Offering Classes in Portland

Are you interested in practicing shamanism? Do you live in the Portland, OR area?

Join me for an informational meeting about a new, ongoing series of shamanism training classes. Based on her own practice, Therioshamanism, these classes will be designed to accommodate beginners as well as those with varying levels of experience. This informational meeting is a chance to get an idea of my approach to shamanic practice and to help attendees find a good fit for themselves, as well as offer input and ideas for these ever-evolving monthly classes.

In addition to practical shamanic techniques such as identifying and working with spirits, drumming and other vehicles for journeying, healing and other sacred work, these classes will cover related topics, such as the place of shamanism in non-indigenous American culture, the issue of cultural appropriation, bioregionalism and ecospirituality, and other relevant material in our ongoing work. Participants will also be invited to share what they’d like to know more about as we work together over time.

The informational meeting will be held Saturday, May 19th, from 11am to 12pm at Quaking Grass, 5010 NE 9th, Unit B (take the stairs on the north/back side of the building, whose front is on Alberta) in Portland, OR. Suggested contribution for this meeting is $5 per person, no one turned away for lack of funds.

Keep your eyes peeled for other events coming soon, including totemic drum and dance circles, and standalone workshops on topics like totemism, sacred work with animal parts, eco-spiritual art, and more!

I have been practicing various pagan and ecospiritual paths for fifteen years; I have been developing Therioshamanism as a dedicated path since 2007. I am a published author and sacred artist, and earned my Master’s degree in counseling psychology in 2011.

Some Observations on Plant Totems vs. Animal Totems

If you’re at all familiar with my writing, you’ll know I’ve been writing about animal totems for years. Animal totemism has been a foundation of my practice pretty much from the beginning, way back in the 90’s. I’ve always had some connection to plant totems as well, but they’ve had more of a background presence in my life. A lot of that is due in part, no doubt, to the fact that I am an animal, and therefore I resonate more easily with other species of animal. So it’s been harder for the plants to get through to me; sadly I’ve seen them more as scenery in my journeys and other works than as active participants.

White trillium near Triple Falls, Oregon. Photo by Lupa, 2012.

Over the past few years, though, and especially as I’ve been spending more time in deeper wilderness, I’ve been more aware of the bioregional nature of the spirit realm. Animal totems don’t just exist as disembodied spirits in a void somewhere, but in spiritual ecosystems with the totems of plants, fungi, stones, and various other spiritual beings. What I’ve become aware of is that there were deep connections with plant totems all along, and I just wasn’t appreciating them for what they were. For a while now I’ve been spending more time meditating on those relationships and really getting a feel for them, and now I feel ready to share my thoughts.*

Some of this is due to the way in which the plant totems have tended to relate to me. Animal totems are very active and pro-active. Like their physical counterparts, they’re frequently on the move, going from place to place, and they’re used to making the first contact with a person. They view the world often as a series of tasks, challenges, and things to do. And we humans follow suit. Plant totems, on the other hand, have a much different perspective. They are often acted upon (though certainly there are examples of plants acting on animals, and definitely on other plants). While a plant totem can make itself known to me, it’s usually after I’ve made the first contact. In my last post here I talked about how White and Red Clovers came to me and talked to me about some of our early experiences together, but it was only after I thought about them and gave them that opening.

So we often take for granted that a totem being will come to us if there’s something important to know. I wonder, though, how many plant totems have messages and conversations ready for us that go unheard because we don’t pay attention? And what sort of attention should we pay, anyway? Most of the things I have learned from plants and their totems have been through a sort of experiential osmosis–absorbed in my senses and pores without consciously realizing them, inhaled and digested as a matter of daily goings-on, rather than being actively sought and observed with animals. Yet these can be incredibly powerful and moving lessons, and I am amazed at just how much I didn’t realize I have gained from plant totems over the years.

Another consideration is that a plant is rooted in one place, something that is alien to most animals (especially terrestrial ones). Other than a few house plants that get repotted, plants generally stay in the same place their entire lives. Even widespread plant colonies that expand their boundaries through growth still have limited “travel” by our standards; most of us couldn’t think of living our entire lives on a single acre, never mind being rooted in the same place for life. Not that plants know nothing of the world; part of my unverified personal gnosis is that plants (or, at least, their spirits) communicate through their intricate root systems. Plants do move. They grow, they shed, they expand, they move with the wind. A plant is not a still being. We can’t see it with the naked eye, but plants breathe, and they convert sunlight to food. Like the depth of understanding, plants know how to make the most of the spot they’ve taken root. Forests, for example, are a living race upward, each plant jockeying for the best spots to get sunlight.

Photo of Douglas fir forest on Mt. Hood near Barlow Pass, Oregon. Photo by Lupa, 2011.

And the plant totems, being connected to every individual of their species, can often have a very deep understanding of many places and what goes on there. Tree totems in particular can be very significant wells of knowledge of places. That’s another thing that can throw us humans off about plant totems. Animals have comparative breadth of knowledge about a place; they can know their territory intimately, but it’s still limited primarily to the surface (or water, or tunnels, or whatever their primary habitat is), and they can be easily removed from their territory by rivals, by a lack of food, by humans, and so forth. Plants, on the other hand, know one place very deeply, investing an entire lifetime in one spot, one view. A plant can be uprooted and moved if young enough, of course, but left to its own devices it will concentrate on the one place it’s rooted until it dies. And so we don’t always understand the “depth” observation that plants take versus our “breadth” animal understanding.

