Earth (Reprise)

As my work with the elements in my six-months continues, I’m becoming more aware of interconnections in my life.

A good example is one of the effects of my Earth month. During that time, I focused quite a bit on my body and physical health. One thing I became crucially aware of was what I take into my body–not just the obvious toxins through air and water pollution, but the more subtle things found in food. Sometimes it isn’t even about chemical additives as it is about quality. And I’ve been more interested in a balanced diet. My body usually starts craving fresh vegetables first, so that’s the first sign that my diet has gone to a particularly unhealthy point.

This greater awareness of my food intake has sparked a greater interest in cooking. I used to hate to cook. Last winter, though, I began craving my mom’s chili, and so I made a big pot of that. After that point I began to see how fun cooking could be, and came to regard it as a form of magic, bringing various elements together to create something new. (Kitchen alchemy!) This led to more interest in our pantry and what we kept stocked there, particularly how much of it was organic or otherwise relatively “safe”. While we can’t afford to get all organics, we buy what we can.

In turn, this has increased my awareness of where the food comes from, and who it impacts. This includes not just the people involved in the process, but the animals and plants themselves. My work with food totems works in with this awareness, and has actually helped me forge better relationships with them.

And all of this has gone towards changing my life in a very real, practical way. I am slowly improving my health through my diet, and supporting healthier, sustainable practices where I can. I’m putting more of my money where my mouth is, and being more considerate of my impact here.

So it is that my Earth month continues to cause very physical changes in my life for the better.

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Earth…

Tonight was the last night of my Earth month, or so it worked out, at any rate. Tomorrow I’ll be calling on Hawk for help initiating my Air month.

Tonight I went upstairs and drummed again. I went up a little later because the upstairs was cold, and I needed to give the heaters a little time to get it to a comfortable point (I get cold incredibly easily, especially if I’m sitting still). This meant that I was a little tired by the time I went up (about 11pm). I was a bit concerned that I might have to postpone the ritual due to getting getting grounded again. However, I got the green light due to not being as tired, and having the opportunity to sleep in again tomorrow morning.

I’m not sure how long I drummed; I lost track of time after the first few minutes. Judging from the clock afterward, I’d say I probably had at least twenty minutes. It was plenty of time, though, since I tend to drop into altered states pretty quickly, and I’m still going relatively lightly here–my arms aren’t up to an hour or more of straight drumming yet.

I turned into a wolf, and found myself in a desert with the moon shining overhead. This confused me–I’ve never really been all that connected to deserts, and I was wondering what I was doing there. So I ran around a bit until I saw Wolf ahead of me, shining like silver-blue moonlight. I chased after hir, and s/he continued to run, leading me through dry rocks and thorny plants in the silver light (though I could see no moon above).

Finally, s/he let me catch hir. S/he would look down at the ground, scratching at the rocks and pebbles, then run a short way and repeat the action. Finally, I caught on–the dry, flat desert landscape was the complete antithesis of my ideal terrain, mountains heavy with temperate rain forests and mossy rocks.

The message that was imparted at that point is rather personal, so I’ll be keeping that to myself. But s/he took me to the mountains, my ideal situation, and took me deep into the Earth beneath. There s/he showed me the root of my problem, a small, acid-green plant that was creating the problem, turning what should be lush forests into desert. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with desert; it simply was chosen to represent the antithesis of where I needed to be in the situation that we were discussing. I took the plant in my teeth and uprooted it, tearing it away. At that point, Wolf sent me back to my body, telling me to do the same in my waking life with the situation at hand.

Needless to say, this was an incredibly effective journey. There’s a lot of growth that needs to occur during my six months, and even beyond. The Earth work won’t stop just because the Earth month is over; however, starting tomorrow I’ll be learning what it is I need to do to work with Air in a more focused manner.

Grounded!

My Earth month will switch over on Saturday, to Air. Tonight was a good reminder of things to take with me as “souvenirs” of focusing on Earth.

Since I had a brief, but successful, journey earlier this week, I wanted to take time out to try again tonight. However, I was feeling somewhat tired this evening–not enough to quite go to bed yet (at 8:30 in the evening), but enough that I was feeling it. Still, I wanted to give drumming again a try; maybe I could just push myself through the fatigue–after all, hadn’t I kept dancing numerous times after “hitting the wall”? What was a little sleepiness?

