Small Badger’s Song

Tonight I put the finishing touches on Small Badger’s song (Small Badger, of course, being my badger skin). I wasn’t happy with some of the lyrics, so I asked him if he minded me tweaking them. He said just so long as I said good things about him, he didn’t care. So I made my tweaks and was happy. He seemed quite happy with it as well, but I was boasting about him.

Small Badger does like to brag. However, it’s for good reason–he’s got a lot going for him! He’s a good teacher of healthy boasting, of being honestly proud of one’s accomplishments but without being a jerk about it. Too often in this society we’re told not to brag because it makes us look self-centered. Unfortunately this sort of stifling can lead to A) not talking about ourselves at all, or B) seeking too much attention (and thereby reassurance). Being able to speak of one’s strengths is vital in most things dealing with prosperity, which is the area where Small Badger and Badger have been of the most help to me. Whether it’s showing off one’s best skills in a job interview, or demonstrating responsibility in signing a mortgage, there are times where bragging rights come in handy.

I also worked on the drum rhythm for Badger (the totem). No words yet, but s/he definitely showed interest (and, not surprisingly, asked for sushi–or, to be more specific, sashimi. It’s become hir offering of choice.) So tomorrow I’ll probably work on the lyrics.

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One more thing…

One minor detail I forgot to add in the last post–I mentioned a fear of public singing. This was somewhat relieved as after I put Small Wolf on and before we began to dance, I sang the songs for both Wolf and Small Wolf. I’ve never sung them for anyone else; my husband can hear me upstairs, and as mentioned a couple people overheard me when I was singing and drumming Saturday afternoon. But this was the first time people were actually paying attention for the full thing.

I managed to get through without flubbing up any of the words–all that practice was good for that! Wolf and Small Wolf both seemed happy with the songs and my choice of timing. And, on a personal note, I was surprised that my voice came out as well as it did; I’ve never considered myself that great a singer (except as harmonic accompaniment). I also have a screwed up respiratory system thanks to a bad case of bronchitis in high school and numerous upper respiratory infections throughout my life, so my throat’s taken a bit of a beating. But I gotta say, I never sang so well as I did last night, and I’ve never been braver. Normally I screw something up, but this time, it went off without a hitch.

It’s a good sign.

Deeper Work with Wolf and Small Wolf

So this weekend marked a pretty significant shift for me (no pun intended). I went to Sunfest on the coast with my husband, Taylor. It was an excellent festival, and I highly recommend it to anyone in the Pacific Northwest. Anyway, it’s one of the few places in the Northwest that I’ve found where I can do fire dancing, which means it’s also one of the few places where I can do wolf dancing.

I’ve been dancing with Small Wolf, my wolf skin, since 2002. Folks who went to Sirius Rising from 2002 through 2006 may remember me as “the skinny chick in the wolf skin”. Since moving to the Northwest, I’ve spent more time getting settled in than getting out and about; I didn’t really do much while in Seattle, and now that we’ve been in Portland a year we’ve been working on finding more stuff in the area. I haven’t heard much about drum circles in Portland proper (gas prices prohibit regular attendance anywhere else, though occasional visits aren’t out of the question). So if any of my readers know of any options, feel free to let me know.

At any rate, I’ve been dancing with Small Wolf, the whole time. It’s generally been for the fun of it, both for Small Wolf and for me. I like getting a chance to see the world through his eyes, and he enjoys being able to move again, borrowing my body as I wear his skin. However, since starting on this shamanic path, the dancing has been moving towards something deeper and more complex than that. A lot of the threads of my practice over the years are beginning to come together into something more cohesive–which is exactly what I’ve been working towards in this endeavor.

This weekend, I had an experience that brought a lot of this purpose into sharp focus. I had brought Small Wolf with me expecting to get some dancing in, since Sunfest has a good group of drummers and a fire pit. I also brought my drum, since it wanted to come along as well. Saturday afternoon I had some time to sit and drum, practicing my songs for both Wolf and Small Wolf. I had a couple of folks come and share the drumming with me, which was nice. While most of my songs right now are still private, Small Wolf has always been a very public critter, and enjoys sharing with others (to an extent–not just anyone is allowed to touch him, and never without my permission unless you want to get yelled at). This was a good exercise for me, too, because while I’m fine with public speaking, I’m nervous about public singing. I’m not looking at huge concert tours and things of that nature, thankfully, but I will eventually need to at least be able to do the songs and drumming and such in front of other people as I take what I’m learning and use it to help others.

