First off, a quick note of potential interest to some readers/friends of readers/etc. I don’t talk a whole lot about the writing end of my life here, since it’s primarily a spiritually focused blog. However, I’ve put out a call for writers for a new anthology–“Engaging with the Spirit World: Shamanism, Totemism and Other Animistic Practices”. The deadline is 1 August, 2008, which gives me plenty of time to finish up a couple of other projects. Click the link for more details.
Recently I’ve been doing some work with my wolfskin, amid reorganizing and decluttering my ritual/artwork space (it’s kind of hard for me to separate the two, and not just because of apartment living!). It’s the beginning of my more regular work with the skin spirits, and though I haven’t quite managed the every-single-night goal I have, I have managed to stay mostly on track. It’s been a good experience so far. As always, Wolf the totem has been a patient teacher, and the wolf skin spirit* has been similarly so. The focus has primarily been on teaching and learning–teaching things that I’m prepared for (I’ve scheduled a series of animal magic workshops at a local pagan bookstore), and learning things that still need to be learned (which is a long list indeed!).
One thing that has been suggested is that my work with the totems, at least to some degree, will be concentrated more on working with/through the skin spirits, allowing them to help me make stronger connections with the corresponding totems. It’s not a new concept to me; I’ve been doing that with the wolf skin for years. And while I can work with the totems just fine without “intermediaries”, having some help along the way does make things easier, and helps me to concentrate on tasks beyond the initial connection. I’m not sure what will happen if I need to do some in-depth work with a totem whose skin/etc. is inaccessible, either through legalities or other limitations. I may simply end up doing a substitution of some sort, faux fur or other costumery with an animal spirit invited to reside inside. But it will help me to bring together the totemic and skin spirit works I do; I don’t think it will be all the skin spirit work will be limited to, but it’s a good starting place for more complex tasks.
Speaking of spirits, someone in a locked LJ post made a great observation. S/he made the comment that if a shaman were to question the validity of another person claiming to be a shaman, s/he would do best by consulting hir own spirits about the person. This makes a good deal of sense to me. Granted, it could be abused by those wanting to meet their own aims, but then again, what doesn’t face that particular potential fate? Still, it’s a good bit of food for thought.
Finally, I recently had the opportunity to stay in a hotel in Florida with an outdoor swimming pool while on a business trip for my day job. Now, I don’t swim all that often; my parents had an aboveground pool when I was growing up that came with the house they bought, but after I moved out after college my opportunities for swimming have been few and far between. I’m not a big fan of public pools; I want to swim, not dodge screaming children and beach balls. So my chances for swimming have been quite sporadic.
When I went out to swim on my last evening at the hotel, it was quiet; there was no one else in the pool, and the moon shone overhead. I had a chance to just enjoy being in the water without distraction. It was lovely. I allowed myself some time to simply commune with Water, feeling how buoyant I was in her embrace, and giving myself some time to play with her. I bounced against the bottom of the pool, letting the water carry me higher and higher, and cushioning my landing. I lay on my back and spun in circles. I splashed air under the surface to let the bubbles rise up and tickle my skin. I played as I haven’t in a good long while.
But then I got scared. I thought about diving under the surface like I used to do a lot. I loved pretending I was flying, not swimming, seeing the water not from above, but within, a matrix to move through. But tonight I balked. At first I told myself it was just that I didn’t want chlorine in my eyes, stinging and burning.
Then I stopped and really thought about it. I wasn’t really scared of the chlorine. I was letting a fear in the back of my head get to me–an unlikely, but visceral, fear of drowning. Now, I’ve never had a situation where I came close to drowning, though I’m not a fan of closed spaces–makes it tough to breathe. Still, I sometimes have an overactive imagination–reading about someone drowning (or otherwise dying badly) tends to make me cringe, and don’t even ask about violence in movies! (If you want to watch it, go for it–I’ll have my eyes closed, thanks.) I’ve even been known to have nightmares. I’m probably too squeamish for my own good, but more on that in a minute.
So I started to leave, but Water said no. She told me to wait, to come back, and face my irrational fears. So I waded back in. I’m not the world’s best swimmer, but I can swim. I submerged myself in the shallow end, and came back up quickly. Then I went under a little longer, and looked up at the surface. After a few more tries, I swam down to the bottom of the deep end, and touched the floor before coming back up.
And I wasn’t afraid any more. I knew no one was going to come along and drown me just because I was in the water. I knew I wasn’t going to black out for no reason while in the water. And all the irrational fears drifted off, washed away by my experiences with Water.
It’s a good reminder to me, to not let my fears get in the way–especially fears that have little founding. And it’s a good reminder to stop and think about fear before allowing it to dictate my actions. It’s not an easy thing to do; all my life there have been people’s voices saying “Fear this; be afraid of that–it’s the unknown, you shouldn’t go into it!” Sometimes I’ve been told that there are things that are known to be dangerous, and therefore I shouldn’t even learn about them, or even speak of them. Therefore they remain unknown, and terrifying. Yet when I approach them for myself, to see what the fuss is all about, I find that while they may be worrisome, knowing more about them make the fear less overwhelming. In other cases, the fear goes away entirely. And it’s not uncommon to find there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.
Fear is a deep emotion; and Water can be both terrifying and delightful. Learning to gauge the right reaction to emotions–and to Water–is something that I may have to keep learning the rest of this life, but it’s a worthy endeavor.
*I really need to come up with a good nickname for the skin spirits, other than the private ritual names for them. If I started referring to the wolf skin spirit as Small Wolf, and the wolf totem as Wolf, would that make sense to you, dear readers?