I went upstairs, and before I could even sit down in front of the altar, Wolf “tapped” me on the shoulder and said “Uh-uh. You’re too tired.” Of course, being the stubborn person that I am, I tried arguing. However, s/he wouldn’t hear a thing of it. “Nope. Go back downstairs, take a shower, and rest. Your body needs it. The kind of suffering you may go through for your shamanism isn’t the same as the kind of suffering you put yourself through in neglecting your health.”

I listened. So here I am, an hour later, showered and cared for, and posting before going to bed to get some sleep. Tonight, while a little frustrating, was a good reminder of principles of Earth work. First, physical health, the personal environment, is as important to care for as everything in the external environment–if not moreso. Unfortunately, my tendency towards workaholicism can sometimes end up with me neglecting myself for the sake of getting just one more thing done. While I have gotten a lot more relaxed over time, I still have my bad moments.

And that leads to patience. Being a small, rather temporary creature next to the bulk of the Earth, patience can be hard to come by–“But I’ve already spent almost three decades of this life NOT doing this stuff–I can’t afford to fall any more behind, and neither can those who I need to help!” (Yeah, that’s a bad guilt trip I sometimes lay on myself.) Still, I have to remember that if I push myself too hard it’ll be counterproductive. Care for the self first, and in a healthy way, not a self-centered manner.

Plus there’s grounding. This past month, for various reasons, has been exceptionally stressful, and I haven’t remembered to ground myself as much as I feel I should, instead letting things carry me away. This, of course, doesn’t help me become healthier–my stomach has been unhappy with me as of late. So this was a good reminder to keep grounding throughout the day when I need it, whether it’s stress or illness or any other force that could benefit from a good dose of Earth energy. It might not be a cure-all, but it can at least take the edge off.

This month has been a real exercise in staying focused. I’ve been at this for a couple of months now, and it’s been exceptionally educational. The important thing is that, while the progress may be slow, I am making that progress, and while I may not change my habits and patterns immediately, I’m still doing better than I used to be. And it’s teaching me to be more conscious of what I’m doing, though again not without errors and hiccups.

We’ll see if I can get to some drumming tomorrow night. Going to bed early and being mindful of my unhappy stomach may not be as interesting as exploring the joys of being my own drummer, but it’s no less important.

Dum Ditty, Dum Ditty, Dum Dum Dum…

A quick administrative note–Wordpress isn’t always showing me the comments on posts, so I sometimes have to refresh the page to actually get them to show up. You may have to do the same if you clicked on a post with comments, just FYI. This seems to be a recent thing.

Now, getting to the main topic of this post, I’m betting at least some of you recognize the source of the subject line. <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Fingers-Thumb-Bright-Early-Books/dp/0394810767″>Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb may not be great, academic reading–but it was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I always remembered the “Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum” bit. Great fun.

Of course, it wasn’t just the monkeys that were so entertaining–it was the drums. (And violins going “Zum zum zum, but I don’t play violin.) And, sure enough, last night I finally got to play my drum. I’ve been a bit delayed in doing so, even though it’s been dry for well over a week. Time restrictions and being worn out from said time restrictions have prevented me from really being in the mood to go up and work any sort of magic, let alone getting to know my drum. But last night I managed to set aside a bit of time before I got too worn out (many props to my mate, Taylor, for doing the dishes even though it was my turn!) and went upstairs to get better acquainted with the drum and beater.

I sat down and asked them both permission to pick them up; they were only happy to oblige. So I did, and after greeting the skin spirits in them, I began to tap out an irregular rhythm, more to get acquainted with the sounds of the different areas of the drum head than to hit any sort of trance. I’m thinking I may not have gotten the drum head quite as tight as I could have; the voice is a bit deeper than on drums of the same size that were made by the drum shop owner. This isn’t a big deal, except that the spot at the very center of the drum is a bit flat, voice-wise. I’ve experienced this with other single-headed drums, including bodhrans, but the tone might have been improved by a little tighter skin. No worries, though–the surrounding areas had a beautiful variety of sounds.

I found a sweet spot to the side with a really nice tone, and then began to experiment with tempos. I’ve heard that 180-220 beats per minute (BPM) is considered to be particularly conducive to trance work, though I’ve also heard claims of speeds up to 330 BPM! I think 3-4 beats per second is about what I can handle right now, so that’s what I experimented with.

