The Foxes of the Four Seasons

A long time ago, the world was a lot different than it is now. There were no seasons, no changes in the weather. If you wanted snow, you had to go to one part of the world. If you wanted sun, you had to go to another. And everybody had to bring back rain from the only place in the world that had it, though it got enough for everybody. Since the animals couldn’t only have rain or only sun, there was a lot of moving around, and you didn’t have so many animals who stayed in one place. Some animals hardly ever saw another of their kind, but others would organize reunions every so often so as to not get lonely.

So it was that every seven years, all the foxes of the world would come together in one place for one great conclave. Long-separated friends caught up with each other, families introduced their youngest kits, disputes were addressed and resolved, and at night there was much celebration to be had. It was all rather a busy affair, as one might imagine would happen with that many foxes in one place.

It just so happened that one year, there was a contest over which fox was most beloved by the Earth, who gave the foxes’ paws somewhere to go. Finally, it came down to White Fox from the North, Black Fox from the East, Red Fox from the South, and Gray Fox from the West. Everyone agreed that these were the very best, cleverest, swiftest and strongest foxes of them all. They spent an entire day debating who was going to be elected the best fox when the Earth would make her presence known that night. They had heard that the very best fox would receive a special gift from the Earth, and they each wanted to prove they deserved it.

“She’ll choose me,” White Fox said, “because I am the only one who holds the cold snow and ice with my tall, proud mountains!” And everyone agreed that his mountains were indeed quite impressive.

“Nobody likes being cold, silly thing,” said Black Fox. “She’ll choose me, because I carry the soft, warm winds that help new seedlings to grow.” And all the foxes assembled thought she made a very good point.

“Ha! Just a little warmth? I’ll give you all the warmth you need with all the sunshine you could ever want!” declared Red Fox. “That’s why I’ll be chosen!” There was a good deal of agreement with that, as basking in the sun was a favorite activity of foxes all over.

“Surely we cannot have any snow or plants or cooling off from the sun without rain,” said Gray Fox. “I have the most water, which means that I’m sure to be the one the Earth will choose.” And the other foxes licked their chops at the thought of cool, refreshing rain water to drink.

But who would be chosen? The four foxes fell to arguing amongst each other, and had almost come to blows when there was a great trembling beneath their paws, and the Earth made her spirit present as a great, glowing golden Fox. “Dear children, what are you doing?” she asked.

“We were trying to figure out who you were going to choose as your favorite fox, and we can’t all be your favorite!” the four foxes said.

The Earth thought a moment and looked at each of the little foxes at her feet, each one so strong and talented in her or his own way. Then she smiled.

“Of course you can all be my favorites. Why choose one among you when all four of you have so much to offer?

My lovely Black Fox, you are the deep, rich soil which allows all the plants to grow healthy and strong. You take what has died and rebirth it as new living things. Your warm winds help to bring life to the land. Therefore, I will give you the first part of the year, when my friend the Sun is on his journey back here.

And you, bright Red Fox, you give the Sun a place to show us his strength the best. You allow him a place to set down the burden of rays on his back, and unwrap them so that all of us may see them and enjoy their warmth. To you, I give the second part of the year so the Sun may share with us every year.

Dear Gray Fox, your rains are invaluable to us all; without water we would be parched. I give you the third part of the year, where your rains may be the tears that bid farewell to the Sun as he leaves again, and your bright colors will be reflected in the leaves of the trees as they wear their finery to see him off.

Oh, beautiful White Fox, I haven’t forgotten you! Your cold climate cries out to the Sun for what warmth he will give, and your snows reflect his rays so that he can see this land no matter where he goes. To you, I give the final part of the year, to remind the Sun of us when he is at the farthest part of his travels, while we await his return here.”

And so it was that every year after that, all the places of the world received the gifts of the four foxes, each one in turn. Of course, each Fox had her or his own favorite places where they might tarry a little longer. But the animals no longer had to travel so far just to get sunshine or rain, or to get out of the cold or the heat. And so all but the most adventurous were able to settle down and create nests and dens, and allow the seasons to come to them.

