Directional No More?

I’m continuing to refine my ritual structure. If you look at the very early posts in this blog, you’ll note that my practice was originally pretty heavily influenced by my background in generic Wicca-flavored neopaganism; my first six months involved a directional/elemental approach to revisiting the basics to get some grounding, and to establish something of a regular focus. I’m really trying to get away from that. I can’t completely start over from scratch without tossing out all the valuable things that I’ve learned and developed over the years, but the past two years have involved a lot of reassessing what of my previous practice was something I wanted to carry over into my shamanic work, and what was simply something that no longer worked for me.

Since the very early time of my practice, I’ve done a fairly typical circle-casting, greeting totem animals I associated with the four cardinal directions–Gray Wolf at North, Brown Bear at West, Red-tailed Hawk at East, and a variety of animals, most recently Red Fox, at South. Along with these directional totems came the standard neopagan, derived from ceremonialism and old grimoires, elemental and other correspondences. And for years, that sort of abstracted structure worked pretty well.

However, now I’m really interested in creating a practice based on my immediate experiences and environment. Granted, to an extent there are still some things that don’t quite fit that model; for example, I’ve still never met a gray wolf in the wild, and my only experience with elk has been nearly getting run over by a pair of them in a dark field at night. My totemic work nonetheless is something that is still central to my path, and I’ll still continue to work with totems whose physical counterparts I don’t have much direct experience with, even as I increase my work with those whom I have, such as Scrub Jay.

But in thinking about how I want to structure formal rituals, I find that the cardinal directions don’t really have much in the way of personal meaning, and the totems I associated with them were mostly arbitrarily drawn from early neoshamanic readings, other than the South totem, who has always represented the change in my life at the time. Or, rather, it’s the concept of the directions themselves that don’t really resonate with me now that I’m doing more shedding of rote correspondences.

What is important to me are the natural landmarks and other phenomena found near the physical location where I am doing a ritual. For example, at home I have the Cascades to the east of me, the Columbia River to the north, Johnson Creek to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west, all at varying distances. And that’s not even including the urban spirit of Portland and all that includes.

So I’m thinking that what I’m going to do is focus on, prior to the ritual, familiarizing myself with local landmarks surrounding the place where the ritual will happen. At home this won’t be an issue, but if I do any traveling, it’ll necessitate some research, as well as introducing myself to the Land itself, and seeing if any of the spirits in particular request/require acknowledgment or permissions. It seems more appropriate than simply greeting fairly generic directions, though it also takes more work (and some people may prefer the quicker broad-brush “spirits of the North, etc.” I’m not even thinking the actual directions they’re in in relation to me would be all that important in and of themselves, other than as a note of orientation (what if the biggest nearby body of water is to the traditionally airy east, not the watery west, for example?)

The thing I need to remember, as a final thought, is that this path is of my own creation. If I want to do it properly, I need to be deliberate about it, and have good reasons for what I do and why. There’s a lot of freedom in being able to create one’s path essentially from scratch, but there’s also the lack of inherent checks and balances that normally come from working within an established path, or developing with a group. I was talking to someone I met today at the Esoteric Book Conference about how I have people that I trade notes with and go to with questions. Sometimes the practices these people engage in resonate strongly with me. But I don’t just copy what they do and say I’m doing the same thing. Ultimately there’s a lot of “me” in what I’m creating, and if I just took things whole-cloth from others without really considering why I adopted those things, and whether they really fit for me, then I’d be doing everyone a disservice.

Thus it is that I’m rethinking the whole circle-casting-inspired, generic-correspondence-laden approach to opening a ritual that I’ve been used to, and trying to come up with something that better fits this thing that I’ve been putting together formally for two years now.

Glub glub glub…eeek!

First off, a quick note of potential interest to some readers/friends of readers/etc. I don’t talk a whole lot about the writing end of my life here, since it’s primarily a spiritually focused blog. However, I’ve put out a call for writers for a new anthology–“Engaging with the Spirit World: Shamanism, Totemism and Other Animistic Practices”. The deadline is 1 August, 2008, which gives me plenty of time to finish up a couple of other projects. Click the link for more details.

