Sunfest 2013, and the First Big Group Ritual I’ve Led!

So for the past several years I’ve been attending Sunfest, a four-day summer solstice festival held here in Oregon. It’s organized by Other Worlds of Wonder, a local nonprofit formed for the purposes of acquiring and supporting pagan land. They’re partnered with Ffynnon, which is itself pagan-owned, and this was the first year Sunfest was held on pagan land, a landmark occasion!

Every year there’s been a different theme for Sunfest, though (not surprisingly) it has to have something to do with the sun. In the years I’ve been going to the festival, I’ve seen the themes range from Norse paganism to Alice in Wonderland, and every year the main ritual has been a great adventure of one sort of another. The OWOW folks had been asking me to be the ritual coordinator for one year for a while, and finally early last year I said I’d take on 2013.

Now, I’ve been in a few big group rituals beyond Sunfest before; I went through a remarkable walking pathworking at Heartland Pagan Festival a few years ago, and I also remember some pretty impressive workings at Four Quarters Farm. And I’ve done a lot of individual ritual work, plus the occasional small group rite. But this was the first time I took on an entire big group ritual myself.

Well, okay. I didn’t intend for it to be all by myself initially. Inspired, I wrote out this big, long walking pathworking that needed about thirty participants besides me, and with flexibility for a few less or a few more. Each person was to embody a different being in nature, all leading up to the sun, with a few extra folks to act as ritual guardians. Despite my best intentions, when I put out the call for participants, I had about half a dozen people show significant interest in being co-ritualists (though I did have a lot of people interested in being at the ritual as general participants). Since this was only a few months away from Sunfest (I waited until the OWOW folks finalized their decision to move the event to Ffynnon), I decided that rather than cut down on the meat of the ritual, I’d take on all the embodiments myself, and have the volunteers act as the guardians. (The way I described it in the planning meeting right before the ritual was that I was going to be hauling the world on a cart behind me, and I just needed people to use sticks to keep it from rolling off.)

I know, I know–not the sanest idea in the world. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and I could have just scrapped the entire thing and made a new ritual from scratch. But I really wanted to make this one happen, come hell or high water. Additionally, if there’s one sort of ritual work I’m really good at, it’s shapeshifting, and all that I needed to do was maintain my strength and focus (and voice) through the rapid-fire embodiment of over two dozen different beings that I’d already been working with to varying degrees in preparation for the ritual. So while I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I felt up for the task. Even though I was exhausted from a really rough week of work and fighting off some respiratory ick, I held firm anyway.

And you know what? It worked. I survived, and came out both exhausted and about as ritual-high as I’ve ever been. I led somewhere between 80 and 100 people down the winding forest path toward the ritual grove, stopping every so often as I embodied several animals, plants, and fungi, along with soils and the ocean and deep-sea beings and all the way to the Sun itself. I’d had a script written up that I kept in a handmade booklet, but by the time we got to the ritual grove and I called down the sun to join us, I was completely immersed in stream of consciousness and inspiration.

And I did exactly what I set out to do. I showed people how everything from animals to fungi to the ocean and even deep sea creatures far from light all rely on the sun. I took the sun out of abstract figures and symbols, and showed how that bright ball of flaming gases above us right then was responsible for our very existences. I helped to carry the energies of the better part of a hundred people through the woods and into the clearing where we sent them up to the sun itself, and I pulled down the burning energy of the sun and sent it to the people around me. Afterward, some people thanked me, and some told me how inspired they’d been. Some told me how they cried, and a few told me it was the best ritual they’d ever attended. I was absolutely wiped out at the end, but it was so worth it, and the joy of having offered myself in that way to everyone involved, human and nonhuman alike, buoyed me up and healed me. Even though I was so tired, I still had the energy to do some dancing in my wolf skin at the fire circle that night, the best dancing I’ve done since I moved to the Pacific Northwest.

