The Goddess Anput

While I’ve been creating ritual costumery and other tools out of hides, bones and the like for over a decade, more recently I’ve been getting into more elaborate projects. One of my most recent endeavors was a ritual costume in which I had a surprise spiritual experience–well, unexpected, but not entirely surprising. Here’s what I wrote about the experience at the time, just about a month ago:

Tonight, a Goddess found me.

For many years, I have acknowledged Anubis–Anpu–Yinepu–as the God of dead things, related to my art with the remains of animals. And he has watched over my work in the background, quietly, only occasionally coming forth to speak if he feels the need to add a bit of guidance. But still…so distant.

Then the day came when the hide of a black coyote came into my possession. Even having lived and died a half a world away and thousands of years past the jackals of Egypt that gave their form to the God, this coyote carried that energy, inexplicably and completely.

Almost.

Except this coyote was female, and held onto that beyond death almost defiantly. And through that skin spirit, Anput made Herself known to me. Where Anpu had been distant, though not uncaring, Anput settled Herself down in front of me, and in the same way Artemis had done so long ago when I was younger, She looked at me and said “Doesn’t something look familiar?”

Familiar? How could I even know what to look for, when I knew not Whom I beheld? I knew scant little of her, as did anyone today–the feminine aspect–some said wife–of the better-known Anpu, had had little surviving lore and few adherents today. “Goddess of the 17th nome of Egypt, with the standard of the jackal” told me little.

And so I returned to Her, perplexed. And before I could say a word, She saw my confusion, and She spoke. “I am the Goddess of funerary arts. When the stones were carved into the faces of pharaohs long-dead, My hand guided the chisel. When each set of canopic jars was formed, I shaped each detail and applied every stroke of the brush. And now, when you weave hide and bone into sacred art, My hands wrap around yours, and I see the work through your eyes”.

The black coyote then wrapped around my shoulders, wishing that I would prepare her to move on to the next person in her afterlife, for, as for so many, I am only a threshold, a transitional point. And so we enmeshed ourselves, for three days and nights, in the sacred preparation and creation of what would carry a piece of each of us.

And at the end of the three days and three nights, I wore a cloak upon my shoulders, with the sacred mantle and hood as the Goddess directed me and as the black coyote concurred and as I created. Khepri stretched his wings wide, and the name and standard of Anpu—Input—cascaded in hieroglyphs.

This, then, was our inauguration, the Goddess and I. The black coyote would go forth as Her emissary while I would remain here and continue the sacred work as I always had, only with the consciousness of She who guided me.

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This headdress is dedicated to Anput, the female counterpart to Anubis. It is in no way meant to be an authentic replication of any traditional Egyptian creations, but is instead a hybrid of my own style mixed with elements inspired by a very general Egyptian aesthetic, guided by sacred inspiration (and many pictures of old statues and paintings from various dynasties!).

This headdress is based around a black (melanistic) coyote hide; this is a rare, but naturally occurring mutation in this species. This particular hide came from a small female, black with a white blaze on her chest. She is complete with all four paws and claws; the only piece missing is her lower jaw, which was removed for the purpose of this project. Her ears and face have been reshaped to a more natural appearance; they were originally rather flat and misshapen, as many hides are after tanning. Her face has been given painted details, to include hold around the eyes, and gold accents on her nose. I inserted gold and black leather in her ears to mimic the striping often found in the ears of depictions of Anubis.

The leather is one whole tanned lambskin hide, dyed black, and then with an overlay of gold on one side. It forms the side panels of the hood, again striped, as homage to the Nemes headdress that Anubis and other deities were commonly depicted wearing; there are very few images of Anput Herself that remain, and as I was working on this inspired piece this is what She indicated She wanted.

The mantle over the shoulders was the most difficult portion of this. I drew out the scarab and wings with a black fine tipped paint pen, and then colored it in with acrylic and oil paint pens in two shades of blue, green, and red, and detailed in gold. I tested all these on a scrap of the same leather to be sure of the colorfastness. The hieroglyphs descending from the mantle read “Input”, an alternate of Anput’s name, and below that is the standard of 17th nome (district) of Egypt, over which She reigned.

