What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part 2

Eeep. So this was a little later than “tomorrow”. But better late than never.

So I didn’t really get a chance to talk about the big OMGSPIRITUALEXPERIENCE I had when I was out on the wilderness therapy (WT) retreat. One of the tools used in WT is the “solo”, which is basically the really short, really watered-down version of what non-indigenous people assume to be a “vision quest”, though the WT people I was with were well aware of the cultural issues, etc. Anyway, a solo happens late in a WT experience (which generally will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months, depending on the program). It’s long enough for the individual person to have had a lot of experience not only with practical wilderness skills and teambuilding, but also to reflect on the problems encountered both in the backcountry, and in the setting that person left behind. The solo itself is where the person gets left in a particular spot for a matter of a few hours to a few days to have that time to hirself for reflection. After, there’s a period of time for reintegration back into the WT group, followed by transition back to the life left behind.

My solo was only a few hours, appropriate for a four-day retreat. We hiked up West Hardy Ridge, going about three and a half miles one way, with roughly 2,000 feet elevation, at a pace of about 3mph average. It’s rough, rocky terrain, especially higher up on the ridge, so it wasn’t easy going. In fact, it’s the toughest hike I’ve done to date; we didn’t stop for breaks, and my pack was about a fifth of my body weight since I took a lot of water to account for the 90+ degree heat.

Honestly, there were a few times where I seriously considered just sitting down on the trail and not going any further. I’m in good physical condition, but the many factors wearing at me combined to create a really tough challenge. I have a tendency to get frustrated when things go beyond a certain level of difficulty. But I did recognize that I was getting frustrated, and I was able to take a step back and observe myself in that frustration–and I was able to tell myself that it would pass, and that I had a goal worth going for. So I worked through the frustration, while acknowledging that I felt it, something nearly unprecedented for me (and also an important step in my Elk work).

We made it to the top of the ridge, and we were then escorted to our individual spots. I ended up getting a really choice one, a rock slide overlooking the Columbia River, surrounded by small conifers and underbrush. Granted, the rocks were all small, to the point where I really had nowhere comfortable to sit, and I had to secure my gear to keep it from sliding down the ridge. But other than that? Excellent place.

I took a little time to settle in, getting some water and food, and letting myself rest. Then I took in my surroundings in brief, just to get some orientation for where I was. My clearing was about fifteen feet wide, and the slide itself was roughly fifty feet long from the top of the ridge to where the brush began again.

Then I started thinking about how I should spend my time there. Should I do work with Bear, who had been wanting my time and attention? I’d brought my drum, after all, since it’s not heavy at all and hooks onto my pack nicely. Should I meditate? Should I try talking to the Land? I tried for the lattermost option, opening myself up and expecting a dialogue. Instead, the Land simply kept telling me to look at the plants. So I did. Though I didn’t know most of them, I took the time to study them in detail, how they grew together in layers from the ground up, and how I was surprised by how many deciduous trees there were mixed in there. Then I looked at the stones around me, and the fallen logs. And then I noted the animals, who are normally the ones I notice first.

First came the flies–not biting flies, thankfully, but sort of housefly-types. At first I shooed them away when they landed on my skin, and they persisted. But then I saw that what they wanted was my sweat–there wasn’t any water nearby, so moisture must have come at a premium on that hot day. So, exercising patience again, I let them land on me and drink their fill, even though it tickled, and there was part of me conditioned to feel revulsion at having “dirty” flies touching me. But once they were done, they left me alone for the rest of the time.

Much of my company was flies, a few spiders and other arthropods. However, I ended up with an awesome spot for birdwatching. I startled a scrub jay who was about to come in for a landing on a tree next to me, but then thought better of it after seeing me. There were some swallows (not sure of the exact species) flying overhead, and of course I heard the occasional raven. Later on, a quartet of turkey vultures came flying overhead, harried by a peregrine falcon (the falcons nest nearby on Beacon Rock). And then at one point I heard the “keeeeeer” of a bald eagle, and was fortunate to stand up quickly enough see a mature adult cruising parallel with the river, fifty feet away at the most!

What I realized in all this is that I saw so many things I would have missed if I hadn’t sat down to be patient. I have a tendency to be an impatient person, hence my common frustration. Being out in the woods like that, settling down quietly for a space of hours, showed me one of the many rewards of patience. In fact, this was a really good trip for Elk work in that vein. I had ample opportunities to experience the natural challenges associated with being in the wilderness and to face my own behavior patterns that came up as a result. And I came away with some good lessons.