When the Clovers were talking to me about how I still carry the lessons I learned early on, even though one of the places I learned them has been destroyed and others are off-limits, that was a testament to the plant totems’ patient, long-distance way of perceiving. Like a tree rooted in a forest, some of the features and beings around me and my life would change, but I remained. (And, likewise, I may someday be one of those features in someone else’s life that goes away, while they themselves remain.) I really had to stop and think about what they were seeing in me, and more importantly how they were seeing me. Where I was caught up in a piece of my lateral landscape that had changed forever, they were taking a longitudinal assessment of me as a constant factor.

There’s a lot of value in the alternative style of perception and understanding that plant totems have. It can be difficult to engage sometimes because I’m not used to it. But the more I consciously engage with what the plant totems have been sharing with me without me realizing it, the more grateful I am to them for it, and for the patient, ongoing contributions of their physical counterparts.

* Incidentally, I’m also working on exploring my experiences with fungi totems, stone totems, spirits of places, and other not-animal, not-plant beings as a greater exploration of the spiritual ecosystem, and I intend for my writing to unfold and reveal these explorations over time, traveling deeper into the foundations of the ecosystem. But for now–you gt my thoughts on plants, because I’m just linear that way. Plus it’s a lot easier for many people to start wit what’s familiar and progressively move outward, and I figure it’ll be better for everyone if I take this progression from “more like me” to “less like me”.

A Brief Poetic Interlude

Home, 5/5/2012

I love the sound of the paintbrush
Delicately moving across this drum.
The tiny tempo evokes the spirit
Of small, curious birds,
Translucent claws tapping against taut-stretched hide.

So sensitive is the skin, that from the lightest touch
A song emerges.
No matter how heavily the drum is beaten
No matter how loud the voice
I was here first
With my paintbrush made of birds.

WIP drum by Lupa, 2012

White and Red Clover as Totems

I’ve been thinking again about my now-deceased little patch of woods from my hometown. I can’t have that place back ever again; even if the pharmacy that’s there now were to be torn down, the plants that would regrow wouldn’t be the same, and the geography’s been changed, flattened out. And so I mourn that loss. (As an aside, I’ve written even more about it recently at No Unsacred Place.)

In the process of mourning, White Clover and Red Clover came to me. These low-lying legumes were a big part of my childhood explorations; I spent many hours outdoors lying in patches of three-lobed leaves and fragrant white flowers, and eating the pink petals of the larger red species. Spring was always marked by the arrival of the first clover buds, and throughout the summer I would silently cheer any time the flowers got high enough to be made into necklaces before the lawn would get mowed again. My favorite hiding places were where the clover and other plants were allowed to grow high and thick, instead of being cultivated into submission as with most of the neighborhood.

As I grew older, and eventually moved to several places around the country, I always found clover–white more often than red, but both of them still made strong showings. And they were persistent. Even when I lived in paved-over old industrial areas of Pittsburgh where bricks and old run-down buildings were common, clover stubbornly populated open lots and little scrubby patches by the sidewalks. Here in Portland I see a lot of white clover, to include places where organic urban gardeners plant it as a cover crop. Red is more rare, but I’ve seen it on occasion, often on the edges of parking lots and other hardscrabble places.

And as I have mourned my loss, White and Red Clover reminded me of all the times I’ve seen them over the years and how that’s helped me to maintain the connection to my childhood wonder at the world. I realized that although I’ve lost a specific place dear to me, I never lost the connections that were formed there. I’ve taken these connections much further, too, out of suburban lawns and into empty lots in cities, and the wide open territory of the Columbia River Gorge. I’ve gone from a tiny little creek trickling through my second patch of woods, to the rivers the bridges in Portland cross over–and to the Pacific Ocean itself.

I am not lost. I am still here. Wherever there is clover, there is also the connection I grew up with. I do not need to feel connected only to the patches of clover in a yard I no longer have permission to enter, or in a field that no longer exists. I also have the clover in the neighbor’s yard that I walk by several times a week, and odd patches here and there throughout Portland. And just as I carry the lessons taught by family members many years deceased, so do I carry what I learned from White and Red Clover, and Periwinkle, and Black Poplar, and Eastern Red Cedar, and White Oak, and so many others through their physical counterparts as I went from a seedling to a sapling to a fine young tree myself. These still stand out to me, so many years later, as a collective of plants and their totems who were so incredibly influential. Some of their children are now dead, victims of the destruction of one place. But thankfully the species and the totems live on, and no one can take that from me.

And given that neither White nor Red Clover are native to the United States, their ubiquitous presence helps me to feel at home where I might otherwise feel rootless. Similarly to Douglas Fir, the Clovers have helped me to be as flexible and adaptable as they are in a new place, particularly as I was not even born on this soil. Part of that grounding does come from reminding me of my roots, and teaching me to set them down wherever I go. If they can bloom where they’re planted, so can I.

I find all this comforting. I have lost, but I am far from alone–or rootless. White and Red Clover showed me that.