The beaded accents on these leather pieces are a combination of new (reproduction) faience scarabs, and genuine old Egyptian faience beads (exact dynasty unknown). Each one of these dangles is about 1 1/8” long.

The headdress ties on with straps under the chin, and the forelegs also are tied together with more leather strappage. It is one size fits most; for scale, I am 5’4” and 115 pounds.

This project did take me the better part of three days and nights with only small breaks. It is by far one of the most ambitious pieces I have done, and represents a shift to more elaborate and involved crafted artwork.

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In the weeks since I created this headdress, Anput has been a quiet but strong presence in my workspace, and she has actually brought Anpu Himself forward more as well, not that I should be surprised. The feeling I get is that they are aspects of each other, rather than spouses, though perhaps the distinction isn’t so strict. Sometimes I work with them both, sometimes Her alone.

And as I work with the Divine in my art, I am beginning to feel the inklings of others who wish to have creations in their honor. I have long done this work with totems; every piece I create has been a tribute to the species’ totem as well as the individual animal spirit, whether a full dance costume, or a simple leather pouch. But there are other beings stepping forward now, adding yet another layer to what I am creating.

And I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this will take us all.

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Just as a side note, the Anput headdress is not meant to stay with me, nor are the rest of the creations I will be making. The Anput headdress may be found here on Etsy. If you are interested in giving this work a home, or in commissioning your own art, please feel free to contact me.

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More Random Thoughts While Writing “Neopagan Totemism”

Coming down the home stretch on the manuscript of Neopagan Totemism, for which Llewellyn gave me a deadline of October 14. Had a few random brief thoughts, not all particularly serious.

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Carl Jung’s Shadow is no doubt quite acquainted with the evil that lurks in the heart of men (and women, and everybody else…)

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I just figured out one thing that makes my eyelid twitch about both Michael Harner AND Joseph Campbell: Harner’s “core shamanism” and Campbell’s “monomyth” are both attempts by middle-aged white male Eurocentric academics to erase cultural nuances in shamanic practices and mythologies, respectively, faux “culturally neutral” one-size-fits-all theory that actually favors what (at least some) white, male, Eurocentric academics think is important. Or as my partner put it, “they’re both academic reductionists”.

Or one could look at it as intellectual laziness–“Look! Everything fits neatly into this one universal template! I don’t have to think about anything else! Okay, so that in and of itself is reductionistic; however, I’ve met entirely too many people who think these “universal” models really ARE universal and everything ultimately can be shoehorned into them and somehow zombies.

…okay, maybe not the zombies.

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You know what my mental image of the Wise Old Wo/Man Jungian archetype is? The Old Women with potions and the Old Men with swords (and occasionally broken doors) in the original Legend of Zelda game for the NES. Or, alternately, Carl Jung holding up a battered old copy of The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious and saying “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”

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It’s Spring. There is food.

I am very nearly through with my degree work in graduate school, currently in the middle of my internship. Come September, I ought to be done and out on my own. This is a rather shaky proposition in some ways. The job market here in Portland is particularly bad, and since I am stubborn and refuse to leave this place that I love so dearly, I’m not about to go chasing jobs elsewhere. However, I’m happier when I’m self-directed anyway, and so the prospect of being completely self-employed, while financially risky, is at least more appealing on an emotional level. It’s quite within my grasp, too. The Green Wolf isn’t enough in and of itself to cover all my bills, but it’s a decent part-time job at this point.

I’m guessing you aren’t here to read about the mundane details of my life. And yet, these things are exceptionally important. While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is far from a perfect model of how all humans prioritize needs ranging from food to self-actualization (you can find self-actualization among the hungry, and self-blindness among the well-fed), it’s a good reminder that we human animals are embedded in multiple levels of being.

The physical gets a bad rap in spirituality a good bit of the time. In fact, “spirituality” implies “spirit, which is antithetical to flesh”. Okay, yes, that’s a rather simplistic definition. There are plenty of spiritual practices that involve the body in a very conscious manner. However, all too often within neopaganism in general, and even in neoshamanism in specific (though this is less common than in some other neopagan paths) the body is seen as a vehicle to transcendence. Being in the body is not seen as a transcendent experience in and of itself.