Recently I’ve been doing some work with my wolfskin, amid reorganizing and decluttering my ritual/artwork space (it’s kind of hard for me to separate the two, and not just because of apartment living!). It’s the beginning of my more regular work with the skin spirits, and though I haven’t quite managed the every-single-night goal I have, I have managed to stay mostly on track. It’s been a good experience so far. As always, Wolf the totem has been a patient teacher, and the wolf skin spirit* has been similarly so. The focus has primarily been on teaching and learning–teaching things that I’m prepared for (I’ve scheduled a series of animal magic workshops at a local pagan bookstore), and learning things that still need to be learned (which is a long list indeed!).

One thing that has been suggested is that my work with the totems, at least to some degree, will be concentrated more on working with/through the skin spirits, allowing them to help me make stronger connections with the corresponding totems. It’s not a new concept to me; I’ve been doing that with the wolf skin for years. And while I can work with the totems just fine without “intermediaries”, having some help along the way does make things easier, and helps me to concentrate on tasks beyond the initial connection. I’m not sure what will happen if I need to do some in-depth work with a totem whose skin/etc. is inaccessible, either through legalities or other limitations. I may simply end up doing a substitution of some sort, faux fur or other costumery with an animal spirit invited to reside inside. But it will help me to bring together the totemic and skin spirit works I do; I don’t think it will be all the skin spirit work will be limited to, but it’s a good starting place for more complex tasks.

Speaking of spirits, someone in a locked LJ post made a great observation. S/he made the comment that if a shaman were to question the validity of another person claiming to be a shaman, s/he would do best by consulting hir own spirits about the person. This makes a good deal of sense to me. Granted, it could be abused by those wanting to meet their own aims, but then again, what doesn’t face that particular potential fate? Still, it’s a good bit of food for thought.

Finally, I recently had the opportunity to stay in a hotel in Florida with an outdoor swimming pool while on a business trip for my day job. Now, I don’t swim all that often; my parents had an aboveground pool when I was growing up that came with the house they bought, but after I moved out after college my opportunities for swimming have been few and far between. I’m not a big fan of public pools; I want to swim, not dodge screaming children and beach balls. So my chances for swimming have been quite sporadic.

When I went out to swim on my last evening at the hotel, it was quiet; there was no one else in the pool, and the moon shone overhead. I had a chance to just enjoy being in the water without distraction. It was lovely. I allowed myself some time to simply commune with Water, feeling how buoyant I was in her embrace, and giving myself some time to play with her. I bounced against the bottom of the pool, letting the water carry me higher and higher, and cushioning my landing. I lay on my back and spun in circles. I splashed air under the surface to let the bubbles rise up and tickle my skin. I played as I haven’t in a good long while.

But then I got scared. I thought about diving under the surface like I used to do a lot. I loved pretending I was flying, not swimming, seeing the water not from above, but within, a matrix to move through. But tonight I balked. At first I told myself it was just that I didn’t want chlorine in my eyes, stinging and burning.

Then I stopped and really thought about it. I wasn’t really scared of the chlorine. I was letting a fear in the back of my head get to me–an unlikely, but visceral, fear of drowning. Now, I’ve never had a situation where I came close to drowning, though I’m not a fan of closed spaces–makes it tough to breathe. Still, I sometimes have an overactive imagination–reading about someone drowning (or otherwise dying badly) tends to make me cringe, and don’t even ask about violence in movies! (If you want to watch it, go for it–I’ll have my eyes closed, thanks.) I’ve even been known to have nightmares. I’m probably too squeamish for my own good, but more on that in a minute.

So I started to leave, but Water said no. She told me to wait, to come back, and face my irrational fears. So I waded back in. I’m not the world’s best swimmer, but I can swim. I submerged myself in the shallow end, and came back up quickly. Then I went under a little longer, and looked up at the surface. After a few more tries, I swam down to the bottom of the deep end, and touched the floor before coming back up.

And I wasn’t afraid any more. I knew no one was going to come along and drown me just because I was in the water. I knew I wasn’t going to black out for no reason while in the water. And all the irrational fears drifted off, washed away by my experiences with Water.