I also actually got to do my first sort of “official” shamanic work on behalf of others. I know the human-based portion of my shamanic work has largely focused on myself and making myself a better vessel for this sort of thing, but I’m starting (finally!) to get to the point where I can do work for other people. It wasn’t anything too elaborate; one of the instructors for the course asked me to drum as part of the preparatory ceremony before we started out on our hike. (Ecopsychology doesn’t equal animism, but ecopsychologists do strongly draw on animistic practices in a secular context, such as the role of ritual.) So I very briefly explained the importance of my drum and what I was about to do, and told people that I would be calling on Horse, Deer and Elk, and that they were welcome to ask any/all of them for their guidance and protection on our “journey”, such as it was. And then I drummed while one of the instructors smudged all the participants with sage picked in eastern Oregon before we got going.

I’ve done some work since then, but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet. Needless to say, things seem to be evolving more as I’m coming back to my practice more actively. But my wilderness therapy excursion was a definite turning point.

Elk’s Journey, Elk’s Gift

Today I did my first journey for a purpose other than exploration. I’ve been doing a lot of internal work lately, trying to work through the unhealthy conditioning and behavior patterns associated with depression and especially anxiety. They’re not a constant active influence in my life, but they do have a tendency to pop up with the right amount of stress in my life. I don’t like them, they don’t like me, and since I had an open invitation from Elk for help with emotional regulation, I decided to take hir up on it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about trying to develop a more formal ritual structure, but not based on the generic Wicca-flavored neopagan ritual structure I used to use. One of the challenges of essentially creating a practice from scratch is that there’s no authority telling me “Well, you need to do things this way or that”. I’m the one who decides, for the most part. The spirits will occasionally have a suggestion, but as far as they’re concerned, most of this is for my benefit and (eventually) the benefit of anyone I do this sort of work for. I have a desire for formality, though, so it’s up to me to create something appropriate that works.

Before my break over the past few months, when I journeyed I basically asked the drum and beater if they’d work with me, and then we’d drum together and I’d head off to where I needed to be. As I’m coming back, though, I’m finding myself being more deliberate about things. I still ask the drum and beater–and the horse, deer, and elk spirits in them–for permission. But then I warm the drum up with my hand, and then the beater; this is inspired by Ravenari’s method of doing so, and the spirits of the drum and beater really seem to appreciate it. It also helps me to ease out of my everyday headspace with all the concerns and stresses and distractions, and into the focus I need for any sort of ritual work.

I also asked the horse spirit in the drum to carry me to my starting point, instead of taking myself as I normally do. She agreed, and it made the trip a lot smoother, again partly because it helped with transitioning from one headspace to the next. I’m a little rusty, particularly in maintaining the visual aspect of journeying (I’ve always had trouble with consistent, unbroken visuals), but I had a good connection, and even when I let my “sight” relax, I was still definitely over in the spirit world.

So the drum-horse got me to the starting point, and I got onto the ground and turned into a wolf. I then worked to pick up the scent of Elk, and went to find hir. I found hir down in a valley not too far away; s/he’s been expecting me. I went to hir asked formally asked for hir help, turning back to a human being. I then held out a small elk antler tine I had brought with me as a symbol of what we were creating. Elk flinched a bit, and said “That smells like Death. Here, let’s go put it in that stream over there to cleanse it”. So we ran over there, and I placed it in the water, feeling the cool stream over my hand as I looked at the antler against the stones.

Then Elk turned into a human with an elk’s head, and so I turned into a human with a wolf’s head to match. We sat facing each other and spoke about the work we wanted to do together with helping me with emotional regulation. Elk brought up how soon the bull elk would be going into rut, and would be a lot more easily provoked, both by each other and other beings. Like the elk, I can be aggressive when I want something and can’t immediately get it or perceive something in my way. However, Elk pointed out that the bull elk don’t use any more force than necessary, even in rut, because injury is a serious thing when you’re a wild critter. Most confrontations between bull elk only end in one running away, and fights often don’t result in serious injury. (It’s still a lot of work for the bull who has a harem, who may barely eat during rutting season!)

Elk put antlers on my head and said the tine I brought was appropriate because while I can wield my own tines and harm others with them, I can also be injured by someone else’s antlers. Therefore it’s important that I’m doing this regulation work to avoid not only exhausting myself with unnecessary effort, but also injuring others or bringing injury to myself that wasn’t really needed.