And I feel that’s a great shame, because the very act of living is an amazing thing in and of itself. Let’s take eating as an example. Many of us, especially in high-paced Western societies, have a tendency to rush through food. I mean, really–it’s called fast food for a reason! The center of the grocery store is full of prepackaged, processed, quick-to-prepare meals for the entire day. Now, admittedly, I partake of these a good deal, especially in the busiest part of my week when I have both classes and internship obligations to attend to. Sometimes it’s tough to find the motivation to make a meal from scratch.

And yet, the experience of making the food from scratch is, in and of itself, an act of self-care for me. I discovered a few years ago that I enjoyed cooking in part because it is its own alchemy. The proportions of seasonings and other ingredients have everything to do with the end result. And everyone likes good food better than mediocre or even bad food (though what falls under each category is wholly subjective, with the exception of spoilage/etc.).

Even if you don’t make your own food from scratch, and even if the food isn’t the greatest, you can still gain a good deal out of the very experience of eating. There is a concept known as Mindful Eating. This is the art of slowing down the process of eating, being more aware and immersed in that experience, and allowing food to BE the experience. It also makes us aware of the values and habits we attach to food. In this day and age, when so many of us are facing numerous health problems associated with unhealthy relationships to food and the body (I can point to a chronic case of acid reflux, for example), awareness of how these relationships manifest, as they are manifesting, is crucial to improving them.

And eating mindfully is spiritual. It creates a lot of the same states that many people seek in their spirituality. There is a transcendence of the ordinary, and an altered state of consciousness. There is great connection to something greater than the self–in this case, food can be the gateway to connection to not only the Land that grew it, but all the other living organisms that touched it along the way, human and otherwise.

But eating mindfully also grounds us in that most important microcosm–our body. It is the physical vehicle in which we can interact with this world we live in; the physical brain is the seat of the mind that we use to navigate nonphysical realities. Being present includes being embedded in the body. (Or as they say, “Be HERE now”.)

So much of our health overall depends on the health of our bodies. I know that my emotions and psychological health can be adversely affected by a lack of sleep or by low blood sugar or otherwise just feeling off physically. Since these things are indispensable to the process of experiencing, comprehending and processing spiritual activities, then it behooves me to take care of my body as best as I can. And since food is my body’s fuel, then I’d better be aware of what I’m putting into myself!

A lot of where my spirituality has gone as I’ve been largely “underground” for most of a year has been in approaching spirituality in the everyday. And I am amazed at what I find. There is no alchemy more important to a human being than the processes by which the body takes in air, water and food and uses the molecules to keep itself going. (Those with, say, food allergies are required even more than others to be aware of the delicate balance of introducing molecules to their systems.)

We don’t need to look to arcane processes to be able to find magic. We overlook the everyday, and yet we do this to our own detriment. Not that there’s no value to the more esoteric things, but really, if what you’re seeking is magic, then realize that it exists everywhere, and yes, is often the very same things that are explained in scientific terms–without the need for further elaboration.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation, Part One

I just spent the past four days in the woods out at Beacon Rock State Park for a wilderness therapy intensive for grad school. It was incredibly rejuvenating in some ways, and very challenging in others. However, I have a much clearer view of what wilderness therapy is, why it isn’t just “wilderness boot camps” like the media portrays (even though many of the teenage participants are there under duress, mainly because it’s a last resort to keep them out of jail/alive–which is a tough controversy we discussed), and how I as a therapist-to-be can incorporate elements of it into my practice as well as help clients figure out whether it may be a viable option for them or their children.

Where a boot camp mentality deals with strictly regimenting teenagers to challenge them through tough hierarchies, rigid scheduling, and pressure to conform to authority, what we learned about are ways to use the challenges that naturally come up during long-term hiking and camping as parallels to challenges the kids face in everyday life. It’s a matter of waiting until the individual participant hits a point where they need support, offering that support, and helping them to learn a better solution of how to deal with challenging situations than what they’ve been doing. They also learn the value of working with others, not through being ordered to do so, but because cooperation helps everyone involved.