It’s a good reminder to me, to not let my fears get in the way–especially fears that have little founding. And it’s a good reminder to stop and think about fear before allowing it to dictate my actions. It’s not an easy thing to do; all my life there have been people’s voices saying “Fear this; be afraid of that–it’s the unknown, you shouldn’t go into it!” Sometimes I’ve been told that there are things that are known to be dangerous, and therefore I shouldn’t even learn about them, or even speak of them. Therefore they remain unknown, and terrifying. Yet when I approach them for myself, to see what the fuss is all about, I find that while they may be worrisome, knowing more about them make the fear less overwhelming. In other cases, the fear goes away entirely. And it’s not uncommon to find there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

Fear is a deep emotion; and Water can be both terrifying and delightful. Learning to gauge the right reaction to emotions–and to Water–is something that I may have to keep learning the rest of this life, but it’s a worthy endeavor.

*I really need to come up with a good nickname for the skin spirits, other than the private ritual names for them. If I started referring to the wolf skin spirit as Small Wolf, and the wolf totem as Wolf, would that make sense to you, dear readers?

Has It Really Been Five Months?

Tonight I finally did my ritual to officially finish off my Water month and head into the final month of my six months. I know the full moon was a few nights ago; however, I caught yet another cold which developed into a sinus infection, and Bear told me to spend a few more days healing (she didn’t mind keeping me a bit longer). However, the transition has happened, and the last month has begun. Once again, as with my first month, I examine all four elements together, only with the experience of the previous months to use as well, and reflect on what I’ve learned so far. It’s definitely going to be a powerful experience.

The Animal Father called me into the ritual room and had me sit in the center where the four directions/etc. meet. Then he told me to start drumming. At first I got distracted by the drumbeat; I kept speeding up and slowing down, and I was a bit irritated with the tone because the drum head was just a little bit damp. But he reminded me to focus, and over time I felt myself at the center of all four of the directional totems–Wolf, Hawk, Fox and Bear. It was an incredibly powerful combination, the totems and the god, all there at once. And apparently, this is supposed to be my starting point for journeying in general! No wonder I’ll need practice.

The Animal Father had me recount, briefly, what I had learned from each of them. We distilled these into four basic values:

North – Wolf – Earth – Grounding
East – Hawk – Air – Communication
South – Fox – Fire – Love (Passion)
West – Bear – Water – Healing

These are very much shorthand for a lot of complex concept and multifaceted interpretations. It’s easier to say “Grounding” than “Finding the basis of what’s most important in your life; figure out where you stand and where you’re coming from; etc.” as well as extending concepts to other people, other beings, the world around me, and so forth. “Grounding” is therefore a convenient tag for something much bigger.

I felt very safe and very centered during this time; it was much stronger than the neopagan circle castings I gave up early on in my therioshamanic work. I had a very clear idea of my cosmology, and it imprinted itself more strongly on my brain. However, I’m still building up endurance in my rituals, so the Animal Father had me begin to drum down again, to say farewell to the totems and to get myself downstairs and fed. We’re going to work on lengthening my rituals over time, especially as I start doing more complex things, but for now I need to be focusing on consistency.

So I’ll be spending the time between now and the spring equinox not only preparing my everyday life for a schedule change to allow more time for shamanic work, but also reflecting on the cosmology I’ve helped to develop over the past five months. It still has a very neopagan feel to it, which is fine, because it’s built on the concepts that I’ve adhered to most strongly in the past twelve years. But we’re definitely taking it to a higher level here, as far as intensity of work goes. I’m excited, and nervous, but also confident in my ability to continue with this.

Well, Water’s Off to a Great Start…

Wouldn’t you know it? I have a cold. Almost exactly three months after I got sick at the start of my Earth month, I’m beginning my Water month with another date with everyone’s favorite Rhinovirus. Gee, Bear, thanks for the reminder that I’m supposed to focus on healing this month.

However, as with the Earth month cold, I am paying attention to my body. Normally when I get sick I spend so much time kvetching about how awful I feel that I don’t stop to listen to my body. I just do like most folks do and play the body-dissociation game (if I ignore it long enough maybe it’ll go away!). The past two times I’ve actually listened–and my body has made it very clear what needs to happen: “I WANT FOOD. NOW. LOTS OF IT. STARVING.” So, having temporarily invoked The Thing That Ate Portland (or whatever major city is handy), I have consumed quantities of (mostly healthy) food, and felt better for it. I recovered quicker last time, and I’m betting on it again this time (though last time I also slept for something like sixteen hours right after it hit, not possible at the moment).

Still, does the lesson have to involve quite so much Kleenex?

