It is February 8, 2008 (just barely–53 minutes left).

Ten years ago tonight, I was nineteen and home after a date with my then-boyfriend. The relationship was just beginning to deteriorate; by September it would be over after two and a half years. I had been studying magic and paganism for a couple of years, but hadn’t really focused myself. I was a sophomore in college, and still living with my parents to try to get through college without student loans.

Little did I know that I was on the verge of a change. While I spent most of my teen years rather isolated since I didn’t have much in the way of friends until college, my twenties ended up being roaring, to say the very least! On the cusp of that incredible decade, I met Artemis for the first time. I think she had always been there, but hadn’t really had a good opportunity to introduce herself. I remember being vaguely dissatisfied with my relationship with my boyfriend, and so it shouldn’t have surprised me that what would happen that night would help me to break out of some bad patterns, including with relationships.

There I was in my room, with the moonlight streaming in (the moon was not quite full). And then I had the sudden urge–to dance. I had never danced before. I had always been that one at the school dances who sat on the sidelines, scared to go out there. I had been so out of touch with what was popular I didn’t even recognize the music. And I was terribly self-conscious, so the concept of dancing was alien to me. Yet there, alone in the moonlight, I danced, and I danced freeform. Back and forth around the bed I danced, exulting in the beauty of the light, the feeling of my graceful body, the sheer joy of not giving a damn what anyone thought. And in that moment Artemis made herself known to me, and told me I was hers.

I don’t remember what she told me, exactly. But from that moment on, I began to change. I became more independent and self-assertive. I became more bold in my relationships. I stopped hemming and hawing about paganism, and decided to just dive on in. And over the next decade I would do my best to emulate this goddess I admired so much, and who taught me a lot just through her example.

She never demanded strict worship from me; all she asked was that I come and talk to her every February 8 in remembrance of that first night. And so I have done so every year. Sometimes I did a formal ritual; other times we simply took a walk together. This year she came and chatted with me as I walked from work to the train station. She told me that the reason she never demanded a lot from me was that she wanted me to grow with my own mind and heart, that she wanted me to be wild, not domesticated. It left a lot to be desired in the discipline department, but she felt I honored her through my freedom and growth as an individual, something I needed a lot more than living by rank-and-file.

Today, though, was different. A year ago, when I spoke with her, she told me that a male god would be coming into my life soon–she didn’t tell me who, but she told me to prepare to work with him more closely. Not that she would go away entirely, but she would step back and let him take over for a while. And it turns out that that god was the Animal Father, with whom I’ll be working more closely for the time being. While I still haven’t made the final decision to take the shamanism route, I will be working with him one way or another. So this weekend the change will happen, and start a new phase.

The changes in me and my life won’t be immediately apparent, of course. Nothing like that really happens overnight, no matter how big the catalyst. But I am changing my life-role, so to speak. I’m going from the young maiden running wild through the woods, traveling hither and yon on her own, learning to be herself, but ultimately rootless, to the one who protects and sustains the tribe, maintaining good relations with the land we rely on for life. My need in the past year or so to start settling down, my marriage a year and a half ago, my growing interest in sustainable living–these are all things that are necessary to this new stage of life, and adhering to the archetype that is presented as a role model for me. It’s time to take the things learned in the past decade, and make something new of them. My most immediate “tribe” may consist of me, my husband, and our cats, but there are numerous people and other living beings that I can help.

I’ll admit, I am a little scared, and sad. I think I just got so used to Artemis’ constant presence that I never thought of being without her. It’s not that I can’t still talk to her; it’s just that her influence will be a lot less, and the Animal Father’s much more. While I’m exciting about continuing to grow, there’s still sadness that this phase of my life is ending, one that was really important to developing who I am. This November I’ll be turning thirty, but I’m less worried about that than about this marker of time.

