Wasps and Bees

Today will probably be one of the last really nice days before cold sets in. Thursday it’ll start to rain and be in the low 60s, and I think everything will go downhill from there. If it isn’t at least 70, I’m too cold, and it generally doesn’t get nice again til sometime in the middle of June. The weather’s about the only thing I don’t like about this place.

So I spent my lunch time out on the green on the graduate campus, watching the bees flying in and out of their hive and collecting nectar from the field of clover under the apple trees. I had some left over barbecue from supper last night, and I dropped a couple of pieces of shrimp shell in the grass. A little while later, as the bees zrrrrrved from flower to flower, a wasp cut through their flight patterns to land on the shrimp. I could hear its mouthpieces cutting away at the shell to take a piece off to who knows where. Another wasp came by, and a brief battle ensued. Eventually one wasp would hover until the other left, then would land to feed, and so on.

It would be so easy to draw a dichotomy between the aggressive conflicts of solitary carnivorous wasps fighting over meat, and the communal sharing of vegan bees who live on the nectar of live flowers. This would, of course, be accentuated by human biases–bees are beneficial because they give us honey; wasps are bad because they don’t give us anything but stings.

Yet I see it as overly simplistic. Should the value of a species be gauged by our subjective judgements of them? Or is not every species special and beautiful for simply being what it is? How much of our conditioning and socialization colors our perceptions?

We can acknowledge our biases and our judgements, but also temper them with other approaches. Is there anything inherently wrong with many wasps being solitary by nature? Or with not creating honey? IMO, these are merely value judgements that privilege humanity and its needs and wants over those of the bees and wasps.

Or, to make a bad pun remiscent of elementary school, let the critters bee themselves.

Shamanism and PTSD

I found this nifty article about core shamanism and PTSD over at Letters from Hardscrabble Creek. This makes me very hopeful, as PTSD treatment is something I want to do some research on once I have my counseling degree. (Neo)shamanism fits quite nicely into ecopsychology–in fact, the first anthology on ecopsychology includes an interview with Leslie Gray, who created what she calls “shamanic counseling”, a hybrid of core shamanism and counseling techniques.

“But wait, Lupa, I thought you didn’t like core shamanism! Why are you singing its praises?” you may ask. Yes, I have some practical differences with core shamanism that lead to me not wanting to practice it myself as a (neo)shaman. However–and this is a big however–I’m also not going to be so territorial that I refuse to pay attention when something I may not incorporate into my own practices is showing significant results for others.

PTSD is different from a good number of mental disorders. It doesn’t respond to many common therapies in the same way that other disorders, such as depression, do–talking openly about what happened can trigger flashbacks and other symptoms which may be very severe. And, of course, as with anything, individual patients may respond differently. So it can be a lot tougher to treat than many other things.

Many core shamanic practitioners strike me as prioritizing the psychological and other technical aspects of what they do than the relationships with spirits, the latter of which is what I put first. However, in this case, the emphasis on psychology and healing seems to be exactly what hits the spot for some PTSD patients. Granted, I would really like to see formal research on it–anecdotal evidence is a good start, but if someone has published research on it, I’d definitely want to get hold of it. And I’d want to know about the long-term results as well, since I don’t believe in instant fixes. I’ve contacted Sacred Hoop Ministry, the folks mentioned in the article to get more information, because this does make me curious.

There is part of me that’s really curious as to whether non-core shamanic soul retrieval would have similar effects, for better or worse. Would one be more effective than the other? Would it depend on the patient? Or is it simply different ways of doing the same thing? This is in light of the fact that the views on journeying may be very different–Harner stated that the shamanic state of consciousness is safer than dreaming, while most non-core shamans paint the Otherworld(s) as a much more dangerous place.

Still, if it works, then I’m not going to complain about particulars. Despite my preferences and biases, ultimately I’m mainly concerned with what achieves changes for the better. There are too many serious problems that need solutions for us to be spending too much time arguing over things that may not ultimately be all that important.

Quick Semantic Clarification

Something that someone brought up in a locked post on my LJ where I linked to last night’s post on sacrifice was the concept that we make sacrifices every day–we sacrifice our health and the health of other beings in order to have faster, more convenient lives through fast food, cars, and other hazards.

I understand that this is a common definition of the term “sacrifice”, one that I’ve used myself. But the comment made me realize that spiritually I am working with a very different definition. In this context, “sacrifice” is something that is done consciously for a specific purpose, even if that purpose may sometimes be layered under symbols and rituals. When we supposedly “sacrifice” our health in order to eat faster food stuffed full of chemicals, hormones, and other nasty things, who does that sacrifice benefit? To my mind, cutting corners for convenience isn’t really a sacrifice.