Last night it began to rain. Well, not really rain, so much as drizzle and spit. However, I generally don’t wolf dance outdoors in the rain because it’s really bad for Small Wolf–tanned furs are nowhere near as waterproof as the live deal. It’s tough to dry out the skin while camping, too, especially in a damp area. So I had originally figured I probably wasn’t going to get to dance. I had danced Friday night, and there were a number of people who had missed out on it. Apparently last year Small Wolf and I made quite an impression at our first Sunfest, and there were folks who were really looking forward to seeing us dance again (or who had heard about it but not seen it).

Our tent ended up being leaky, Taylor was recovering from a twenty-four hour bug, and I was wiped out from a busy weekend of vending, dancing, and socializing. So we decided to head home last night. This was perfect, because it meant that I could get a dance in before we left, and since home was only a couple of hours away I could get Small Wolf dried out since it was still only drizzling, not pouring. I made arrangements to get the folks who wanted to see the wolf dancing at the fire at an appointed time, asked a few of the drummers if they would be willing to show up, and managed to pull everything together in a short time.

The time came, and people were there at the circle, a couple dozen including the drummers. I had just intended to dance and be done with it. However, both Wolf and Small wolf had something else in mind. As I stepped into the circle, they made it very clear they wanted it to be a ritual. Small Wolf and I already have a bit of a rite we go through when we first get to the fire. First I walk around the fire a few times, greet it, and exchange energy with it to connect with it. Then as I prepare myself for the rite, I continue circling. After that I will carry Small Wolf over my shoulder and hold his head towards the fire so he may greet it. After that I put him on, binding his legs to my arms and legs, and tying his head over mine like a hood. I may then sit on the ground for a few moments, getting a really strong connection with him, and then we dance.

However, this time, after I connected with the fire and before I connected with Small Wolf, I called on the totems of the directions as well as various entities of Nature I work with, including the Animal Father. I don’t consider it evoking them, since they’re already there–the Green Mother is in the plant life, the Animal Father in critters great and small, the Wind and Water in the storm, etc. I don’t see a need to banish them, either, at the end–where would they go? I do acknowledge their presence, though, and ask them to witness the ritual if they will.

Only then did I ask Small Wolf to dance with me. I don’t just assume; I always ask. He’s generally enthusiastic–he enjoys it at least as much as I do. So I draped him over me, and we began to dance as the drummers drummed–they were so wonderful, those drummers! And the people watching were incredibly respectful and focused, sharing in the experience. A few had rattles and bells that they played with the drummers, and others I could see the wolf energy touch them. Small Wolf and I danced, and we danced, and the energy rose, and I began to show my teeth in the happy wolf-grin….

And then at the height of it, we invited those who would to come join us, to dance with us, to share in the wolf energy. Only a few did, but they settled into the current so easily, so smoothly. We’ve been able to share that current at more informal drum circles, and had people follow us in a line as we danced around the fire, but this was the first time that this was the sole focus of the dancing and drumming, and being able to feel that without distractions really showed me just what it was that Small Wolf and I have been building together for over half a decade.

I wish I hadn’t been so worn out; while I can channel energy with the best of them, I do allow my body to remind me of its limits. It had been a busy weekend, I’d done most of the setup when we arrived on site because Taylor was still sick, and I was potentially fighting off the bug as well. Plus cold rain will sap my strength more than just about anything. So I wish I’d had more strength, but when I reached my limit, Wolf backed off, and Small Wolf helped me to wind down. We left the wolf “flavor” in the drum circle–enough to let people keep the spirit of the ritual with them, but nothing that wouldn’t dissipate as the night wore on and other elements and spirits came in to dance with the people. I thanked all the spirits and beings who had witnessed the ritual, though they, like Wolf, had already begun to back off to their usual places as I began to tire. I think I wish I could have held out longer, danced more with the people who had been there; one person earlier in the day had been talking to me about how she and other people often felt intimidated by the fire dancing, too self-conscious to go out there and dance–and that sometimes what was needed was an invitation. I tried that, but I think if I’d had more energy I could have gotten people more involved in the ritual.