We actually incorporated a few of the more common teambuilding techniques in our intensive experience. One of the most important ones for me was meal preparation. We were divided up into three teams of four (twelve students) and each team cooked one of the three meals each day. In order to get it done efficiently and with the limited gear we had, we had to work together–not as one leader telling the rest what to do, but as a quartet working together, adopting or delegating tasks as needed to get things done. There was no competition between the groups (well, other than a round of rock, paper, scissors to determine who did what meal), just shared appreciation for the work that went into the meals. There were other exercises, but this seemingly simple daily ritual really helped to demonstrate to me the difference between being ordered to do something, and doing it for mutual shared benefit and the pleasure that comes from it.

Anyway, there was a lot more to the formal educational portion of the experience, but I wanted to explore a few things that happened that are relevant to the spiritual aspects of what happened. This is one of two posts that will cover that.

This one deals with a drawing that I did as a bit of art therapy in one of our exercises. We were asked to draw the various influences–media, cultural, spiritual, experiential, etc.–that contributed to our understanding of the word “wilderness”. I ended up drawing an open book near the bottom of the page. Above it there were pictures of lots of wild animals, wolves, elk, foxes, etc., and lots of trees and ferns. Below the book, in a very small space, were the small animals I had encountered a lot in my childhood and beyond–songbirds, snakes, rodents, etc.

What this spoke to was my actual experiences with wilderness, which aren’t very many. I grew up in a family that didn’t hike or camp. And since I didn’t have much in the way of friends growing up, I didn’t really have anyone to take me out to the woods with their families. As for Girl Scouts? Forget it. My troop leaders’ idea of “camping” was having us all sleep in sleeping bags on the floor of an old commercial bakery, where the only wildlife was the cockroaches. So this led to a life completely devoid of camping until my twenties. Seriously.

Living in the Pacific Northwest has made me really self-conscious of this fact. A lot of people here are avid hikers and campers, and not just the kind that park a camper somewhere and walk down the paved road in the middle of the campground. We’re talking through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, and those who can take a single backpack into the woods and stay for a few days, no problem. I really envy them, though people have been really awesome about helping me get up to speed.

Anyway, one thing that I realized as I was making this drawing was that I got my early conception of the wilderness primarily from books. As a child, I must have read Jack London’s White Fang and The Call of the Wild countless times. London, of course, described the Arctic regions in very stark, manly-man, eat or be eaten terms. So that informed a lot of my understanding of wilderness growing up–which just made me even more attracted to it, especially since I mainly had yards and open lots as my substitute for wilderness (and which I still found endlessly fascinating).

And as I got older, and I continued to have really limited access to anything but generic suburbs, I found more and more that I formulated my understanding through books. In a lot of ways being a nerdy little bookworm helped me out a lot. However, I often substituted the map for the territory to the point that I often didn’t realize the difference. I ended up with a lot of abstracts based on not a lot of actual experience.

In some ways I wonder how much my spirituality is based more on the abstracts I’ve constructed. As I’ve finally been able to start fleshing out my experiences, it’s been sobering to see just how much I haven’t been in contact with the natural world. My increased exposure has changed my spirituality quite a bit. I’m finding more ways to ground my beliefs in my experiences, a good example of this is more work with local totems like Scrub Jay. And admittedly I’m pretty embarrassed about the fact that I’ve never seen my primary totem, Gray Wolf, in the wild, even if it’s mainly because I haven’t been in places where I’ve had that opportunity open to me.

I don’t think it’s a matter, though, of scrapping everything I’ve created. Even the abstract bits have helped give me a personal mythological structure to work with. Like my current Elk work. I haven’t met an elk in the wild, either, other than the two that nearly ran me over in a field back in June. But it’s helped immensely, as my next post (when I’ve time to write about it) will explain.

But I do think that I’m going to be spending more time grounding my spirituality in the Nature that it’s supposed to be based in. Neopaganism is full of abstractions, which just helped me to further distance myself from the source of my spirituality. (When you have people who worship deities of natural phenomena who claim they aren’t practicing a Nature-based religion, that should say something to someone, somewhere.) I think, perhaps, that therioshamanism has been in part a way for me to get that groundedness, even if I didn’t consciously realize it until recently. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and I’ve observed principles of my spirituality at work in it (and vice versa) but I think now I’m trying to make the distinction between the spiritual and the physical less…well…distinct.

