Here’s What You Can Get Me For the Holidays

I’m a pagan. And pagans tend to like tchotchkes. I’ve cut down quite a bit over the years, but there are still times when I’ll see a wrought-iron candle holder and think “Hey, that’d be great on my altar!”

These days, my knickknack and curio shelves are mostly full of natural history specimens, little stone animal statues, and house plants, and I try to not add much to the collection (since, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m in a tiny apartment). These days I usually only add to my collection with secondhand thrift store finds or handmade creations, and even then sparingly. But I know plenty of my fellow pagan folk are still in the market for these sorts of goodies, whether for gifts and offerings, specialized altar pieces, or simple home adornment.

Many of these items are representative of nature–animals, plants, landscape photos, and the like. And while I don’t want to discourage creative home decor, especially that which reminds us we aren’t the only important beings in the world, I do wonder how much money we put toward them each year? And how does that compare to the amount of money we give to efforts to protect these beings of nature we value so much? If we spend even a quarter of the money that we spend on specialty gifts on donations to nonprofits instead, how much of a difference could we make?

So as you’re pulling together holidays gifts this year, or simply shopping around for yourself, consider the next nature-themed item you’re tempted to buy, whether that’s a piece of clothing or statue or picture (or even a piece of my own artwork, for that matter!) And then think about whether you could put that money instead toward the animal or plant or other denizen of nature it represents. Instead of buying that shirt with a tiger on it, why not send the $20 to Panthera or the World Wildlife Federation to help them protect real tigers in the wild? Or, rather than creating a new altar with an endangered teak wood table from Pier 1, consider pitching the $50 for it to Rainforest Relief, the Rainforest Conservation Fund, or another organization helping to prevent the further destruction of the Asian and African forests the teak calls home. You may even be considering buying a cute stuffed wolf from the Defenders of Wildlife, but you’d be better off just giving them the entire amount of money, rather than making them pay for one more Chinese-made plush toy.

This isn’t a call to stop buying trinkets altogether. It is, however, a reminder that the nature you glorify through these items is often highly threatened by our actions, including through the manufacture of the items themselves. Rather than perpetuating the problem, consider turning at least some of your gift budget this year toward donations in the names of those you’re buying for, for the benefit of the natural world we all need to live. In addition to the organizations above, see if there are any local nonprofits working to protect the ecosystems you’re in or near, or organizations that work with habitats or species you’re fond of. Or check out this list of a few of my favorite organizations:

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
628 NE Broadway St #200
Portland, OR 97232
(503) 232-6639
http://www.xerces.org

This organization works primarily on pollinators and other invertebrates. Often overlooked because they’re “just bugs”, the invertebrates are an absolutely critical part of every ecosystem.

The Nature Conservancy
4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22203-1606
(800) 628-6860
http://www.nature.org

Focuses on protecting habitats around the world, and educating people about the importance of healthy ecosystems. This includes direct protection of individual habitats in conjunction with local communities.

The Ocean Conservancy
1300 19th Street, NW
8th Floor
Washington, DC 2003
800-519-1541
http://www.oceanconservancy.org
Works to protect the world’s oceans and to create awareness of how crucial the oceans and their inhabitants are to the planet’s health as a whole.

The Sierra Club
85 Second Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: 415-977-5500
http://www.sierraclub.org

One of the oldest and largest environmental nonprofits, combines government lobbying with grassroots organization for a variety of ecological causes.

Natural Resources Defense Council
40 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
USA
(212) 727-2700
http://www.nrdc.org
Lobbies for the protection of both wild species and their environments, and is also instrumental in helping communities become more sustainable.

The Wilderness Society
1615 M St., NW
Washington, D.C 20036
1-800-THE-WILD
http://www.wilderness.org
Many plants and fungi that face extinction are vulnerable due to habitat loss; this group works to preserve wilderness areas, to include crucial habitat.

A Brief Thought on Offerings

Taking a quick break here from working on the last couple of chapters of New Paths to Plant and Fungus Totems before I turn the manuscript in. I’m writing about treating the leaves and caps and such of physical plants and fungi as sacred remains, much in the same way that I work with animal parts as sacred remains.

