Has It Really Been Five Months?

Tonight I finally did my ritual to officially finish off my Water month and head into the final month of my six months. I know the full moon was a few nights ago; however, I caught yet another cold which developed into a sinus infection, and Bear told me to spend a few more days healing (she didn’t mind keeping me a bit longer). However, the transition has happened, and the last month has begun. Once again, as with my first month, I examine all four elements together, only with the experience of the previous months to use as well, and reflect on what I’ve learned so far. It’s definitely going to be a powerful experience.

The Animal Father called me into the ritual room and had me sit in the center where the four directions/etc. meet. Then he told me to start drumming. At first I got distracted by the drumbeat; I kept speeding up and slowing down, and I was a bit irritated with the tone because the drum head was just a little bit damp. But he reminded me to focus, and over time I felt myself at the center of all four of the directional totems–Wolf, Hawk, Fox and Bear. It was an incredibly powerful combination, the totems and the god, all there at once. And apparently, this is supposed to be my starting point for journeying in general! No wonder I’ll need practice.

The Animal Father had me recount, briefly, what I had learned from each of them. We distilled these into four basic values:

North – Wolf – Earth – Grounding
East – Hawk – Air – Communication
South – Fox – Fire – Love (Passion)
West – Bear – Water – Healing

These are very much shorthand for a lot of complex concept and multifaceted interpretations. It’s easier to say “Grounding” than “Finding the basis of what’s most important in your life; figure out where you stand and where you’re coming from; etc.” as well as extending concepts to other people, other beings, the world around me, and so forth. “Grounding” is therefore a convenient tag for something much bigger.

I felt very safe and very centered during this time; it was much stronger than the neopagan circle castings I gave up early on in my therioshamanic work. I had a very clear idea of my cosmology, and it imprinted itself more strongly on my brain. However, I’m still building up endurance in my rituals, so the Animal Father had me begin to drum down again, to say farewell to the totems and to get myself downstairs and fed. We’re going to work on lengthening my rituals over time, especially as I start doing more complex things, but for now I need to be focusing on consistency.

So I’ll be spending the time between now and the spring equinox not only preparing my everyday life for a schedule change to allow more time for shamanic work, but also reflecting on the cosmology I’ve helped to develop over the past five months. It still has a very neopagan feel to it, which is fine, because it’s built on the concepts that I’ve adhered to most strongly in the past twelve years. But we’re definitely taking it to a higher level here, as far as intensity of work goes. I’m excited, and nervous, but also confident in my ability to continue with this.

Planning Ahead

I’ve been discussing with the spirits what the time after my six months will bring. Looks like there’ll be a lot more foundation-building in store, which is just fine by me. I’ve been erring on the side of caution with this endeavour. Perhaps a bit too far, but having seen so many would-be shamans skimp on things like learning cosmology and getting to know one’s spirit guides and helpers before leaping headfirst into shamanic work, I want to make sure I don’t do the same thing. Plus I want to build more self-discipline, and this is a great way to do it. In fact, I think that’s one of the main reasons we’re focusing so much on taking a lot of time with this; I am not the most disciplined person. I do a lot, but it’s not always organized. This path asks for a certain amount of discipline and organization that I need to acquire before I can be a practicing shaman.

Most likely the six months after the Spring Equinox will be spent improving my relationships with my existing helping spirits and totems; I’m not sure if it will involve meeting new ones. I suspect the emphasis will be on working with who’s already here, though I can’t completely rule out the possibility that someone else may step up in the meantime. I’ll just have to see how it goes.

Beyond that, I’ll probably spend a certain amount of time after the second six months just exploring the Otherworld, getting to know the lay of the land, and practicing various journeying techniques. My progress there will most likely determine when I can actually start serious shamanizing. Of course, this is all conjecture at this point–we’re all just going to see how I do in my second six months. Everyone (myself included) seems pretty confident in how I’ve handled my first six months up til now; there’s still six weeks to go, but so far, so good.