More tomorrow.

Environmentalism as a Spiritual Practice

Recently I was at Fred Meyer (your usual grocery/department/everything else store, only unionized and with more sustainable choices). While picking up some socks for my husband, I happened to walk by a sale rack that was full of knee-high white socks with various environmental slogans on them (25% off, even!). “Oh, those are cute!” was my first thought. I almost thought about picking up a pair, but then read one of the slogans a little more closely: “Protect the Earth”, it said. That made me stop and think about the potential purchase. Just what was I about to buy? Socks made in China, out of cotton (which is one of the least sustainable fabrics due to the amount of resources used in processing it)–and since I mainly see socks as a necessary liner for shoes and boots in cold weather, I didn’t exactly need “cute” socks.

So I decided, “Okay, I’ll protect the Earth–by not buying a pair of probably-sweatshop-made, not-even-organic cotton socks that I don’t really need right now”. And walked away. I felt better about myself for having done that, not just because it’s better for the budget right now, as well as my attempt to lower my impulse spending, but because I did feel I made the more ethical choice in that case.

But it also made me feel more in line with my spiritual path. I claim to practice a nature-based path; multifaceted, but still focused primarily on the sanctity of nature. Environmentalism is one of the most physical manifestations of what it is I believe about reality. I do the things I do not only because of the physical realities (reducing waste means less in the landfill, etc.) but what I perceive as spiritual realities in my path (everything has a spirit, and one honors the Earth-as-a-being by reducing and even reversing the negative impact on it).

So I decided to assess my approach to environmentalism as a religion in and of itself, focusing on a few particular areas:

The Divine: I am unapologetically pantheistic. The Divine–whatever its nature may be–manifests itself in all things. “God” is not a presence up in heaven, with an antithesis in hell. “God” is right here, in every being, in every thing; just as each of our cells is a part of us, so are we all a part of the Divine. Now, is the Divine a personal deity who cares about every single one of us? Or is “the Divine” a catch-all metaphor for the sum total of Everything That Is, perhaps with collective awareness (or some other cohesive connection that we may or may not be able to comprehend)?

For me, I find my connection to the Divine/God/whatever label you wish to use in the intricate ecosystems that wrap around the Earth. This includes human beings; we may pretend we aren’t a part of Nature any more, but any time a person catches a disease, or eats, or breathes, they are participating in the local ecosystem. That ecosystem may be largely dominated and shaped by humanity, but humans cannot live separate from all other beings in total. Nor can we subsist without “non-living” natural resources.

Maybe the only hell is the physical and psychological illnesses that often result from attempting to isolate the self from everything else. My attraction to ecopsychology is largely due to the perception that I and others have had that A) disconnection from the natural environment (and other ecosystems) very often has a damaging effect on people, individually and culturally. and B) many people respond favorably to exposure to natural ecosystems to whatever degree they are comfortable (factoring in things like agoraphobia, associations between wilderness and trauma, etc.). I want to help facilitate people’s reconnection to ecosystems, natural and otherwise, because as a general culture most Americans are suffering from one degree of disconnection or another–I know I have my own issues to work through in that regard, and I’ve seen it countless times in others. Rugged individualism is not good for the soul (literal or metaphorical).

Everyday environmental actions help me with this reconnection to the Divine/Everything That Is. Whether I’m in the garden growing the most locally available food there is, or making decisions in purchases based on sustainability, or repurposing an item that may be too worn for its original role, these things remind me of my connection, that I’m not just acting for myself.

Dogma: Because our understanding of the environment is constantly changing, both due to the tools at our disposal, and the changes in the environment itself, there’s no room for unchanging dogma, beyond “Do what is best for the environment without destroying yourself” (though there are a few extremists who believe the best thing would be for the entire human species to commit self-extinction). And I like that lack of overall dogma. It can be easy to fall into dogmatic, repetitive patterns, however, particularly where other people are concerned. It’s tempting to point out another’s flaws, to say “Hey–you didn’t recycle that piece of paper! For shame!” And we do need to speak up to others about the issues at hand, and what people can realistically do to help (as well as holding corporations, some of the worst offenders, accountable for their part in all this mess).