Will I do more? Perhaps. There are other festivals in the area open to ritual suggestions, and maybe I’ll try and organize something myself on a smaller scale. But I feel like I did my job, what I was supposed to do, and what a lot of my work in recent years has been aiming toward. Let’s see where things go from here.

I Lost My Religion, and Gained the World

Note: This is my July offering for the Animist Blog Carnival, with “Becoming an Animist” as the theme; please note that the information about it has changed locations (again).

When I was young, I very quickly discovered the Great Outdoors. In fact, it was sometimes pretty hard to get me to go back inside! And even when I was under a human-made roof, I was usually reading books about nature, or playing with toy animals, or watching wildlife shows on TV. In short, the natural world was my first true love, and it’s a relationship that’s never ended.

However, it was about more than just the physical trees and grass and rabbits and snakes. Even at a young age I felt there was vivacity to the world beyond the basic science of it. People had been writing myths about nature spirits for millennia all around the world. Shouldn’t there be something to that, at least? And so I began talking to the bushes and the birds, and while they never spoke back to me in so many words, I sometimes felt that I was at least acknowledged.

These feelings came more fully into focus when, as a teenager, I discovered neopaganism. Here was a group of people for whom the moon was more than a rock in the sky orbiting the earth, and for whom magic was a possibility. I dove in headfirst, and for half my life now I’ve identified as some variant of pagan.

But what of the spirits themselves? Almost immediately I latched onto animal totemism; for years that was the center of everything I practiced. I explored generic Wicca-flavored neopaganism, Chaos magic, and other paths, but the critters were always a part of it. In 2007 I began to formulate Therioshamanism, a more formalized neoshamanic path dedicated to their service (and you can trace my path all the way back on this blog if you like).

It was here that my animism began to really take shape. Not that I didn’t acknowledge spirits before. But I hadn’t really considered their nature all that much, nor the nature of my relationships with them. Formalizing my path caused me to take a step back and really consider the mechanics of my beliefs, not just practice them but explore them more deeply and my reasons for them.

And then a peculiar thing happened. Instead of becoming more formal, with set devotional acts and greater structure and taboos and so forth, I found myself moving away from overt rituals and “thou shalts”. I struggled against this for a while. I was supposed to be honoring the spirits with rituals and journeys and offerings, like so many other devotional pagans I knew! So why did I grate against these things? Why did I feel less enthused about what I thought I was supposed to be doing? Why did the spirits themselves even seem tired of the rites and prayers and gestures of faith?

The answer lay in my childhood. Back then, my relationship with nature and its denizens was uncomplicated. I simply went out into the thick of it, and was a part of it, and that was where the connection lay. I had wanted to find that again so much that I tried entirely too hard, using other people’s solutions. Bu the spirits knew better. They kept calling me further away from ritual tools and altar setups and a set schedule of holy days, and invited me into the forests and deserts and along the coast of the mighty Pacific and down the banks of the rolling Columbia River. They coaxed me away from my drum and the journeys I did in the spirit world, and enticed me to follow them further on the trails I loved to hike.

It was there that I finally found what I’d lost so many years ago—that deep, abiding link to the nonhuman world, as well as my place as a human animal. Once I shed the religious trappings and artificial rituals, the barriers fell away, and it was just me and what was most sacred to me. I was called to learn and discover more and more, and like my childhood self I devoured books and watched documentaries whenever I couldn’t get outside. I found Carl Sagan and David Attenborough and Jane Goodall and so many other classic teachers of the wilderness, and I adhered to ecopsychology as a practice to deepen my cognitive understanding of the human connection to nature even more.

What I had thought I wanted was more structure and piety, sharing nature through an evangelism of orthopraxy. What I needed, in fact, was to toss the entire artifice away and simply immerse myself in the world of awe and wonder I’d rediscovered. As for the spirits? I no longer needed to try to keep convincing myself that their presence was a literal reality despite all my doubts and inconsistencies. I didn’t need “belief”, I didn’t need to use speculation and pseudoscience to “prove” that the spirits are “real”, and I ceased caring whether they even existed outside of my own deeply rooted imagination or not, because I only needed them to be important to me. I had the twin flames of science and creativity, the one creating a structure of general objective understanding, and the other adding wholly personal, subjective color that didn’t have to be “true” for anyone but me.