Additionally, Elk talked about how there is a season to all things. There are times to be aggressive to get what I want, but that’s not all the time. I need to learn which time is which. With regards to depression and anxiety, these conditions are attempts to gain control–which is an illusion. I can’t control the world around me beyond a very limited scope, and the anxiety and depression are my way of trying to grasp at control in a situation where I feel like things are getting out of control. These are obviously maladaptive, and the better choice is to learn to adapt and roll with the punches that life throws–because nothing is ever going to be perfectly safe and secure, and that”s alright. So instead of facing the world with antlers lowered and ready, I need to learn to relax and only react when it’s actually warranted, and only to the degree that it needs to happen.

Then Elk had me retrieve the tine from the stream so I could take it back home with me, as a physical reminder of my commitment to healing myself with Elk’s help. I then offered Elk a set of three brass bells that I had brought with me as a gift for helping me. Elk laughed and said that s/he would have done this for me anyway, but that s/he appreciated the gift. S/he told me I could go; I stood, and waited to watch hir leave, but s/he just stood there waiting for me to go! Finally, s/he snorted and stomped, and I took off, with hir laughing in amusement as I did so.

I scrambled back up out of the valley to where the horse spirit was waiting. I climbed onto hir back, and s/he took me home. Soon as I came out of the journey and brought the drum back down again, I treated the drumskin to some mink oil; she’d been feeling dry and thirsty, and I’d promised her some treatment. Next, I drilled a hole in the elk tine, and put a piece of deerskin that Deer had donated to the cause. Here’s a pic:

As to the bells? Well, a while back, I believe it was Erynn who had suggested that I add bells to an elk antler that I didn’t know what to do with. So as my gift to Elk, I attached the bells to the ends of three of the tines and wrapped the rest of the antler in braided artificial sinew and waxed linen cord. The bells will later on be used in rituals as a way to help keep me oriented to where my body is so I can find my way back home. Here’s how it turned out:

So it was a successful journey overall, and I feel more confident in satisfying my need for structure. It’s all coming together, piece by piece.

Burying My First Cache

Tonight I decided to take Fox’s suggestion about creating caches of items in the Middle world for use while journeying. Something Ravenari mentioned to me at one point is taking the “essence” or “spirit” of a physical item with you while journeying, and so I wanted to experiment with that concept. So when I sat down to drum, I held in my lap my antler handled ritual knife that I’ve been using for over a decade through the various permutations of my magical/spiritual practice. Of all my ritual tools, I have the strongest connection to it, and the greatest amount of my energy soaked into it, so I thought it would be a good choice for something to hide and then find again. Granted, I might have taken something I was less attached to in case things didn’t work, but I wanted something I’d have a good chance of not losing.

I drummed, and when I got to my starting point, Fox arrived shortly thereafter. S/he took me to a particular pile of stones, made hirself small, and leaped down into the crevice. I did the same, and followed after hir, though not until I spent a few moments pawing at the crevice, trying to figure out how to make myself small, and hoping I didn’t get left behind! Fox led me back further under the rocks, and we got smaller and smaller and smaller, until we got to the very back of where we were going. There I saw a glowing patch of golden light, and Fox told me to place the spirit of the knife there. So I did, nudging it into place with my muzzle. I asked Fox who could see the cache, and s/he told me only s/he and I could. I asked why s/he could see it, if it was my cache, and s/he said “Because I’m the one who showed it to you, that’s why!” So now I’m wondering if Fox will show me more caches, or if other totems or spirits will, or if I’ll be finding or making some on my own, or some combination thereof.

Then we came back out from under the rocks and returned to the starting point. I had forgotten to bring food for Fox, so I went off hunting and caught a Douglas squirrel for hir. S/he appreciated it, and ran off with the food. I then headed back.

To my understanding, caching the spirit of the knife (or any other thing I choose to take there) has two purposes. It allows me to access that thing while I’m journeying; I plan on stockpiling various things over there, such as things for offerings for the various beings I may work with. It also allows me more connections to the spirit world through the physical items themselves. The physical item and its spirit are still connected; the spirit’s just been moved to where I journey. I should probably find out if there are any specific things I should do to take care of the physical items, or any other considerations.

I have a few other specific things I’ll be taking over in subsequent journeys, things the spirits have told me are good for this sort of work. I want to keep exploring the Middle world, too, to see what’s out there.

Replying to Owl, and Fox’s Tour

I journeyed again today to tell Owl about my answer regarding the Upper World. When I arrived, Fox and Scrub Jay were there, asking for my attention. I asked them to please wait until I could give Owl my answer, and they told me they would wait with me for hir arrival. So I called to Owl, and asked hir to please share hir time with me, if s/he was willing. S/he flew overhead, and told me s/he’d give me time if I’d catch a mouse for hir.