But few people like being forcibly converted to any belief system, whether it’s a recognized religion, a philosophy, or so forth. And the thing that I’ve learned as an environmentalist is that that whole adage about flies and honey is true. Just by blogging about my garden on my Livejournal, I’ve convinced several people to try their own hands at gardening. That’s a more concrete result than the times I’ve gotten up on my soapbox to preach the Good Green Word–I’ve mainly just gotten agreement from those who were already on board, and occasionally some disagreement from others. The constructive approach does indeed work better.

If someone doesn’t do things my way, I have to accept that that’s the reality. Trying harder to get through to that person isn’t going to help; if anything it’s going to alienate them. And my job is not to change people’s minds; my job is to offer information and set an example–and if someone chooses to emulate that example out of their own free will, to do what I can to help. People can convert themselves just fine without my help.

Mythos: A mythos isn’t necessary to environmentalism in general (and in fact some environmentalists distance themselves even from things like the Gaia Hypothesis, for fear of getting accused of idolatry by their own faith communities). For me, personally, though, the mythos grew alongside with my environmental action.

I have a whole other post brewing about subjectivity and belief, but for the moment here’s what I’ll say to this: The mythos of therioshamanism and my paganism in general provides me with additional meaning to the everyday actions I take, both with regards to environmentalism and with other aspects of my life. I don’t believe my actions are dictated by other beings, spirits and deities and such. But the purpose of the mythos, and the rituals and other practices surrounding it, is to find and define meaning apart from the actual physical activities and chains of events themselves.

Why? Why do we create art? Or music? Why do we indulge in this thing called “love”, instead of only thinking of it as a mess of hormones meant to bind people for survival reasons? Not that love doesn’t contain the hormones and messiness, but we don’t have to romanticize it in order to survive. Neither do I have to work with the mythos and spiritual beliefs that mesh with my physical everyday life. But I have the mythos, and I believe in love, because I want to, and I like to, and these things make me happy. And, as mentioned, they add meaning, and additional structure, which are also valuable.

The Afterlife: I’m really not sure, honestly, what I think about the afterlife. I know that my body, which is made of all sorts of molecules that have been all kinds of things, will decompose and go on to become other things. Beyond that? Who knows for sure? I’ve mostly decided that I’m just going to wait until I die, and then I’ll know for sure. Yes, I have my experiences with spirits, which some think should prove to me that there is a spirit world. But I have no way of knowing that those spirits are real for anyone besides me. That’s not enough of a basis to form an afterlife on.

People have a hard time with impermanence. Even I have moments where I’m utterly terrified that there’s nothing beyond this life. But I try hard to avoid compromising the lives of others out of my fear of impermanence. If I want to convince someone that a particular practice is better for the Earth, I’m not doing it for the purpose of racking up bonus points with the Divine. I’m doing it because it’s something I feel will benefit those of us right here, right now–and future generations to come. I’d rather focus on this world while I’m in it, rather than looking forward to another world that may not even exist. I’d rather plant a garden than buy an indulgence.

Sin: I dislike the concept of sin. It’s such a dualistic concept. In my view, we make mistakes, we (hopefully) learn from them, we move on. I would say that deliberate destruction and greed are definitely bad things–but I hate the concept of “sin”, like something is automatically and completely antithetical to “the RIGHT way to do things”. Some things are most certainly bad for the environment, but referring to any action that’s supposedly anti-environmental as “a sin” seems too simplistic. Sometimes people make honest mistakes. Others don’t have the resources to be as green as they’d like. And since our understanding of what is environmentally friendly is constantly changing, what may be “bad” at one point may actually turn out to be better, or vice versa.

This could be a lot more complete, to be sure. I’m no expert theologian. But I wanted to get these thoughts out in their raw form; there may very well be more polished versions in the future. Constructive feedback is always appreciated.

