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.

More Potpourri (Holiday Scented!)

Okay, so the holidaze knocked me out for a few days. However, I have been up to plenty, and here’s the round-up of what you missed via my limited web presence.

First, I’ve added a few new journeying blogs to the blogroll. Love, Hope and Life is Danmara’s journey in working with the gods, including both observations as well as practical matters, described as “a living devotion”. Cynanthropy is Solo’s explorations on further discovering himself as a canine therianthrope, as well as thoughts on cynanthropy in general. And Poison Hara is a personal account of working within the Deharan magical system detailed in Grimoire Dehara: Kaimana by Storm Constantine. Go take a peek, see what you think!

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So, Solstice. I decided that the Stag-Wolf-Bear-Lion progression really wasn’t resonating with me, and the Animal Father was fine with that. So I took the formality down a notch. For now my ritual will primarily consist of a nature walk at a nearby park, regardless of weather conditions.

Winter Solstice in Portland is pretty mild. It was in the lower fifties, with rain (a staple of Portland weather). As I walked, I saw a ton of fox squirrels bouncing around foraging. In other places I’ve lived, they’d be all curled up in their nests snoozing away the cold, but it’s mild enough here that I still see orb weaver spiders on occasion. I was treated to the sounds of Stellar’s jays screaming (an odd sound compared to the blue jays I’m used to out East) and the occasional caw of a crow. Because of all the rain, everything is exceptionally green except for the deciduous trees, which I think must lose their leaves here more out of propriety than anything else–though it does get colder once Winter proper hits. But the grass and moss are verdant, and the conifers don’t really shed that much in the way of old needles. Winter is relatively gentle here. (Of course, I mean relatively–I get cold at anything under sixty degrees Fahrenheit!)

Once my six months are up, right around the Spring Equinox, I may start using the Solstices and Equinoxes as turning points for focusing on the elements cyclically. For example, I may work with Air in the Spring, Fire in the Summer, Water in the Autumn, and Earth in the Winter. Or I might just take the time to review how I’m doing with all four elements, and maybe (or maybe not) choose to focus on whichever one needs the most work. I’m just really not big on celebratory rituals–if there’s a magical purpose, that’s fine, but I feel kind of odd doing a solitary celebration. It’s kind of like throwing a party with no one there–I mean, sure, the spirits and such are there, but it’s not really quite as much of a celebration without other people there in the flesh. Plus it helps to have a solid cosmology to tell you what, exactly, you should be celebrating. Right now the only thing that really stands out to me about Solstices and Equinoxes is that a lot has changed in Nature since the last one, and it’s a good time for transitions (hence the potential elemental workings starting on each one). The rest of the existing neopagan mythology surrounding the holidays has always left me sort of lukewarm–I see why people celebrate it, and I’ve done a few informal Sabbat celebrations with other people, but it never really struck me on any deep level. So for now, I’ll just take my walks and see what the Equinox brings.

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My Air month ended over the weekend. Hawk was quite pleased with my progress, and told me to keep it up. I have gotten better with communication overall, both with others and with myself. Granted, one month isn’t going to fix things. But I’m a bit braver about scary confrontations, and I’m a bit less “clammed-up” about my feelings. Plus I’m more aware of my actions, being conscious of the choices I make. The last one is tough for others to see, sometimes, because it mainly involves me making an effort NOT to do something (such as say something really dumb/insensitive/etc.) and being successful entails being quiet, or saying something more civil/thoughtful/etc.

I’ve been pretty good about remembering to record my dreams, though I’m much better about it during the week when I have a routine to work it into. I’ve also been remembering to pray both in the morning and evening, and meditate over my lunch break, about four times a week on average. My meditation has mostly turned into “Conversations with My Wolf Totem”, which is fine–Wolf has always been one of my main connections to the spirit world. I’m going to keep working on it, of course.

Being more aware of my actions has also helped to calm me down–which, appropriately, has meant that I haven’t had my asthma crop up (it did once in my Earth month, as a reminder to RELAX). I find that I can “ground” into the Sky as well as the Earth, with just as much ease. And, as I’ve started my Fire month, I’m finding already that the burning energy of the cellular breakdown of nutrients flares up easily in conjunction with the Earth and Air energy. It reaches out to the sunlight (even through the clouds) and connects me to the Sun, which is a primary source of energy and nourishment sustaining life here.

