Meeting Crow

Tonight’s skin dance was with a crow spirit. Since crow feathers are illegal to possess in the United States under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, I have a couple of wing fans, arm bands, and a tail made from black dyed feathers and inhabited by a crow spirit I evoked. We first danced together; then when it became apparent that the ceiling was too low for me to flap my wings, so to speak, I sat down and continued to meditate with the crow spirit.

S/he made a few requests besides more space (outdoors when possible). S/he wants to work primarily during the day, not surprising since crows are diurnal creatures (despite cheesy Halloween decorations featuring corvids at night). S/he also said that when hir week to be introduced to me more deeply came about in my second six months, that s/he wanted me to study the crows in my neighborhood to get a better idea of how they move. As I mentioned in my work with the pheasant skin spirit, I’m nowhere near as familiar with birds as I am with mammals, so it’s going to be an entirely new area of study and practice.

As far as what the crow spirit wants to work on with me, a lot of it focuses on trickery. Not so much pulling pranks on others, but the fine art of deception in the spirit of “every actor is a liar”. Costumery and subterfuge are a big part of this crow spirit’s experience, since s/he wears non-crow feathers that are disguised, feathers that came from male and female birds both and contributed to an androgynous energy. S/he is the Mastress of knowing when to hide the truth and when to reveal it–not so much to cause harm to others, as to protect the self and loved ones (such as being in the closet out of necessity). S/he is very concerned with image; not just the shallow surface, but what the image can either reveal or conceal, and how the surface and what’s under it interact. In this s/he can also teach honesty, showing how to make the ouside better reflect the inside, even if it’s scary. If I end up incorporating sleight of hand and visual trickery in my shamanizing, s/he’s willing to help with that, too.

The crow spirit is also a resourceful one. S/he knows as much as s/he does in large part because s/he talked a lot with the totemic Crow about what I might need help with. Additionally, being an urbanized animal, s/he had to adapt to humanity and the changes we often bring, as well as exploiting our civilization for an easier life. Scavenging is an art form to this one.

There’s a lot to the crow spirit. It’ll be interesting to see what s/he has to teach in more detail when the time comes to work with hir more intensely.

Lupa Does the Bunny Hop

I was a little late in doing my skin spirit work this month, but today I managed to spend some time with my rabbit skin, a rather small brown pelt from a domesticated rabbit. Right before I went to choose a skin to dance, I kept thinking about El-Ahrairah from Watership Down, who is somewhat of a pop culture version of the totemic Rabbit, as well as a useful depiction thereof. So I chose the rabbit skin to dance today.

He was a little unsure before we went into things; he’s the first skin from a domesticated animal I’ve danced, and he told me that as he’d spent his life in a hutch, he really wasn’t sure how much like a wild rabbit he was. I told him, “Well, I’ve not worked with Rabbit much myself, so maybe he’ll give us a little help and we can figure this one out together”. Indeed, El-Ahrairah gave us the boost we needed!

I draped the skin over my shoulders like a cape, tied with two leather cords around my neck. Then I got down on my hands and knees and attempted to lollop like a rabbit–and got about two inches ahead of where I’d been before. I’m used to large, striding animals, or at least those that walk in a four-beat pace. The two-beat lollop of the rabbit is another story entirely. It probably took me a good ten minutes at least to figure out how to get more than a few inches forward at a time. I ended up with a rather ungainly, probably ridiculous-looking quasi-lollop on my hands and balls of my feet. In fact I know it was silly to watch–even the rabbit skin was laughing, though having a good time.

I then got up to try to mimic the lollop in a more bipedal fashion. I really didn’t want to have to rely on the infamous “bunny hop” with two feet together (with or without the “right, right, left, left, jump forward, jump backward, jump forward three times, repeat” pattern!) That would annoy me entirely too much for me to hit a good trance, and it didn’t remind me of the movement I’d done before. I finally ended up with a two-step dance, where I would dip my torso and arms forward when stepping with my lead foot, and come back up when stepping forward with my hind foot. I also kept the characteristic “lub-dup, lub-dup” rhythm from the lollop, which bound the two moves together really well.

Learning to move in an entirely new way was pretty exhausting–not to mention hard on my back. But both I and the rabbit skin had a great time figuring it out together. I didn’t even try approximating a run; I figure I should learn to thoroughly lollop first.