So I ran off into the underbrush, trying to scent out a mouse. I found where they were hidden deep in the earth, and also places where they had once been, but weren’t any more. Fox then came and said, “I can show you where you can get a mouse easily–follow me!” So I did, running up the mountain with hir. S/he showed me where there was a hollow log with a family of mice inside. I chased them from end to end, until one finally slipped out, a little confused, then realized hir mistake and tried to burrow under the log. I caught hir before s/he could get out of reach, and carried hir in my mouth. I was a little lost by that point, but Fox came back and led me back down to where Owl waited. I was a bit concerned that Mouse would be unhappy about me catching one of hir young, but Fox told me, “Mice get eaten all the time, including by Owl. That’s just the way of things.”

So I brought the mouse to Owl, who told me to kill the mouse. I did, and gave the mouse to Owl, who ate the carcass in two bites. Then Owl told me to tell hir my answer. I explained that my only reason for wanting to go to the Upper World was out of curiosity and a desire to know what was up there. Owl laughed and said, “That’s good enough for me. Now, when you feel you’re ready to go up there, let me know and I’ll show you how”. Then s/he flew away.

Fox then told me to come with hir. S/he took me down the trail to the west, and showed me where Mole lived–a recluse, and not easy to get to come out, but valuable to know. Then we went to the waterfall, and watched the river dragons leaping ecstatically over the cliff, laughing gleefully as they did so. I got the feeling they were analogous to the spirits that showed up as blue flames on the trail to the Upper World, that the river dragons guarded the way to the Lower World. This was one point where I could meet with them when the time came to go there.

Then Fox took me back up the trail a ways to a place that I had been interested in before. I couldn’t go there in waking time, but I was perfectly able to do so while journeying. I sniffed around there a bit, and Fox told me that this would be a good place to “put things, create things, build things”. Basically anything from a shelter for myself, to a place to do a ritual as needed, and most importantly, one of many places I could cache things I might need later on. I need to have some things on hand for offerings and gifts, and also have the spiritual “versions” of certain ritual items that I possess physically. Plus, in case I receive any gifts in return, it would be a good idea to have a place to keep them. Fox told me things should be safe so long as I hide them well; there really aren’t many other people who journey there.

Then Fox and I went back to the starting place, and I came back home. I noticed that while I still waver in and out of my altered state of consciousness while I journey, I’m doing it less, and staying focused on the journey more consistently. Practice makes perfect, right? (Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.)

Look! A Post! A Long Post, Even!

I apologize for those on the LJ feed for this blog; there’s no way I can LJ-cut this post to make it shorter. Bear with me–I’m just trying to catch up after so long! Graci 🙂

I know I’ve been exceptionally quiet here (and elsewhere) lately. It’s been over a month since I posted, and over two months since I last journeyed. There’s been good reason for this. As I mentioned earlier this year, I was accepted into the counseling psychology program at a local graduate school, and am working on my Master’s degree. I don’t think I quite realized just how much of my life grad school would consume, and as my first semester progressed I found myself working harder to try to maintain equilibrium with the increasing demands on my time. It’s all been worth it, but it does mean that my active practice sort of fell to the wayside.

Fortunately, the spirits have been understanding. While grad school isn’t something that’s strictly shamanic, it does tie in with my practice on a number of levels, and so I am putting effort towards my shamanism even if it doesn’t involve drums and totems and so forth (most of the time, anyway…). In fact, I’ve been learning a lot of things that are highly applicable to my practice.

The most obvious is ecopsychology. Ecopsych involves the psychology of our relationship to the natural environment. An ecopsychologist may be concerned with the psychology associated with how people approach the environment, whether in positive or negative manners. Additionally, wilderness therapy and other practices focus on using the environment for therapeutic purposes. Ecopsychology is about as close to animism as you get in the Western mindset; it uses the language of psychology rather than religion, though there are some very strong spiritual themes within ecopsych.

I’ve been very interested in narrative therapy as well, which isn’t surprising given my background in English. Narrative therapy can refer to the use of storytelling–whether through writing, visual aids (artwork), or other creative means–to aid a client in being more open in talking about what s/he needs to work on. Additionally, the use of narratives can help a client find meaning in hir life, particularly when s/he may feel there is little connection between various events and entities that s/he encounters.

