A Successful Ritual

Tonight was the totemic drum and dance ritual. It went quite well, even with a relatively small turnout, and I was able to rework the format to fit the smaller group with a more personalized ritual. All told, it was about an hour and a half, one of the longest rituals I’ve done. And it was also my first planned group ritual which, all things considered, turned out better than I expected. (Of course, I do want to give credit to the other participants, corporeal and otherwise, who really helped to make it the awesome experience that it was

I started out with a brief meditation for everyone to get focused on the ritual ahead. Then I called the totems and other spirits of the four cardinal directions, as well as the Animal Father. I asked Small Wolf to aid me in evoking Wolf as the first (nondirectional) totem called, and we danced together. Then, the bulk of the ritual involved me and the other participants taking turns calling on individual totems, then drumming and dancing for each one to invite them in and to honor them, as well as give them the energy we raised.

I danced each totem’s energy as s/he arrived, and ended up dancing some new ones that I’d never worked with before. That was definitely good exercise for my ability to invoke! (Totemic improv theatre?) I was amazed at how energized I felt; I had assumed that dancing new totems would wear me out. Whether it was the general energy of the ritual, aid from the individual totems, or a really good burst of adrenaline (or some combination thereof), something kept me going longer than I normally am able to, even with a normal, nonritualized drum circle.

Then, at the end of the ritual, I acknowledged that there were so many totems that we hadn’t had time to mention, but that we were grateful for anyway. I bade farewell to all who had arrived, and ended the ritual.

I really needed this experience tonight. I’ve been feeling altogether too stagnant lately. I came home tonight with a renewed sense of purpose, and a good reminder of just why it is I’ve been dedicating time to “that shamanism stuff”. I have a much better idea of group ritual structure that works, and despite my nervousness at the beginning of the ritual, I’m more confident in my ability to participate in a group setting as a facilitator. However, there are some things that I’ll also be borrowing for my personal practices as well. All in all, another piece of the puzzle fell into place tonight.

There will be more rituals like this, though I’m not sure how often they’ll be, and I also need to fine-tune the format, especially if I get a group that’s too big for what we did tonight. But this is a good start.

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Bear as Mediator, and Belief as Psychology

I’ve taken a break the past week from drumming and other shamanic practice, as a number of other things have hit me from a variety of directions. On one hand, the Animal Father has been persistently reminding me of my responsibilities, particularly my primary project right now with the drumming and dancing. However, Bear has been countering some of his demands, reminding him (and me) that I need to rest sometimes, and that it’s okay to take a break now and then. Bear has always been supportive of me taking care of my health, and not just physically. This isn’t surprising, as I’ve always associated hir with healing. However, s/he’s really stepped up as I’ve been on this path, which is more demanding than what I did in the past, to remind me of balance and burnout.

I was thinking the other night–what if Bear, and the Animal Father, and all the other spirits I work with, are just aspects of my psyche, figments of my imagination? What if there’s no objective reality in what I’m doing? And I thought about it for a while, and realized that even if that were the case, I’m still happy that the Animal Father and Bear are talking to each other. While I don’t believe, personally, that they’re all in my head, I do see their influences in my life, and the corresponding behavior patterns I have. I do tend to push myself pretty hard sometimes, and I need to remember that I don’t always have to stuff as much activity and achievement into one day that I possibly can. (Not surprisingly, one of the biggest advocates of me remembering this has been my husband, Taylor, who incidentally is one of Bear’s own.)

Back when I was more heavily practicing Chaos magic, I spent some time stuck pretty firmly in the psychological model of magic, the idea that it’s all a part of our minds, complex as they may be. I eventually gave up on that model, and also distanced myself from Chaos magic somewhat, because for me personally I found it to be an ultimately empty and disheartening perspective. While I value psychology quite a bit (as my current studies and entrance into graduate school should indicate), I see it as just one layer of reality. I see reality as being multilayered, and the layers are more a convenient form of description than a concrete structure–they aren’t exclusive of each other. So I can look at something from a psychological perspective, and then examine the same thing as an animist, and then combine the two together for a third viewpoint. And I don’t believe that the psychological perspective is superior to the animistic one, or vice versa. Each perspective is a set of tools and pictures that allows me to better understand whatever I encounter, and the more perspectives I have access to, the more thorough my understanding. This is why I draw from multiple wells–psychology, neuroscience, animism, both traditional and neo shamanisms, basic quantum physics, and so forth.

However, it is not my knowing these things that is important alone. Instead, what also must be taken into consideration is how I utilize them–and that’s something that doesn’t necessarily come out of a book. I can theorize all I want, but unless I actually use what I have learned, all it is is a bunch of words. It’s taken me a while to loosen my grip somewhat on my enamorment of academic understanding; I haven’t let go entirely, and I still find value in it, but I don’t place it on the high pedestal I once did.