The Animal Father nudged me while we were dancing. He told me that once my six months were up that he wanted me to dance a different skin every night for a week each week until I’d danced them all and gotten to know them. I’m sure the skins will appreciate this; I don’t dance as much as I’d like since my job takes a lot out of me, and they always seem so sad when I get done dancing and they realize that no one else will be dancing that day/night. I am looking forward to it, though.

New Moon – Skin Spirits

It’s the new moon, the time I’ve set aside specifically for work with skin spirits. This time around I’ve been making an effort to really get to know the dancing skins I have; some of the newer one’s I’ve never actually danced with. Additionally, a couple of weeks ago I was idly chatting with the dancing skin spirits while meditating in the ritual room, and they wanted it made quite clear that instead of me working magic with skindancing animals I had worked with before, they instead, for the time being, wanted me to acquaint myself with all of the skins. There are over a dozen of them; my wolf skin, a fox, a pair of reindeer legs someone else had used for dancing, and an Australian possum, among others. Not all of them are in perfect condition, but they’re still good for dancing with me.

It’s a fair request. No time like the present, after all. So this weekend I’ve been alternating among working on DIY Totemism, creating artwork, and getting to know the dancing skin spirits more deeply. Today, my dance partners were the red fox and skunk skins.

Fox-skin (not to be confused with Fox the totem) was quite eager to dance. I’d meditated with him before, but never danced. So I wore him as a headdress, and began to circle the room as I normally do to start getting into the right state of mind. Each skin spirit I’ve been working with has been giving me a unique way to move, either when walking or dancing; Fox-skin was full of nervous tension, taking in all sorts of sensory details around him, especially sight. So that’s what was passed on to me as we continued to move together. I could see squirrels and birds in the treetops that I’ve never really noticed before, and I paid more attention to little details in the room around me, my immediate environment. Sight seemed to be all-important.

Fox-skin then told me that he could help me with divination–not just seeing into the future, but being more aware of details in my circumstances. He called himself “Fox the Finder”. He also reminded me that he could help me with woodscrafting; being in the wilderness would certainly require me to be more aware of what was going on around me, especially if I was attempting to learn how to be more resourceful there. This also made me remember one of the very first magical items I created, something Fox (totemic) told me about way back in the beginning of my practice. I was told to take a black-dyed fox leg skin, paint the nails silver and the pads gold, and decorate it with jewelry made of horn heishi beads and turquoise; its purpose was to help me move through the woods easier. While I didn’t always remember to take it with me, it did help the times I did have it. I still have it, too, and will start taking it hiking with me again. I thanked Fox-skin for his dance, and placed him back with the others.

Later on, I danced Skunk-skin. He was a little shy at first, but warmed up to me quickly. His dance was more of a slow ambling walk–and why shouldn’t it be? Few animals would dare to mess with a skunk! So we ambled. As we did, I noticed myself paying more attention to scents–I kept smelling random objects to see what the differences were; it was rather fun. Skunk-skin told me that scent was his specialty–and not just because of his musk glands. Skunks have excellent senses of smell, and Skunk-skin told me any time I wanted to work on paying closer attention to mine–including when it crosses over into taste–that he’d be happy to help.

I’ll probably do more skindancing tomorrow, though for the night I’ll probably just stick to writing and artwork. I am enjoying having more of a schedule; I get more magic and spiritual work done than I did before, and I feel more comfortable and relaxed about it all. Who’d have thought?

Why, I Otter

(Yes, I like puns–why do you ask?)

Last night I did the Otter ritual that is somewhat of a sequel to the Badger ritual I did a week and a half ago. Now, technically these were both supposed to be New Moon rituals. However, my insanely busy (and exhausting) schedule coupled with remnants of procrastination led to the Otter ritual getting postponed. Rather than getting frustrated and deciding I should just forget the ritual since it was almost the Full Moon, I stuck to my philosophy of staying motivated and stopping guilt. The result was that late is, indeed, better than never.

The Otter ritual was very similar in structure to the Badger ritual (and my skindancing rituals in general). I started by calling on the four directional totems, again doing so without words. My elemental meditations have most definitely been paying off, as the evocations were quite strong and quick, and I’m definitely feeling much more connected to the totems and their respective elements.