And I’ve also had some curiosity about Gestalt therapy. Some people primarily think of some of the more dramatic techniques, such as the empty chair. (I remember in high school seeing a film of a session where the client became angry enough to begin kicking the chair across the room!) “Gestalt” literally means “shape”, and like the Kanizsa triangle, Gestalt therapy demonstrates the whole of something, not just what is obviously “there”. It takes where the client is at the time and explores the context of the situation in detail–the people, places, and other influences that affect the client’s situation, as well as the manners in which the client acts upon the situation.

I’ll also admit that I found some bits of systems theory interesting. However, I’m still trying to wrap my head about Bradford Keeney’s Aesthetics of Change, which was by far my most challenging textbook this past semester. I’ll need to get a firmer grasp on it through Keeney and others before I can say for sure how much I want to incorporate it into my therapeutic practice in the future.

All of these areas of therapeutic practice focus on interconnection, something that is central to my shamanic practice. In the dominant cultural paradigm of the United States, we are encouraged to be isolated beings; we have the hyperromanticized “rugged individualist”. Yet we are part of numerous systems, whether we want to admit it or not. Everything that we do has an effect on something besides ourselves, and while many of these exchanges may seen to be insignificant, they can add up to create quite a change. (Or series of changes, really.)

Therioshamanism is much the same way. While a lot of my work focuses specifically on animals, I do not consider them to be separate from the rest of the world, and I do acknowledge the connections to everything else. Part of what I do is to act as an intermediary between the spirits and the human community. This need not always be direct things, such as journeying on behalf of another person. It can include passing along something that the spirits would like to have manifest in a way that is understandable to people I interact with. Often this happens simply through leading by example.

Take the gardening, for instance. Gardening promotes sustainable living, which eases the pressure on the environment in numerous ways–which is an effort that I’ve found is appreciated by the spirits I work with. Simply by geeking out about my garden on my personal blog, I managed to inspire a few other folks to start their own gardening projects this year. (It’s going to get worse this year–I have a yard now, and I still have room for all my containers. There shall be much growing of green vegetable-type things, and the blogging thereof!)

Of course, there’s a fine line between creating the world you want to see, and pushing an agenda on others. I learned a lot about boundaries in my ethics class this semester. While the boundaries are nowhere near as strict with something like shamanism (which isn’t regulated by any governing bodies or associations), it still gave me some good food for thought. And my primary focus as a therapist (and, for that matter, as a shaman, once I start actively working on others’ behalf) will be on aiding my client, not on making people see things my way. On the other hand, happier, healthier people are a part of the world I want to create, so hey–maybe part of my “agenda” will end up manifesting anyway!

Okay, so enough about graduate school. I’ve had a small group of students I’ve been passing along the basics of my practice to for the past couple of months. Weather, illnesses, scheduling conflicts, and other issues have given things a bit of a rocky start, but I’m pleased overall with how folks are doing. For privacy’s sake, I’m not going to talk much about the classes; needless to say, it’s a good group of folks that I look forward to working with for some time.

There are definitely challenges to trying to arrange even monthly meetings, as opposed to one-shot workshops or limited workshop series. While it’s been worth it so far with this group, I’m not 100% sure I’m going to make this sort of thing a regular occurrence. Some of it’s time issues; however, some of it’s also that so much of this stuff works best when self-directed, as it was created. I’m certainly not going to abandon my current group of students, but I may just eventually end up doing what I do best–write a book about it and let the readers take it from there.

Teaching students has been my main activity associated with therioshamanism. As I mentioned, I haven’t journeyed in a couple of months. However, now that I’m on break, I have more time for such things. Unfortunately, since Taylor and I just moved to a new place, most of my stuff is still packed up. My plan for this weekend is to try and get it unpacked; I need to be journeying again. I’ve missed it, and I have some things I need to do.

I don’t think I realized just how grounding my practice has been for me. It helps to promote deeper connections with the world around me; instead of journeying, I’ve been going for a lot of walks, and otherwise engaging in a lot of little, everyday activities that remind me of that connection. I’m going to try to reach a better balance this coming semester so that I can have more time for my practice, even if it’s not as often as I’d like. Yes, the grad school stuff works into it, but the journeying in specific is irreplacable.

One last thing, speaking of connections. Back in November, I had some tattoo work done. When we first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I got my second wolf tattoo, this one on my left arm, not long after the move:

It symbolized the beginning of my relationship to the Land here. At the time I was in Seattle, where I ended up having less of a connection than I expected. Too big, too crowded, just didn’t sit well with me. However, it got me started, and a year later we moved to Portland–a much better fit for us.

