If I Had a Hammer…

First off, thanks for the various comments to my last post. They made me smile, and were a constructive boost to the confidence. I do figure that if I end up doing something truly asinine that folks won’t just applaud and say “Hey, good going Lupa, you can do it, I love watching what you do!” 😉 But seriously, I do appreciate the feedback, even if it’s just “I know how you feel!”

I was on a pagan forum yesterday, specifically a thread talking about shamanism (surprise, surprise!). It started out with someone asking for books and other resources on shamanism, then the obligatory argument in the replies over what shamanism is and the assertion that “You can’t learn shamanism from books!” as well as book suggestions of varying quality. Then one thread of the discussion veered over into modern shamanism, with the idea that people who trip on various substances are examples of shamans in postindustrial cultures. This was my reply:

I get irritated when people talk about how they’ve tripped on various substances, or survived the rave scene, or gotten pierced and inked, and that somehow makes them shamans. These are all *techniques* that can be a part of shamanism, but they are not shamanism in and of themselves. I doubt most of the people dropping acid or wearing candy and light sticks or getting yet another crappy nautical star on their skin have ever journeyed to the Otherworld and brought back something to benefit the community. Self-indulgence does not equal shamanism.

Note that I did not say that entheogens, raves, ink and steel can’t be part of shamanism. However, my point is that they do not, in and of themselves, make a person a shaman. Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not the uber-authority on shamanism. While I’ve had plenty of experience with animal magic–which, again, may be utilized in shamanism–and I’ve run across information on shamanism again and again over the years, I am nowhere near being a full-fledged shaman myself. But tripping no more makes you a shaman than having a hammer makes you a carpenter, that much I’m sure of. Peter, Paul and Mary didn’t just sing about having a hammer–they sang about what they could do with it once they had it. In the same way, it’s not enough to be able to say “Ayahuasca” ten times fast; what do you do with the drink once you have it in you is more important.

I currently have three tattoos and a navel piercing. The first tattoo and the piercing were spontaneous rites of passage for me in which I got them partly to prove I could handle it (I’m absolutely terrified of needles!). In fact, while the tattoo had some other symbolic meanings attached to it, the barbell in my belly was purely for showing myself I could conquer my fear of needles at least that much. All three tattoos and the piercing were peak experiences; I hit deep altered states of consciousness, and they helped to push me from one stage of my life to another. But, ideally, everyone in a society goes through rites of passage. These rites in and of themselves, and peak experiences in general, do not make one a shaman by themselves. Again, they are tools that the shaman can use.

One thing that I have learned in the past few months is that there’s a very good reason I never really felt like I earned the title of “shaman”, even though I had neopagans over the years telling me it fit because of my animal magic. Back then a lot of it was because I didn’t want people assuming I was Native American–or, rather, that I was claiming to be what I was not. I’ve already had to deal with that to an extent with my artwork which has been occasionally mistaken for Native work (usually by non-Natives) because it incorporates things like animal parts and beads and such. While shamanism, of course, is found worldwide, most people automatically associate it with Native Americans, thanks in part to the New Age as well as pop culture. So I didn’t want to give people yet another reason to make assumptions about what I am not, and further confuse what actually is Native American.

However, issues of cultural appropriation and misidentification aside, the more I’ve studied shamanism and talked to people who practice it (as well as dipped my toes into the waters I’m learning about), the more it becomes even clearer to me just how deep, complex, and potentially terrifying the practice of shamanism really is. I was aware of it before, but the realities have been coming into sharper focus as of late. This is good, because I want to know what the hell it is I’m getting myself into before I get there, as much as possible anyway.

For instance, I know that my next tattoo will most likely be the one I get when the spirits and I agree that I’m ready to call myself a full-fledged therioshaman, when my training (but not learning) is done, and I can start shamanizing “for real”. That’s not going to be for a good long while, though, measured in years, not months. I already have a few ideas of how I can incorporate the actual act of getting the tattoo into the initiation ritual. The tattoo, however, will simply be a part of that ritual–the act of getting inked will not in and of itself be the ritual in total (there’ll be a lot more going on, both within and without). However the ritual occurs, though, it won’t be the tattoo that makes me the shaman. Rather, it will be a symbol of all the things I’ve learned, and all the things I’ll have committed to do from then on out, that do make me the shaman.