To my mind, a true sacrifice is something that is meant to ultimately be beneficial, preferably mutually so. It is something that is done in full consciousness of both the intent and effects, or at least as much as is possible at the time. The problem with so-called sacrifices that negatively affect our health and well-being, is that:

A) In almost no case do we consciously consider the intent of this “sacrifice”–we just do it
B) In almost no case is there someone who is supposed to truly benefit, beyond our own perceived gain through convenience
C) In almost no case do we consider the negative outcomes of the supposed “sacrifice”.

Alternatively, what I would consider to be a true sacrifice:

A) Involves conscious planning and weighing of the options
B) Involves a specific beneficiary, and often (though not always) an added benefit for the self
C) Involves an understanding of what the intended outcome is, as well as potential pitfalls.

Needless to say, the comment gave me some good food for thought. Any commentary on my definitions above?

Hmmm. This may end up being the basis for my own essay for Digging Up the Ostrich’s Head…..

Thoughts in Autumn

Our back yard has a huge grape vine that covers an entire carport-sized frame, and has been taking over the neighbors’ shrubbery and fences. In anticipation of the landlords coming in and trimming back the vines, I’ve been picking and freezing many little zipped bags of grapes. They’re these wonderful white slipskin grapes with seeds, very sweet, though the first batch I picked a week ago was just on the nice side of still being tart. I’ve invited friends over to pick, too, and even took an overflowing brown paper grocery bag full down to the local homeless shelter last weekend–and there’s still a lot of grapes left.

I’ve been watching the local urban wildlife going crazy over the windfall. I’ve seen scrub jays and squirrels both feasting, and the latter were burying grapes around the lawn as well–though doubtless these will rot before they end up being unearthed. We may even end up with a bunch of little vinelets where the seeds sprouted. The other night I saw a pair of big, fat raccoons climbing up to get their share as well. It’s not just the local Lupa who enjoys the grape harvest!

As I was putting grapes on a tray to stick in the freezer this evening, I was thinking about how all the preservation I’ve been doing with extra food lately is a rarity in this culture. Along with my grapes, I have a couple of jars of pizza sauce that I made from extra tomatoes I saved up, a few containers of vegetable stock made from odds and ends of veggies that were cut off from salad fixings, and a few more of poultry stock made from bones and carcasses left over from meals, since we buy our chicken bone-in. I’ve also been searching the Recipe Finder (such a wonderful things!) for recipes that utilize green tomatoes, since in a few weeks there won’t be enough sun to ripen what we have, and the plants have been prolific. If I’d done more planning, I could have gone scavenging for blackberries, but didn’t make the time to go somewhere that hadn’t already been picked over.

For most Americans, this would be a waste of time. Why boil down a few tomatoes to make a jar and a half of pizza sauce when you can go to the store and get a package with two Boboli pizza crusts and a packet of sauce, all ready to go? This is what many Americans think of as making pizza from scratch! And there’s no reason to freeze grapes if you can go to the produce section and get various sorts of fruit fresh year-round–after all, it’s warm enough in the tropics for winter produce.

And yet….and yet….the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized just how much we do take our food for granted. I grew up in a comfortably middle class household. We never, ever wanted for food, good, healthy food. I was raised with fresh produce year round, fresh meat, fresh bread, and was raised by two parents who could most definitely cook. Nor did I ever have to deal with the “You’d better eat that!” lecture, either. There was a new meal every night; leftovers would end up being somebody’s lunch the next day.

I don’t think I even realized how lucky I was growing up even when I was living alone in Pittsburgh, not eating enough because I wasn’t managing my money and convinced myself that I was too poor to eat better than Campbell’s soup. When I worked as a utility meter reader, a very physically demanding job, I came to recognize the importance of food as a necessity to keep me going, but even then it didn’t really hit me. Things began to shift more when I met my husband, who taught me better health and financial skills, and I began to eat what he could cook instead of whatever I popped into the microwave.

But the importance of food didn’t really hit me until this year, when I grew my first real garden, and had been spending months focusing on the cycles of Nature. Only when I had firsthand knowledge of how difficult it can be to grow your own food, and how much you have to grow just to get a decent-sized salad for supper for three nights in a row, did I realize how precarious our food situation really is. Dealing with squirrels raiding the strawberries, caterpillars ravaging the broccoli’s leaves, and the heat of summer drying out seedlings, showed me that growing food isn’t as easy as dropping some seeds in the dirt, giving it water, and waiting for things to grow.