I only drummed for a few minutes, though I was happy to note that my arm didn’t get tired. I should hopefully have the stamina to last an entire journey, though I’ll want to practice before then. If I can get to the point where I can drum continuously for 30-40 minutes, I should be good. I’ve talked to a friend who is a shaman who said that when she journeyed and her arm began to feel tired, her arm, foreleg or wing (depending on her shape in the journey) would feel a bit sore, but not to the point of distracting her out of trance. I may be a bit concerned with my wrists and hands still being a bit weak, though I don’t think the spirits will be offended if I end up having to wear wrist braces. Maybe I can start a shamanic trend ๐Ÿ˜‰

I found a good pace, somewhere probably around 200-220 BPM, where I began to feel the tugging of trance at the edges of my consciousness. I’m going to experiment a bit with different speeds, but this one seems pretty likely. The aforementioned shaman had talked about how her drumming pace varied throughout the journey, so I may see if the same thing happens to me.

Once I was done for the evening, I thanked the drum and beater and placed them back on the floor in front of the altar. It was a good experience, if a little short. I’ll probably do more over the weekend once I don’t have work to contend with.

Progress! And the Spirits are Ganging Up On Me….

First off, a quick note to the good folks on the Livejournal feed for this blog: I welcome comments; however, I do not get comment notifications for comments made to the LJ feed postings. Please click through to the blog itself at therioshamanism.com and make your comments there; that way I know you had something to say! Thank you muchly ๐Ÿ™‚

I also tweaked the FAQ again, specifically the question about whether you can call yourself a therioshaman. To be honest, I’d really prefer people didn’t use that term as a self-signifier. A lot of it is because therioshamanism, at least at this stage of the game, is my personal path, created from a very specific perspective and using very specific resources (though that may change later on–read on to find out why). While it is flexible and fluid, at least let me get it into some semblance of a formalized path! *grin*

I’ve been at this for over two months now, and while that may not seem like a long time, again keep in mind that I already have a significant amount of material from over a decade of study and practice to work with. At this point I have a pretty good idea of what my basic training for the next four and a half months will be–more focus on specific elements, and then a month of work with all four traditional elements again, as I did last month, though with the experience of single-element months taken into account.

I’m better at holding to a schedule, and I will say that I have learned and developed a lot just in the time I’ve been doing this. The Earth month, as you’ve probably read, has been exceptionally important for getting me to pay attention to both the internal and external environments, though the focus seems to be more on the internal–getting my body and health into shape. I’m thinking that while the first six months’ focus on elements is meant to increase focus on the elements inside and out, that it’s important for me to get my own house into order, as it were, before moving outward to a greater extent.

A lot of the changes are little things that I notice on a day to day basis, too many to list systematically here on a blog. Needless to say, I feel more grounded and focused, and more confident as well. I’m calmer, and more likely to catch myself in the act of re-acting, rather than letting my re-actions get the best of me. I’m working to be healthier, and taking active steps to do so. And there’s so much more…and it all adds up! I’m patching the holes that I’ve noticed in my practice, and feeling less like spiritual Swiss cheese.

On another note, I received an initially alarming request from the totems and other spirits I work with recently. I was kicking around the idea of eventually putting this all into book format (not that this should surprise anyone who know this bibliophile well). I figure I’ve already had a few people tell me that they’ve gotten quite a bit out of what I’ve written here, that it really resonates with them, all of which makes me happy–if my journey can include aiding others along their paths, so much the better. Granted, a book would be a few years in the future, most likely, since this is still in the growing stages. But it’s a possibility for somewhere down the line.

So I was bouncing ideas around in my head as I was walking from work to the train station, when I got that familiar *ping* that tells me the spirits want my attention, so I listened to what they had to say.

“We want to you to teach students the way we’re teaching you”.

(This is why I added the “OMGWTFBBQ” category to this blog.)

I know people who have taken on students. It’s a ton of work. Not necessarily a horrible thing, though I have heard horror stories of student-teacher relationships that went very wrong (and didn’t even involve sex!). Aside from the time commitment, though, I don’t even have therioshamanism complete as a path yet!