I’m also aware that there are things that a shaman does that aren’t as much fun as “dancer’s high” from spinning around a fire for hours, or getting ritual body art. Through both LJ and other venues, as well as talking shop with people in person, I’ve been able to hear about how intense relationships with deities and spirits can be. I’ve read accounts by both shamans and spirit workers about how demanding the various gods and spirits they work with can be, and I’ve also read some pretty harrowing accounts of journeys and other experiences that went the way they were supposed to, but were still terrifying and really shook people up. I’m not going to go into details, obviously, because they aren’t my stories to tell. Needless to say, these were the things that get left out of most books on neoshamanism, or get prettied up (as if the traditional “getting dismembered by wild animals during your initiation” experience is ever so much fun!). Granted, these are situations that the people willingly entered into, and while they may tell the terrifying tales of things they’ve been through, they still choose to remain in that role. I don’t believe that being a shaman means you have to give up having a backbone when dealing with the powers that be–if I were a helper spirit I wouldn’t want to be guarding a shaman with the constitution of overcooked spaghetti. But I do accept that shamanism does have its challenges, and that it isn’t always safe.

However, I don’t expect it to be all gloom and doom, either. As I’ve been improving my relationships with the spirits and deities I work with, with the totems and the skin spirits and the divine beings, I’ve felt our mutual love (or at least respect, in some cases) for each other deepen. I won’t devote myself to anyone or anything I feel doesn’t respect me back. Honestly, if I weren’t already deeply appreciative of the things that “my spirits”, so to speak, have done for me over the years, I wouldn’t be nearly as willing to dedicate myself more fully to them. This is a gift I offer willingly. Not because I feel guilted into it. Not because a deity bullied me into it and threatened to ruin my life if I didn’t obey. But because it is something I am willing to give, even if it means sacrifices of time and effort and temporary comfort. Granted, there may be the times when I sit and kvetch about things just to vent, but I don’t foresee getting into the spiritual version of an abusive relationship. (I retain the right to have a backbone at all times.) My perceptions may change in some ways, especially once I get through the preliminary training and into the heavier, more demanding stuff. But I won’t walk willingly into something that I think will make me miserable.

I know that shamanism isn’t all about getting inked, or dancing the night away. But what it is, is something even more valuable than peak experiences alone. I’ll know that when I get that tattoo, whenever it ends up happening, it’ll be a part of something much bigger than the temporary endorphin rush. The ink, the altered states of consciousness–these can all open us up to possibilities, and show us doorways to bigger and better things. But it does no good to only walk up to the threshold, turn around three times and walk back. I’ve seen the doors; I’m ready and willing to walk through them now.

Waiter! There’s a Spirit in my Drink!

Ravenari made an excellent comment to my bunny hop post from the other day. This part in particular got me thinking:

I wonder as well, if that sort of familiarisation with each animal spirit (even onces you’ve danced with before) is also a method to broaden your base of animal helpers. Because I feel that as you become more familiar with the energies as you skin dance, more will come through as clear helpers.

It’s one of those moments where I smack my forehead and say “Geez, why the hell didn’t I see that before?” This is sort of a continuation of our conversation a couple of weeks back about spirit helpers in general–and how it’s not a great idea to go journeying with just a power animal. I’ve been more aware since then of how the various spirits in my life interact with me, particularly as I walk along this particular path. I’ve been particularly focused on the totems, since they’re at the center of a lot of my elemental work in my six months. But I haven’t been too sure as to what would happen after March when the six months were up.

The Animal Father telling me he wanted me to work with the skin spirits on a daily basis after my six months was my first indication, along with him making it clear that part of the transition from the six months to the next stage of my training would involve dedicating myself to him. However, Ravenari’s comment above made it hit home to me that I’ll probably spend the second six months (at least) just working on strengthening my relationships with the spirits and determining who’s willing to help me and how. These first six months have been a process of cosmology building, creating the setting for the work to happen in, and next I’ll be figuring out who’ll be walking the path with me the most, at least to some extent–spirits may come and go as they please, as the relationships change, etc.

