A Successful Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Totemic Drum/Dance Ritual in Portland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deeper Work with Wolf and Small Wolf

So this weekend marked a pretty significant shift for me (no pun intended). I went to Sunfest on the coast with my husband, Taylor. It was an excellent festival, and I highly recommend it to anyone in the Pacific Northwest. Anyway, it’s one of the few places in the Northwest that I’ve found where I can do fire dancing, which means it’s also one of the few places where I can do wolf dancing.

I’ve been dancing with Small Wolf, my wolf skin, since 2002. Folks who went to Sirius Rising from 2002 through 2006 may remember me as “the skinny chick in the wolf skin”. Since moving to the Northwest, I’ve spent more time getting settled in than getting out and about; I didn’t really do much while in Seattle, and now that we’ve been in Portland a year we’ve been working on finding more stuff in the area. I haven’t heard much about drum circles in Portland proper (gas prices prohibit regular attendance anywhere else, though occasional visits aren’t out of the question). So if any of my readers know of any options, feel free to let me know.

At any rate, I’ve been dancing with Small Wolf, the whole time. It’s generally been for the fun of it, both for Small Wolf and for me. I like getting a chance to see the world through his eyes, and he enjoys being able to move again, borrowing my body as I wear his skin. However, since starting on this shamanic path, the dancing has been moving towards something deeper and more complex than that. A lot of the threads of my practice over the years are beginning to come together into something more cohesive–which is exactly what I’ve been working towards in this endeavor.

This weekend, I had an experience that brought a lot of this purpose into sharp focus. I had brought Small Wolf with me expecting to get some dancing in, since Sunfest has a good group of drummers and a fire pit. I also brought my drum, since it wanted to come along as well. Saturday afternoon I had some time to sit and drum, practicing my songs for both Wolf and Small Wolf. I had a couple of folks come and share the drumming with me, which was nice. While most of my songs right now are still private, Small Wolf has always been a very public critter, and enjoys sharing with others (to an extent–not just anyone is allowed to touch him, and never without my permission unless you want to get yelled at). This was a good exercise for me, too, because while I’m fine with public speaking, I’m nervous about public singing. I’m not looking at huge concert tours and things of that nature, thankfully, but I will eventually need to at least be able to do the songs and drumming and such in front of other people as I take what I’m learning and use it to help others.

Last night it began to rain. Well, not really rain, so much as drizzle and spit. However, I generally don’t wolf dance outdoors in the rain because it’s really bad for Small Wolf–tanned furs are nowhere near as waterproof as the live deal. It’s tough to dry out the skin while camping, too, especially in a damp area. So I had originally figured I probably wasn’t going to get to dance. I had danced Friday night, and there were a number of people who had missed out on it. Apparently last year Small Wolf and I made quite an impression at our first Sunfest, and there were folks who were really looking forward to seeing us dance again (or who had heard about it but not seen it).

Our tent ended up being leaky, Taylor was recovering from a twenty-four hour bug, and I was wiped out from a busy weekend of vending, dancing, and socializing. So we decided to head home last night. This was perfect, because it meant that I could get a dance in before we left, and since home was only a couple of hours away I could get Small Wolf dried out since it was still only drizzling, not pouring. I made arrangements to get the folks who wanted to see the wolf dancing at the fire at an appointed time, asked a few of the drummers if they would be willing to show up, and managed to pull everything together in a short time.

The time came, and people were there at the circle, a couple dozen including the drummers. I had just intended to dance and be done with it. However, both Wolf and Small wolf had something else in mind. As I stepped into the circle, they made it very clear they wanted it to be a ritual. Small Wolf and I already have a bit of a rite we go through when we first get to the fire. First I walk around the fire a few times, greet it, and exchange energy with it to connect with it. Then as I prepare myself for the rite, I continue circling. After that I will carry Small Wolf over my shoulder and hold his head towards the fire so he may greet it. After that I put him on, binding his legs to my arms and legs, and tying his head over mine like a hood. I may then sit on the ground for a few moments, getting a really strong connection with him, and then we dance.

However, this time, after I connected with the fire and before I connected with Small Wolf, I called on the totems of the directions as well as various entities of Nature I work with, including the Animal Father. I don’t consider it evoking them, since they’re already there–the Green Mother is in the plant life, the Animal Father in critters great and small, the Wind and Water in the storm, etc. I don’t see a need to banish them, either, at the end–where would they go? I do acknowledge their presence, though, and ask them to witness the ritual if they will.