So I grilled them for more information (as well as calling my mate and talking to a few friends online about the whole thing). Basically, it appears that I wouldn’t even have to think about starting this process until after my six months were done (i.e., after I get done with the months of elemental work ahead of me). And I, of course, wouldn’t stop my own training and learning, particularly since the first six months are designed to be largely self-directed. The closest I can come to a comparison would be the grad student who student-teaches a freshman course while continuing to do hir own graduate work. I also wouldn’t have to worry about long-distance students–local, in-person students only. This would cut down on the number of potential people I might have to wrangle to make this work ๐Ÿ˜‰

The spirits were quite insistent about this whole thing. It does make sense, though. The spirits have been exceptionally generous in helping me along the past decade and change; they’ve given me quite a lot and asked for very little in return. I’ve always felt, though, that I owed them something for it, and this would be a good opportunity to repay them. They want this material out there, and while I have some trepidation about the whole thing, this is a vote of confidence in my favor.

I’m still going to be cautious; while the *ping* I received was one I’ve gotten used to over the years, I’m going to revisit this topic with them once my six months are over with. I want to be very sure it isn’t just my ego speaking, though I was pleased to note that my first reaction was “You want me to do WHAT?” rather than “Oh, people will think I’m so great!”. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be a good opportunity to pass on some things that both I and the totems and other spirits see as very important, and which at least a few people have expressed interest in. Still, I realize that this is a major commitment for a long period of time (of course, so is therioshamanism in general) and not to be addressed lightly. Just to be sure, I’m going to include some reading and other research on pagan teaching with the rest of my reading material over the next few months.

At this point, it’s a “Let’s see where I am in four and a half months” rather than a “Yes, I’ll do it!” situation. However, I figure that if the spirits have this sort of confidence in me at this point, it’s a good sign that I’m doing something right, at least. All the warning flags seem to be in the arena of things that I’ve seen screwed up in other peoples’ experiences, rather than a deep, intuitive/instinctual “STAY AWAY!!!”. But, as I said, we’ll see in four and a half months.

Earth, Continued

So the saga of Lupa Remembers Hir Body continues apace. I’m over the cold, but apparently my stomach did NOT care for the extra acid from the vitamin C in the multivitamins I just started taking a little over a week ago. This has quite firmly entrenched in my mind that what I put in my body does indeed have an effect on it. I’m now taking a closer look at what sorts of things I put into my body on a daily basis. Some of them are environmental and can’t really be helped on an immediate level, though continuing to pressure my elected reps and choosing to lower my everyday use of chemicals can have a long-term effect. Others, though, are much more in my grasp, such as what coats or combines with the food I eat. Do I really need pesticides, wax and other such things on my produce? Or hormones, antibiotics, and additives in the meat I eat, meat from animals that probably weren’t particularly healthy to begin with? The effects may not be immediately apparent, but on a more subtle level, they’re there.

I’ve been exclusively working with Earth energy in my meditations and finding that although I haven’t grounded on a regular basis in the past, it comes quite easily. It’s an almost instant connection, sort of a “thwump” wherein my energy sinks into the ground, and I literally feel like I’ve gained a few pounds. If I’m doing a walking meditation, it actually gets just a *touch* harder to walk, like I’m walking through mud. A good way for me to connect my Earth energy to that of the ground is to visualize wolf claws digging into dirt, or to think of the calcium in the dirt as being connected to the calcium in my bones and teeth.

And I’ve been learning some from my drum, and my spirits. When the drumskin first dried, I picked up the beater and began playing rhythms on the drum–without asking the spirits in the drum and beater permission to pick them up and play them. This was made quite clear to me. So tonight I went back up to try again. I was told, “Your drum is not a toy; you don’t just pick it up and play with it”. So I started by looking at the drum and beater on the floor before me, simply observing. I then asked permission to pick up the drum, and s/he agreed.

I ran my fingers over the smooth goatskin, and thought about the goat that once wore that skin. Leather is a more abstract form of animal remains in my mind than, say, fur. And rawhide is even moreso than other sorts of leather, because the texture is entirely different. So rawhide seems a lot more “manufactured” and I have to remind myself that this wasn’t just fabricated in a building somewhere. I spoke to the goat spirit (a billy goat) and asked him to show me his old home. I saw a barnyard, with other goats, with him a brown and black and white goat with horns in the middle of it all.

Next I talked to the cow rawhide that made up the strings binding the goatskin to the frame. I saw a red cow in a stockyard, just briefly, and felt my hands running over smooth-haired hide and warm skin. I felt the goat and cow spirits merge in the drum, separate yet combined in this one instrument. I looked at the pale roundness of the drum, and saw the Moon in my hands for a moment. I thought about what I should rub into the skin, which was a little dry.