So as part of an ongoing day-to-day ritual of connection, I had more work done to my left arm:

This is partly a portrait of Multnomah Falls (I had the artist take out the bridge; the Falls themselves will be added in later). It’s one of those places that I really connected with, and it was a fitting representative of the Land out here. The work isn’t done yet; this was about two and a half hours in the chair, after which I simply couldn’t take any more, even with the topical anesthetic. So I have an appointment come May to get it finished up. (If you’re interested, by the way, Alice Kendall over at Infinity Tattoo in North Portland is the artist; I highly, highly recommend here.)

While I was getting inked, I did do some journeying (so I suppose I can’t say I haven’t done any in the past couple months–just no drum journeying). I started off at my usual starting point, and travelled all around the general area, both Portland metro and the surrounding areas. I spoke with the Land about my relationship to it, as well as the various entities–human, other animals, plants, etc.–that I could help through the things I am developing. I don’t want to go into any more detail, but needless to say it was confirmation of a number of things. It was, to say the least, an incredible rite of passage–and it won’t be done til May.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I should be able to do some drum journeying in the next few days, to get back into practice.

The Journeying Continues…

Tonight I tried my first journey with a purpose beyond exploration. I had a favor to ask of Badger, and so I went to see hir. I had an offering in mind, something I could give hir now, and something later, if s/he would help me.

I asked Small Horse and Small Deer (the drum and beater) for their aid, warmed up the drum, then I played Small Badger’s song to ask him to help me to negotiate with Badger. He was quite pleased that I played the song for him and asked him for his help, though I may make it a habit to make a small offering besides that for the skin spirits and other helpers.

So we all went to go see Badger. I drummed for a bit to let Small Horse and Small Deer take me to the starting point. When I arrived, I sang Badger’s song as loudly as I could, just to let hir know I was there. In retrospect, I could have gone looking for hir, too, but s/he didn’t seem miffed about coming to me instead. This is probably at least in part because s/he was expecting me; we’ve already talked a bit about the situation, and this time I came armed with offerings.

Badger made hirself look very large and impressive, and s/he towered over me, even for being a normally close to the Earth animal. I was sufficiently awed, and s/he and I got down to business. I told hir what I wanted hir help with, and also what offerings I would make. S/he was surprised, though not unpleasantly so, that I was offering something now and something later. S/he knew how important this situation is, and also that it would take some time to complete. So s/he accepted, and I was happy. I sang Badger’s song for hir again, to boast about how wonderful s/he is, which tickled hir even more.

Then I came back, and sang songs for Small Badger and Small Deer, and played Small Horse’s drumbeat, though I don’t have a song for hir yet. I warmed the drum down, and set out to start making things happen on my end.

I am quite pleased to note that my ritual structure is coming together nicely. When I started all this stuff out last year, I was doing things in a much more generically neopagan manner. I did a circle casting with an athame still, and swept the place with a broom beforehand for purification. I won’t say that my ritual structure now is the exact same as such-and-such culture’s shamans do it, because it isn’t. However, the structure has changed quite a bit.

Part of this is due to my beliefs. I no longer feel that I need to create a “world between worlds” to practice in, and I see all space as sacred, even if the Land in one place is tougher for me to connect with than in another place. While I greet the totems at the directions, I don’t do this as part of circumscribing a circle to divide me from the rest of the world. I don’t see myself as calling them, either–they’re already there; I need only remember that.

As I’m also focusing more on journeying, the ritual structure has evolved to support that as a central practice in many of the rituals, preparing me to go in, and helping me to come back out, as well as interact with the spirits at all points throughout. And the drumming has become much more prevalent, essentially having replaced the athame in greeting the directional totems and others.

Obviously, there are things that are in common between the previous structure and what I use now. But these are the most significant changes I’ve ever made, taking whole sections and tools and things out, and adding others in because they work better. It’s made things a lot more effective, even in this relatively short period of time.

So we’ll see how things progress, and what Badger ends up bringing about. While at an earlier point in my life, particularly when I was heavily into Chaos magic, I was very focused on the end results of my magic to determine my success. While that’s still important, what constitutes a good result may vary more than “I asked for X and got X”. It may be something as simple as “I asked for X, but Badger decided that Y would actually be better–and s/he was right”. Or it may end up being something much more complex, something that can’t be quantified in a linear, cause and effect fashion. “Success” is a very subjective notion, and a ritual that didn’t result in the intended way may still end up being more success than failure.

Not that I’d mind getting what I asked for, of course 😉

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.