But she’ll still be around; I’m not losing her. And I know she’ll let me know if I’m in need of her guidance (if I don’t think to ask!). I was going to do a ritual tonight, but I’m just too damned tired. So tomorrow will do. Believe it or not, this is pretty incredible for me. Before I started on the therioshamanism path, it was not at all uncommon for me to put off rituals for weeks or even months (a couple got postponed for years), or not done at all. So a delay of a day is pretty good. I still want to be more consistent, but this will do.

And I know she’s proud of me.

Planning Ahead

I’ve been discussing with the spirits what the time after my six months will bring. Looks like there’ll be a lot more foundation-building in store, which is just fine by me. I’ve been erring on the side of caution with this endeavour. Perhaps a bit too far, but having seen so many would-be shamans skimp on things like learning cosmology and getting to know one’s spirit guides and helpers before leaping headfirst into shamanic work, I want to make sure I don’t do the same thing. Plus I want to build more self-discipline, and this is a great way to do it. In fact, I think that’s one of the main reasons we’re focusing so much on taking a lot of time with this; I am not the most disciplined person. I do a lot, but it’s not always organized. This path asks for a certain amount of discipline and organization that I need to acquire before I can be a practicing shaman.

Most likely the six months after the Spring Equinox will be spent improving my relationships with my existing helping spirits and totems; I’m not sure if it will involve meeting new ones. I suspect the emphasis will be on working with who’s already here, though I can’t completely rule out the possibility that someone else may step up in the meantime. I’ll just have to see how it goes.

Beyond that, I’ll probably spend a certain amount of time after the second six months just exploring the Otherworld, getting to know the lay of the land, and practicing various journeying techniques. My progress there will most likely determine when I can actually start serious shamanizing. Of course, this is all conjecture at this point–we’re all just going to see how I do in my second six months. Everyone (myself included) seems pretty confident in how I’ve handled my first six months up til now; there’s still six weeks to go, but so far, so good.

There will, of course, be the chance to opt out at my ritual in March. I haven’t completely ruled it out, especially because I’ll get a good explanation of what to expect if I accept. However, should I choose to continue, I feel that I’ve gotten a pretty firm foundation thus far. The fact that I’ve made it four and a half months without giving up or losing interest is, believe it or not, impressive for me. Not that I’ve never been able to commit to anything, but simply that historically I haven’t been that interested in anything particularly formal.

I’m a different person now, though. I’m more grounded than I was, and more patient. This has been a really good experience for me, and I want to be able to use the tools I’m receiving to help others grow and heal as well. If therioshamanism can help me, then why shouldn’t it be able to help others?

Bear With Me, Here

I did some skin spirit work with my bear skin this past weekend. She’s a rather small brown bear salvaged from a very old rug; while the wrinkles in her muzzle have relaxed over the years since I took the taxidermy form out, she’ll always have a bit of a snarl. But she’s quite sweet.

I didn’t dance with her; rather, I simply sat with her and stroked the fur on top of her head and talked to her for a while. She’s old, and tired, and didn’t feel much like dancing just then. She was fine with that. Our conversation wasn’t particularly deep; she mainly talked about how glad she was to have a home with me (after spending years stuffed in a trunk somewhere–I rescued her from an antique shop). We made some agreements about our working relationship, and then I gently laid her back among the other skins.

Beyond that, I’ll just say that my Water month has presented a LOT of healing, especially in the emotional arena. (It’s also inspired me to read my copy of Kristin Madden’s <em>Book of Shamanic Healing</em>, which is excellent so far.) As I continue with my six months, I’m finding that I’ve learned quite a bit–and this is just the beginning!

I Made You a Cookie…

but I eated it*. (But I made a few more, so have one.)

Bear has really been urging me to take some time out. Workaholicism is a constant threat, and with all the stuff that’s happened in the past four months she clearly thinks I need a break. Problem is, I’m so used to filling my time up with stuff and things and tasks and projects that I sometimes forget to just have fun. So I promised that tonight I’d do something just for the fun of it.