But I think we made an impression on the folks who were there, and this was definitely a good start. It gives me more focus of where my work with Wolf and Small Wolf will go. While I don’t tend to believe everything I read in the dictionaries, the theme of Wolf energy as teacher energy makes a lot of sense here. One thing Small Wolf and I have always been able to do with our dancing has been inspire people; Wolf and Small Wolf have been good at teaching me to lead through example. Part of why I blog here is to show other people what I’m doing and to hopefully inspire them to walk their own paths more fully and without fear. There are too many problems in the world these days to waste time letting the naysayers scare you into not doing what you need to do for fear of being told you’re wrong–we need more constructive actions, not destructive ones. (And there are better ways to remind someone of their impact than to insult them and point out only their mistakes.)

So the role I seem to be moving into with Wolf and Small Wolf is that which will be the most public aspects of my practice–giving people something they can participate in not just as spectators, but as active participants in the ritual. Time will tell as to whether any of the other totems or skin spirits want to be that involved with people beyond private ceremonies. However, Wolf and Small Wolf have always been happy to accompany me in public dances at pagan gathers. This is a great opportunity, because just being able to watch seems to really get people thinking about the Wild. If I can take that wonder and joy and roll it over into more interactive rituals that have a theme of Wolf = Wild = Respecting the Wild, so much the better.

It’s also good for me for personal reasons. One thing that can be considered, I suppose, a personality flaw is that I love attention. Okay, I love good attention, not the kind of attention one gets when punched in the nose, let me clarify! While most people like attention, I sometimes go overboard, and it’s something I’ve had to struggle with for years. The shamanic work has been great for teaching me how to shove my ego out of the way when needed. However, the enjoyment of attention is actually coming in handy here, because I’m able to get over my self-consciousness and instead consciously attract attention for a specific purpose. Therefore I’m able to take a personality trait that could potentially be a problem (attention whoring, anyone) and instead channel it into something more positive and constructive. Not that it completely solves all problems; I do still have to remember that when I dance, it’s not all about me. But Small Wolf in particular has been a great teacher for working through that particular bit of conditioning, and instead of completely squelching the desire for
attention, I’ve instead been learning to use it for the Powers of Good (TM)!

It’ll be interesting to see how this Wolf/Small Wolf work progresses. They’ve already been strongly involved in the ecological aspects of my life and practice; it’s no coincidence that wolves have often been equated with the wilderness, and the need to preserve both. Wolf taught me to appreciate Nature from an early age, and Small Wolf has continued with that through our dancing. I’m going to find some ways to maybe do more regular rituals where others can participate, since there are a lot of things Wolf and Small Wolf would like me to pass on to other people, and this is a great way to do so.

Wolf, the teacher and my guide into the Wild, and Small Wolf, my dance partner and willing conspirator in impromptu inspiration, are definitely taking me in some good directions.

ETA: Here’s a brief addendum to this post that I added after the feeds picked up on it.

This is What It’s All About

Note: I apologize for those inconvenienced by the images; I don’t intend to do this very often, but I wanted to share these to give a better idea of why I do what I do…

I am a creature of conifers, ferns and thick, green moss

Where the red bones of trees stain the Earth like ochre

Where they stand like sentinels, and the ravens quork

Teasing the Sun with beaks and eyes

Where the river dragons leap down the mountainside

Laughing and splashing and leaving Life in their wake.

–By Lupa

Something Bigger

Recently I had cause to be part of a discussion as to whether anyone else had been feeling currents of change building up towards Something Bigger. I see this a lot in the various spiritual subcultures I’m a part of. Something Bigger is usually seen as a mystical/spiritual trend beyond our ken, sometimes with an apocalyptic bent that grows more common as we approach the legendary 2012. The general pattern is this:

–Something bad or otherwise significant happens to someone; or, someone starts to feel fluctuations in the energy around them.
–The person(s) then goes into hyperawareness mode, looking for any potential explanation for what’s going on beyond mundane explanations.
–This may then spiral into a huge self-reproducing cycle of worry, anxiety, and speculation that defies any more down-to-Earth theories of what happened.