And From Fire Into Water

Tonight was the end of my Fire month and the start of my Water month–the last single-element month of my six months. There’ll be the final month which will involve all four of them again, and then the Equinox will be the transition into the next phase of my training. I’ll admit I’m a bit nervous about what’s to come, but also excited. Still, I’ve two months to go before that point.

So, Fire. Fox seemed pleased with my progress, especially over the past couple of weeks after I talked to him about my frustrations with this particular element. He asked me to tell him about what I learned. I started with the fire in the body, metabolism, heat in the cells, and then moved onto the fire of the decay and rebirth cycle, and that change. We talked about changes and transitions (and have barely scratched the surface on that one!). And we talked about passion and creativity and drive, as well as the fear of being burned. He warned me against letting that fear hold me back, and told me Bear could help me with it more. Overall, I did better with Fire than I thought I would, and I feel more comfortable with it than I did at the beginning of the month. This is good, since I believe that it’s the elements we’re least comfortable with that we need to work with the most.

On to Water, then, and Bear. Normally Bear shows up to me as two bears, one male and one female. However, for the purposes of my Water month she chose to appear as the female brown bear rather than the male black bear. I’ll admit I was a little scared when I went to her. She’s always made me a little uneasy, because she’s one of those totems who’s been pretty stern with me at times. However, when I went to her she was incredibly warm and welcoming, which surprised me quite a bit.

Bear told me she only had two things for me to focus on this month–emotions, and healing. Not that this is the sum total of Water’s lessons, but these were the ones she wanted me to concentrate on in particular. I’d definitely agree with that assessment; the work of the past few months has asked a lot of me emotionally, and I’ve been looking forward to a month of healing! While emotions and healing may seem simple, they’re incredibly deep subjects, and Bear said they would be exceptionally important, both for my Water month and for the shamanic practice ahead of me.

I talked to her at length about her demeanor; I think I kept expecting her to lash out at me for some mistake or shortcoming. However, she made it very clear that she was quite pleased with my progress and very happy to see me. I told her I was worried about letting myself feel like I was unique to the point of letting my ego tell me I was this awesome chosen child of the cosmos, etc. You know what she said?

“Yes. You’re special. So is everyone else. Now get over it!” Then she laughed.

She told me to stop comparing myself to other people, and instead compare myself to myself (which isn’t the first time I’ve been told that!). She emphasized the progress I’d made, and told me she was really proud of me for it–which is great praise coming from her and the other elemental totems! She also said she’d been exceptionally worried about me (Mother Bear, indeed!) because the first four months had been really difficult on me, including emotionally. It’s not all things I want to talk about here, since there are a lot of private experiences, but she knows what’s been going on, and she told me she’d been looking forward to her month with me partly so she could “patch me up” after the rigors of the previous months. It’s not that she can’t be a tough beast when she has to be, but she told me not to worry so much about people’s scary stories about what shamanism should be–and instead listen to what she was doing right that moment. Just because Bear wasn’t dismembering me or lashing out didn’t mean she wasn’t being herself. It’s not all about the challenges and the difficulties, after all, and I think I’ve needed that reminder.

In reading the Water chapter of Starhawk’s Earth Path, I’ve been particularly struck by the concept of physical Water as Abundance. I think that may be my environmental focus for this month. I really like some of Starhawk’s observations on the nitty-gritty of the elements in particular, and she’s given me good food for thought with each of the element-specific months.

So here we go into Water!

What Makes Me (You) Burn?

Fire is Action. But just as Fire is present in the candle flame as well as the inferno, so is it in the small changes as well as the large ones.

Despite Saturday being Live Like a Cat Day, I spent the day running errands. Of course, for me, that does count as being more relaxed than usual. I slept in til ten (I’m normally up at six during the week to get ready for my bus/train commute), then after breakfast I went out to hit the local Goodwill stores for some random kitchen implements and other things on the shopping list. A few hours later I came home with a pair of secondhand hand towels for my husband and me so we don’t have to use paper towels at work, a two dollar salad spinner (only missing a handle), a shirt and skirt (each one found at a different Goodwill), and a few other things that we needed around the house.