I was writing about how some people leave offerings of food out for gods, spirits and the like, either to be eaten in ritual, or to be given to wildlife. In addition to not being good for the wildlife–making them lose their fear of humans by associating us with food, encouraging them to sneak around human habitations and trash cans in search of food, and potentially feeding them something that makes them sick–it’s not very respectful to the animals, plants, and fungi whose remains went into making that food. So what do we offer those spirits and beings? At what point do we stop taking things from one set of spirits to give to others, and simply give of ourselves?

This is why I prefer offerings of actions to things. If I volunteer my time or money to a cause sacred to that god, spirit, etc. then it’s me making the primary sacrifice. Yes, I am alive because I’ve eaten and otherwise consumed many other living beings, but that’s the way of the world. Offerings are above and beyond what’s necessary. What can we give of ourselves that isn’t necessary, but meaningful nonetheless?

Alright. Back to book-writing.

Grey Wolf Ritual

Today was the ritual for Grey Wolf. I hadn’t even consciously planned the ritual for today; I just chose a date that seemed convenient. Just so happens that tonight is a blue moon, and the Wolf Moon, or so I was informed. Which is funny, because I inadvertently scheduled the Brown Bear ritual on a full moon, too.

So Tay helped me clear out the living room again. I set up the altar on the coffee table; once again, apologies to those on the LJ feed as I can’t put in cuts from here:




I collected what little wolfish knickknacks I still have and put them on the altar; I’ve gotten rid of most of them over the years as I’ve downsized my collection of shiny objects. There was also the wolf skull that hangs with my collection, and a deerskin painting I did a number of years ago. The beadwork strips are the first two I ever did, way back in high school in the mid-90’s. That actually gives Wolf a connection to my artwork, since that all started with the beadwork (which I no longer do). The long green and brown thing with the bone spike on the end is a hair wrap I wore for a year, and there are a couple of other random things on there. And the wooden plate has the little gift pouches I gave to the participants.

You can also see the Arctic wolf headdress and tail I wear when journeying, and the full wolf skin I’ve danced with for most of a decade. There’s my big drum, and a couple of spares, as well as the elk bells I made last year. Between the drums is the wolf fur coat that’s part of my costume, to be worn (of course) if I get cold. The blanket that covers the altar is just temporary, until in the spring when I retire my old wolf skin to altar guardian duty.

So once everyone got settled in, I did a brief explanation of what I was doing there today. I explained a bit of the context of why I’m creating therioshamanism the way that I am, with the cultural context and why I’m trying to revive performance rituals as an art form as well as spiritual practice. Then I picked up my drum and began to warm it up, explaining to people why I was doing that.

The journey itself was actually one of the fastest I’ve ever done. When I went to go formally invite Grey Wolf to join us, s/he said “Geez, you didn’t even need to come here; all you had to do was ask and I’d show up”. Which isn’t surprising given how omnipresent s/hes been in my life. But I wanted to be formal about things, and so s/he humored me. (“Should I have snarled and snapped at you when you showed up, just for show? Grrrrr! Look at me! I’m fierce!” s/he said.)

So then Wolf sent me back and said s/he’d follow, even though she knows the way quite well. When I got back and cooled the drum down, I then told the other folks there that now, instead of just drumming along to my single-note journeying beat, we got to do fun drumming! They began drumming, and I put my wolfskin on and began to dance (after taking the journeying headdress and tail off!) It was a bit of a sad event for me, since it would be the last full dance I’ll be doing with that skin. We slid into each other’s energy has we always have, and while the dance was indoors in a relatively small space, it was a good one. While I could wish for a place to do outdoor dancing around a fire on a regular basis, for now, the living room works.

Once I was done dancing, and while we still drummed, we talked some about what Grey Wolf was to us, our relationship to that totem. I also spoke a bit about my wolfskin and what we had done over the years. Then we took a break to enjoy the various edibles people had brought and ground a bit. Finally, I closed down the ritual, thanking Wolf and the other spirits who had been there for their presence.

After everyone left, I set up the permanent altar in my ritual/art room:

There were offerings a couple of people had brought that I added in. The wolf skull went back to its usual place on the wall near the altar, and the various skins went to their homes as well.

One of the things I noticed is that I enjoy throwing in little bits of explanation for why I do things as I do them, just to give people an idea of the reasons for things. I think I may make this more of a regular feature of the public rituals.

