to my work with Wolf and Earth, but there’s more to it than that.