And that is where I am today. I still honor my totems and other spirits, but as a personal pantheon carried inside of me. They are what gives added vitality to the world around me; they embody my wonder and awe, my imagination and creativity, the things that I as a human being bring to the relationships I have to everything else in this world. Science is important in that it tells me how the moon was formed, what the dust on it is made of, and how it affects the tides, but there is a spirit inside of me that loves the beautiful silver of the moonlight and all the stories we’ve told about Mama Luna. In balance and complement, science and spirits both become my animism today.

NUP Posts, and Some Notes About This Blog and Its Author

First, it’s been about half a year since I last linked to any of my posts over at No Unsacred Place–here’s what I’ve written since then:

Thoughts on Tree Planting
Challenges Face the Columbia River
Grounding Through Land Stewardship
Lupa’s Favorite Three-Item Geren Shopping List
Religion, Spirituality, and Earth Stewardship
Screaming Scrub Jays!
Updates on Coal and the Columbia

Also, I have completely overhauled the About page for this blog for the first time in years. I would greatly appreciate it if you all would head on over and take a peek; it’s much shorter and more concise than before, and what it contains is quite different than in its previous incarnations.

Finally, I’ll be taking a little solo trip down to SoCal this weekend for Ghost Writers Unite! They asked me to come down and add in my expertise on small press publishing and the like, and so I’ll be moderating a couple of panels and doing an author reading, in addition to checking out all sorts of other workshops and the like. Plus while I’m down there I’m taking a couple of days extra to do things like visit the La Brea Tar Pit Museum and maybe do a bit of hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. I’ll still be checking in online, of course, but I’m looking forward to my first just-me trip in a while.

Small, Sacred Places

Note: This is my contribution for the May edition of the Animist Blog Carnival. This month’s theme is Place Magic.

I’ve talked before about some of the places that raised me, and how badly their loss affected me. Other people in response told me about their own small, sacred places that they clung to when they were young, some of which had also been destroyed as they got older.

When we talk about “nature”, the first thing a lot of people picture is a wilderness setting with little to no overt human influence. These are certainly a significant part of nature, but they are not the sum total of nature itself. Most of us didn’t grow up right next to vast forests, fields and deserts, and even if we had we wouldn’t have been allowed to ramble across them unfettered. Instead, what many of us had were small open lots, parks, yards (our own or neighbors’) and the like. Because these may have been all we had, they became the definition of “nature” for us, and that imprint can last a lifetime.

For myself, when I was in my own small places, my fields and little patches of woods, for that time I was free and autonomous. I could explore those scant half-acres with impunity, and as a young child they seemed so vast and inviting that I didn’t want for more space. Instead of hiking for miles, I was exploring every inch of the land, every stone and stump and tree and pathway. I can even still remember the smells of sun on stone and cedar branches. That attention to detail is something I’m still learning to recapture as an adult recovering from the trauma of losing those places to destruction.

But it is coming back, and so is the sense of adventure and exploration that I had growing up. When I find myself deeper in the wilderness, away from the familiar roads and highways, that giddy excitement floods through my veins and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend in the trail. The world is all of a sudden new and shiny and even more beautiful than it was a moment before, and I feel so fortunate to be here in Oregon, the land that has embraced me.

As I get older, I spend less time in formal ritual. These days, a hike is a better way for me to connect with Something Bigger Than Myself, hence part of why I’ve been blogging about those hikes more. And I think it’s because I’ve stopped thinking of nature in terms of abstract concepts and symbols, and approach it directly, body and mind and heart and soul. A place, to me, isn’t sacred because of what rituals occurred there or what spirits call it home. Every place is inhabited by spirits, and every place is touched by the daily rituals of the turning of the Earth and the currents of the winds. As I simplify and streamline and integrate my path, I feel that pulling away the extraneous symbolism is like cutting away choking, invasive blackberries, opening up the ground so that the original inhabitants–snowberries and osoberry and others–can revive themselves. Some of the earth is open and wounded still, but now that the thorny canes have been removed, I’m eager to see what will grow in their place.