Only then did I ask Small Wolf to dance with me. I don’t just assume; I always ask. He’s generally enthusiastic–he enjoys it at least as much as I do. So I draped him over me, and we began to dance as the drummers drummed–they were so wonderful, those drummers! And the people watching were incredibly respectful and focused, sharing in the experience. A few had rattles and bells that they played with the drummers, and others I could see the wolf energy touch them. Small Wolf and I danced, and we danced, and the energy rose, and I began to show my teeth in the happy wolf-grin….

And then at the height of it, we invited those who would to come join us, to dance with us, to share in the wolf energy. Only a few did, but they settled into the current so easily, so smoothly. We’ve been able to share that current at more informal drum circles, and had people follow us in a line as we danced around the fire, but this was the first time that this was the sole focus of the dancing and drumming, and being able to feel that without distractions really showed me just what it was that Small Wolf and I have been building together for over half a decade.

I wish I hadn’t been so worn out; while I can channel energy with the best of them, I do allow my body to remind me of its limits. It had been a busy weekend, I’d done most of the setup when we arrived on site because Taylor was still sick, and I was potentially fighting off the bug as well. Plus cold rain will sap my strength more than just about anything. So I wish I’d had more strength, but when I reached my limit, Wolf backed off, and Small Wolf helped me to wind down. We left the wolf “flavor” in the drum circle–enough to let people keep the spirit of the ritual with them, but nothing that wouldn’t dissipate as the night wore on and other elements and spirits came in to dance with the people. I thanked all the spirits and beings who had witnessed the ritual, though they, like Wolf, had already begun to back off to their usual places as I began to tire. I think I wish I could have held out longer, danced more with the people who had been there; one person earlier in the day had been talking to me about how she and other people often felt intimidated by the fire dancing, too self-conscious to go out there and dance–and that sometimes what was needed was an invitation. I tried that, but I think if I’d had more energy I could have gotten people more involved in the ritual.

But I think we made an impression on the folks who were there, and this was definitely a good start. It gives me more focus of where my work with Wolf and Small Wolf will go. While I don’t tend to believe everything I read in the dictionaries, the theme of Wolf energy as teacher energy makes a lot of sense here. One thing Small Wolf and I have always been able to do with our dancing has been inspire people; Wolf and Small Wolf have been good at teaching me to lead through example. Part of why I blog here is to show other people what I’m doing and to hopefully inspire them to walk their own paths more fully and without fear. There are too many problems in the world these days to waste time letting the naysayers scare you into not doing what you need to do for fear of being told you’re wrong–we need more constructive actions, not destructive ones. (And there are better ways to remind someone of their impact than to insult them and point out only their mistakes.)

So the role I seem to be moving into with Wolf and Small Wolf is that which will be the most public aspects of my practice–giving people something they can participate in not just as spectators, but as active participants in the ritual. Time will tell as to whether any of the other totems or skin spirits want to be that involved with people beyond private ceremonies. However, Wolf and Small Wolf have always been happy to accompany me in public dances at pagan gathers. This is a great opportunity, because just being able to watch seems to really get people thinking about the Wild. If I can take that wonder and joy and roll it over into more interactive rituals that have a theme of Wolf = Wild = Respecting the Wild, so much the better.

It’s also good for me for personal reasons. One thing that can be considered, I suppose, a personality flaw is that I love attention. Okay, I love good attention, not the kind of attention one gets when punched in the nose, let me clarify! While most people like attention, I sometimes go overboard, and it’s something I’ve had to struggle with for years. The shamanic work has been great for teaching me how to shove my ego out of the way when needed. However, the enjoyment of attention is actually coming in handy here, because I’m able to get over my self-consciousness and instead consciously attract attention for a specific purpose. Therefore I’m able to take a personality trait that could potentially be a problem (attention whoring, anyone) and instead channel it into something more positive and constructive. Not that it completely solves all problems; I do still have to remember that when I dance, it’s not all about me. But Small Wolf in particular has been a great teacher for working through that particular bit of conditioning, and instead of completely squelching the desire for
attention, I’ve instead been learning to use it for the Powers of Good (TM)!

It’ll be interesting to see how this Wolf/Small Wolf work progresses. They’ve already been strongly involved in the ecological aspects of my life and practice; it’s no coincidence that wolves have often been equated with the wilderness, and the need to preserve both. Wolf taught me to appreciate Nature from an early age, and Small Wolf has continued with that through our dancing. I’m going to find some ways to maybe do more regular rituals where others can participate, since there are a lot of things Wolf and Small Wolf would like me to pass on to other people, and this is a great way to do so.

Wolf, the teacher and my guide into the Wild, and Small Wolf, my dance partner and willing conspirator in impromptu inspiration, are definitely taking me in some good directions.

ETA: Here’s a brief addendum to this post that I added after the feeds picked up on it.

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.