And I look at my situation, and I consider what’s more valuable. Is it more important that I should scrape together whatever mythological, psychological, and historical evidence to support the eclectic, syncretic path that I am composing as I go along? Or should I value the experience and the lessons learned more than that? While I don’t believe that we should ignore the experiences of others as they’ve been recorded over time, I do think that subjective, personal experience has an edge in one’s personal practice. Even if it isn’t corroborated by any known, previously existing religious path, if it’s leading the person who follows it to become a better person and/or make the world a better place, then I don’t think that its novelty should be too weighted against it.

To be sure, I don’t support the deliberate misrepresentation of one’s path. However, I think sometimes people try to separate out the historical/factual/etc. correctness of a path while failing to consider the experiential value of it. And you can’t separate the experience from the facts when judging the path as a whole.

So I accept the distinct possibility that there’s no way to prove that what I’m doing is anything beyond my subjective perceptions, and that the connections to other shamanisms are ultimately tenuous at best. However, that possibility is only part of the story, and it surely isn’t enough to discourage me from having experiences that I find to be not only personally beneficial, but which encourage me to be more aware of the world around me and what I can do to improve it.

Deer Songs and a New Path

The Song and Dance Project (as I shall irreverently call it) has been continuing apace. Working with Deer and Small Deer has, in some ways, been a sigh of relief after Badger and Small Badger’s rather complex songs. The Deer songs have been very simple, lyrically speaking, and in fact the vocals are less of a focus than the drumming. Deer’s sing is so vocally simple, in fact, that its lyrics consist of a single word.

Lately, every time I’ve gone up to drum, I’ve run through all the songs I’ve written so far, usually three times for each, before starting on a new one. I’m doing my best to commit these all to memory. However, there will be a few dozen songs just from the totems and skin spirits–and there’s no telling who’ll want a song after them. I do want to sit down at some point with an audio recording program and a good mike and do basic recordings of each song, just so I have them on hand. Even after I finish writing all the totem and skin spirit songs I’ll still be practicing them regularly, in addition to whatever actual ritual use they get. But as my memory is still a bit impaired from years of sleep deprivation, a little technological backup can’t hurt, so long as I don’t let it replace regular practice.

That’s pretty much been my main focus as of late with my practice. This is perfectly fine with me; the first six months were pretty intense, and after that things were a little up in the air. It’s nice to have something resembling a linear set of tasks for a little while, though–it helps to keep me focused. It’s also helping me build a solid foundation for when things refuse to even resemble “linear”.

In other news, life has taken an interesting twist. Dissatisfied with making my living in the field of technical writing and editing, which mainly benefits large corporations and does little to help make the world a better place, a while ago I began seriously questioning what I wanted to do with my life. In reviewing what really interested me, I found myself continually coming back to psychology. While I didn’t have a formal background in it other than a couple of courses in my undergraduate work in college, in my own readings in the years since I graduated I found that psychology was something I kept coming back to. Ecopsychology was a particular interest, not surprisingly.

An added perk was the fact that psychology could easily be applied to real-world efforts to help people–and healthy individuals contribute to healthier communities. So I did some research on local universities and found one that, while it didn’t have a full degree in ecopsychology, the community counseling program did have an ecopsychology track as one possible emphasis.

After going to an open house for the graduate department in May, and finding out there were still openings for the Autumn semester, I rushed around to get everything pulled together in the space of a month to apply. I had never taken my GREs, so I got them scheduled and taken; I also rounded up reference letters, and ordered a transcript from my undergrad university. I got everything in just under the wire.

And…..I got accepted! I’ll be starting in September. If all goes well, in a few years I’ll have a Master’s degree in community counseling, and after 2400 hours of monitored practice I’ll have my license as well.

This bodes well. While psychology doesn’t automatically equal shamanism, and vice versa, counseling is a profession that, besides being something I can see myself committing my life to, I perceive as being quite complementary to my shamanic practice. While I’d most likely keep them as relatively separate parts of my life (i.e., I wouldn’t advertise a private counseling practice as being “genuine modern shamanism!”), I can still see the experiences from one meshing well with the other.

The spirits I work with are pleased about this (just so long as I don’t get so overwhelmed by school that I neglect them, of course). So I’ll take it as a good sign.

What I’ve Been Up To

I’ve been rather quiet lately, haven’t I? Here’s a bit of what’s been going on:

–I’ve been continuing with creating songs for the skin spirits and totems I work with. Small Badger and Badger now each have their own songs; Badger’s was particularly difficult, and s/he wouldn’t let me move on to the next until I had it just right. Took me longer than the others, but I got it. I’m now working on Small Deer’s drum beat; I haven’t yet created a song for it.