The places that raised me, small though they were, and dead though they may be today, are still sacred. It wasn’t about being a young pagan thing running around in the woods; I was still quite Catholic at the time. It was about forging that deep connection to the cosmos, to the wilderness, to the nonhuman beings that I share this world with. Most importantly, it was the early upwelling of wonder and awe at the world, that thing that has fueled my spirituality ever since. Because those places were the wellsprings of this feeling, they are the most sacred of all, even if only in memory.

The small, sacred places are sadly some of the most threatened. None of the environmental groups will work to protect a half an acre of scrubland in a small town. They’re vulnerable to development, yet another poorly-made cookie cutter house in an encroaching suburb. Few people will mourn their passing in the name of “progress”, and the children who move into that home will never know the wonders of the garter snakes and cedar trees that once lived where fertilized lawns now grow. For those of you who have lost your small, sacred places, I share your pain and your loss. For those who have the opportunity to preserve such places, whether for yourself or someone else, I commend you.

Here’s to all the small, sacred places that raised us, and that may still support us yet today.

Lupa Goes to the Death Cafe

Yesterday I attended Portland’s first Death Cafe. No, this wasn’t a group of stereotypical goths moping over Poe and lovely cadavers. Instead, Death Cafes are a new phenomenon, local events in which people meet in a cafe to eat cake, drink tea, and discuss the realities of death. They’re often organized by people whose work revolves around death, such as end-of-life specialists, hospice nurses, and the like. Rather than being a showcase for local funeral services or an evangelizing platform for a particular way of approaching death, Death Cafes are opportunities for people to come together and talk about this rather taboo subject in a safe, confidential and nonjudgmental environment.

Here in the U.S., death isn’t something most people talk about, not unless it’s necessary. That leads to a lot of people feeling unprepared for dealing with it when it happens, and I include myself in that. For all that I surround myself with death–the remains of animals, plants and fungi, none of whose deaths I caused or witnessed myself–there’s still a lot that I don’t understand or accept about it. I haven’t experienced the sudden death of someone very close to me, for example, and though I know how heart-wrenching it can be, I’m not entirely sure how prepared I am for it. Rather than sit in dread, though, I’d rather find out from other people what their experiences have been, and what advice they might have for the day when I go through the same.

And that was one of the key benefits from yesterday’s event. A Death Cafe primarily centers on small group discussion, usually three or four people to a table, all of whom are strangers to one another. Today we started with the topic of what brought each of us to the event, which naturally flowed into other topics over the next hour. Once we all had an idea of where each of the others was coming from, it freed us up to ask about each others’ experiences quite frankly. So I got to ask both a 25-year hospice nurse, and a woman who had recently lost both parents, what they had done and how they had felt when people close to them died, and it gave me a little more perspective. This helped to clear up the mystery just a bit, and while I still don’t at all relish the thought of my loved ones dying, I’m slightly less scared of how to get through those inevitabilities.

I think what surprised me the most about the discussion at our table was the amount of positive conversation that we had. It wasn’t just “Wow, I miss so and so, death is terrible for taking them away” or “I’m really scared of dying”, though those were touched on from time to time. Rather, the theme of our table seemed to be how death is a transformation, not just for the person who dies, obviously, but also for those they leave behind. And it isn’t just a matter of negative transformation, either. I listened to stories of people who journeyed through their own personal underworld in the wake of their loved ones passing, and who came out stronger, even happier and more at peace. They were able to take some of the worst experiences of their lives, and turn them into personal rites of passage that helped them adapt and move on while even more deeply appreciating the memories of those they had lost.