Also, while I’m still new to this whole group ritual thing, I want to try building up more formality around the rituals–for example, I would have loved to have had a themed potluck, preparing some kind of meat (maybe venison) for the occasion and letting people bring other things for Grey Wolf (with allowances for non-meat-eaters, etc.)

And it’s tougher to build up a good atmosphere for this sort of ritual indoors than it is outdoors, or in a space that is specifically designed for ritual work. But we work with what we have, and I’m sure I can tweak things to create a better setting as time goes on. While I’m very good at individual ritual, group ritual is still new to me, and so it’s going to take practice.

But overall, it went really well, and people seemed to get a lot out of it. Grey Wolf was pleased as well, and is happy to have a formal “home” within my home now.

My First Soul Retrieval

So today I was finally able to take the skills I’ve been developing over the past few years and put them into practice for a long-distance client, doing my first soul retrieval. I don’t want to give info on the client hirself, other than s/he’s had long-term health issues and some other deep-seated factors that had led to an overall feeling of “diminishment”. We suspected a lost soul fragment, but since there are other things that can cause the symptoms that were reported, I went in cautiously.

I actually spent several weeks conferring with my guides about this whole thing, since it was my first time through. Ultimately, Black Bear offered to help guide me through, which was very much appreciated since s/he has done spirit work with me before, though not of this exact sort. My client and I agreed on a time when we could both be available for this, and after a phone call to check in and make sure s/he was prepared and in a good place, and to find out which of hir guides I might run into, I began the journey.

As usual, the horse spirit in my drum came and picked me up as I started to drum. The drumskin was a bit damp from the weather here in the Pacific North*wet*, and her hoofbeats were muffled by mud along the river near my starting place–she needed to take me further up the river to meet Black Bear. She actually carried me inside her ribcage, moving her organs aside, for part of it. I found out later that this was because we crossed the river into the Lower World. Black Bear had apparently made a lot of arrangements on my behalf in preparation for this, for which s/he’ll be getting a nice gift from me. Next time I may have to be the one to negotiate with the River Dragon to cross to the Lower World, but this time I had a lot of help.

When we got to where Black Bear was waiting along the bank of the river, the hose told me she couldn’t go any further. So I stopped drumming, and began to shake my black bear skull rattle. I turned into a wolf, and Bear and I started off further up the river. The place we were at was not at all pleasant. Amid the water-smoothed stones under my paws there were lots of old, dry bones, crab shell pieces, and other dry dead things, dampened only by splashes of fetid water from the river–there was no rain here despite the clouds. There were animals all around, too, coyotes and hawks and deer and other vertebrates, but they were hostile, and Black Bear told me to stay very close so they wouldn’t bother me. Still, they made advances at us like wolves testing a buffalo cow and calf. It was very unnerving.

One thing I noticed about Bear was that s/he was very present and visible in a way my guides often aren’t when I journey. I know they’re there, but they’re not in my direct field of vision. It’s like Bear was more there than usual, and I suspect that if it had just been hir usual presence, I would have had to deal with the hostile animals attacking me, unless I showed myself to be as big and strong as Bear was today. Today, though, I was being protected on this journey.

As we were running along the river, we looked up on the mountain ridges to the north, and amid the trees we saw the lights from houses scattered all along. Finally Bear looked to one way up on top of a ridge, and said “That’s the one we want”. As we approached the ridge it was on, Bear veered off away from the river and to a trail leading up. It was a very narrow trail, with smooth stones, but it dropped off sharply into dark ravines on either side. Bear insisted on going first. “Stay very close to my back end”, s/he told me. “Don’t fart”, I replied. Bear laughed, and we started up the trail.

The climb was actually pretty uneventful–Bear made the way very smooth for me, the dangerous things stayed confined to the dark ravines, and there was no ursine flatulence. When we got up to the top, we saw a lodge like that made by some Pacific Northwest tribes in the middle of a clearing. There was a tall, very thin humanoid guardian spirit with a spear in front of it, with a white bone mask with two black eyes, stiff, grass-like hair all around like a halo, and wrapped in brown rags with no visible limbs or features below the waist, just a drape of rags. Bear told me that since I was the one who sought entrance to the house, I had to go first. This was scary, but s/he told me s/he’d be right behind me. So I cautiously went up to the guardian spirit and got hir attention. S/he didn’t act hostilely at all, simply waited for me to act one way or another. “I wish to know who is in that place,” I said. “Who wants to know?” the spirit replied. “I, Lupa, want to–” and then realized I’d just said my name, if not my legal one then one that I identify with very strongly.