Now, I know damned well that there’s more to reality than just what we can interpret with our (subjective) five physical senses. What I disagree with about the above cycle is that although such occurrences may indeed be linked to Something Bigger, that Something Bigger is often closer to home than we may suspect.

A good example is this past week. Last Tuesday, I took my GREs, having graduated from college seven years ago almost to the day–I did well, but it was a significant event for me, and it wiped me out quite a bit. Since last Thursday, I have developed and been recovering from a bad case of strep throat (I don’t recommend it, by the way). During my recovery, we had a squirrel get caught in our upstairs, and I had to do some fancy maneuvering to get it back outdoors. Needless to say, it’s not been a fun few days, but I managed.

It would be easy for me to blow this whole week out of proportion, given that most of it wasn’t so great. However, I’m really a fan of Occam’s Razor–the simplest answer is the most likely. Not the only answer, but the first one I look to. In the case of my week, there is a very simple set of explanations:

–I have a weak respiratory system to begin with; I was that kid who caught every single cold and other upper respiratory bug that came through (except, amazingly enough, chicken pox, unless I managed to get a “spotless” version thereof). Saturday night my husband and I went out to a club, where you have a whole bunch of people in close quarters, so that’s most likely where I picked it up, though I may even have gotten a quick-incubating version when I took the GREs. Needless to say, respiratory germs love me; I can’t say the feeling is mutual.
–Taking the GREs stressed me out some, and additionally my sleep schedule got a little wonky, which meant there were a couple of nights where I didn’t get as much sleep as I needed. Additionally, I began my period last week, which also can temporarily lower the immune system.
–As for the squirrels, we’ve been dealing with them since last year. It was only a matter of time before they actually got inside.

I did talk to Squirrel, just to be sure. At most, the situation with the squirrel in the attic was a good lesson in observing how I deal with stressful situations, but for the most part, it was just a matter of an urban squirrel finding a cozy spot to live (albeit an inconvenient one). That I managed to learn something from the situation is a good sign, but I can learn from just about any experience–life is a process of learning, something you’ll hear from everyone from shamans to neurobiologists.

I think there’s a lot to be said for one’s perception. Say you have a crappy day, where nothing seems to go right. You may actually have some good things occur, but you’re so focused on the things that have gone wrong that what’s gone right goes unnoticed. In this case, your perceptions may have much more to do with your luck than any outside force.

Do I think there’s Something Bigger? Absolutely. However, I don’t believe it has anything to do with me in specific, any more than anyone else. Too often the kind of cycle I mentioned in the beginning of this post is accompanied by a feeling of “Ooooh, I can sense something, what does it mean for me? What is it about me that makes me able to sense this, while no one else knows what’s going on?” People try to make a bigger deal out of the situation than they really need to.

When I think of Something Bigger, at least in regards to the human species, I think less of apocalyptic myths, and more about the concrete cumulative detrimental effect we’ve had on the environment, on each other, and on ourselves. Perhaps the energy, the soul, of the Earth is changing. Perhaps we are feeling large-scale shifts in what we’re perceiving. However, I figure it’s less about the potential for a whole slew of angels and demons pouring out of a rift in the sky for a huge battle, and more about the building damage we’re inflicting on this world and its inhabitants (ourselves included), physically and energetically.

And if we perceive more unhealthy patterns around us, shouldn’t that tell us to look at our own health? Remember what I said about how having a bad day can contribute to feeling like everything sucks? Given how many people just in the U.S. suffer from a host of bad experiences and resultant conditioning, and how psychologically damaged even healthier people can be, it’s not at all surprising when people project that outward onto the world around them. We aren’t raised to have healthy relationships with ourselves, or with others, or with the environment, and it’s hard to keep ignoring the result of this lack of social health. While some people have done a lot of healing in this regard, it’s tough to find someone who is completely untouched by some trauma or issue.