That resilience is incredibly inspiring. I have been through my own challenges–over a decade of daily bullying as a child, divorce, illness, and other low points in my thirty-four years. Yet I’ve managed to come through all of those; I’m still here, and I haven’t given up. And if I got through those things, maybe I can get through others in the future, to include continuing to live and thrive even when someone close to me has died. Plus there are other people who have been there who can offer their perspectives and support. Knowing I wouldn’t be alone is also helpful, and I was grateful to my tablemates for being so open and sharing in this.

We talked mostly about confronting the deaths of others, not so much our own mortality. I spoke of how my own death doesn’t scare me so much any more. While the idea of no longer being here in this amazingly beautiful and complex world is sad and, yes, still scary, knowing that I’m just a tiny part of a big, ever-cycling universe makes it easier to deal with my inevitable death. Any hypotheses about afterlives aside, as far as I can tell I didn’t exist prior to Samhain 1978, and I will cease to exist at some point in the future when my body decides it’s just not going to give a damn any more. But I do know that the molecules that make up my body have been bouncing around this crazy universe of ours for billions of years, and once they cease to be a part of this temporary conglomerate known as “Lupa” they’ll continue on their merry way. I feel better knowing that these tiny things that I touched, however briefly, will be forever changed in their course by having been a part of my life.

Of course, I would wager that if I were to find myself facing a terminal illness I probably wouldn’t be so calm about it as I am now, and I have a certain naivete that those who have been more closely touched by death, or who face it themselves now, lack. But at least for now I don’t have to feel so anxious about someday dying, and I can focus more on being alive right now. And I feel that may be one of the most important things Death Cafes may offer participants. If we can alleviate our fears and anxieties about death, it frees us up to enjoy and appreciate life more fully. Nothing is guaranteed except for the moments we have here in this world; better to make the most of them than to squander them on worrying over what may or may not come next.

If you’re interested in attending a Death Cafe yourself, here’s a list of upcoming ones on the official site. And if there’s not one scheduled for where you are, here’s how you can organize one yourself. There will be more held in Portland and I intend to go back to them; the ongoing conversation is incredibly valuable, and I’d love to see how it evolves.

Letting Go of Therianthropy For Good

Back in 2007, I published my second book through Immanion Press, A Field Guide to Otherkin. When I started the project in late 2005, I was feeling pretty confident with my first book due to be out soon, and I wanted to follow it up with something awesome. “Well, why don’t I take a shot at the book on Otherkin that everyone’s been threatening to write for years?” I thought. And so the challenge was set. Little did I know just how much I’d bitten off!

It took me over a hundred surveys, countless footnotes, and gods only know how many hours banging my head against the computer, and it was by far the most difficult book I’ve written due to the sheer amount of information I had to wrangle from scratch. But it happened, and as far as I know it’s still the only book wholly dedicated to Otherkin as a general topic (as opposed to an entire book on one specific type of Otherkin, or a book that mentioned Otherkin in the context of a different topic, etc.)

Which makes it tougher for me to make the decision to take A Field Guide to Otherkin out of print at the end of this month, because it is the only book out there. There are plenty of good websites and online resources available, but some people really like the format of a book (dead tree or ebook, your choice). And I know I’ve managed to fulfill most of my goals with it, primarily in offering a basic introductory guide to the subject matter at hand. I’ve gotten lots of emails and messages and in-person comments since it came out from people who have found it quite useful in exploring their own identities. Each one has shown me that, to an extent, I’m doing my job as a writer.

But please allow me to be selfish for a moment. Every book I write is a piece of artwork, every word infused with a bit of myself. And, like so many authors, my relationships with my books change over time. The books remain the same, but I am constantly moving and evolving. Even in the time between when a manuscript is turned in and when the book goes to press, I cease to be the exact person I was when I wrote it. Meanwhile, the book remains a snapshot of the time period in which it was written, a reflection of the knowledge base and headspace I brought to that project.

Some books age better than others. Unfortunately, Field Guide feels like it isn’t keeping up very well. A lot of this is because I feel it’s a flawed work. For all the effort put into it, and for all the help it’s done people, I could have done a better job.