Bear told me quietly to offer something in exchange for the spirit conveniently forgetting I’d said that. So I offered to dedicate something made out of mink skins I got recently to the spirit; while it wouldn’t belong to the spirit, it would have a little something to memorialize it, sort of like a bit of graffiti of someone’s name–not enough connection to the spirit to make it hirs, but kind of like “Kilroy was here”. This was acceptable. Bear then gave the guard a false name of mine to replace the true name that was taken back.

Also, when the spirit spoke with me, the bone face lifted up as if on a hinge, and a little brown weasel poked hir head out to talk to me–“Pay no attention to the weasel behind the mask”. It would have been almost funny if I hadn’t been in a situation where I could have been speared. I had no doubt that the weasel (or weasels, if there were others in there) could have made the “suit” act immediately. Still, in retrospect it was, ah, kinda cute. I wish I could draw better to show it.

I was allowed to approach the house, and I called through the blanket over the doorway that I wished to enter. I negotiated with a voice as to whether that could happen, and finally was let in. There was only one big room, and there were hundreds of weasels running all over the place, doing various tasks. At the very back of the room there was one enormous weasel reclining, with little weasels crawling all over him. Behind him on the wall were rows upon rows of clear glass jars, with colored balls of energy floating inside of them. I would find out later that the big weasel liked the smell of these, and so properly I could call him the Big Old Weasel Who Likes Smelly Things, but for short I’ll just call him the Old Weasel. He wasn’t the totemic weasel. Black Bear, when s/he shows up like a large bear like for this journey, feels like a small part of something bigger. The Old Weasel felt more complete–old, but not bigger than his appearance.

I approached him, but not too closely, with Bear beside me. I asked him if he had anything that tasted like my client, and I breathed out a memory of what s/he tastes like to me through our interactions. He breathed it in, and said yes, and picked out a particular jar full of yellow balls of energy–not a full soul fragment with a personality, but still a substantial part of my client that had gone missing. I told him I would like to give it back to her, and that I was willing to offer part of myself. I held forth a necklace that I had made before the journey.

Now, in the creation of artwork, there is always a piece of myself that goes into what I make. It’s a renewable energy, rather than the core energy that I was trying to retrieve for the client. So that’s what I had in the necklace. Bear also contributed, having me put a bit of black bear hair in the necklace.

“Let me smell you,” the Old Weasel said, “and see if I like it”. I approached closer, but then the Old Weasel lashed out with his huge jaws, and almost bit me. I leaped back, hackles raised. “Ha!” he said. “Almost had you. I could have smelled you across the room, you know”. Then he had a few of his small weasels bring out an empty jar for the necklace. “Not until you give me what I came for,” I said. “Very well,” and he had them bring the jar to me. I placed the necklace in the empty jar, and took the one with my client’s energy. I breathed in the essence of my client and put it in the place where I had stored hir memory.

“Do you have any more?” I asked. “Yes,” the Old Weasel replied, and pointed at eight more jars on the wall behind him. “You can have them if you bring me more of your smell. I like it.” So I’m going to be taking more necklaces to him. Since I’m menstruating, I’m going to make sure they’re made during that time, so I may make one a month for the next eight months, to give myself time to replenish.

We took our leave of the weasels, being sure to back out of the door so as to keep an eye on them. Then we went back past the guard, who couldn’t remember my real name. And when we got to the trail, it had gone all muddy, so Bear and I had a great time sliding all the way down the mountain like otters! We made it back down the river with no problems, too, even with the hostile animals, and my horse was waiting for me. I took my leave of Bear, and the horse took me back home.

I then breathed my client’s energy into the physical necklace I had made, letting it take the place of my energy that had gone to the Old Weasel in the necklace’s spirit form. I’ll be mailing it to the client, who will be wearing it for several days, until that energy reabsorbs back into hir. And I’ll continue this with the rest of the necklaces. I did a followup call with hir to see how s/he was doing and let hir know what happened.