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Which brings me to the beginning of my Fire month. Fox met with me to figure out what I should focus on. Sex and sex magic will be part of it, though for personal reasons most of that will remain private. However, there are also a lot of changes going on in my life (though this seems to be a semi-regular thing for me) and part of the Fire month will involve being more responsive and flexible with change. Also, reading through Starhawk’s The Earth Path, I gained a new appreciation for energy as an interconnected web among all things, and the implications thereof. It’s not that this wasn’t already a part of my perspective, but the six month process has done a lot for magnifying certain aspects of my beliefs and showing me what I really feel is central to my path.

I think the lessons in communication from the Air month will be broadened in the Fire month to include numerous types of communication, not just person to person. The importance of what we take into ourselves and what we put out, which I first concentrated on in the Earth month, is also revisited, though on a more energetic rather than physical scale. Fox instructed me to get outdoors at least a couple of times a week for purposes other than walking to and from work and the train station, even if it’s just to go to the park nearby. I get unhappy and sluggish if I stay away from the wild too long, and even a trip to the park can be an energetic quick fix, though I should still get out to hike in wilder areas when I can.

Fire has started pretty well, burning off impurities created as byproducts of communicating about some unpleasant things during my Air month. I’m looking forward to the rest of the month.

On Being a Bird (Now With Bonus Stream of Consciousness!)

So last night I managed to make up for delaying my skin spirit ritual from last weekend. What I’ve been doing the past few months has amounted to me going to the pile of skins in the ritual room and letting one or two of them volunteer to dance or otherwise work with me. Last night when I went up, I was a bit surprised that the pheasant skin, one of only two bird skins that I have, made the most “noise”. I’ve had this skin for the better part of a decade, and most of the time he’d just been hanging on the wall by a string. However, when we moved to Portland, he insisted on being placed with the rest of the critters.

I picked him up and then lay down on the floor on my back with the pheasant spread out on my chest and stomach. He had me visualize my body as that of a bird:

Hollow bones, scaled feet with three toes and a heel, wings tucked up against a deep-chested body, feathers all over (modified scales), including a tail. Sensitive skin and delicate muscles to move feathers, crest, tail, fluff the body to stay warm. Stretch out the wings, wind resistance. Wings not important in the same way as legs–when on ground, feet and beak used to pick up things. Wings for locomotion. Like the two pairs of limbs were reversed. Stretching wings wide, then tuck close to body again. Food in beak, chew, then down gullet. Tip of beak pointed for precision pecking. Skin itchy, scaly, mites, take a dust bath to get rid of them. Slick with rain water. Intelligence to avoid predators, find food, mate, raise young. But die eventually–food, roadkill, shot. Pellets hit, tumble down as thunder crashes.

It was really an incredible experience. I’m so used to working with mammals in shapeshifting and other magic that this unusual experience really struck me. Birds may be warm-blooded, but in some ways they’re just as alien as reptiles. Not that this is a bad thing; it’s just mind-boggling to really be confronted by it. I’ll do a minor shift to Hawk when I call East/Air, but that’s mainly stretching wings in warm sunlight and clear blue sky. At least with the mammals I’ve worked with I’m still dealing with a quadruped whose forelegs are there for grasping or moving things as well as locomotion. It felt odd to keep my “wings” tucked in unless I was flying. And it amazed me how delicate the motor control over the feathers was. Most people can’t make their skin move independently of muscle, yet birds can move specific sections of feathers as opposed to the whole thing just with certain motions of skin and muscle. Even horses can twitch their skin to shoo away flies. Among humans, you’re talented if you can wiggle your ears. Other than that, it’s mainly lips, nose and eyelids that move.

Of course, birds are more body-expressive than humans. Birds pay attention to the whole body, not just facial expression (which is limited by the rigid beak). There’s so much more that I want to learn about what it is to be a bird with this sort of magic. While I’ve experimented with various totems over the years, my more intense workings have primarily been mammalian. If the pheasant skin decides to keep working with me, I look forward to the experiences ahead!

I’m actually not surprised that I ended up working with Pheasant. It’s still my Air month, and in addition, a large portion of Saturday was dedicated to a ritual involving the spirit of a free-range chicken I prepared, and Chicken, the cousin of Pheasant. Last night’s ritual only seems more appropriate for all that.