So this helps me make some sense of what’s going on. This is why I believe it’s crucial for those of us who work on a solitary basis to talk shop with others regularly. Other people can have perspectives on things that we may have totally missed. Ravenari is a practitioner of a traditional Russian form of animism/shamanism, and her viewpoint gives me something besides the neoshamanic/core shamanic/etc. material that’s a lot more common in neopaganism. It’s not so much that I think I should be a practitioner of Vilturj, mind you–it’s that what she says makes sense to me in a way that core shamanism and its derivatives haven’t, at least not on the subject of spirits. Most of the neoshamanic material deals a lot with the shaman doing most of the work, with little “interference” from the spirits. And, as she noted in her original post on the topic, it’s not a great idea to go journeying with only a power animal, because a power animal only has so much influence in certain places. (Granted, it’s dangerous to go alone, too.)

My point is that while I may not personally draw on every single thing Ravenari has in her practice, in both her original post, and her comment to my post about her post, she was able to offer me a unique perspective based on her experience. It may have gone against conventional neoshamanic wisdom in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean it can’t ring true to me, a neoshamanic practitioner. We don’t always have to toe the party line, and when something works with what I have, I’m going to run with it. And it does make a lot of sense that the various spiritual relationships I’ve been cultivating over the years–not just the skin spirits, but many others–would come into play as I started on my shamanic path. I think there was part of me that was expecting to have to find a whole new “set” of spirits for this work, and perhaps I will meet some new faces along the way, but it is quite comforting to realize that some of my best allies have been around all along.

All this does make me feel better overall about what I’m doing. I think there’s a certain amount of uncertainty that comes from “creating” your path rather than working with one you’ve been raised with. It’s so easy to be led astray by one’s own UPG; I’ve been exceptionally cautious about my discoveries. There are things that I’ve discovered but haven’t yet talked about or accepted because I’m still waiting to see if they pan out into something more substantial or not. But while I don’t expect to have everything I do verified by someone else before I accept it, the external validation I got in this case was a nice treat. Obviously, if the second six months end up being entirely different, then I’ll of course change my views. But the idea that cosmology comes first, then comes learning how to work with the spirits more effectively, makes perfect sense with what I’m doing.

One final thing I do want to make clear, on a bit of a tangent. I am not yet a practicing shaman, though I may refer to myself as a therioshaman for short. Therioshaman-in-training is a better term (but it’s a mouthful!). While I’ve made a few practice runs journeying with the drum, and done years of trance-dancing and shapeshifting, I won’t start with the actual shamanizing for a while yet. It looks as though the spirits want me to have at least a solid year of training in the basics–cosmology and working with spirit helpers–before I even get the bike with training wheels, never mind taking the training wheels off! Occasionally it’s frustrating, because I realize how much work there is to do once I am practicing. However, mostly it’s a relief, because I know I’m not going to get sent off unprepared. I know that shamanizing isn’t safe, that not all spirits are friendly, and not every journey will be successful. But I do feel that I am being directed through effective training, and it’s things like the experiences above, as well as the fact that both I and the spirits have been seeing a lot of very concrete progress come out of the past few months, that show me that I’m on the right track.

What Makes Me (You) Burn?

Fire is Action. But just as Fire is present in the candle flame as well as the inferno, so is it in the small changes as well as the large ones.

Despite Saturday being Live Like a Cat Day, I spent the day running errands. Of course, for me, that does count as being more relaxed than usual. I slept in til ten (I’m normally up at six during the week to get ready for my bus/train commute), then after breakfast I went out to hit the local Goodwill stores for some random kitchen implements and other things on the shopping list. A few hours later I came home with a pair of secondhand hand towels for my husband and me so we don’t have to use paper towels at work, a two dollar salad spinner (only missing a handle), a shirt and skirt (each one found at a different Goodwill), and a few other things that we needed around the house.