My quest was not complete, however. One of my most-wanted items for the day was a rolling pin. I have discovered the joys of making bread, and I want to make pizza dough, since right now I still rely on the overexpensive and preservative-laden Boboli crusts, which makes me sad 😦 . However, without a rolling pin, flattening the dough into the proper shape for the perfect pizza may be more of a challenge than I really want to try to tackle. That damned rolling pin became my Holy Grail for the day. You would think that an overstocked Goodwill with eighty billion Teflon-coated pots and pans, a sharp, poking sea of miscellaneous silverware, and more cups than the bra section at a Victoria’s Secret superstore, would have at least one solitary rolling pin.

Nope. I finally gave up, and headed to Fred Meyer to look for a replacement pair of Winter gloves for my husband*. Once the gloves had been procured, I went back to the kitchenware just to price their rolling pins. Lo and behold, the normally five dollar wooden rolling pin was on sale for four bucks. Normally, this would be the time when glorious light breaks through the glare of fluorescent lamps, and choirs of heavenly angels sing the praises of the successful quest. However, having become a more conscientious consumer, I took a close look at the label. “Made in Taiwan”. “Made of plantation wood”.

“Made in Taiwan” = “trans-Pacific shipping”, which = use of a ton of resources to get it from there to here. “Made of plantation wood” means that somewhere, probably in Asia, a rainforest or other sensitive ecosystem was decimated to make way for a monoculture for profit. I really, really don’t like supporting such things. By buying that rolling pin, I would be directly supporting an industry that burned huge quantities of fuel and created a proportionate amount of pollution just to get it (and a bunch of others) halfway around the world. I’d also be supporting poor use of the land somewhere on this planet.

I ended up buying the rolling pin, since it was the second to last one there. However, upon finding a pair of bread loaf pans of the type I was looking for (also on sale, and the very last two they had) I realized I hadn’t checked Goodwill for those while I was out. So I paid for my purchase, and headed back to the Goodwill-of-Many-Used-Kitchen-Implements, feeling guilty the whole time for my brand new purchase, and hoping I’d find good reasons to return the new items once I got to the thrift store.

Lo and behold, upon entering the aisles of Goodwill, I found a slightly used but quite usable pair of bread pans of the same dimensions of the ones I’d just bought. Taking this as a good sign, I crept up on the pile of wooden utensils. There, hidden between a banana hanger and some spoons, was a perfectly good wooden rolling pin. Elated, I took the pin and pans to the counter like I’d just won a trophy, and then headed back to Fred Meyer to return the new versions thereof. I even ended up saving a few bucks on the secondhand items despite the sale on the new ones.

So what the heck does a rolling pin have to do with Fire? (Other than the baking connections, of course.) Action, that’s what. Action, and passion, and awareness (Fire needs Air, after all, to exist). Therioshamanism is very much an eco-friendly path, and it is rooted in everyday reality as well as the spiritual realms. I came to the realization that one very positive aspect of Fire in my life is my drive to bring about positive change in my actions. The reason I opened this post with the Tale of the Quest for the Rolling Pin is that it illustrates my increased conscious action on a daily basis. In that moment I wasn’t just wishing I’d bought secondhand instead; I manifested it into my life, and made it real. So many times we think about what we’d like to do; putting those thoughts into action, making the change–that’s Fire.

I am passionate about eco-friendly choices in an urban lifestyle. Not everyone can afford to go completely sustainable; since at this point I’m limited to renting, and living in a city where the jobs are, I make changes where I can. However, it’s not always big, impressive changes, like buying a Prius or opting into 100% renewable energy through your local utility company. A lot of it is small changes on a daily basis–small changes that build up over time.

I’m still really struck by what I read in The Earth Path, not just in the Fire chapter, but touched on in several places. The natural balance of things requires both give and take. Take, for example, an apple core. We can only eat so much of it. However, the Earth can reabsorb all of it, even if it’s rotten. The energy and other resources in that apple core can then be integrated into something new. In the meantime, the flesh of the apple that we ate becomes a part of us.

The problem is that we cut off the return of resources to the Earth. Our waste–whether from our bodies or not–more often than not will end up in a landfill. Wasted food, sludge leftover from treatment of sewage, and other organics end up in a lined hole in the ground where they sit, cut off from the Earth from which they originated and to which they need to return. None of these organics need to end up there. Even sludge can be treated and turned into fertilizer (also lessening the use of chemical fertilizers).