That something ended up being making chocolate chip cookies from scratch, another famous first in my ever-expanding takeover of the kitchen. I had a blast, actually–I was looking forward to it all through doing the dishes (since Taylor had made supper). Once he finished putting our lunches together and got out of the kitchen, it was my turn. So got the dishes out of the way, and mixed up some batter per a decent recipe–nothing too fancy, just your classic chocolate chip cookies. Needless to say, they turned out awesome! Very chewy, which I prefer, and quite tasty–I used all brown sugar instead of half brown, half white. And yes, I did eat the last of the batter out of the bowl (even though you’re not supposed to because of the egg)–I definitely had the Bear thing going on, hands curved like claws, dining on dough like a bear with honey!

I really enjoyed the experience. Granted, some of that enjoyment was simply knowing what was going into my body. I’ll admit I love Chips Ahoy, but with these I had a much better idea of ingredients, and could change things around–I’d like to try raw sugar or honey sometime as a variation, see what happens. (I actually found out that brown sugar is worse than white sugar, since in its processing its outer coating is removed, then applied again! Details here. Also, here’s a good discussion on other alternatives to raw sugar.)

However, it was also a relatively stress-free activity. I didn’t have to do it; it wasn’t expected of me. I simply did it for the fun of doing it (and because I wanted a little something different for dessert!) Ever since I discovered that cooking doesn’t take nearly as much time as I’d feared, I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of making things happen in a culinary fashion–if I’m not cooking every single night, it’s fun! Since Taylor and I take turns with supper, I get some breaks. However, I usually enjoy when it’s my turn–kitchen alchemy!

So far, Water has really been about the healing process and maintaining health. As with other months, I’ve started by focusing a lot on the external issues, and then worked my way inward. So right now I’m doing things like taking raw cut-up vegetables to work, and figuring out more ways to reduce the amount of processed food I eat, for sake of my long-term health. However, I’m also sorting through some emotional fallout and issues that need to be dealt with–it isn’t fun, but I’m finding ways to deal with them that aren’t my usual “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” or “Run away! Run away!” Forgiveness is a big part of this month; I can be so damned hard on myself sometimes–“Oh, look, I screwed this tiny little thing up–I am the most horrible person in the world. WOES.” Okay, maybe not that bad, but I am one of those people who is hir own worst enemy.

I’m also learning to not feel guilty for going easier on myself. I have to remember that just because I forgive myself, doesn’t mean that I’ll suddenly revert to all of my absolute worst possible behavior patterns all at once. Maybe, on the other hand, it means that I can trust myself a bit more.

So believe you me, I am enjoying my Water month–not that I wasn’t enjoying the others, but this is a welcome break. Granted, I’m well aware that Water isn’t always the nice warm bath, and Bear isn’t always cuddly Mama Bear. Sometimes you get pounded by tidal waves, and mauled by an angry Bear. But this month, I think, is meant to be a break before I dive into the more intense work to come–as well as a reminder that I am allowed to take breathers as needed for my health. I was talking to Bear about this during my meditation today. She said that while dedication is certainly admirable, the spirits really don’t want a burnout on their hands. Better to get a bit less done, but do it more consistently and with more joy and determination, than to try to cram more into what time we have, and push myself past my limits into burnout territory. There’s shaman’s sickness, and then there’s just dissociation from your body to the point of ignoring its needs and causing ill health (to say nothing of mental stress!). Or so I understand it.

From what I’ve gathered, there’s a time and place for ordeals. They’re necessary, and sometimes life just throws them at us when we didn’t expect them. But as for living in a constant ordeal, I’m really not a hair shirt kind of person. I’ll roll around in the thorns as necessary, but I want my (increasingly eco-friendly and relatively healthier) cookies, too, dammit! (Speaking of which, I’ve eaten entirely too many of them tonight–please step away from the baking stone…)

* Maybe it’s not complex humor, but I love LOLcats. ICHC FTW!