I am exhausted. This was a really challenging journey, but it turned out well. I learned a lot, including some things for when I’m going to have to do this more on my own, making my own decisions and negotiations with the spirits myself. And it’s helped me to see how my strengths, especially artwork, can be woven into my shamanic practice, making it (relatively) easier to do. Most of all, though, this feels right, like I should be doing this.

Bear Ritual

Today I led my first “official” group ritual as a practicing (neo)shaman. Brown Bear has been nudging me to try out some of the ritual techniques and practices I’ve been developing over the past few months to see how they’d work out, and s/he said s/he had wanted a ritual hirself, so this was a good opportunity. I put everything together pretty quickly since it’s getting into hibernation time, but it all worked out.

We ended up clearing out the living room, moving the dining table into the kitchen temporarily, and pushing the couches against the walls. Then the little table in front of the TV ended up doing double duty as an altar and place to keep my ritual implements when I wasn’t using them. Here are a few pictures (apologies to those on the LJ feed who don’t have the benefit of an LJ-cut for this):



The hide covering the altar is an old skin, possibly bear but not entirely sure, that was left on my porch at our old place–we think we know who it was. It’s incredibly old, just about falling apart, probably from somewhere in the early 20th century. The other hide, the bearskin in the foreground on the second picture, is my ceremonial skin–she was an oooooold rug I got at an antique shop over a decade ago. I removed all the rug stuff, and while she’s very delicate, some mink oil helped to rehydrate her. Still, she’s many decades old, and I have to be very careful with her.

There’s also a rattle made from a black bear skull and a deer leg bone that I use to call in the spirits, and a deerskin bag that holds some of my other Brown Bear items. The plate in the center has small Bear packets that would be given out during the ceremony. Leaning against the altar are my big drum, a small drum that was my starter drum but is now a spare, and the elk antler bells I made a while back. And the white fur is the wolf headdress and tail that I wear while journeying, as I journey as a white wolf. There’s also a very small bear statue on there, along with a packet of small bear fetishes leftover from making the gift packets for participants.

There ended up being seven of us total–me, Taylor, the three practitioners that I took on as students a while back, and who are now going off in their own unique directions with the material, and two other folks from the local pagan community who wanted to attend.

I began with rattling in the spirits that I wished to have in attendance, calling them each by the name they wished to be known by. I didn’t call in everyone, because not all the spirits would have been a good fit for this ritual. Black Bear also helped to let me know who to welcome. I then warmed up my drum, rubbing it with my hand and then with the beater. After that I called the horse spirit of the drum with a specific beat that I use.

Once that spirit came out of the drum, I began the journey drumming, and I asked the rest of the participants to drum with me to help me get to where I was going. I had journeyed to see Bear the day before to take hir a preliminary offering and to check in with hir about last details for today, but I didn’t want to make the assumption that s/he would automatically come to the celebration we had set up for hir. So I went with my bearskin spirit, and once we got to Bear’s den, I asked everyone to stop drumming since they had gotten me to where I needed to be, and to simply listen as I told what I experienced as it happened.

The bearskin spirit and I went down cautiously into Bear’s den, even though we had been there before. Bear was there, and grumbly because s/he was sleepy. I very carefully asked hir whether s/he would like to come with us to the celebration and to see the gifts for hir, and also to place hir energy/scent on the bear packets I had made. S/he grumbled some more, and then told me that if s/he was going to show up, I would have to dance for hir, wearing the necklace I had made for hir before. The bearskin spirit and I then retreated. I had been keeping the drumbeat slow and quiet throughout all this, trying to keep myself calm, but turning my back on Bear was frightening, and I fought to keep the beat slow and quiet as we went back up to the surface.

The horse of my drum carried me back as the participants all drummed and rattled again to help bring me back home. Then they drummed more as I carefully draped the bearskin over me, put the necklace on, and danced like a bear. It was odd, because I’m used to wolf dancing up on my toes (and I also walk on my toes as a matter of course), but bear dancing required me to stay on my heels. Plus the movement is much different, a larger animal, with a different heft of momentum.