I did have to balance out my needs with the reality of the urban wildlife. Whenever there’s a story of wild animals preying on livestock, I’m one of the first to say, “Well, they were there first, and you put easy to kill prey animals in their reach, and hunted their natural prey–what do you expect?” However, being on the other end was eye-opening. I had to really struggle with my anger at having the results of my hard work stolen from me, but also recognizing that my garden was being raided by animals that had adapted to human encroachment on their habitat. I could have spread poison or used other lethal methods to try to deal with the squirrels, but I ended up relying primarily on chicken wire and twine cages to keep them away from the plants they were interested in. And I’m perfectly happy to share the surplus grapes with them.

But back to the reality of food. Because Americans (and others) have access to almost any sort of food right down the street at the grocery store, thanks to long distance transport supported by fossil fuels, and we live in a place that is sufficiently wealthy to be able to support these distribution channels, most of us don’t think twice about access to food. I have three grocery stores within easy walking distance of where I live, and several more within a twenty minute driving distance. And I can find anything I need somewhere in them, usually in almost all of them.

Remember back in April when there was supposedly a global rice shortage? Americans panicked because for a couple of weeks rice was more expensive than usual, and occasionally stores didn’t have it in stock for a few days. (At least that was the reality here in Portland.) Yet there are places around the world, here in the 21st century, where longer, more drastic shortages are very common. And it doesn’t take much for shortages to happen–a drought, too much rain, too many pests, too much use of the arable land, thieves and vandals, wild predators preying on livestock. If you take the risks and returns involved in my garden and blow them up on a global scale, it’s quite a gamble, especially with 6-7 billion hungry mouths to feed.

Having access to all sorts of food at all times isn’t a necessity. It’s a luxury. We have taken something that is a luxury, and turned it into what we would insist is a necessity. “I must be assured that I can go to the 24-hour grocery store and get a package of Chips Ahoy! and a gallon of milk that won’t expire for three weeks–at three in the morning, any day of the week!” And we feel entitled to that.

Yet we wear down the soil with our constant demands for more food. We don’t rotate crops, and we don’t let fields lie fallow. Instead we douse them with layers of chemical fertilizers that destroy the microorganisms that are necessary to soil health, and very likely to the health and growth of the plants as well. We overgraze animals, or we feed them things they shouldn’t ever have to eat, and keep them in inhumane forms of confinement that additionally lead to pollution on a massive scale.

We take, and we take, and we give very little back, comparatively speaking. Let’s look, just for a single example, at my garden. Even though I started with potting soil, I had to add steer manure to make sure there was enough food for the plants to eat, and I continued to fertilize every month. Now that Autumn is here and plants are beginning to die off, what should I do with the remains? What do I do with the odds and ends after I make the soup stock? Things that are dead and used up still contain nutrition that needs to be returned to the Earth, so that it can support life in later years. Hence my compost bin, which will, after a time, start to yield compost suitable for replacing the manure in the garden.

Of all the stages of the life and death cycle, death and decomposition are the ones we’re the most uncomfortable with in this culture. We flush our piss and shit and dead aquarium fish away because we don’t want to deal with them. We concoct all sorts of schemes and plans to try to circumvent the fact that our bodies will eventually wear out, and the components will go back to the Earth, because we don’t want to deal with it. And we garden happily, but once we get past the “Yay, food!” part of it, we don’t really consider the importance of the following steps that involve returning what’s left of the plants to the Earth to become fertilizer later on.

Decay and decomposition is a sacrifice. It is a giving back. We can’t give every single bit back–we need materials for our bodies, and shelters, and clothes, and other items. But we don’t give back nearly enough. We keep a lot of stuff for ourselves, often stuff we don’t actually need. And when we do get rid of something, what do we do? Toss it into the landfill, where it ends up sealed away, separated from the Earth by impermeable plastic for decades, if not centuries, and not decaying at all. Do you realize how much of the land’s nutrients are locked away for an indeterminate time in landfills? Do you realize how much healthier the soil would be if we had been putting all those nutrients back like we were supposed to, and finding ways to reuse most of the relatively small amount of stuff we can’t put directly back? Yet because we don’t think of sacrifices of time and effort in return for what we have received, all this is locked away.

The efforts that we put into doing things “the slow way”, by hand, is also a sacrifice. We’ve gotten used to a lot of leisure time in this culture–and yet we manage to overwork ourselves anyway. It’s because we don’t think about what we’re doing. When you engage in any sort of manual activity, whether it’s farming or repair work or knitting or washing clothes by hand, you are a lot more engaged in what you’re doing than when you go to the grocery store or the laundromat. It’s this sacrifice of time and energy that makes what we get worth it. When we think about what we’re getting and what we’re giving in return, we’re less likely to take too much, and we’re more likely to be aware of what we have throughout its own “life” cycle. People who know the value of something are more likely to find ways to get as much use out of it before it needs to be returned to the Earth in some manner.

