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.

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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 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.

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.