And Air Continues to Breeze On By….

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that my Air month has been more cerebral than anything else. I got used to Earth, with the drumming and the poking at my body to see what makes it tick (especially the stomach) and the solid feeling of being grounded on a daily basis. However, Air has primarily been about communication, and so I’ve been doing a lot of talking and a lot of thinking. As I was warned, the dream work really hasn’t taken center stage at all. I’ve been dutifully recording my dreams, though, mostly on my commute into work during the week. It’s become part of my morning routine, and I’m getting good enough at remembering that, half an hour after I first hear the alarm I can still remember the bulk of what I dreamed.

Still, I haven’t done much in the way of drumming. Instead I’ve talked, and talked, and talked some more. And then I’ve thought, and analyzed, and imagined inside my head. The interpersonal communication has been pretty impressive. I won’t go into details, but I actually ended up having to postpone my skin spirit work last weekend due to a personal crisis. It got worked out, but it involved some of the most intense communication I’ve had to do ever. With regards to communication with noncorporeal beings, I finally started doing the daily meditations as the Animal Father suggested at the beginning of my Air month. Today was the third day in a row that I managed to remember, and have a successful meditation. Hey, I’ll take any victory I can. Right now I’ve worked it into my lunch hour (I’m big on routine for changing habits). Not sure what I’ll do with regards to the weekend; I actually have more trouble with these things when I’m not on a schedule, because it’s easier to get distracted. (Oooooh…sleeping in…..)

I’ve also been getting better at being aware of my actions and thoughts and words. Not perfect, but getting there. I’ve shown some progress in stopping myself from speaking without thinking, and considering the potential results of my actions. Of course, the problem is that when the goal is to NOT do something, nobody notices 😉 But in seriousness, I’m noticing it, and that matters quite a bit. I like being more aware of what I’m doing, rather than going through my day in robotic mode.

So this weekend, at the very least, I am going to try to keep up my daily work with the meditation and dream records, as well as make it up to the skin spirits for missing out on last weekend’s ritual. And, in a week, I’ll be getting ready to switch over to Fire. It’ll also have been three months since I started this blog to track my progress in formalizing the best of the past decade-plus’s efforts and lessons. It feels longer in some ways. However, I think it’s actually a record in near-daily practice for usually-spontaneous me. Certain things have kept my interest for years; animal magic has been my main magical squeeze for almost as long as I’ve been practicing magic. But, as those of you who have been following this know, any sort of daily practice for me is another thing entirely.

Here’s to continued success!

The Existence of Spirits

While my experiences with Chaos magic did a lot of good in that they really expanded my understanding of magic and how it works, one of the unfortunate side effects was that I absorbed the psychological model of magic a little too deeply. (If you’re unfamiliar with the models of magic, here’s their origin.) Essentially, much of the material I found on Chaos magic was slanted heavily towards a highly pragmatic, even solipsistic, psychological perspective of how magic worked. In this model, spirits, gods and other entities aren’t objective beings; rather, they are aspects of the psyche given form for our understanding.

It’s been about three years, maybe a bit more, since I hit the deepest point of immersion in the psychological model. I was still working with totems, but what I read rubbed off on me enough that I *talked* about them as if they were just internal. I don’t think I completely believed it; I’ve interacted with them for too long to ignore the signs that I interpret as proof of their objective existences. Still, this immersion in solipsism has clung to my personal cosmology since then, and it’s been damned hard to scrape off (kind of like hagfish slime). It primarily manifested as a doubt, “Am I really doing what I think I’m doing, or are the spirits I’m talking to all in my head? Are other people getting the real results, while I’m just talking to parts of myself?”

This has led to occasional issues with my magical and spiritual practices. Nothing kills the mood of a ritual quite like a nice big bag of doubt dumped into the middle of the room. However, I’ve been fortunate in that the spirits I’ve been working with have been good about tapping me on the shoulder and bringing my focus back to the ritual at hand. This has helped me to break the cycle of doubt-ritual fails-proof for doubt-etc.

It’s not even that I was ever 100% convinced by the psychological model. Rather, there was always a part of me that maintained, even at my most solipsistic point, that the spirits and gods are “real” in a literal, as well as mythological/metaphorical, sense. But that doubt would come in every so often and steal my confidence.