Sacrifice gets a bad rap in this culture of entitlement and selfishness. It’s supposed to be this terribly inconvenient, horrific thing that we should avoid at all costs. Those who sacrifice–and it’s always assumed to be under duress or other extreme circumstances–are looked upon as martyrs, fools, or both. We’re supposed to above such things, with our shiny luxuries and technologies. We could argue that our forty hours a week are more than enough to justify our shiny objects. However, a paycheck isn’t really a sacrifice; there’s no meaning to it, and most Americans go to jobs because they have to, not because they particularly want to. Composting the leftovers from the end of the garden may not seem like such a great sacrifice, since you didn’t really want those dead plants. However, the time and care you take to put together the compost bin and fill it with your dead plants and veggie odds and ends is time and effort that you have given that you didn’t really have to.

Now, since I mentioned shiny technology in a negative light, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want us to give up everything. I think antibiotics are pretty nifty, though the overuse and improper use of them that has hastened the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria isn’t so great. And I’ll admit that I like dead tree books better than ebooks, plus my art supplies take up an entire walk-in closet (though admittedly a lot of it is bulky things like secondhand fur coats and deer antlers and whatnot).

However, I make myself aware of where these things came from, and I am conscious of my shopping habits. I endeavor to buy used as much as I can so as to reduce the demand for new materials. I’m getting much better about not buying things I don’t actually need. And I’m also better about repairing or repurposing broken things as well before taking the option to recycle or toss them.

These efforts, small and everyday, do add up. They require a good deal of my time, effort, and attention–making pizza sauce from true scratch requires more of me than buying prepackaged sauce. I give of these parts of myself, and in return not only do I receive physical fulfillment, but I also receive lessons in how to be more present in the world and in my life. And in being more present, I find more ways to give back and further the ongoing exchange to the benefit of all. We, humanity, have stopped making sacrifices in many cases, and we’re bogging down the cycle. I want to find ways to clear out our end of it, while retaining the best of what we have created.

So this Autumn I’m thinking about sacrifice, and giving back. I want to think about growth, too, and sustainability, but right now, as the plants and insects begin to die around me, and the animals prepare for a Winter where they, too, could give up their physical forms, I’m thinking about death, and decay, and returning, and sacrifice.

ETA: A clarification on my definition of sacrifice as used in this post can be found here.

Open to Local Students

I am opening up my home for a limited number of trainees in Therioshamanism. My goal is to be able to work with those who successfully complete the initial training to further develop Therioshamanism as a path. While it will still be “my baby”, in that it will be based on the ideals and parameters that I have been laying down and will continue to develop, I want to encourage further experimentation, and in-person note-trading. In order for other people to help in this development, it will be necessary to have training in the basics already established to give proper context.

What is Therioshamanism?

Therioshamanism is the neoshamanic path that I have been developing over the last year, based out of my own experiences with animal magic and other paths in the past decade and change, as well as supplemental reading and studying. I have been actively practicing this path, and am continually developing the techniques, particularly as they pertain to journeying and related practices. This will be an experiential training wherein the trainees will be doing the bulk of the work on their own with me as a guide.

It is first and foremost an ecospiritual path; this is not a path of abstractions, but one that ideally brings spirituality into conjunction with physical reality. There is no divide between “mundane” and “magical”; the physical world has magic all its own. As shamans, we mediate between the physical world and the spiritual world, but we recognize that they are not so distantly separated as is sometimes assumed. Part of the training, as well as subsequent work, will involve the interrelationship between self, community, and environment, and making improvements to all three.

It is also specifically a spirit-focused path. Most neoshamanisms tend to emphasize the techniques of shamanism first, with the relationships with the spirits primarily as aids to those techniques. In Therioshamanism, the relationships come first, and the techniques (as well as the contexts you will use them in) develop out of those relationships. This also means that your shamanizing will not be only focused on aiding human beings, and/or on self-development; rather, you will also take on tasks for the benefit of the spirits, as well as the natural phenomena they represent/embody/hold sacred/etc.

Finally, Therioshamanism is not based on core shamanism, which is what is detailed in Michael Harner’s The Way of the Shaman and the majority of other books on practical neoshamanism. One of my goals is to create a neoshamanic path that is independent of core shamanism and traditional shamanisms, and that is specifically geared towards nonindigenous practitioners. To that end, while we may look to other cultures’ shamanisms as inspiration, the bulk of the practical material will be based on both my experiences as I have developed Therioshamanism, as well as your own experiences during training, but also on the accounts of other nonindigenous, non-core shamanic practitioners.