My quest was not complete, however. One of my most-wanted items for the day was a rolling pin. I have discovered the joys of making bread, and I want to make pizza dough, since right now I still rely on the overexpensive and preservative-laden Boboli crusts, which makes me sad 😦 . However, without a rolling pin, flattening the dough into the proper shape for the perfect pizza may be more of a challenge than I really want to try to tackle. That damned rolling pin became my Holy Grail for the day. You would think that an overstocked Goodwill with eighty billion Teflon-coated pots and pans, a sharp, poking sea of miscellaneous silverware, and more cups than the bra section at a Victoria’s Secret superstore, would have at least one solitary rolling pin.

Nope. I finally gave up, and headed to Fred Meyer to look for a replacement pair of Winter gloves for my husband*. Once the gloves had been procured, I went back to the kitchenware just to price their rolling pins. Lo and behold, the normally five dollar wooden rolling pin was on sale for four bucks. Normally, this would be the time when glorious light breaks through the glare of fluorescent lamps, and choirs of heavenly angels sing the praises of the successful quest. However, having become a more conscientious consumer, I took a close look at the label. “Made in Taiwan”. “Made of plantation wood”.

“Made in Taiwan” = “trans-Pacific shipping”, which = use of a ton of resources to get it from there to here. “Made of plantation wood” means that somewhere, probably in Asia, a rainforest or other sensitive ecosystem was decimated to make way for a monoculture for profit. I really, really don’t like supporting such things. By buying that rolling pin, I would be directly supporting an industry that burned huge quantities of fuel and created a proportionate amount of pollution just to get it (and a bunch of others) halfway around the world. I’d also be supporting poor use of the land somewhere on this planet.

I ended up buying the rolling pin, since it was the second to last one there. However, upon finding a pair of bread loaf pans of the type I was looking for (also on sale, and the very last two they had) I realized I hadn’t checked Goodwill for those while I was out. So I paid for my purchase, and headed back to the Goodwill-of-Many-Used-Kitchen-Implements, feeling guilty the whole time for my brand new purchase, and hoping I’d find good reasons to return the new items once I got to the thrift store.

Lo and behold, upon entering the aisles of Goodwill, I found a slightly used but quite usable pair of bread pans of the same dimensions of the ones I’d just bought. Taking this as a good sign, I crept up on the pile of wooden utensils. There, hidden between a banana hanger and some spoons, was a perfectly good wooden rolling pin. Elated, I took the pin and pans to the counter like I’d just won a trophy, and then headed back to Fred Meyer to return the new versions thereof. I even ended up saving a few bucks on the secondhand items despite the sale on the new ones.

So what the heck does a rolling pin have to do with Fire? (Other than the baking connections, of course.) Action, that’s what. Action, and passion, and awareness (Fire needs Air, after all, to exist). Therioshamanism is very much an eco-friendly path, and it is rooted in everyday reality as well as the spiritual realms. I came to the realization that one very positive aspect of Fire in my life is my drive to bring about positive change in my actions. The reason I opened this post with the Tale of the Quest for the Rolling Pin is that it illustrates my increased conscious action on a daily basis. In that moment I wasn’t just wishing I’d bought secondhand instead; I manifested it into my life, and made it real. So many times we think about what we’d like to do; putting those thoughts into action, making the change–that’s Fire.

I am passionate about eco-friendly choices in an urban lifestyle. Not everyone can afford to go completely sustainable; since at this point I’m limited to renting, and living in a city where the jobs are, I make changes where I can. However, it’s not always big, impressive changes, like buying a Prius or opting into 100% renewable energy through your local utility company. A lot of it is small changes on a daily basis–small changes that build up over time.

I’m still really struck by what I read in The Earth Path, not just in the Fire chapter, but touched on in several places. The natural balance of things requires both give and take. Take, for example, an apple core. We can only eat so much of it. However, the Earth can reabsorb all of it, even if it’s rotten. The energy and other resources in that apple core can then be integrated into something new. In the meantime, the flesh of the apple that we ate becomes a part of us.

The problem is that we cut off the return of resources to the Earth. Our waste–whether from our bodies or not–more often than not will end up in a landfill. Wasted food, sludge leftover from treatment of sewage, and other organics end up in a lined hole in the ground where they sit, cut off from the Earth from which they originated and to which they need to return. None of these organics need to end up there. Even sludge can be treated and turned into fertilizer (also lessening the use of chemical fertilizers).