Think of the Earth’s resources as money in a bank account. There may be a small bit of interest, but it’s generally not enough to keep up with our overspending. Humanity is an irresponsible teenager let loose in a mall with a credit card–every single day. Granted, we have to have some resources to ourselves–we need to have homes, and clothing, and other such things that we can’t send back into the Earth right away. But we throw away so much, and we take things we don’t really need.

It’s not just a matter of the big things, either. It’s the little things, as I’ve mentioned before. The ends of celery stalks and carrots. A part of a carton of milk that goes bad. The hair in our combs and brushes. All of these are things that could quite safely be put back into the Earth, but which we’ve been conditioned to toss it in the trash instead. And the more people do that with each year, the more slowly the Earth is able to refertilize itself. I’m sure at least some readers have encountered land that is too overfarmed and no longer has the necessary nutrients to produce crops–so chemical fertilizers are dumped on them, and then the fertilizers run off into the water, poisoning what lives in it or drinks it. If composting were popular on a large scale, we’d need a lot fewer chemicals.

It’s also reducing how much we take. The reason I’m so type-A about buying things secondhand is that I know that for every secondhand item I buy, that’s one less new item that will have to be produced–and one less discard in the landfill. I’ll even buy things I’m pretty sure other people won’t buy, like the salad spinner without a handle, or the hand towels embroidered with someone else’s initials. The more fuel we leave for the Fiery cycle of Change and Renewal, the better off everyone will be.

And that is part of the Fire that burns inside of me. It’s that need to make changes, to be more aware of and closer to that sacred cycle. Ever since The Earth Path brought me into greater awareness at the beginning of this month, the internal fire has burned higher, and I recognize that I have had a connection to Fire all along–I just didn’t always know it for what it was.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll ignore its other roles in my life, of course. None of the elements is a one-trick pony. And what Fire is to me, isn’t necessarily what it is to other people. So when you read about my experiences with Fire, or Earth, or Air, or next month’s work with Water, don’t just observe my experiences. Think about your own. Think about both the concrete and the abstract; both are important.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue with my last week in my Fire month, and work to create as healthy a bond as I can. I won’t lose Fire, of course, but the six months are meant to set a solid foundation in the elements.

* Caveat emptor–never try to replace your Winter gloves any time in the actual season of Winter. Try July, or August if you want sales. Goodwill had picnic baskets and sandals out, and somehow Fred Meyer had managed to stash away a tiny rack of gloves on sale that hadn’t gotten swept away in the “Never sell things when you need them” merchandising.

And the flames went higher….

Oh, come on. You couldn’t seriously expect me to get through my Fire month without invoking that particular song of the late, great, Man in Black, did you? (Bonus cover by Social Distortion!)

I sat down at my meditation today during lunch and talked to Fox again about my Fire month. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where its influences have been in my life as of late. We touched on the pain of being burned, whether in the process of cleaning things out or not, and Fox noted that this was always my first thought of Fire, which was indicative of my uneasy relationship with it. Fire in real life scares me a bit, too. I like fire dancing, but no way will I jump over one–you can’t even get me to put out a candle flame with wet fingertips.

So we worked through finding other meanings for Fire. While I tend to associate emotions with Water for the most part, Fire applied to Water makes the Water boil! I’ve been exploring more intense emotions this month–anger, jealousy, disappointment, etc. However, Fire can also add to joy/elation, excitement/anticipation, and, of course, love. Consistency is another issue related to emotions; while I’m not bipolar, I do get moody, especially this time of year when SAD hits me. Emotions are like fire, sometimes; when we feel down, our fire goes down to embers. Those who are particularly feeling bad, especially those suffering from severe depression, may consider dousing those embers forever. At the other end of the spectrum, when our emotions get the best of us, we lose our temper, or we otherwise go overboard, it can be like a wildfire burning all that we touch. Maintaining balanced emotions is similar to tending a fire. You want to keep the flames well-fed at a steady rate, neither neglecting them too much, or being tempted to toss some lighter fluid on if they aren’t burning high enough.

Another quality of Fire is light. In addition to burning out the underbrush, Fire illuminates what’s left so we can see more clearly. Being more aware of what moves and motivates us helps us to see the circumstances we’re in better. Careful application of Fire, awareness, can help us to illuminate even the darkest corners.