The development of Therioshamanism will be primarily according to the parameters I set; you should be prepared to work within these parameters, which I will elaborate on during training. There will be ample room for experimentation, as well as for personal practice of things that are not included under the aegis of Therioshamanism, but I want there to remain some core of beliefs and practices that are central to the path.

If you would like to find out more and see where I’ve been, check the archives on the left sidebar, or scroll back on the main site.

So, who am I looking for?

–People who are in Portland, or who are willing to travel to Portland once a month, and who can commit to meeting up once a month through a six month initial training period.
–People who want to actively practice Therioshamanism as a path in and of itself, whether you are doing so already or not, and whether you are trained in other forms of shamanism/paganism or not. A basic understanding of magical practice, neopagan/neoshamanic spiritualities, as well as at least some experience with meditation, are preferred; if you are entirely new to all of this, please wait until a later training cycle and do some research in the meantime.
–People who, having successfully completed the initial six months of training, will continue to work with what they’ve been taught, and to continue regular meetings with me and the rest of the successful initiates.

Things You Should Know In Advance!

–Again, I want to emphasize that this is not core shamanism. Journeying is considered to be potentially dangerous, though not to the point where we should all just stay home. You will not simply go off into journeys with a single power animal and a power song; an important part of the basis of Therioshamanism is developing healthy relationships with a variety of spirit guides. You will also not be limited to learning only about healing, for while shamanism may involve healing, it involves a number of other potential tasks as well, not all of which are nice and pretty. And you will most likely not hear me throw around words like “medicine” and “vision quest” unless I am referencing someone else’s work. I do not draw on sources such as Brooke Medicine Eagle, Carlos Castaneda, Mary Summer Rain, or Ken Eagle Feather. If you would like to see some of my source material, click here to see a bibliography.
–This will NOT be a “shaman circle”, wherein we get together to do group rituals, group healing, etc. Rather, you will do the bulk of the work on your own, and meeting up will primarily be for trading notes while you are training. Further work beyond the initial six months will be discussed in person.
These meetings will be for trainees only, not friends or family members (unless they have applied themselves). If you have children, please make sure that you make child care arrangements in advance. Also, just to make things clear, I am accepting trainees only 18 years of age or older. I am not responsible for any conflicts with family, friends, etc. that may result from your decision to train with me.
If you are allergic to cats, please be aware that we have two cats, though we will be doing much of our discussion in a room where the cats aren’t allowed. However, there may be social time downstairs, where the cats roam free. I also have a husband, who is very good at respecting confidentiality, and who may be found wandering the downstairs portion of our home. He will not be participating in the training, but you will invariably encounter him. Please do not harass, bite, poke, molest, worry, or frighten the husband; it makes him cranky, and he must then be placated with video games and/or good beer, through an anciente Therioshamanick Rite involving Great Risk to Life and Limb. (You can, however, safely say “Hi” and even engage him in conversation.)
–Part of Therioshamanism does involve working with animal remains, including skin drums. This is an essential part of the path. If you want to find a drum that has been made from the skin from an animal that died a natural death or was used for food, I can help you with that. If you are a strict vegan, you may want to reconsider.
–Training is expected to be preparation for more involvement in Therioshamanism as a path, including continuing to meet as a group. It is not an end within itself, and completing the initial six months training will not “certify” you, so to speak, as a Therioshaman–it will simply lay the groundwork. There will not be set rites of passage, other than at the end of your initial six months; any other rites of passage will be determined by the individual and/or the spirits s/he works with, and discussed with the group to the extent that the individual is comfortable.
–You will not be required to pay any fees for training. Donations are appreciated, as I will be providing you with some materials at the outset, and I’m not going to complain if you want to help out a bit beyond that. We may do a small potluck for each meeting; if you want to make something extra and leave it with me that would be a good substitute if you’re uncomfortable with money–I can always use food! There will be some books that are suggested for you to get, though probably only one or two will be considered mandatory (and they are generally easy to find cheap and used). You will also need to purchase a skin drum during your training; one option is that complete kits for 12″ goatskin drums are available for under $30 at the drum shop down the street from where I live, as well as on the internet. (If you already have a skin drum, you’re welcome to use it.)

If You Are Interested…

Please contact me at whishthound (at) gmail.com and include the application below–do not put your application in a reply to this post. I will set up a time where we can meet in person to do an interview. I do reserve the right to accept or deny applicants.