Some of my Air month work has served to finally kick that habit. I’ve been working on communication, which leads into being more open emotionally, energetically and spiritually. I have a tendency to be insular and introspective to the point where I sometimes get so wrapped up in my head and my concerns that I get a little too focused, and it’s not always easy for me to open up to others. Add in that I learned early on how mean people can be, and I’ve developed quite a defensive “shell”. But I’ve been making headway in the past couple of weeks in learning to open up more to people that I know I can trust–and also opening up to those who may not have physical bodies, but are no less present in my life. (And since they’re not limited by physics, they don’t have to wait for me to open the front door before visiting!)

I was talking to the Animal Father late last week on my commute home. We talked about my attitude towards spirits, and he pointed out that even sitting there talking to him I had that seed of doubt. He asked me if I was willing to open up that last little bit, to consciously choose the belief in spirits over the doubt in spirits. He emphasized that if I was going to journey into the spirit worlds more often, and if I was going to shamanize, that I was going to have to accept the cosmology I was creating entirely. This didn’t mean never questioning my perceptions, or being aware of potentially dangerous beliefs (such as, “God told me to shoot all the meter maids because God hates bureaucracy”). And it’s not even faith, per se, at least not in the stereotypical sense where you never question it, you just go with it.

But in order to do what I need to do in the future as I become more experienced and mature in my path, there comes a point where I have to unceremoniously toss the doubt out on its ear. It serves no purpose other than to trip me up, and any possible benefit it might have is covered, in a more healthy manner, by conscious appraisal of my progress, as well as trading notes with other magical practitioners to get some feedback on what I’m doing.

And so that’s what I’ve done. Belief is a choice. We may feel strongly obligated towards a particular beliefs, but in the end it’s still our decision as to whether we accept those beliefs in our lives or not (never mind the individual interpretation thereof). I choose to allow myself to believe that the Animal Father, the totems, the skin spirits, and all the rest, exist as objective beings, and the experiences I have are quite real. While there is a psychological level to my belief, and I can look at things from that perspective, I no longer feel that that is the only “true” level of spiritual reality. I’m still a big fan of the microcosm-macrocosm connection, but I’m much happier for having gotten rid of the doubt that has become more than useless.

Sunday’s Journey

I had intended to head out to Forest Park here in Portland this past weekend to connect with the Animal Father. Unfortunately, as those of you in the Pacific Northwest know, the weather was cold, wet, and windy–not a good combination for getting me out of the house. Still, I wanted to be able to spend some time with the god. Given that he’s not fond of visiting me at home in the middle of a city, I decided I’d go to him.

I decided to drum, since I need more practice with it. Per usual, I lost track of time, though this was longer than previous journeys. I allowed myself to relax into the trance. I found myself in a forest, somewhat like one I grew up near; however, as I walked down the path, I found myself going into a deeper, more primordial forest. I also noticed that I had taken the form of a red stag, the sacred animal of the Animal Father that represents the Autumn. Apparently, when in his domain, I take the form of whatever animal is strongest at that time of the year, or so I understood the explanation.

I came out of the woods onto a wide, open rolling plain. The grass was dry, as would be normal this time of year, and the sky was overcast. I wandered across the plain seeking the Animal Father. Suddenly, from behind me came a cave lion (the Summer aspect of the god); he acted as though he was going to attack me, so I lowered my antlers at him in a threat. Finally, he charged me and I kicked him, then I flew away in two enormous bounds that took me a mile away from him in seconds.

I ended up in a gully, and then looked up and saw Dire Wolf and Cave Bear peering over the edge at me, with no threat. Then they ran off, and I followed them. (I still haven’t figured out why Lion was chasing me.) When I made it to the top, I saw the Animal Father, and went up to him. He was enormous, filling the sky, but he made himself small so he could talk to me.

Some of what we talked about was private. However, he did ask me to start praying at both morning and bedtime (I’d just been doing bedtime) and to meditate once a day to touch base with the spirits. Then he sent me back home, the drumming gently easing me back, slowing down as I awoke. So far I’ve managed the prayers, though I got a little too busy for the meditation yesterday. I’m going to shoot for lunch hour as a good time to take a break.