Fox drum, acrylic on deerskin with fox tails, by Lupa, 2011

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The Epic Saga of the Icelandic Pony Hide

So. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that working with dead critters is a HUGE part of my practice. (Look! Relevant archives!) However, the vast, vast majority of the animal parts in my home are destined to move on to other people, primarily as ritual tools and other sacred art. My own personal collection is really quite small; less than two dozen skulls of various species, a few hides, a couple of rawhide drums, and a bit of small miscellany. Over the years, I have primarily functioned as a guide to the skin spirits, helping them on to new homes, my own home a temporary shelter and place of healing. However, on rare occasion I come across a skin spirit who really, deeply resonates with me. This actually hasn’t happened in a while, but a few days ago I had one of those moments where the connection was so strong it nearly knocked me to my knees.

See, I was fortunate to acquire an Icelandic horse hide. It’s actually not that easy to find whole horse hides of any breed; tails are about the most common parts you’ll find. However, someone I know had one up for sale from their personal collection, and I had some extra cash set aside for purchasing dead things art supplies, so I took that opportunity. I had grand artistic plans for it, and was even drawing up patterns in my mind while waiting for the package to arrive. You know how these things go, right?

There was this big, long epic saga, appropriately enough, involved in getting the hide here. See, the package accidentally got sent to my old address–which happens from time to time. The tracking number showed it was “still in transit”, but due for delivery by the end of the day–and it was already 4pm. I called the post office, and since I had put in a forwarding address when I moved earlier in the year, if the package got returned by my old abode’s resident, it’d make it back to me.

I felt that was a BIG if, though. I mean, what IF they decided to keep it? Somehow, the idea of this particular package not making it to me was unconscionable. So I set off to go rescue the package myself, come hell or high water.

Thankfully, I had to go all of a block and a half.

Because that’s as far as I moved from my old place.

(Sadly, it still was one of my more difficult moves, logistically speaking, but that’s a story for another time.)

(Back to the pony saga.)

With a friendly note with my contact info in hand, I marched over to my old apartment and knocked on the door. Almost immediately I was greeted by a rather pleasant young man who informed me that there were actually two packages waiting for me (one of which did not have a horse hide, the other one which should have, but might not, thank you Schrodinger). He was relieved to not have to try and trace the proper home of the packages (I told you he was nice!) and I was relieved to have my packages! And so having left my contact information with him in case of future mis-deliveries, I headed home with my prize.

And of course, the first thing I did when I got home was to open the bigger box. Out of it I drew this magnificent, long-furred, heavy white hide, much larger than I expected–it seemed as though I was pulling impossible amounts of horsehide out of this box of holding! And I laid it out on the futon in my art area, and just sat, my mouth agape, amazed. It was as though the spirit of this horse had leaped out of the box, and now stood before me, over the remains of its–or, rather, his–skin. The spirit shook his mane as if to shake off the indignity of his uncomfortable trip here, and it seemed as though even the few wrinkles in the hide smoothed out and relaxed. Most spirits, even those of my personal retinue, take a little while to settle into their new surroundings. This horse, on the other hand, made himself right at home on the couch and declared he was staying.

Well, who was I to argue with that? Sure, I’d have to find some other way to make up the money I spent on him (subliminalmessagebuymyart/subliminalmessage); I very, very rarely spend large amounts of money on myself these days other than for necessities. But just as I know other pagan folk who have temporarily tightened their belts to be able to buy some artistic altar piece or ritual tool that a deity or spirit they worked with wanted, I knew that this was one of those occasions where spirit needed to win out over practicality. And since this wasn’t going to put me at risk of not being able to pay essential bills, and I have ways to make up the funds, and he’ll earn his keep through his help with shamanism, I happily acquiesced.

It doesn’t end there, of course. I had declared that day to be an artwork day, and since I am on a late-night schedule I found myself still awake at 2am. I was a little tired, but wanted to keep working, so I decided to lie down on the futon a bit to rest my eyes before continuing. Of course, this NEVER EVER works out that way, and I fell asleep. And yes, I did sleep on the horse hide, as he invited me to do so. As I found myself drifting into lucid dreams, the spirit took the opportunity to introduce himself more formally, and we spoke a bit about his place here.

He told me that he wants to be part of my shamanic work, that he wants to help carry me to where I journey, and that when I do drum journeys where I sit or lay down, he wants to be my support. He still hasn’t told me his name; I think he’s waiting for the right time. I have yet to introduce him to my primary journeying drum (who is also horse hide), to see what she thinks of all this, though he certainly seems confident. I get the feeling that he’s an old spirit, or at least a stronger connection to the totem of that breed of Horse than most. Such is often the way of things with the skin spirits who stay with me permanently (though also with many who end up going to others through my work). We’ve yet to work together, as I’m still adjusting to his energy and he to mine, but soon enough.