I took on the project before I had proper research training, and so even as a qualitative review, it’s lacking. The 140+ surveys I got were a pretty meager representation of Otherkin as a whole. Even though there weren’t as many resources for Otherkin when I was writing it seven years ago as there are now, I might have been able to get a less biased sample to work with, since I spent more time on Livejournal than anywhere else at the time. And yes, I’m well aware of the many typos and other errors in the text. That’s one of the downsides of publishing with a small press; while Immanion is pretty damned good for what it is, human resources are stretched more thinly, and so it can be harder to find professionally trained editors and proofreaders to work on a part-time scale.

Not that the blame lies entirely on the publisher; far from it. I wasn’t as experienced a writer as I am today, and if I were writing it now, there are a lot of things I would do differently, and not just with more careful editing. Part of it is simply that the community and its ongoing  dialogue have changed and expanded over time, and I’d have a lot more to present to people as far as who and what Otherkin are, what their concerns and perspectives are, etc. And it’d be better written, too. The bulk of the writing happened in 2006, and I’ve had the better part of a decade since then to refine my craft, both with writing and with research in general. And, of course, I’ve grown and changed as a person, which always affects creativity; who here can say they’re the same person they were seven years ago? The Field Guide was written at one of the most challenging times in my life, and I think that affected its quality. Since it came out, I’ve moved several times, gotten divorced, changed careers entirely, and shifted my spiritual focus, all for the better; maybe a 2013 Field Guide would be a better book. It would certainly be different, just as I am different now.

Speaking of time, since it has been out since April of 2007, a lot of the information is out of date. Online resources come and go, and lot has happened in the Otherkin community in the past several years. So why don’t I just make a second updated edition? When I first wrote the book, I was sure I’d update it in a few years. I just needed a little time away from the whole Otherkin “thing”, to take a break after having been part of the community to some extent since the late 1990s. Problem is, I never really came back from that break. I got burned out, and while I still liked hanging out with my friends who happen to be ‘kin (and yes, I still want to come to the PCon meetup because you people are awesome!), I never got back into the community-at-large again.

So now here I am in 2013, and I have a confession to make: I no longer identify as a therianthrope, and I haven’t for quite some time. I’ve sat with that reality for a while, checking in with myself and making sure it wasn’t just a phase. But no, it just doesn’t fit any more; it’s not a framework that explains me. There’s still a piece of me that I feel resonates more with wolf than human, but at this point I don’t think it’s anything more than a bit of creative personal narrative, part of the ongoing myth I tell about myself. For me, the wolf is a metaphor, a piece of spirituality internalized. Sure, I’ve always leaned toward the personal mythology hypothesis of “what are Otherkin”, but the idea that I am fundamentally not human on some level just doesn’t fit. I am a human animal, 100%, just with a particular connection to the idea of “wolfness”. Call it an inner connection to my totem, or a super-charged “favorite animal”; either of those fit me better than “therian”, or “shifter”, or any of the other terms that set animal-people apart from humanity as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret exploring myself in the Otherkin framework. For the time, well over a decade, it was what fit best in explaining that resonance with “Wolf”. It was a fascinating interpretation of reality that allowed me an outlet for exploring imagination and flexible identity in a way that is usually reserved only for the play of children. Sure, there are those few who take it to the point of impaired functioning and enabling of some unhealthy mental patterns, but there are also plenty of people who have an Other identity and still manage to be quite well integrated into consensus reality, even if they aren’t quite happy about the current state of affairs. If nothing else, interpreting my wolfness as therianthropy was a fun way to take play seriously, if that makes sense.

But my head’s just not there any more, and my heart’s not in it, either. I can’t really force myself to write a second edition for the hell of it, either. It’s hard to write about something I’m not passionate about. You can look back at all the books and other writings I’ve created over the years, and you can see where my heart was at that time. And it’s gone in very different directions in the past few years.