And Bear did arrive, using the dance as a vehicle. I growled and whuffed and sniffed at the altar and the goodies on it–and the food people had brought, too. Once the dance was done, I talked a bit about my relationship to Bear, and also gave folks some time to interact with Bear on their own. Then we got to the food! I still held Bear inside me to an extent, and let hir taste the food through me. There were many good things–foccacia bread, and containers of fresh berries and grapes (which Bear loved). And I made cookies, too, with applesauce I made from scratch earlier this year and gave to Bear as yesterday’s offering. (Eating offerings in celebration is apparently a perfectly acceptable way to deal with the physical portions.)

Then once that was done, I thanked all the spirits for being there, most of all Bear, and we drummed for them a while, and I danced as I drummed. Then I rattled them back home, and saw the attendees out.

I got the permanent Brown Bear altar set up in my ritual/art room:


There’s the Bear bag, and also the assorted stone bear fetishes. There’s also a bear claw carved from horn that was offered by one person, and some sage and herbs offered by another, all of which will stay on the altar. And there are some spare packets from the ritual that will probably end up being gifted to people who could use a boost of Bear energy, as it were. No doubt I’ll add more stuff as time goes by, but that’s a good start. Incidentally, the table above it will be a Wolf altar, once the time comes for that. (The other hide is normally on my main altar, where I returned it after the ritual was done.)

Overall, I think it went really well. I was nervous as hell, but managed to keep myself focused on the ritual itself. The feedback confirmed that others enjoyed it, too. One of the things that concerned me is that in neopaganism group rituals usually involve a lot of participation on everyone’s part. The whole spectator thing is often considered to be “boring”, or so I had feared. But as a performance ritual, this seemed to work out really well.

The other thing I noticed was how quickly I got to my starting point with the help of everyone else drumming/rattling! It was like having a huge push behind me as the horse carried me there. Between that, and Bear’s den being very close to my starting point, plus it being a pretty straightforward, mostly pre-arranged task, the ritual itself didn’t last too long, under a half an hour [ETA: the portion prior to the food, I mean]. But it was strong, and I know I’m on the right track with this. There’s some fine-tuning that needs to be done, and things will get better with experience, but for a first time out, I’m really pleased, and everyone else (including Bear) seemed to agree.

Just a Thought on Offerings

I posted this over on my Livejournal, but wanted to share it here as well. It’s a paragraph from an essay I’m working on for an anthology:

Too often pagans have the tendency to take and take from the spirits and other beings who help us; too often we forget offerings. Or if we do make offerings, they’re rote and prescribed, and offer little practical aid to the spirits. While there’s nothing inherently wrong, for example, with leaving a place for the genius loci at the table at a feast to celebrate the harvest, this does nothing to relieve the actual soil that grew the food at that feast. We offer the spirits the “spiritual essence” of what we have benefited from, but we do nothing physical to help the physical phenomena that these spirits are attached to. In that, these sorts of offerings are somewhat of an empty gesture if we take both spiritually and physically, but only give back spiritually.*

* Yes, some people like to leave out food from the feast for wild animals as an “offering”. I fail to see how encouraging wild animals to do something mutually dangerous like associate humans with food is an offering, especially when it was the soil and not the animals that made the crops grow.

Elk’s Journey, Elk’s Gift

Today I did my first journey for a purpose other than exploration. I’ve been doing a lot of internal work lately, trying to work through the unhealthy conditioning and behavior patterns associated with depression and especially anxiety. They’re not a constant active influence in my life, but they do have a tendency to pop up with the right amount of stress in my life. I don’t like them, they don’t like me, and since I had an open invitation from Elk for help with emotional regulation, I decided to take hir up on it.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about trying to develop a more formal ritual structure, but not based on the generic Wicca-flavored neopagan ritual structure I used to use. One of the challenges of essentially creating a practice from scratch is that there’s no authority telling me “Well, you need to do things this way or that”. I’m the one who decides, for the most part. The spirits will occasionally have a suggestion, but as far as they’re concerned, most of this is for my benefit and (eventually) the benefit of anyone I do this sort of work for. I have a desire for formality, though, so it’s up to me to create something appropriate that works.

Before my break over the past few months, when I journeyed I basically asked the drum and beater if they’d work with me, and then we’d drum together and I’d head off to where I needed to be. As I’m coming back, though, I’m finding myself being more deliberate about things. I still ask the drum and beater–and the horse, deer, and elk spirits in them–for permission. But then I warm the drum up with my hand, and then the beater; this is inspired by Ravenari’s method of doing so, and the spirits of the drum and beater really seem to appreciate it. It also helps me to ease out of my everyday headspace with all the concerns and stresses and distractions, and into the focus I need for any sort of ritual work.