I knew this request would come at some point, though it’s earlier than I expected. Still, I’m willing to work on it. I need more discipline, and this is a good start. The Air month has taught me some tough lessons already, and doing a daily practice will be quite a challenge for this spontaneous person! But for once I actually feel like I can do it. This whole therioshamanism thing has brought out an unprecedented level of commitment in me. Granted, there are things I’ve done longer, but not this intensely. I am feeling more confident in myself for this, and I’m really pleased with how my six months have been proceeding thus far. I feel like I’m gaining an even better understanding of what it is I’ve been working with over the past decade and change. Which just goes to show that even though you’ve done some more advanced magical/spiritual work, you can still benefit from the basics!

If I am going to end up teaching this to others down the line, though, it’s a really good thing I’m going through it myself. While the curriculum shouldn’t be cookie-cutter, it’s a good idea to teach things you have experienced yourself. While I haven’t run into any major snags so far, I have been through some difficult personal lessons as the spirits have helped me to become a better vessel for the tasks ahead. Better this way, than to expect that everyone will learn the material in the exact same way!

As for the month by month structure, I’m finding that the lessons from Earth are still reverberating through my life. This isn’t surprising; it’s not as though the spirits said “Oops, it’s the full moon, no more Earth for you!” The Earth lessons dovetail right into the Air lessons, and by the time I’m done I should have a really good basis to work from as I progress beyond the six months.

I’ll Take “Potpourri” For a Thousand, Alex

First off, I would like to thank all of you who have made constructive comments on this blog. It helps to get feedback, and some of the comments have given me some excellent alternate perspectives. Even those that give a bit of moral support or “Yeah, I’ve been there” are appreciated. So just wanted to say thank you 🙂

As for the potpourri, I’ve had a lot of random thoughts since my last post. Rather than bombarding you with a bunch of single paragraphs, I’ll condense and conserve.

I was thinking more about my earlier observation that healing has never been one of my fortes as far as magic goes. And I realized that maybe it doesn’t have to be. It’s not unprecedented for a shaman to be a specialist. While a lot of the traditional roles of shamans have been taken over by specialists in this culture–doctors, priests, psychologists, and grocers (the latter of which are involved in finding food)–that doesn’t mean that all shamans must be generalists. While I see healing as part of the “general curriculum” of shamans, this doesn’t mean that my primary focus has to be on healing arts. If I were to shove myself into a role, I’d say that what it seems like I’m getting nudged towards is a modern approximation of the hunting shaman–the one who contacts the Animal Master/totems/etc. about releasing a few animals for the tribe to eat. Now, granted, there are still people in the U.S. who hunt for food. However, I’m an urban kinda person at this point, so I deal more with grocery stores and farmer’s markets (stalking the wily Cherry Garcia!). So I see that role manifested as a person who deals with the “food totems” and asks them how I may help heal the damage done to them through abuse of their physical children. I also extend it to other species, wildlife that are extremely endangered, to see what I can do to help them. I may not be combing the wounded sea-goddess’ hair in the Arctic, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a task or three for me to do.

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I’ve been exploring the physical air some, observing its qualities. Now I realize even more why the element of Air is so associated with communication. It’s not just breath that counts, or wind–air is integral to our perception of light. While light can certainly pass through empty space with no problem, air often affects how we perceive it, whether through particles in the air, or air moving or otherwise affecting the objects that light bounces off of/illuminates to create our perception of colors. To give a negative view of this, it’s not just light pollution that makes it tougher to see the stars at night, but also air pollution.

Sound is also connected to Air. It travels upon the air, and once again the quality and temperature of that air can affect how we perceive it. The breath, of course, is the most easily observed example. However, humidity, temperature and speed of air can affect how quickly sound travels through it.

We swim through an ocean of air (I think Starhawk actually put it that way in The Earth Path). It is the medium, the matrix, through which we move. Maybe we can’t float (without help, anyway) but it carries so much to us. If I were to characterize just one of the elements as connecting us all, it would be air. The air I breathe as I write this has traveled through the lungs (or stomata, in the case of plants) of my ancestors and neighbors. It has traveled through numerous bodies, and will continue to do so (assuming, of course, that we don’t go and wipe out life on this planet thanks to our environmentally destructive foibles). Air truly is the element of communication for me, though I’d imagine if I were a fish, Water might be more important in that regard.