And Fire is spirit, drive, motivation. It is force and energy that moves everything. Inspiration may be of the mind and therefore Air, but Fire is what drives us to put it into motion, like blowing on a flame to make it grow. When I get into creative frenzies, where I’ll spend weeks working on writing or artwork at every spare moment, there’s definitely Fire at play there.

I know this isn’t particularly organized–just tossing down some observations on Fire as I continue through this month.

One More Note on Fire

Lest you think that Fire has been all painful and unlovely to me this month, I’ve also been feeling more impetus to bring about positive change in my life. Fire is inspiration and drive, passion and determination. I’ve actually been raising the amount of changes in my life in an environmentally-friendly way in the past couple of weeks. I put a clean two liter grape juice bottle, full of water, into the toilet tank to lower the amount of water we use. I’ve been paying more attention to packaging in my purchases, and cutting down on packaging where possible. And today, I had a famous first–I made a loaf of bread! This last may seem mind-bogglingly mundane to you, but just a couple of years ago I *hated* cooking. I’ve been more interested in knowing what’s actually in my food, so learning to make more from scratch has really been appealing to me.

So Fire isn’t all bad, and I recognize a crucial role of that element in my life. I still need to get comfortable with it on other levels, but hey–here’s something I can connect with!

Also, on a totally side note, I know what a pain it can be to try to bounce from blog to blog, making daily rounds. I’m not a huge web-savvy person, though I know that this blog has built-in RSS feeds. However, I do like Livejournal, particularly because I can have feeds built right into my f-list. Makes things a lot more convenient. For you folks in LJ land who don’t know about it yet, here is the LJ RSS feed for Wheeee, convenience!

Fire Month Check-in

I’m halfway through my Fire month, and this is the first post I’ve made about it since it began. It’s not surprising; of the four elements, Fire is the one I’m least attuned to and comfortable with. It’s not so much that I’ve been avoiding it; it’s just been harder for me to connect with. Some people would take that as a sign that Fire isn’t “my” element, and I should work with one that I’m more attuned to–which is silly. Elemental work isn’t about picking your favorite element and working with it to the exclusion of all others. It’s about balancing all the elements within and around you. We are not one-trick ponies.

Still, I did feel a bit guilty today when I realized that I’ve done less overt Fire work so far than I had halfway through the Earth and Air months. Maybe part of it is because it’s the least tangible of the four elements. It’s transient, and unless you want to get injured, untouchable, at least in its pure form. It hasn’t helped, either, that all but a couple of days in the past two weeks have been cold, overcast, and rainy, with barely ever a glimpse of the Sun. And, of course, because of my work schedule, I’m stuck in a cube farm for almost the entire time there is any appreciable daylight. Since I’ve come to accept that I’m pretty much a classic case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, my mood hasn’t exactly been sparkly, either.

Still, there’s the fire of metabolism in my cells. And although the overt presence of Fire is lessened right now, there are more subtle ones to work with. For example, I was really struck by Starhawk’s discussing the flow of energy as part of her chapter on Fire in The Earth Path. I’ve been more careful about salvaging kitchen scraps for the compost bin because she makes the excellent point that every bit of energy we take from the Earth and don’t put back weakens it that much more, which is why we have such overfarmed soil in so many places. As I mentioned in my com-post a few days back, whatever you throw into a landfill isn’t going to decay–it’ll just sit there, a toxic welt under the skin of the Earth. So I return everything I don’t use, within acceptable composting limits. The ends of the carrots, the cracker crumbs at the bottom of the box–those are all energy that has been taken from the Earth.

Fire isn’t just energy, either, and it isn’t just the nice warmth of the Sun. Fire can also be painful. In my personal life I’ve had to deal with some really difficult decisions, things that weren’t easy to deal with, where there really was no right or wrong decision, but either way someone was going to get hurt. In these cases, fire is useful for cleaning out the situation. Like a wildfire cleansing a forest of the underbrush so that everything built up gets cleared out, seeds are spread, and the forest has a chance to rejuvenate its floor, so sometimes our tough decisions cause us to burn out the excess and really look at what’s left. And, to use a more cliched example, Fire tempers us. It may be a painful process in the flames, but when we come out, we’re stronger for it, no matter what we become.