Think of the Earth’s resources as money in a bank account. There may be a small bit of interest, but it’s generally not enough to keep up with our overspending. Humanity is an irresponsible teenager let loose in a mall with a credit card–every single day. Granted, we have to have some resources to ourselves–we need to have homes, and clothing, and other such things that we can’t send back into the Earth right away. But we throw away so much, and we take things we don’t really need.

It’s not just a matter of the big things, either. It’s the little things, as I’ve mentioned before. The ends of celery stalks and carrots. A part of a carton of milk that goes bad. The hair in our combs and brushes. All of these are things that could quite safely be put back into the Earth, but which we’ve been conditioned to toss it in the trash instead. And the more people do that with each year, the more slowly the Earth is able to refertilize itself. I’m sure at least some readers have encountered land that is too overfarmed and no longer has the necessary nutrients to produce crops–so chemical fertilizers are dumped on them, and then the fertilizers run off into the water, poisoning what lives in it or drinks it. If composting were popular on a large scale, we’d need a lot fewer chemicals.

It’s also reducing how much we take. The reason I’m so type-A about buying things secondhand is that I know that for every secondhand item I buy, that’s one less new item that will have to be produced–and one less discard in the landfill. I’ll even buy things I’m pretty sure other people won’t buy, like the salad spinner without a handle, or the hand towels embroidered with someone else’s initials. The more fuel we leave for the Fiery cycle of Change and Renewal, the better off everyone will be.

And that is part of the Fire that burns inside of me. It’s that need to make changes, to be more aware of and closer to that sacred cycle. Ever since The Earth Path brought me into greater awareness at the beginning of this month, the internal fire has burned higher, and I recognize that I have had a connection to Fire all along–I just didn’t always know it for what it was.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll ignore its other roles in my life, of course. None of the elements is a one-trick pony. And what Fire is to me, isn’t necessarily what it is to other people. So when you read about my experiences with Fire, or Earth, or Air, or next month’s work with Water, don’t just observe my experiences. Think about your own. Think about both the concrete and the abstract; both are important.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue with my last week in my Fire month, and work to create as healthy a bond as I can. I won’t lose Fire, of course, but the six months are meant to set a solid foundation in the elements.

* Caveat emptor–never try to replace your Winter gloves any time in the actual season of Winter. Try July, or August if you want sales. Goodwill had picnic baskets and sandals out, and somehow Fred Meyer had managed to stash away a tiny rack of gloves on sale that hadn’t gotten swept away in the “Never sell things when you need them” merchandising.

Lupa Does the Bunny Hop

I was a little late in doing my skin spirit work this month, but today I managed to spend some time with my rabbit skin, a rather small brown pelt from a domesticated rabbit. Right before I went to choose a skin to dance, I kept thinking about El-Ahrairah from Watership Down, who is somewhat of a pop culture version of the totemic Rabbit, as well as a useful depiction thereof. So I chose the rabbit skin to dance today.

He was a little unsure before we went into things; he’s the first skin from a domesticated animal I’ve danced, and he told me that as he’d spent his life in a hutch, he really wasn’t sure how much like a wild rabbit he was. I told him, “Well, I’ve not worked with Rabbit much myself, so maybe he’ll give us a little help and we can figure this one out together”. Indeed, El-Ahrairah gave us the boost we needed!

I draped the skin over my shoulders like a cape, tied with two leather cords around my neck. Then I got down on my hands and knees and attempted to lollop like a rabbit–and got about two inches ahead of where I’d been before. I’m used to large, striding animals, or at least those that walk in a four-beat pace. The two-beat lollop of the rabbit is another story entirely. It probably took me a good ten minutes at least to figure out how to get more than a few inches forward at a time. I ended up with a rather ungainly, probably ridiculous-looking quasi-lollop on my hands and balls of my feet. In fact I know it was silly to watch–even the rabbit skin was laughing, though having a good time.