Finally, to be quite honest: I’m tired of talking about Otherkin. Even before the book came out, it’s what most podcasters and other interviewers wanted to talk to me about, and even today it’s a frequent topic when people ask me about my writing and spiritual work. Never mind that for years I’ve been writing extensively on my work in neoshamanism, on animal and plant and fungus totems, on ecopsychology and bioregionalism and a whole bunch of other things that I am deeply fascinated by. Invariably, people want to talk about the Otherkin thing (though to be fair some of them wanted to talk about other things, even if Otherkin ended up being a dominant topic). It was fine when it was still something that I identified with and was actively working with, but I feel like my later work has been somewhat overshadowed by the topic of Otherkin simply because I “wrote the book” on it.

I don’t want to be the only person to have written a book on Otherkin, and it’s not just to get out of having to talk about it in interviews. I had hoped that once Field Guide was out, it would entice other writers to make their books happen. Just because there’s one book on Otherkin out doesn’t mean there can’t be others; and diversity of voices gives a topic more strength. (And I wanted more reading material, dammit!) Maybe with the book out of print, someone else will feel they can fill that niche now.

I know I’m taking away a resource by pulling the book out of print, even if it is imperfect. But it’s not the only resource out there. Even if there is a scattering of broken links here and there, has always been one of my favorite resources. Otherkin Alliance has, for several years, offered a good collection of essays along with an active and well-moderated forum. is run by one of the most reliable long-time members of the Otherkin community, and features a relatively recent wiki that’s undergoing current expansion. And while O. Scribner hasn’t written a book per se, the excellent writings on this page are, in my opinion, essentially an ebook in several parts.

And there are plenty of other people besides these writing on Otherkin, on blogs and websites and the like. Hell, Otherkin are even being discussed in terms of social justice on Tumblr. I know for a fact you all can find lots to work with without my book being in print any more. The internet has the added benefit of being easy to update, unlike a dead tree book written by someone who’s already stretched pretty thinly.

To be honest, I think there are people out there who could do a better job at writing a book on Otherkin, even better than a carefully overhauled second edition of the Field Guide; for all the reasons I’ve stated above, I’m not that person. Even with the flaws I still like the book. But I think it’s run its course, and rather than try to patch up its imperfections and put forth something I’d still not be happy with, I’d like to see someone else take on that project.

Finally, please don’t take my moving on from therianthropy as a personal worldview as a wholesale denial of the entire concept. I am not the arbiter of anyone’s identity but my own. My path is taking my further and further away from “Lupa the therianthrope”, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow me. Nor should you use this as an excuse to tell other people who do still identify as Otherkin/therianthropes/etc. that they’re wrong. Let each person set their feet and their will wherever they choose.

As for me? I’ll keep exploring the world around me and finding my place in it with every hike I take. And I’m happy to keep talking about the work I’m doing today on a variety of levels. One door closes, another opens, and I’m taking that first step through.

(I mentioned A Field Guide to Otherkin is going out of print the first of May. I wanted to give people time to grab a copy while they were still available; I have a few left here, and the page also has links to other sites that may have a limited number left. Yes, there will be copies available a while after it officially goes out of print on May 1, since shops will need to sell off their remaining stock. Give it year and even used copies will be selling on Amazon for exorbitant prices, since only a few hundred copies exist in the world. So now’s your chance!)

Coming Together in Our Sorrow

Note: This is my contribution to the April edition of the Animist Blog Carnival; this month’s theme is “Ceremony and Community”.

Back in February when I was at PantheaCon, one of the workshops I presented was on ecopsychology and its relevance to the neopagan community. There’s a good deal of overlap between the spirituality of nature-based paganism and the secularism of ecopsychology. Both focus on strengthening relationships with the world around us, particularly the nonhuman portions thereof. They each utilize the outdoors in meaning-making activities, to include personal rites of passage and other ceremonies. And both have an emphasis on a systemic view of the world, to include one’s own community (human and otherwise).