Wolves and Dogs and Therianthropy

Part of my personal mythology involves identifying myself as a wolf therian–basically, I believe that on some nonphysical level of myself, I am more wolf than human. This is something that goes wayyyyyy back to a very young age; therianthropy is just the general framework that I’ve been using to explore and explain it in the past several years. I’ve been evolving into more a personal mythology framework the past couple of years–but not completely disavowing “therianthropy” as a concept. I’m currently explaining it (in my case) as a part of the metaphorical story (that is also true–more on that in a minute) I tell about myself, rather than trying to take the (relatively) literalist perspective of “There’s something wrong with my neurobiology, and that of every other therian, that causes a fundamental miswiring related to identity/senses/etc.”, or the other popular opinion, “I was a wolf in a past life/my soul is that of a wolf”.

Let me make something very clear: I believe that metaphor and mythology are not “just made up”. They come from a complex interplay of the mind and the environment, to include what I believe to be autonomous beings. The modern Western conception of myth/metaphor is that it’s “all in the head’, with no bearing on the real world. I believe these are as much a part of the fabric of reality as physics, and other more materialistic things. I choose to believe that metaphor/myth have autonomous existences independent of the human mind, but that there is interdependence as well. This is a case of both/and instead of either/or. I make this choice A) because I have experienced things that prove to me as an individual that this is true in my subjective reality, and B) because my spiritual path functions much better when I believe this is true.

So. Back to the topic at hand.

As I said, myself-as-wolf is a significant part of my personal mythology. It explains to me a number of traits that “human” doesn’t quite fit–or, at least, that “wolf” fits better. Taylor brought up to me a few weeks ago the concept of myself-as-dog, however. I have a lot more experience working with dogs than I do with wolves, and being a somewhat domesticated critter myself, “dog” may be something to explore in more depth.

What is a dog? One way of looking at it is essentially a domesticated wolf. That’s a very simplistic explanation, but it’s a starting point. A dog is what happens when wolves interact over a long period of time with humans, becoming interdependent. If I am a wolf in human form, interacting within a human paradigm for a lifetime, wouldn’t that create some kind of change in the self-as-wolf? After all, I can’t say that I am only wolf, and while I can guess at how close I am to the experience of being wolf, it’s all conjecture in the end. No on can prove that my experiences when I am in a more wolfish mindset are anything more than my mind’s approximation of what I might assume to be “wolf” things.

Dogs, though, are more of a known quantity. Again, I can’t get inside the head of a dog, but I can observe doggish behavior more often and have a better idea of what a dog is. And from a purely analytical viewpoint, I can compare the outsider’s perspective on wolves and dogs to see where the similarities and differences are.

So working with Dog energy may be an interesting way to get a better handle on myself-as-wolf, filtered through myself-as-human. It’s not a complete parallel, since that part of myself still identifies as wolf rather than dog. However, dogs are the closest things to wolves I have access to on a regular basis. It can’t hurt to at least explore the connections.

Totemically, I may also try working with the totems of different breeds of domestic dog. I’ve always had a particular fondness for more primitive, wolfish breeds–I had German shepherds growing up, and also like malemutes, huskies, and other such breeds. I’m still undecided about what I think about wolf hybrids; I haven’t had much experience with them, and I’ve heard lots of both good and bad testimonies to their temperaments and safety. Still, I’d much rather be around a German shepherd than a Bichon Frise.

I don’t think that I’ll ever give up embracing “wolf” as the primary theme in my life, though the work with “dog” may bring some interesting perspectives. “Wolf” is too deeply ingrained in my fundamental self, and there are certain things that I know will always fit “wolf” better than “dog”. However, I’ve also been embracing the concept of feralness again, the idea of a once-wild being (or lineage of beings) that has been brought into captivity, and then released to the wild again. Your average dog is not feral, but has the capacity to be. It may be that I can find some parallel patterns in my own life as I find once again the part of myself that was born wild, was made captive, and is only now finding itself free again. Given that this part of me is very closely tied to myself-as-wolf, this work with wolf and dog and related concepts may be valuable indeed.