Therioshamanism Training Application

Date of Birth
City of Residence
Email address
Best phone number to contact you
Best Evenings for Meeting and Potential Scheduling Conflicts
Emergency contact person with contact info if different from your own

What is your spiritual/magical background? What paths have you followed, and what sorts of magic/ritual have you done? Have you been initiated into any other paths?

What has drawn you to shamanism in general?

What reasons do you have for wanting to train in Therioshamanism?

Are there any health considerations, physical or otherwise, that I may need to know about? Please keep in mind that shamanic practice may be very intense at times, physically and psychologically.

Do you have reliable transportation to get to the inner Northeast portion of Portland? I am located in the Kerns/Laurelhurst area, reasonably close to the 20 line and about fifteen minutes bus ride from the Skidmore Fountain MAX station.

So It’s Been About a Year…

This week marks a year since I started developing therioshamanism. I made the first posts here on September 20, but the idea was percolating for a few days beforehand, along with a few experiences that pushed me in this direction. I look back at those first posts, and holy cripes–there’s been a lot of change in the past year on many levels. For one thing, my practice is a lot less neopagan-y, and while I still value the input of books, I’m much more aware of just how important practice is in comparison. Books can give ideas, but unless I put those ideas to work, what am I really doing at all?

My first six months saw a lot of restructuring and cosmology-building, as well as figuring out what from my past practices was really useful, and what I could leave behind. After that things got a lot less linearly organized, and as I’ve evolved into actual practice beyond meditation, with activities ranging from writing songs for my guides to taking some exploratory journeys, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t about “Your first year should mean the accomplishment of this, and then the second year will bring that”. There aren’t degrees, and I’ve evolved at the rate I needed to. I think the structure of the first six months was exceptionally helpful in getting me started, but it fell away afterwards, and I think things went better for that.

I look back, and I see a lot of time spent working on figuring things out for myself. I see a lot of useful comments that helped me when I was trying to bounce ideas off others for feedback, and I see times when the spirits I work with nudged things into place just at the right time. I see some times of frustration, of doubt, and of insecurity, but I also see times of learning and victory and states of flow. I see where I fell flat on my face (usually due to my own actions), and I see where my spirituality contributed to my going back to graduate school. I’ve been to numerous places, physically and otherwise, and I’ve learned so much–not the least of which being the knowledge that I still have so much left to learn.

It’s been a good year overall. There’s so much potential before me, and while I’m not under the misapprehension that everything will be a cakewalk, there’s a lot of potential to create good things out of this.

So how did I celebrate? By hiking, of course. This was something more instigated by me and my need to mark the occasion, than by the spirits, who are working more along a “Okay, the time is right for this” “schedule”. I wanted to do a bit of a dedication ceremony for my new drum, and also wanted to make offerings to a few particular local guides associated with my sacred place in the Gorge (which is mirrored as my starting place when I journey in the spirit world).

So, having prepared the offerings, basic hiking supplies, and also having strapped my drum to the back of my pack, I hiked on up the mountain. I had just gone hiking with Taylor a few days before, so I was still a bit tired, and the temperature was in the nineties. I ended up taking a lot of short breaks on the way up. But I made it with no major complications.

A couple of auspicious occurrences happened on the way up. First, I found a deer leg bone. This is unprecedented, as I have never found anything more than a few stray feathers at this place, let alone bones. However, there was a slightly dirty but intact deer bone right in the middle of the trail in front of me. “Pick me up!” its spirit said. I did, and got an instant mental image of the bone as the handle for a drum beater. Now, the beater that I got with my new drum was well-made, but the stick that was the handle just didn’t really connect with me. So I resolved that once I got to the top of the mountain and to my place that I’d do a quick replacement.

The other occurrence traces back to some of my recent journeying. There’s a particular place I haven’t been able to get past due to certain spirits blocking it. I know I need to get up there, and I never have a problem getting up there in the physical world. As I sat resting near this place, Stellar’s Jay came swooping across, shrieking loudly as if to say “Clear the way!” I decided that next time I journeying I’d ask for Stellar’s Jay to help me get past these spirits.

Once at my sacred place, specifically the location that is the home of the Animal Father, I rested and refreshed myself. I then went around and placed the offerings in their proper places; these were not food, but rather small shiny objects that I made over the weekend. One was for the Land itself, and contained some of my hair. The others were for local guides: Stellar’s Jay, whose presence in the wilderness resembles (but isn’t identical to) Scrub Jay in the city; Northern Harrier Hawk, who is the raptor closest to me in this area, replacing Redtail back east; Great Horned Owl, who is a particular guardian of this place, and for whom the offering was less about me and more about the place; Raven, whose quorks have often accompanied me here; Douglas Squirrel, bold and brash, but with caution when it’s necessary; and Red Fox, who is rarely ever seen, but is a silent shadow here, and wanted to make hir presence known to me.