Then I asked permission to pick up the beater. I spoke with the deerskin pieces that I wrapped the head in, and felt where the coarse hairs once sprouted from the surface of the skins. I thought about woods and fields, cold winters and warm springs, mosquitoes and ticks and musk in green leaves.

And I brought these all back together into my ritual space, and into the drum and beater, two parts of a whole, sacred and not entirely recognized. Then I laid them back on the floor before the altar, and said my goodnights. I would play another night, I decided. Each time I pick up the drum, I need to remember to thank the goat, cow and deer spirits. This may be a drum dedicated to my work with Wolf and Earth, but there’s more to it than that.

Earth Month Off to a Rocky Start

The next four months are going to be dedicated to the four traditional elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) with the totem I associate with each guiding me along. While I’ve spent years working with the elements via these totems, the more in-depth work has been a nice reminder of the nitty-gritty details.

This month (from full moon to full moon) is dedicated to Earth and Wolf in the North. The peak of the full moon was Thursday; however, I observe each day before and after it as well. So I had the greatest intentions of doing my full moon rite to dedicate myself to Earth this past Friday night.

Enter Acute viral nasopharyngitis–otherwise known as our friend, the common cold.

This happy little virus has been making its way around my workplace this week, and decided that Friday afternoon would be a great time to explode in my sinuses. By the time I got home Friday evening, I was exhausted. Rather than muddling through supper as best as I could the way I normally do, I did what I *really* wanted, curled up in bed, and slept straight through until 8 the next morning.

This helped immensely; while I was worn out most of the weekend, it was bearable, and I didn’t feel nearly so awful as I did Friday night. I also had an enormous appetite, and ate anything I wanted–I even walked a block and a half to the local organic grocery store to buy tortilla chips (blue corn chips, BOGO even!) so I could make nachos. I rested when I felt tired, drank when I began to get a bit dehydrated, and otherwise listened to what my body wanted.

The result was that what could have been a really bad weekend ended up quiet, but good. And now I’m back at work, feeling pretty good–people at work who caught the bug before I did are still out today. I’ll be headed to bed a bit early again tonight, just to be sure.

I’ll admit when I first got sick and then watched the weekend slip away as I was too tired to even meditate, I got frustrated. Here I was wasting time that should have been spent dedicating myself to the element of Earth! Yet as I realized, and my husband reminded me, one of the bailiwicks of Earth is the physical body, the fleshly form. The sickness, rather than hindering me, was a very real, down to Earth reminder of the needs of the physical. By tuning into my body and listening to what it needed (something I first really began to grasp when I was editing Taylor’s book, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body) I was able to minimize my suffering. It also reminded me that body-awareness is all too often ignored in our go-go-go world of Do Stuff and Accomplish Things. While meditating on Earth Within and Earth Without, and working with totems, and other somewhat abstract spiritual practices can be healthy, sometimes it takes being planted firmly in my body-awareness to realize how grounded in Earth I really am.

On a somewhat related Earthy note, I did get to do one thing I’d intended for this weekend–get a drum. Or, rather, make a drum. though that wasn’t my initial intention. I live within walking distance of Cedar Mountain Drums, and every morning for the past couple of months when my bus has taken me past there I’ve looked longingly at all the handmade drums in the window. Since I’ve wanted to explore drumming (with me as the drummer) as a method of journeying, and since drums are Earthy instruments, I figured this would be a good practice for the Earth month.

When I got there, I was surrounded by a wide assortment of drums (which should come as no surprise). Unfortunately, most of them were outside my current price range. However, before I could get discouraged, I found a few drum kits, including a small kit (maybe 12″ wooden hoop) that was affordable. It was the only one of its size, and after wandering around the shop without finding anything that leaped out at me, I decided to take it home and try my hand at making a drum for the first time ever.

I’ll go into more detail about the actual process in a later post; needless to say, making the drum was the right choice for this artist. I’ll be working with it over the next month (and beyond), and I’ll be curious to see where it takes me (figuratively and literally).

So despite what might have been a rough start, I managed to not get frustrated (once again, that philosophy of staying motivated and stopping guilt). And the month of Earth has been quite educational thus far. I look forward to more lessons, even if they end up being unconventional and not quite what I expected.