Animal Father =/= Horned God

Over the weekend I came into the possession of a marvelous set of eight-point red stag antlers, a vintage mount on a velvet-covered board. My original intent was to incorporate them into some sort of artwork. However, not long after I brought them home, the Animal Father started hinting that he’d like them as part of a personal shrine, since Artemis has one herself. (We’re still debating, since I had some ideas for these antlers, but I’m also not completely opposed to keeping them around–and the stag spirit wouldn’t mind, either.)

This whole business with the antlers brought up something that I’ve been aware of since I began working with the Animal Father–he is not the same deity as the Wiccan Horned God, or the various horned deities who get tossed under that aegis from time to time (Cernunnos, Herne, etc.). Yes, he’s depicted with antlers, but he has made it very clear to me that he is is own being, and that the Horned God motif doesn’t fit him.

One reason is because he has a much less “human” feel to him than the Horned God. He would never be found on horseback, with or without the Wild Hunt. He is only as anthropomorphized as is necessary for humans to interact with him, and to bring forth the melding of humanity with other animals. As he is a patron of shapeshifting, something that primarily concerns humans, having some human traits helps to connect him, in our minds, to that particular practice. However, he is no more (or less) human than he is any animal. Even in his anthropomorphic form, he is much less humanoid than many other deities. Most depictions of the Horned God and various associated deities show a rather normal looking man, maybe with a beard–and antlers. In fact, the antlers, and maybe a couple of dead pelts, are all that really show the Horned God as being an animal deity. One could easily see a humanoid Goddess lying in the grass with the humanoid-with-horns Horned God. However, rutting with the Animal Father might be just a little too close to less savory practices.

Additionally, while the Animal Father does have antlers in the most common depiction of him, he is not a “stag god” as the Horned God has more and more come to be in modern paganism. Nor is he limited to hoofed animals, or mammals, or vertebrates. He could actually show up as any animal or combination of animals; he is the Animal Father, and he could be anything from a worm to a whale. While he could show himself as entirely human, he generally does not, particularly in this day and age where humanity is so far removed from its animal self. It would be a most unpleasant experience for him, to my understanding–we’re talking about a deity who much prefer to meet with me out in the wilderness, rather than my ritual room or even the nearby park. The wilder, the better. To draw from the energy of modern humanity, even with the remaining indigenous hunter-gatherer and agrarian cultures, would be too alien an experience for him. So he chooses to appear only as part-human when necessary.

The antlers have become well-known, and he knows that they would be quite evocative for me, though he would want me to incorporate other animal parts to the shrine as well, if I give in to his wishes. The culture he came from and the pagans he has since worked with are most familiar with large mammals in their religions. These tend to evoke a lot of primal feelings in humans, moreso than, say, carp or June bugs. So he most often wears the guise of creatures that cause us to remember that we, too, are animals, and we can only distance ourselves from Nature so much.

And that’s something I came to realize this weekend as I was writing about the term “therioshamanism”. “Therio” already refers to the animal spirits I work with, and the spirit and physical animals that are part of my “community” as a shaman, and for whom I will be shamanizing once I’m trained. However, one thing I’ve noticed during my first six months is that my training has reminded me that I am an animal. I’m not just talking about my therianthropy and that which is wolf in me. I’m talking about myself as the human animal–maybe something I need to know about even more than me-as-wolf. My training has not only gotten me in more touch with my instincts, but has helped me to have a better awareness of my physical body, my needs and my health. The therianthropic aspects are there, but they aren’t necessary to this aspect of “therio”. I could be not a therianthrope, and it would still be the same.

Back on the main topic, those are the main reasons that the Animal Father is not the Horned God. I did a flocked post in my Livejournal about the antlers and the Animal Father, and had a couple people tell me that they’ve actually worked with him before, or are otherwise familiar with him other than through my work. This pleases me–perhaps I’ll have something besides my own UPG to go on as time goes on. Not that my UPG isn’t “good enough”, as it were, but it’s nice to get some external validation.

ETA: Another consideration: I’m not an expert on Indo-European mythology. However, a bit of research brings up potential links between the Hindu Pashupati, and later horned deities such as Cernunnos. Assuming that the Animal Father does stem from the painting at Les Trois Freres (if not earlier) then he would still predate the proto-Indo-European peoples (from whence both the Indians and the Celts sprang) by several thousand years.  Thoughts?