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 therioshamanism.com. 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.

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!