In doing more research, I read about how horse hides, especially white ones, are connected to a variety of shamanic and other spiritual traditions. It hadn’t been something really in the forefront of my mind, just one of those things noted while researching at some point in the past and stuck in the back recesses of my brain. Maybe that’s part of why we connected so strongly–partly due to that recognition, and also just to who he is as a spirit. Either way, he’s staying.

And here’s a picture of the hide itself, right where he decided to settle himself right down at home (click the picture for a larger view):

Shapeshifting as Connecting to the Other

Just a quick note as I am busy with writing and art and family and holidays and, and, and–you get the idea.

But I wanted to share my two latest posts over at No Unsacred Place:

Shapeshifting into Kin: Part One (the theoretical bit)

Shapeshifting into Kin: Part Two (the practical bit)

A brief excerpt:

There are many purposes for shapeshifting—celebration, drawing on the power of the being you’re changing into, learning to change yourself, etc. There are also many techniques, some stationary, others involving dance and other movement. This version of shapeshifting is quieter, and is primarily for the purpose of creating connection with, and fostering awareness of, other beings. It’s a way to begin healing the rift we as a species have created between us and the rest of the beings we share this world with. It requires a certain level of intimacy; you can’t become a being without having some empathy for it, and the world could certainly do with more empathy all around.

I Am in Awe

This past weekend I set up a vending booth at the Yule Bazaar. The first day was held down at the Unitarian Universalist church in Salem, OR, and the branch of organizers there had arranged for a group of traditional Aztec dancers to come and share some of their dances. These weren’t white people “inspired by” the Aztecs; these were folks in the broader Hispanic community here in the area who had connections with people in Mexico who had still hung onto pieces of the indigenous Aztec lore. This was knowledge that had gone underground as a result of the genocide perpetrated by Spanish invaders, and over the past fifteen years or so there’s been more of an effort to try to combine what’s left and recreate the traditions.

One of the dancers spent a good amount of time giving a lot of context for how the knowledge had been revived, and what the importance of the practices was. I was especially fascinated by the assertion that each footstep, each move, in each dance had its own special meaning and piece of lore; the shell-covered ankle cuffs the dancers wore that made lovely ringing noises as they moved represented the various sounds that running water makes–not just THE sound, but many sounds. The spear that one of the dancers carried wasn’t a weapon, but a tool to pierce through to truth. And so forth. I paid close attention to each individual step and move, the voices, the conch shells and other tools, how everything flowed. I was awed and humbled.

It’s not my first time watching other cultures’ dances; I’ve seen dancers at powwows, for example, though it’s been many years. However, probably due to my age and better context this moved me even more than those earlier beautiful experiences.

What struck me the most was just how rich in symbolism and meaning every element of the dance was. I realized that what I am creating here in some ways pales by comparison, not because I’m not sincere or not trying hard enough, but because what I was watching had been developed from the observations, experimentations, and sheer creativity of thousands upon thousands of people over many generations. All of those people had contributed their day by day observation of the sounds of rivers, or the bright colors of bird feathers. These were woven into centuries of myth and legend, art and dance and other expression.

So many of us practicing neoshamanisms simply don’t have that sort of shared community support. Getting together once a week for a drum circle, or once a month for a full moon ritual, can’t compare to a community living on the same piece of land with the same people for many lifetimes. We can have good friends, and we can have good family, but so many of us live far away from our families, or have families who are not supportive of our paths. Friends move away; we move, too. I have moved an average of once a year since 2001, and am now in my fourth state. I can keep up with old friends online, but it’s not the same.

This is not to say that I am deterred. But it does offer me some idea of what is missing in much of neoshamanism, and some direction in further developing my own practice. I can’t necessarily create community, and it’s highly unlikely that I would given how much of a solitary I tend to be. But I can at least explore Meaning more deeply, and connect it to more than just intellectual understanding of “This is what North means”. Which is a lot of what I’ve been doing anyway, but I have more inspiration now. Not taking from the Aztec dancers, of course, but looking at my own relationships.