And it is change. That’s probably one of the oldest associations I have with it. Of all the directional totems I work with, the totem of South, which I link to Fire, has changed a number of times, and currently is represented by Fox. Change can be painful, but again, like that forest fire, it can clean things out so we can start all over again. Fire helps harden the steel, turn it into something stronger.

I don’t always want to deal with Fire, especially when it comes in its “You need to learn about pain” guise. But I also am not a victim of it. Fire, like any other element, has lessons to teach, and it’s up to the individual to learn how to hear those lessons. Since I’m not as attuned to Fire, sometimes those lessons have been more difficult to appreciate–there are times where I just feel like I’m getting unfairly burned. But even the wild fire leaves the ground bare for new seeds to grow.

So I’ll continue with my Fire month. I may not come out having as strong a connection as I do with Earth and Air, but I’m further along than I was.

Prayer Beads and Correspondences

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do in late March when my six months are done. I had initially thought about getting my tattoo of the Animal Father (or, rather, the cave painting that he used to connect to me), but the spirits told me to hold off until my actual initiation, which will be determined by them as far as timing, etc.–basically, when they feel I’m ready, and I agree. However, rewarding myself with a shiny object for getting through my six months is perfectly acceptable.

So I’ve been planning on making myself a necklace, one that I’ll wear on a permanent basis. I already have a scrimshaw wolf necklace that I wear constantly except for when I shower, which I wear both for my primary totem, Wolf, and for myself, as well as some more private reasons. However, I wanted to come up with something specifically for therioshamanism to serve as a reminder to me of what it is I’ve gotten myself into. (Plus I fully admit that I like meaningful shiny objects.) I wanted a pendant of the Animal Father; there aren’t very many, but I decided on this one in bronze, with the tree on the right on this page on the reverse side (since Quicksilver Mint sells double-sided medallions, and I can tell you from experience they’re quite nice).

I won’t go into too much detail about the necklace itself, as far as my plans go. However, I decided this week that I wanted the necklace to serve as a set of pagan prayer beads. I’ve been thinking about them since reading Pagan Prayer Beads by Greer and Vaughn a few months ago (and enjoying it quite a bit), though Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Circle of Stones was what first turned me on to the idea. So I’ve been messing around with ideas. I generally don’t put that much thought into design, instead letting my inspiration flow unbridled. However, this is something a little different, so I wanted to come up with something particular.

What I will say is that the necklace will focus on the four directional/elemental totems, with the Animal Father as the pendant. There will be two sets of three beads for each totem, mirroring each other. Each set of three will represent Self, Community, and Environment, though the two sets will each have different angles to them.

One thing that struck me as I was thinking about this was that 3 x 4 = 12, and there are twelve months in the year, and I could potentially assign one combination of meanings to a month, twelve of each in all. And then they would fit in perfectly with the idea that North/Wolf = winter, Hawk/East = spring, etc. Which would mean I would focus on the specific meaning (such as Earth-Self-Wolf in January, Earth-Community-Wolf in February, etc.) for each month, and–

–and what? And hope that my life fit whatever parameters the dictates of the correspondence system I’d set up mandated? Ignore anything that didn’t match with the current month’s meaning? Get hopelessly frustrated with the whole thing?

No, thank you.

One of the things that irritates me about neopaganism (guys, I love you, really I do) is that sometimes things get corresponded to death. What I mean by this is that people sometimes spend so much time worrying about whether the correspondences associated with a particular stone, or totem, or herb, or deity, or whathaveyou (gotta love those whathaveyous) match up with the other things they’re working with that it can get pretty damned complicated. And that’s where I found myself when I was thinking about the necklace. I’ve been a little uncertain about where to draw the line on correspondences, especially since my cosmology is still under construction. This made it pretty clear to me–don’t make correspondences just because you see them. Sure, twelve prayer bead meanings and twelve months match up nicely. But do they really have to?

The associations I have with the four totems and their respective elements and directions have worked very well for me for years. The twelves…well…just felt pretty artificial. I’ve introduced some new concepts into my path in recent time, and they meshed just fine. However, the twelve-concept is like the older brother in the story of the Two Hunchbacks, who, seeing his brother’s success, throws too much into the old ladies’ song.

So maybe not everything I try on for size makes sense to me, so I set it aside. But on the bright side, I do have a better idea of what is important in my personal cosmology.