I evoked Otter the totem next, using my staff as a channel. Per usual, I did a mild energetic shift to Otter as she arrived, laughing and bouncing, into the ritual room. I then picked up my otter skin and held her so that she could be “seen” by Otter. I then silently explained to Otter what the otter spirit wanted to do to help me, and she agreed to give us an extra boost.

So we danced.

I held the otter skin over my left shoulder, placed the candle in the center of the room, and danced in a circle around it, channelling the energy of both the otter spirit and Otter the totem, as well as my own, in a flood of waves and currents. I started out looping and circling as I danced, very free-form. I then settled into a rhythm of “step-step-step step-step-step DIP” that was repeated every half-circle. The “DIP” involved arcing my body down and then up, like an otter diving into the water, then coming up for air. At first I simply breathed the rhythm, but then began to spontaneously hum and whistle it as I danced.

Eventually the rhythm sped up, and we danced faster, joyfully spinning, drawing the energy in tighter and tighter, until I lifted up the otter skin high above my head, and helped her to “dive” with the energy down to the candle on the floor. The energy flooded into the candle, and as I laughed quietly at the end of this enthusiastic dance, I let that joy pour into it as well, sealing it at the end. I then placed the otter skin on the same side of the altar as the candle holder, lit the candle, and let the spirit take the flow of energy to where she needed to start the task I’d asked her to work on.

Otter the totem came to me at this point and asked to be able to stay with the otter skin spirit while the magic worked. I gave her free passage into my home as long as she needed. She seemed incredibly concerned for this little one, and wanted to be sure that her (the spirit’s) enthusiasm wouldn’t lead her into trouble, since she was a relatively young being. Otter may not always be thought of as one of the “motherly” totems, but she is, from my experience, quite concerned over her own. She can play, but she can also be quite serious when need be.

I bid farewell to the directional totems after this, as well as my spiritual friends, family and guardians. As I did so, I felt the energies of the elements return to their original sources–some within me, and some in the environment around me.

I’m glad I have the help of an otter with this situation; it could definitely use the flexibility and fluidity, as well as a reminder to not stress too much as things develop! Additionally, I’ve been enjoying developing specific dances for each spirit/totem species; before I would dance however I felt at the moment, though I’m feeling more inclined to have more “formal” dances to go with each animal. I do want to pick up a drum sooner rather than later for use in journeying and other practices, and the dances I’ve gotten so far have good rhythms for drumming as well–which could make for some interesting evocation and invocation practices.

Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger (But No Mushroom)*

A significant part of my practice over the years has been working with skin spirits. This is my term for the spirits (or residual energy, if you prefer) that are in skins, bones and other animal remains. I have found that I can communicate intuitively with these spirits (whee, animism!). Generally I use this to help determine how to incorporate the remains into my artwork. I do this to give these spirits a better afterlife than hanging on someone’s wall, as well as to help them move past the almost invariably traumatic deaths they experience.

While most of the skins and bones end up with other people post-art, I do have some that stay with me. This includes a collection of skins I use for dancing and other forms of invocation and evocation; I have one particular section of my half of the ritual room where they all hang out. The way my altar is set up, the skins are always to my right when I’m facing it, keeping them in nice, close proximity. The walls in the alcove where the altar sits are also covered in animal skulls that have decided to camp out in my home for the time being, and the spirits therein tend to act as general guardians and spiritual company.

This past Sunday I decided to do a ritual for prosperity in conjunction with a particular project I have in the works. So I pulled out a deck of totem cards that I use specifically for determining good totems to ask for help for specific situations. However, before I’d even gotten the cards shuffled, I “heard” (obviously not with my physical ears) two of the skin spirits speak up to my right. “Me! Pick me! I can help!” each one said. So I went over to the lineup of skins, and both the badger and otter skins I have “jumped” out (again, not physically!). I won’t go into the details of how each one would help me, since it’s still a rather personal project. However, needless to say I was quite appreciative that they volunteered.