At one point I mentioned the works of Joanna Macy. An environmental activist, Buddhist, and author, Macy is considered one of the foundational writers on ecopsychology. It’s not just because she helps readers to appreciate the environment, though that’s certainly an integral part of her work. What she does that’s so unique, though, is that she actively creates spaces for people to express grief over the loss of places, species, and other natural phenomena. Through frank and gentle discussions of grief and our relationships with it, and rituals such as The Council of All Beings, she’s offered up a series of tools for us to begin opening up to feelings we may have long suppressed.

In this society we’re allowed to grieve if a person close to us or whom we admire deeply passes away and is lost to us. It’s even understandable, as far as many are concerned, to feel a deep sense of loss and sadness at the death of a pet. And few would fault us for feeling depressed after losing a job or a home. But there’s less room on a societal level to feel grief for a place that’s been taken away, or a species that has gone extinct. We might be allowed a “well, damn, that sucks” if we read about it in the paper. And perhaps we might get away with a sigh of remorse when we drive by an open field that’s being torn up for yet another suburb full of little boxes made of ticky-tacky (or big McMansions made of the same). But those who openly grieve for the loss of a place or species or river are seen as “overly sensitive hippies” at best, and perhaps mentally off beyond that. Why grieve over progress? Why, that new strip mall going in will provide badly-needed minimum wage retail jobs! And don’t cry over that butterfly that’s gone extinct; see, there are dozens more in the garden. What’s just one more gone, really? And who cares if you can’t eat the fish out of that river? That’s what the supermarket is for.

When I wrote last year about the death of the place that raised me, the complete destruction of the tiny field where I played and explored as a child, I got so much support from people here and elsewhere. I heard numerous stories from other people who had had similar experiences, who shared that grief with me in their own words. I heard the fear and worry of those whose special wild places still stood, but were threatened with development and other encroachments. For once, I felt as though I had been heard, and that there was nothing wrong with me for feeling so much loss for a bunch of cedar trees and garter snakes.

I wish I’d had that sort of support twenty years ago, the first time a wild place I’d grown to love was leveled. That time, as I got off the bus that brought me home from junior high, I saw the entire field and forest behind my home torn to pieces and a big, ugly bulldozer sitting amid splintered tree trunks and raw, open earth. I was utterly and completely devastated. I fell to pieces inside, not just because my woods were gone, but the thing that had given me so much stability as a badly bullied child had disappeared. I was re-traumatized when the only response I got was “Well, the developer in charge of the new subdivision that’s going in had her favorite woods torn down when they put the high school track in, so she knows how you feel” and “Well, that’s progress; they’re supposed to be building some nice houses in there. Maybe we’ll look at them once they’re ready to sell”. Nobody understood why I couldn’t get over that shock, and why it was such a big deal that a half an acre of weeds and trees had been torn down.

It has taken me two decades to recover from that early loss. I fell down deep into a pool of depression for much of my teens, doing my best to put on a happy face while feeling sorrow I had no words for, and no one to offers words to even if I’d had them. when I discovered paganism, I at last found people to whom nature was an important thing, but so often in abstracts and images and symbols rather than direct contact. It wasn’t really until my path took me closer and closer to the physical world, as “spirit” and “material” blended and lost their boundaries, that I finally healed the connection I had with wild, open, outdoor spaces as a child. I couldn’t have done it without the support of countless people over the years who listened and spoke and conversed–and yes, that includes you readers here on Therioshamanism.

And that’s why I feel it’s important to talk about these losses, not just with facts and figures and calls to action to protect places halfway around the world, but the more visceral, personal connections and losses thereof. We need to know that it’s okay to feel these things, and we need to know that there are others who support us and care for us in those times of need. More importantly, that support and story-sharing can help us move through that grief and sorrow. Even if we don’t engage in formal rituals, just the telling of the tale to a caring audience can be ritual enough in and of itself. Sometimes speaking or writing the words is enough to help us move through the pain, and transform ourselves in the process. Sometimes all we need to find safety in community with others is a quiet, listening presence, a safe space held by strong, gentle hands.