After the offerings were made, I redid the drum beater with the deer leg. Then I did my first journey with the new drum. I warmed the drum up with my hand, raising the energy of it and waking it up. Then I drummed slowly, gradually speeding up in a pattern that I’ve found to be effective for me. I saw the horse spirit in the drum, and learned her name (though I’ll refer to her from here on out as Small Horse, as with other skin spirits I work with). Then I began the formal journey.

Every time I’ve journeyed so far, I’ve found myself in the form of a white wolf, and this time was no exception. The Animal Father approached, as numerous spirits of the Land surrounded us. He led me down a trail, then into the woods. He showed me an opening in the trees that he told me was the entrance to the Upper World. While he could go there, he couldn’t take me with him, and told me I’d have to find a guide to help me with that.

Next he took me to a small trickling stream across the path I had walked. He told me to start following the River Dragon down the mountain, starting at that stream. I bounded down along the stream as it joined others and got larger, until the River Dragon finally arrived at a specific point where s/he could go to the Lower World, but I couldn’t, same as with the Upper World. S/he suggested that I try talking to some of the fish about getting help.

Before I could do more, though, I heard a Douglas squirrel making an alarm call in the physical world, and was told I needed to go. The Animal Father told me as I began to head back that Douglas Squirrel would always tell me if I needed to go back, or if there was a threat. In this case it was good that I left when I did. While the place I was at is pretty secluded, and populated only by more serious hikers, there was relatively heavy traffic today. I managed to not be bothered during the journey, but after packing up and heading out, I ran into a pair of women not 100 yards away from where I’d been.

All in all, it was a good day. And it’s been a good year, too. I have accomplished more, spiritually and magically, this year than any other. It’s been intense, but overall positive. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.

Journeying vs. Guided Meditation

I know I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I have been journeying, though, primarily exploratory journeys to get used to the practice of it, and to also get an idea of the “geography” of the Otherworld, so to speak. I don’t really want to talk about a lot of the details, since this is part of the more private end of the path. However, here are a few highlights:

–I have a consistent starting point where I begin all my journeys. Physically, it’s a place I have a good connection to, though not what I expected. I’ve found myself starting here every time, so I think it’s a good sign.

–My “world tree” is actually a mountain. I’ve located the general vicinities of the entrances to the Upper and Lower worlds, but I can’t actually get to them yet (I’ve been presented with them as puzzles). None of this is at all what I expected, but it works.

–I have at least one, possibly two local-to-the-Northwest totems who want to work with me. One I was pretty sure about; the other one was a big surprise.

–I’ve encountered both totems and individual animal spirits while journeying. The totems are definitely more powerful; however, the spirits should not be ignored or dismissed easily.

Journeying is definitely not the same as guided meditation, IME. Guided meditation, from what I can tell, takes me into a “neutral zone”, where neither the spirits nor I have a distinct advantage. I have a lot more control over what happens, what my form is, what I do, etc. and it’s a lot easier to enter and exit.

Journeying, on the other hand, has turned out to be a lot more intense, and I am definitely out of my element there. I’m on the spirits’ turf, so to speak. I find that I tend to take one particular form there, and shapeshifting is much harder. Also, traveling is more difficult. Whereas with guided meditations I’ve been able to easily bypass blockages and manipulate the landscape, there’s no doing that with journeying. If someone says I’m not going past them, then there won’t be any sneaking, or flying up and past–at least at this point. Things that were feasible in guided meditations, aren’t so easy with journeying.

The other thing that I noticed is that the totems in particular are “more themselves” when I journey, especially when compared either to evocation rituals here on the physical plane of reality, or even guided meditation. I’m trying to figure out how to describe this…it’s not just that they’re bigger and stronger. It’s that when I journey, I can observe more of who and what they are, because this is where they’re native to. Conversely, I am more limited; only part of me travels, leaving my body behind. I never realized just how much of myself is wrapped up into my body. I wonder if there’s a spiritual counterpart, something that gets left behind when a totem or other spirit leaves to go to a neutral place, or to visit here through evocation/etc.?

Aside from the journeying, I’ll still be practicing songs; I still need to do songs for Bear and Small Bear. The songs and journeying are creating a nice variety for me that’s keeping me more engaged, especially as I’ve been getting busier.