I then got up to try to mimic the lollop in a more bipedal fashion. I really didn’t want to have to rely on the infamous “bunny hop” with two feet together (with or without the “right, right, left, left, jump forward, jump backward, jump forward three times, repeat” pattern!) That would annoy me entirely too much for me to hit a good trance, and it didn’t remind me of the movement I’d done before. I finally ended up with a two-step dance, where I would dip my torso and arms forward when stepping with my lead foot, and come back up when stepping forward with my hind foot. I also kept the characteristic “lub-dup, lub-dup” rhythm from the lollop, which bound the two moves together really well.

Learning to move in an entirely new way was pretty exhausting–not to mention hard on my back. But both I and the rabbit skin had a great time figuring it out together. I didn’t even try approximating a run; I figure I should learn to thoroughly lollop first.

The Animal Father nudged me while we were dancing. He told me that once my six months were up that he wanted me to dance a different skin every night for a week each week until I’d danced them all and gotten to know them. I’m sure the skins will appreciate this; I don’t dance as much as I’d like since my job takes a lot out of me, and they always seem so sad when I get done dancing and they realize that no one else will be dancing that day/night. I am looking forward to it, though.

Shiny objects! (And PRESENCE)

I fully admit that I have magpie syndrome, that tendency found so often among pagans to collect shiny (colorful, has Celtic knotwork, etc.) objects to decorate one’s home, person and ritual area with. While I’ve cut down on a lot of the shinies, I still occasionally get excited over something new.

After I made my post about prayer beads, I ordered the pendant I wanted for my necklace/prayer beads that I described in the post. Well, it arrived in yesterday’s mail, and was sitting at my place at the kitchen table when I got home last night. To be honest, it showed up a lot quicker than I expected–not that I’m complaining!

It looks awesome–shiny, not quite copper colored, and I love the primitive look of the Sorceror/Animal Father image. The tree on the other side came out well, too. Very nice weight, too. I definitely recommend Quicksilver Mint for metal pendants!

The pendant was on a black cord, and nestled in a small plastic ziploc bag. As I was about to take the pendant out, the Animal Father told me not to touch the pendant itself, and to take it up to the ritual room and hang it on the altar. So I did, and I draped the cord over a clay jug at the center of the altar. As I did so, I felt the god ARRIVE in the ritual room, and I felt the distinctive PRESENCE of Something Much Larger Than I Am fill the space and weigh my head down, for lack of a better term.

“Are you ready to welcome me into your life more?” he asked. Well aware of at least some of what’s ahead, and even knowing that it won’t necessarily be easy–but will be worth it–“Oh, yes, definitely”, I replied. With that answer in hand, the Animal Father left, and the room returned to its normal state.

I’m pretty sure that once the six months are up he’ll be a much more frequent presence in my life. As to how that will manifest, well–I’ll find out after the next two months and change!

And the flames went higher….

Oh, come on. You couldn’t seriously expect me to get through my Fire month without invoking that particular song of the late, great, Man in Black, did you? (Bonus cover by Social Distortion!)

I sat down at my meditation today during lunch and talked to Fox again about my Fire month. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where its influences have been in my life as of late. We touched on the pain of being burned, whether in the process of cleaning things out or not, and Fox noted that this was always my first thought of Fire, which was indicative of my uneasy relationship with it. Fire in real life scares me a bit, too. I like fire dancing, but no way will I jump over one–you can’t even get me to put out a candle flame with wet fingertips.

So we worked through finding other meanings for Fire. While I tend to associate emotions with Water for the most part, Fire applied to Water makes the Water boil! I’ve been exploring more intense emotions this month–anger, jealousy, disappointment, etc. However, Fire can also add to joy/elation, excitement/anticipation, and, of course, love. Consistency is another issue related to emotions; while I’m not bipolar, I do get moody, especially this time of year when SAD hits me. Emotions are like fire, sometimes; when we feel down, our fire goes down to embers. Those who are particularly feeling bad, especially those suffering from severe depression, may consider dousing those embers forever. At the other end of the spectrum, when our emotions get the best of us, we lose our temper, or we otherwise go overboard, it can be like a wildfire burning all that we touch. Maintaining balanced emotions is similar to tending a fire. You want to keep the flames well-fed at a steady rate, neither neglecting them too much, or being tempted to toss some lighter fluid on if they aren’t burning high enough.