The obsession with a mystical, out of our hands Something Bigger is simultaneously self-centered and self-denying. It focuses on the perceptions of the self, and the idea that the self may be more special in hir unique perceptions, or even more special by virtue of the Universe caring enough about the individual to enmesh hir (and maybe a few friends) in some vast cosmic plot–or even that the plot has to do with humans in particular. However, it is self-denying in that it neatly removes responsibility for any major changes from the individual. Angry spirits? Explain them away as an impending apocalypse on the spiritual planes rather than pissy land spirits who aren’t happy about the pollution and being ignored by most people, and ba-boom! No more responsibility! Or, alternately, explain it as something that’s absolutely fated and inevitable and there’s not a damned thing we can do to change it–again, we’re left free and clear (relatively speaking).

This is not to say that there’s absolutely no truth or possibility to the idea of an apocalypse. However, when I think of Something Bigger, my first thoughts go to things that directly tie it to the simplest answers. Only after definitively ruling out these possibilities will I look further. The exception may be if I get a direct message from a spirit that gives more complexity, but even then I don’t automatically believe everything I hear, no matter who it is. And I still test what messages I get against Occam’s Razor.

In my experience, when something is decidedly not simple, there’s no doubt about it in my mind. I may have to ask around for specifics, but there’s a certain “feel” to something that’s More, and it’s different than something that’s important to just me, even something so important to me that it feels Earth-shattering. We are capable of feeling very deeply on our own, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is involved. Lose a partner through breakup, divorce or death, and you may feel that your life has no meaning–but the world goes on anyway. There doesn’t have to be any significant impact beyond the people immediately affected by a situation; while our actions have ripples, not every action ripples indefinitely. My getting sick and dealing with a wayward squirrel in the space of twenty-four hours doesn’t have to mean anything more than a few germs and a wild mammal converging on me at the same time.

I do think that the culture I am a part of puts too much emphasis on intellect and ignores a healthy approach to intuition most of the time. However, tossing intellect out the window with the bathwater is not the solution to salvaging intuition’s damaged reputation. You are not more spiritual the more wacky your stories get; healthy spirituality is that which can still interface with the rest of reality, rather than running at odds with “mundane” reality. Something Bigger does not have to be about the improbable–look to the very possible first, and then work your way out from there (if it’s even necessary). Even if Something Bigger ends up being more than meets the eye, at least you’ve made yourself aware of the more immediate issues and can work on them as well as the weirder ones.

Getting Pulled Into Drumming

The past few days I’ve been a lot more consistent about drumming. I’ve been practicing the songs/drumming for Wolf and Small Wolf, getting better at switching between the two since I’m working towards a ritual format that will involve smooth segueing from one song to the next without missing a beat. I’ve also begun singing the lyrics to the songs quietly as I walk around throughout my day, without really thinking about it–which apparently is fine, just so long as I’m practicing and getting the songs well imprinted into my memory.

The songs/drumming have been good for my focus as well. Instead of with a “normal” musical performance, where I’d have to worry about what other people thought, in this case my main concern is that the spirits like their respective songs. While I’m a pretty decent piano/keyboard player, I’m not much for writing songs and I’m not a really, really experienced drummer. So the songs I come up with aren’t particularly complex, and wouldn’t win any contests. But the spirits like them, and they give me ideas for things they’d like me to include in them. And if they like them, then that’s good enough for me. Sort of like the common advice in books on how to make ritual tools and other sacred artwork–it doesn’t have to be award-winning artisanship to work well.

So today I went upstairs to do some artwork (since my ritual area and artwork area are one and the same, and the practices often overlap anyway). As soon as I got there, the skin spirits “grabbed” me and got my attention. They sat me down, and asked me to start drumming for them. Nothing specific, just entertain them for a bit, since they like listening to me drum even when it’s not specifically for them.

After a while, I settled into one particular rhythm. Before that point, I hadn’t been feeling anything more pronounced from any single one. However, as I played this rhythm, Small Badger popped up and said, “That one’s mine!” So I began to play it just for him (drum solo!), building a greater connection between the rhythm and the skin spirit. It was quite a success.

Of course, now I have to write a song to go with it. No, it won’t be this one. Those are European badgers, and Small Badger is most definitely an American badger. Small badger did tell me to go research him (or, rather, his species) to get to know his general characteristics better, then I think we’ll be chatting more about what his song should include.