The Return of Horse

Because I’m going to start doing more formal shamanic work, it became time to get a new drum. I’m still keeping the small goatskin drum I made for my Earth month a while back for practice purposes and backup as necessary (plus it’s quieter, good for apartment living). But I’d been told a while back that once I was ready to start practicing seriously, that I’d need to get a new drum for that. The timing was good–this is my last splurge for awhile, since I’m now a full-time student as of this week.

I chose to go to Cedar Mountain Drums, which is in my neighborhood. I’ve been there a few times, including when I got the kit to make my first drum. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a drumming circle they held there and had a chance to play a number of drums. I hadn’t been sure what sort of drum I was going to get, so this was a good opportunity to try out different sounds and creations. The one that I kept gravitating towards was a large horsehide drum on a cedar frame; the sound was lovely, other than a tiny, barely perceptible vibration at the end of the note.

So when I went today to get my own drum, I headed towards the 17″ unbleached horsehide on cedar frames. I was fortunate in that the owner of the shop had just made a few yesterday, and though they were just a wee bit damp still, they had a very lovely sound. It took me a bit, but I settled on one that had not only a nice voice, but also a good energy to it as well. I picked out a beater as well, and was ready to go. I paid, brought the drum home, and it’s now sitting up in the ritual area along with the smaller drum:

I won’t be playing the new drum yet, not until the Equinox when I’ll be doing a private anniversary ceremony, since it’ll have been a year since I first started on this path.

I do highly recommend Cedar Mountain Drums if you’re in the market for a drum; the owner has 17 years experience in drum making, and runs a very good business.

It is appropriate that the drum ended up being horsehide. I’m finding myself reclaiming some things from when I was younger, things that I had rejected or gotten burned out on. One of these is my relationship with Horse. Horse was the second totem to come into my life, after Wolf. When I was a preteen, not long after I turned twelve, Horse came in to the point that s/he temporarily replaced Wolf for a few years, staying with me until near the end of my senior year of high school.

This was an incredibly awkward time of my life. I was not the most socially adjusted teen in the world, and ended up being picked on more than just about anyone in the school. It wasn’t any one thing; I simply didn’t fit in. Most girls my age had been interested in boys and clothes and makeup for a few years. I was more interested in grubbing around in the woods, reading books about animals, and collecting Breyer Horses. Being in a small town with a small student population that was particularly prone to cliquishness, I didn’t have much in the way of friends. So I ended up spending a lot of time alone.

There were various attempts, over the years, to try to get me to conform in one way or another–a new haircut, an attempt to show me how to use makeup, an inquiry as to whether I should maybe try to make friends with such-and-such clique (who had never shown anything but contempt for me). None of it worked. I tried a few times to be like other people and blend in–and the results were usually disastrous. I simply didn’t get it, and wasn’t interested enough to try any harder.

What Horse did was support my independence, and show me that I didn’t need to conform. Unfortunately, I ended up blaming Horse in part for what I perceived as too much sheltering and the continued proliferation of my social awkwardness–instead of taking responsibility for my actions, as well as understanding that I wasn’t responsible for the emotionally abusive words and actions of my peers. So I ended up pushing Horse away once Wolf came back late in high school. For years I denied any connection with Horse whatsoever.

What was I so afraid of? Honestly, I think I worried that I would lose what independence I did have, and get sucked into some life that I didn’t want to be a part of. I wasn’t secure in myself at all, even into my twenties, and it took moving out on my own, along with some hard life lessons, to really begin to formulate a solid sense of self. Sadly, some of that was so wrapped up in being a Wolf person that I ignored most other totems, and deliberately avoided Horse.

Now, as I’m approaching thirty and looking back at the last decade, I’m beginning to reclaim some of the things I let go of which in retrospect were things I really do value. I don’t blame myself or castigate myself for my previous actions; in a way, these things had to happen for me to learn. But now I can look at them with more confidence, and not be afraid. I can still make boundaries with the things that I know even more don’t suit me, but still accept that other things are alright.

This includes Horse. I feel very honored that s/he has chosen to come back into my life. I’m hoping we can talk more about my experiences as a teenager and how they shaped who I am today. And I’m looking forward to Small Horse’s guidance as my drum.

Plus I’ll see what Horse has to say about the future, not just the past. I’m aware, for example, that the hide that is on my drum almost certainly came from a horse that died in a slaughterhouse. This is a charged issue; on the one hand, it’s been considered a victory that horses are no longer able to be legally slaughtered in the United States. However, this has led to an unexpected side effect–horses are now being shipped further away into even less humane facilities in Mexico. I wonder what Horse and Small Horse will have to say about this issue.

I am grateful for the return of Horse. May our relationship be renewed, and be healthier than ever.