–Taylor and I went hiking on Mt. Hood last weekend. It still wants some proof of commitment beyond the average hiker, but is quite patient and willing to wait. Mt. Hood doesn’t seem to be as prone to quick attachment as Multnomah-Wahkeena was. But we now have a parking pass from the forest service and can park anywhere on the lots around the mountain at the trailheads.

–I’ve been chewing on the whole issue of Death as of late. Along with still having my own hang-ups and issues regarding Death, I also have the interplay between me and the skin spirits, which often experienced their own bad deaths. So a lot of their energy and their communication with me has been triggering my issues, and forcing me to start dealing with them more. This isn’t a terrible thing, of course. Better to deal with them now than if I were called upon for whatever reason to act the role of psychopomp in an intense journey setting. I have received the useful advice that I should probably try focusing more on life-affirming things as balance, such as my gardening and hiking and volunteering and whatnot. The skins spirits for my artwork have been particularly insistent about my attention lately, and I need to make sure to not let their needs overwhelm me.

–Tonight I took a little time out to create a community on Livejournal that I’ve been meaning to for a while, Totemists. A totemist is a person for whom totemism (usually, though not always, from a neopagan/neoshamanic perspective) is more than just “I know my totem, and occasionally ask for protection”. Rather, totemism is a significant part of the person’s spiritual/magical practice. The community is specifically NOT for questions like “What’s my totem? What does this totem mean?” and other 101 level material. I’m hoping for some good conversations.

I am absolutely amazed at myself for sticking with this for more than a couple of months. Coming up in September it’ll have been a year since I started a specifically shamanic path. Less than three months–pretty amazing to me. Of course, I’m settling down in other ways, so that’s not all that surprising. I’ve learned a hell of a lot, and I feel a lot more connected to the Land, the various spirits I’ve been building relationships with, other people, etc. I feel like a small seed slowly putting out roots and shoots to fill a particular niche I’ve landed in.

So that’s pretty much it–mostly, at this point, my practice is revolving around the drumming and singing, the upcoming totemic drum and dance ritual I’m hosting here in Portland, and continuing to interact with the Land and its denizens on a daily basis. Is there anything else anyone might be curious about hearing more about?

Totemic Drum/Dance Ritual in Portland

This will probably mostly be of interest for people in the Portland, OR area. Wolf and Small Wolf wanted me to do something along the lines of my impromptu ritual at Sunfest, so I came up with an open to the community drum and dance ritual. It’s a fundraiser, too; while I personally have no problem with people being compensated for their time and energy, Wolf and Small Wolf made it clear they wanted this one to be not-for-profit. So anything beyond my cost for renting the space will go to the Defenders of Wildlife.

Here’s the text of the flyer I printed up:

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Totemic Drum and Dance Ritual/Fundraiser
Open to the Community!

Do you work with animal totems? Or do you simply appreciate their presence in the world, as well as that of their physical “children”? Then come join us at the Guiding Tree at 4831 SE Division St. on Tuesday, July 29 for a drum and dance ritual to honor the totems!

Starting at 6:30 in the evening, we’ll begin with an orientation workshop to explain the reasons behind the ritual, as well as answer any questions. The ritual itself will start between 7 and 7:30, depending on how long the orientation takes. We’ll go until a little before 9pm, when the ritual will be formally closed. Until then, though, we’ll be drumming, dancing and celebrating the animal totems!

Drummers–bring your favorite drums! Dancers—come ready to dance like the animals in their honor! Everyone—wear whatever ritual garb or costumery that reminds you of your totems. You may also bring representations of your totems to place on the ritual altar for the duration of the ritual.

Suggested donation is $10 per person; all proceeds beyond paying for rental of the studio at the Guiding Tree will be donated to the Defenders of Wildlife (http://www.defenders.org), a nonprofit organization that works to protect wildlife, especially large endangered predators. If you cannot cover $10, please contact Lupa at whishthound@gmail.com for potential alternate arrangements.

About the ritual host: Lupa has been working with totemism and other forms of animal magic for over a decade. She has publicly danced with a wolf skin at pagan events since 2002, and has danced other animals in private since then. Lupa’s focus is primarily neopagan totemism rather than the totemism of any particular indigenous culture. She is a practicing (neo)shaman with a strong ecospiritual focus, and this ritual is a part of her service to the community as well as to the totems and other spirits she works with. She is the author of two books on totemism and animal magic, and may be found online at http://www.thegreenwolf.com and http://therioshamanism.com.

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If you know anyone who’d be interested in attending, please feel free to pass this along!

In other news, I finished creating Badger’s song and now just need to keep practicing it to commit it more fully to memory. I also recently met a very cool person who reminded me, among other things, that I’m not the only person who still struggles to shove my ego out of the way. And I got a bit of very good news from the Animal Father, though it’s something to keep private for the time being.