I decided to use one of my favorite forms of magic–the humble, often taken for granted, candle burning. Out of all of the various types of magic I’ve used, and the numerous objects I’ve charged with energy for a specific purpose, I admit that I have a definite fondness for those little two-hour candles as receptacles for collecting and focusing energy and intent, and subsequent release thereof. With skin spirits, I’ll generally dance with the skin and the spirit in it, and sometimes the corresponding totem will also join in, and then take the energy of the dance and place it in the candle. And that’s exactly what I did. Since I was a bit tired, I opted to just work with one of the skins that day, so I chose Badger–Otter would wait til the following weekend.

When I called on the directional totems, I tried something a little different to tie in with my elemental work as of late–rather than speaking out the evocations, I called up the element corresponding to whatever direction I was in, as well as shifting my energetic body to the form of the corresponding totem, and used that to evoke the totems. I found that this actually produced the strongest evocations I’ve ever had. It also worked for the various spiritual Friends, Family and Guardians that I routinely evoke for ritual attendance. This isn’t surprising, given that I’ve spent the past week and a half attuning myself to the elements on a several-times-per-day basis, and that I’ve been working with these directional totems through energetic shifts for years. Still, it was a nice reminder that my current elemental work does have practical applications beyond reminding me that the elements can be found everywhere, even in downtown Portland.

The “main course” of the ritual involved me laying the candle for badger energy on the floor in the center of my ritual space, draping the badger skin over my right shoulder, and dancing in a circle around the candle, invoking both the skin spirit and Badger the totem. Each species I dance has a distinctive way of dancing, and Badger/badger ended up giving me a sort of scuff-step-scuff-step pattern. As the dance progressed, I danced faster and faster, feeling my energetic body take on a distinctive badger shape. At the height of the dance, I stopped, “grabbed” the column of energy I’d raised, and “pushed” it down into the candle, condensing it into that container, sealing it in. I then placed the candle in a holder on the altar, set the badger skin near it (but far away enough to avoid accidental flaming badger skin) and lit it to release the energy in a more focused manner.

I said farewell to all the beings I’d evoked, again wordlessly, to great success, grounded, and went and ate since I needed it after all that dancing. The ritual itself went wonderfully, and it also gave me a chance to work with a couple of skin spirits I don’t work with as much as I’d like (I’ve set aside the new moon and the time around it specifically for working with skin spirits). Plus the validation of my elemental work was a nice additional perk. Of course, the proof is in the pudding, but I’m confident that the badger skin spirit can help me manifest the prosperity and opportunities I need. I’m looking forward to working with Otter this coming weekend.

On a different note, my hands are feeling better. Since I spend a lot of time on the computer at work and at home, I sometimes end up with sore wrists and hands–not as bad as carpal tunnel, but I’d like to avoid worse complications. Part of this is because I never learned to type correctly, so for years I was a four-finger hunt and peck typist. Plus I tend to push the buttons down hard! So I took my ergonomic keyboard to work (my home laptop doesn’t seem to cause me problems on its own), along with new wrist splints. I’ve also been training myself to use all ten fingers for typing, as well as type more *softly*.

However, in addition to this, I’ve asked my husband, Taylor, to do some healing on me every evening. Taylor is quite the accomplished energy worker, and was one of the main reasons I can still walk after all the damage I did to my knees a couple of years ago. I was working as a meter reader reading utility meters in rural Pennsylvania, and 4-10 miles of walking, plus getting in and out of a truck a couple of hundred times a day, hurt a LOT. I also wasn’t eating all that well, so I’m sure my body was cannibalizing the connective tissues for protein. I didn’t want to go to a doctor because s/he’d just tell me to stop working for a while, and I was out of sick time.

I noticed a distinct difference once Taylor started doing daily healing on me. Along with improving my diet, he did energy work every evening when I got home. Within a couple of weeks I was pretty much off the Tylenol, and after a couple of months I only rarely had any trouble, even though the workload was the same. And once again, I’m noticing a drastic improvement in how quickly my hands are recovering with this combination approach. His healing is definitely one of the better pieces of proof (for me, personally) that magic *works*.

I’m thinking I should ask Taylor to teach me the more subtle uses of energy work. While I can certainly sense and work with energy, I don’t have the fine-tuned ability he does. This would be quite useful for extractions of unwanted entities/energies in healing work.

* If you don’t get the reference for the title of this post, check out this link and make sure your speakers are on.