Another quality of Fire is light. In addition to burning out the underbrush, Fire illuminates what’s left so we can see more clearly. Being more aware of what moves and motivates us helps us to see the circumstances we’re in better. Careful application of Fire, awareness, can help us to illuminate even the darkest corners.

And Fire is spirit, drive, motivation. It is force and energy that moves everything. Inspiration may be of the mind and therefore Air, but Fire is what drives us to put it into motion, like blowing on a flame to make it grow. When I get into creative frenzies, where I’ll spend weeks working on writing or artwork at every spare moment, there’s definitely Fire at play there.

I know this isn’t particularly organized–just tossing down some observations on Fire as I continue through this month.

Walking the Talk However Far We Can

First off, quick note–I think I’ve mentioned a ritual I did in preparing a chicken a few weeks back. At any rate, I wrote an article about the process, and you can see it at Culinary Adventures of an Urban Shaman, via Key64.net. While I don’t hunt or fish for meat (though I’d like to), I do believe it’s important to honor the animals (and plants, etc.) who become our food and preserve our life. The article details the ritual I developed for honoring the spirit of a fre range chicken I prepared for supper one evening.

This ritual is a part of my recent efforts to boost the amount of environmentally friendly actions I take, both mundane and spiritual/magical. Therioshamanism, as I am developing it, is very much an Earth-centered path. When I work with deities, for example, I don’t simply see them as abstract beings, separate from the natural phenomena they “represent”. My patron Goddess, Artemis, with whom I will have been working for a full decade this February, is very much associated with the wilderness and the animals therein, as well as the Moon. To me, that means not only honoring her, but also doing what I can to preserve the wilderness, the animals, and to clear the sky so the Moon may be seen without the haze of pollution. Granted, Artemis is also the Huntress–which means she’s no vegan. (Then again, neither am I.) Between her, and the Animal Father who is also, of course, strongly associated with the wilderness and the creatures in it, you can see where a lot of my emphasis is.

It makes no sense to me, therefore, to turn a blind eye to the degradation of what these deities hold sacred. However, I do not live in ancient Greece, or paleolithic France. I am an urban American in the 21st century, and therefore my relationship to the environment is different from people in other cultures and times. To me, it’s not enough to celebrate Nature, when all around me it’s being destroyed through our actions. Where is the honor in that? If I talk about how amazing and wonderful Nature is for giving me life, and then ignore my impact on the land, water and air, then I’m not walking my talk.

Granted, we each have to come to our own balance. I still drive a car, though I use public transit to get to and from work, even though driving might be faster. I’m omnivorous, and meat takes a certain amount of land and other resources to produce, though I try to go for local, free-range meat when I can, and have been eating more poultry, smaller animals that require fewer resources to raise. I know not everyone can afford to buy organic. However, we can buy with an eye towards reducing packaging, recycle whatever we have the facilities for, make small investments such as a few canvas bags for groceries (guaranteed not to rip no matter how wet they get or how many canned goods you stuff in there!), and other such things. Being an environmentally-friendly pagan (or non-pagan, for that matter) isn’t about worrying about what you can’t do right now–it’s about what you can do, and being aware of the choices you make with regards to the resources and opportunities available to you at any given time.

For me, walking my talk means changing my everyday lifestyle, no matter where I live. I made my own bread for the first time this weekend, so I could have a little more control over what ingredients I used, and what went into my body. The clove of garlic that bravely put forth a bright green shoot was saved from the pizza sauce and is now in its own pot of dirt, growing happily, the start of what I hope will be an excellent garden someday. I want to buy a secondhand hand towel so I don’t have to dry my hands with paper towels at work. I can’t buy solar, can’t buy a hybrid, can’t raise rabbits or chickens for food–but I can do these things, and help make others aware of what they can do, inspire people to take a conscious look at the choices they have before them. And in the end, that’s enough, I think, to do what I can, and look forward to what may be later on as circumstances change.