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One of the issues with being a self-taught neoshaman, as opposed to a traditionally trained shaman, is that there isn’t a previously crafted cosmology presented to me by someone else. This means that it’s up to me to figure all that out, which involves essentially learning both from my experiences and observations, and what the spirits tell me. In one way it’s good because it offers me a lot more flexibility. Part of the reason I’ve never been big on learning under someone else is that I’d have to take on their cosmology to some extent. While I respect that people have different understandings of The Way Things Work, I want to work within my own understanding thereof. However, this also means that along with learning shamanizing, I’m also building a cosomology from scratch, albeit scratch that I’ve collected for over a decade.

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One element of my cosmology that’s recently fallen into place involves the Animal Father. He’s been rather quiet lately; he even sent Stag as his representative for my Autumn Equinox ritual. The only time I spend any significant time with him is when I’m hiking. I finally figured out that he simply does not like “civilized” areas. He stems (if my UPG is accurate) from a time when humans were ensconced in Nature, and his occasional forays into more paved-over areas have not been good. So he prefers to meet with me when I hike, though a park is acceptable if there are no other alternatives. This would explain why I was told to try to get out to hike at least once a month, and why he was quiet for the five weeks when I didn’t go hiking in October and November.

Right now it’s too late in the year to go out to the mountains; the trails were already icy last weekend. But there’s a large park on the west side of Portland that may work well for my purposes until the weather improves again. I just can’t get him to show up for more than a brief moment, even in my ritual room. Therefore, he sends emissaries in the forms of certain totems that are his own; particularly those I celebrate at the solstices and equinoxes–Red Stag, Dire Wolf, Cave Bear, and European Lion.

I may see about seeking out that park this weekend, if the weather doesn’t get too bad. If I can take public transit out there, so much the better.

Communication With the Self

I’m used to working on communicating with other people; gods know I’ve gotten into enough situations through miscommunication that I could stand to pay better attention to what I hear as well as what I say. However, the Air work has reminded me that communication also exists within, my relationship with myself. In some ways it’s easier to communicate with other people. Other people eventually go home, go about their business, and take their problems with them. However, I have the (unenviable?) task of living with myself 24-7. Since I’m a vivid dreamer, I don’t even get a break when I sleep!

Okay, it really isn’t so bad as all that. However, I can be pretty tough on myself. One thing I need to remember is that life and personal evolution are not competitions. Too often in my life I’ve angsted over my deficiencies because I’ve compared myself to other people (whether I knew them or not) and found myself lacking. And that’s really not fair to me. I put myself up to such high standards that I can never meet them. That generally leaves me (predictably) frustrated and feeling pretty bad about myself, which additionally is an incredibly unproductive way to spend my time. It’s not even a fun way to relax.

A good example is tonight. I’ve just started reading Mircea Eliade’s classic Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. I’m only in the first chapter, and I’m reading about all these impressive initiations that various shamans in other cultures have had. For example, some shamans became shamans by curing themselves of serious illness. I look at myself and realize that I haven’t even managed to successfully cure a headache. I tried grounding the illness in my stomach, and all it did was make my stomach hurt more. Granted, there were some things that I could have tried that I haven’t yet–I haven’t even attempted asking Bear or other totems for active help in healing, other than in my evening prayers. However, tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment to make sure that there’s nothing really serious going on, since it’s been going on for over a month.

Should I admit defeat because I’m going to someone else about my illness? Should I just scrap the whole idea?

Believe me, the thought crossed my mind for a moment. But then I realized, with a little reminder from the spirits, that I am not a shaman in the middle of early 20th century Siberia. I am a shaman-in-training in the middle of 21st century Portland, Oregon, and I am in a very different cultural and geographic situation, never mind the deviation of my experiences from that of an Evenk shaman.

And that’s where I had to sit and talk to myself. One thing I’m in the process of doing is separating out what I think about myself versus what other people (generally people close to me rather than random people) think about me, as well as what I think about myself as a consequence of what others think of me. As social creatures we’re conditioned to be tuned into the thoughts and feelings of others as a way of maintaining some form of relationship and conformity. However, in American culture this awareness is often tied in with some serious insecurity issues. Therefore, rather than seeing interconnections with others as mutual support systems, some people may see these interconnections as methods of controlling others as a way of bolstering their own confidence, amassing power or even releasing pent-up negative emotions that could be vented more constructively. The negative impressions from abusive relationships of all sorts may take years, if not the better part of a lifetime, to undo.