I also asked the horse spirit in the drum to carry me to my starting point, instead of taking myself as I normally do. She agreed, and it made the trip a lot smoother, again partly because it helped with transitioning from one headspace to the next. I’m a little rusty, particularly in maintaining the visual aspect of journeying (I’ve always had trouble with consistent, unbroken visuals), but I had a good connection, and even when I let my “sight” relax, I was still definitely over in the spirit world.

So the drum-horse got me to the starting point, and I got onto the ground and turned into a wolf. I then worked to pick up the scent of Elk, and went to find hir. I found hir down in a valley not too far away; s/he’s been expecting me. I went to hir asked formally asked for hir help, turning back to a human being. I then held out a small elk antler tine I had brought with me as a symbol of what we were creating. Elk flinched a bit, and said “That smells like Death. Here, let’s go put it in that stream over there to cleanse it”. So we ran over there, and I placed it in the water, feeling the cool stream over my hand as I looked at the antler against the stones.

Then Elk turned into a human with an elk’s head, and so I turned into a human with a wolf’s head to match. We sat facing each other and spoke about the work we wanted to do together with helping me with emotional regulation. Elk brought up how soon the bull elk would be going into rut, and would be a lot more easily provoked, both by each other and other beings. Like the elk, I can be aggressive when I want something and can’t immediately get it or perceive something in my way. However, Elk pointed out that the bull elk don’t use any more force than necessary, even in rut, because injury is a serious thing when you’re a wild critter. Most confrontations between bull elk only end in one running away, and fights often don’t result in serious injury. (It’s still a lot of work for the bull who has a harem, who may barely eat during rutting season!)

Elk put antlers on my head and said the tine I brought was appropriate because while I can wield my own tines and harm others with them, I can also be injured by someone else’s antlers. Therefore it’s important that I’m doing this regulation work to avoid not only exhausting myself with unnecessary effort, but also injuring others or bringing injury to myself that wasn’t really needed.

Additionally, Elk talked about how there is a season to all things. There are times to be aggressive to get what I want, but that’s not all the time. I need to learn which time is which. With regards to depression and anxiety, these conditions are attempts to gain control–which is an illusion. I can’t control the world around me beyond a very limited scope, and the anxiety and depression are my way of trying to grasp at control in a situation where I feel like things are getting out of control. These are obviously maladaptive, and the better choice is to learn to adapt and roll with the punches that life throws–because nothing is ever going to be perfectly safe and secure, and that”s alright. So instead of facing the world with antlers lowered and ready, I need to learn to relax and only react when it’s actually warranted, and only to the degree that it needs to happen.

Then Elk had me retrieve the tine from the stream so I could take it back home with me, as a physical reminder of my commitment to healing myself with Elk’s help. I then offered Elk a set of three brass bells that I had brought with me as a gift for helping me. Elk laughed and said that s/he would have done this for me anyway, but that s/he appreciated the gift. S/he told me I could go; I stood, and waited to watch hir leave, but s/he just stood there waiting for me to go! Finally, s/he snorted and stomped, and I took off, with hir laughing in amusement as I did so.

I scrambled back up out of the valley to where the horse spirit was waiting. I climbed onto hir back, and s/he took me home. Soon as I came out of the journey and brought the drum back down again, I treated the drumskin to some mink oil; she’d been feeling dry and thirsty, and I’d promised her some treatment. Next, I drilled a hole in the elk tine, and put a piece of deerskin that Deer had donated to the cause. Here’s a pic:

As to the bells? Well, a while back, I believe it was Erynn who had suggested that I add bells to an elk antler that I didn’t know what to do with. So as my gift to Elk, I attached the bells to the ends of three of the tines and wrapped the rest of the antler in braided artificial sinew and waxed linen cord. The bells will later on be used in rituals as a way to help keep me oriented to where my body is so I can find my way back home. Here’s how it turned out:

So it was a successful journey overall, and I feel more confident in satisfying my need for structure. It’s all coming together, piece by piece.