In my own case, I’ve had to recondition myself to realize that being flawed isn’t the end of the world, and that I shouldn’t strive to be perfect just because I may perceive others as having fewer flaws. I got picked on a lot as a kid by my peers, and that left a few deep emotional scars that told me that even the smallest blemish could lead to abuse. Although I’ve done a lot of healing on that particular element of my past, and discovered that there are, indeed, excellent people in the world who have risen above such pettiness, I still have that pattern of perfection-as-protection to undo in its entirety.

And so that entails communicating with myself, rather than bullying myself. I consciously watch what I say and how I interpret what I hear for signs of that behavior pattern, as well as a few others. Otherwise, if I neglect this conversation, I miss the very important messages from within. It’s all well and good to be in touch with the spirits, and with the people around me, but if I am not in touch with myself, then I’m missing out on some of the most important information given to me.

My Air month hasn’t even been going for a week yet, and it’s already been a tough one. Earth kicked me in the stomach, and Air is rattling through my head (no, not like THAT), and both have shaken me up to the internal environment that is ever crucial to improving my work with the external environment. The true test, of course, will be how well the lessons stick, and how much permanent change for the better comes out of all of this. All in good time; it’s not a race.

…and Air

Today was my start of my Air month. Fortunately I wasn’t sick this time around, so I was able to get started mostly on time.

Hawk and I sat and talked about what I should be paying attention to with regards to Air. Communication, of course, is a big one, especially right now in my life. This includes not only communication with others, but also communication with myself. The way Hawk explained it to me is that Air carries things, hence birds often being associated with messages. Sound is also of Air; Air carries the sound-vibrations from place to place, so what I say and what I hear are of Air.

Therefore one thing that’s going to be of particular focus is being very aware both of what I say and what I hear. The first one seems pretty obviously under my control; however, it’s also my prerogative to determine how I will receive what I hear/read/etc. One of the lessons from the Earth month was to be aware of not only what I put into my body, but what I also *allow* into it from other sources–the food I eat is important, but so is the stress on my body that external forces can place on me. So not only do I have control over what I eat, I can also choose what I allow to affect me. And that comes down to communication.

Granted, just as with my body, there are things in communication that I can’t necessarily stop entirely. There are pollutants in the air, water and ground that I can’t really do much about at this point, and there are pollutants in communication that I only have so much control over. But I can choose to be as selective as possible in what I take in, and try to minimize the amount of poisons I take in.

Air is important in that filtration system, not only in communication, but in relaxation. It’s all too easy to get worked up over annoyances, drama, and other such things. The heart begins to race, adrenaline flows, the stomach produces more acid, and it’s fight-or-flight time. But careful applications of breath can halt that process when it’s not needed–a flame war isn’t the same as looking a hungry tiger in the eye. And as I work through changing my filtration system, breath is a useful tool for reaching the right mindset to get through my conscious mind’s natural forces, and into the nitty-gritty of what makes me tick. Too often we’re ruled by our re-actions, and we let things in that don’t really need to be there, because we don’t think to act any other way. We let things get us angry for no real good reason, and we get carried away by our emotions. Breathing correctly can help us slow down, take a step back, and really think about what it is we’re hearing, and what we want to say.

Dream work is also part of communication, though Hawk indicated that right now it’s secondary to the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication during waking time. So I need to get back into the habit of recording my dreams every morning; I’ll probably start taking my dream journal with me on my morning commute since I tend to get going pretty quickly every day. I dream every night, in full color, often with touch and sound as well–very vivid. In times when I do record them regularly, I tend to remember them even better, and get deeper messages out of them. I’ve just not been very consistent about it.

So Air appears to be off to a good start. I will admit a bit of frustration with all this internal work–“When do I get to start saving the world?” Yet Hawk reminded me that too often I’ve let external things distract me from my own health to the point where I’d have an eventual meltdown and get sick. It’s all well and good to have a job, and be writing two manuscripts, and editing two others plus an anthology, and making cool artwork, and all the other stuff I like to do–but before I go channeling even more energy *outward* into more shamanic work for the environment, I need to make sure I’m paying attention to the internal environment, something that even as aware as I am, I’ve often let go neglected.

Which is a rather humbling experience. For all I’ve done in the past ten-plus years, I really have brought myself back to square one. I may be progressing more quickly than the first time around, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing to learn from the basics. I’m just getting a more solid foundation this time around.

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.