There will, of course, be the chance to opt out at my ritual in March. I haven’t completely ruled it out, especially because I’ll get a good explanation of what to expect if I accept. However, should I choose to continue, I feel that I’ve gotten a pretty firm foundation thus far. The fact that I’ve made it four and a half months without giving up or losing interest is, believe it or not, impressive for me. Not that I’ve never been able to commit to anything, but simply that historically I haven’t been that interested in anything particularly formal.

I’m a different person now, though. I’m more grounded than I was, and more patient. This has been a really good experience for me, and I want to be able to use the tools I’m receiving to help others grow and heal as well. If therioshamanism can help me, then why shouldn’t it be able to help others?

Bear With Me, Here

I did some skin spirit work with my bear skin this past weekend. She’s a rather small brown bear salvaged from a very old rug; while the wrinkles in her muzzle have relaxed over the years since I took the taxidermy form out, she’ll always have a bit of a snarl. But she’s quite sweet.

I didn’t dance with her; rather, I simply sat with her and stroked the fur on top of her head and talked to her for a while. She’s old, and tired, and didn’t feel much like dancing just then. She was fine with that. Our conversation wasn’t particularly deep; she mainly talked about how glad she was to have a home with me (after spending years stuffed in a trunk somewhere–I rescued her from an antique shop). We made some agreements about our working relationship, and then I gently laid her back among the other skins.

Beyond that, I’ll just say that my Water month has presented a LOT of healing, especially in the emotional arena. (It’s also inspired me to read my copy of Kristin Madden’s <em>Book of Shamanic Healing</em>, which is excellent so far.) As I continue with my six months, I’m finding that I’ve learned quite a bit–and this is just the beginning!

I Made You a Cookie…

but I eated it*. (But I made a few more, so have one.)

Bear has really been urging me to take some time out. Workaholicism is a constant threat, and with all the stuff that’s happened in the past four months she clearly thinks I need a break. Problem is, I’m so used to filling my time up with stuff and things and tasks and projects that I sometimes forget to just have fun. So I promised that tonight I’d do something just for the fun of it.

That something ended up being making chocolate chip cookies from scratch, another famous first in my ever-expanding takeover of the kitchen. I had a blast, actually–I was looking forward to it all through doing the dishes (since Taylor had made supper). Once he finished putting our lunches together and got out of the kitchen, it was my turn. So got the dishes out of the way, and mixed up some batter per a decent recipe–nothing too fancy, just your classic chocolate chip cookies. Needless to say, they turned out awesome! Very chewy, which I prefer, and quite tasty–I used all brown sugar instead of half brown, half white. And yes, I did eat the last of the batter out of the bowl (even though you’re not supposed to because of the egg)–I definitely had the Bear thing going on, hands curved like claws, dining on dough like a bear with honey!

I really enjoyed the experience. Granted, some of that enjoyment was simply knowing what was going into my body. I’ll admit I love Chips Ahoy, but with these I had a much better idea of ingredients, and could change things around–I’d like to try raw sugar or honey sometime as a variation, see what happens. (I actually found out that brown sugar is worse than white sugar, since in its processing its outer coating is removed, then applied again! Details here. Also, here’s a good discussion on other alternatives to raw sugar.)

However, it was also a relatively stress-free activity. I didn’t have to do it; it wasn’t expected of me. I simply did it for the fun of doing it (and because I wanted a little something different for dessert!) Ever since I discovered that cooking doesn’t take nearly as much time as I’d feared, I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of making things happen in a culinary fashion–if I’m not cooking every single night, it’s fun! Since Taylor and I take turns with supper, I get some breaks. However, I usually enjoy when it’s my turn–kitchen alchemy!

So far, Water has really been about the healing process and maintaining health. As with other months, I’ve started by focusing a lot on the external issues, and then worked my way inward. So right now I’m doing things like taking raw cut-up vegetables to work, and figuring out more ways to reduce the amount of processed food I eat, for sake of my long-term health. However, I’m also sorting through some emotional fallout and issues that need to be dealt with–it isn’t fun, but I’m finding ways to deal with them that aren’t my usual “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” or “Run away! Run away!” Forgiveness is a big part of this month; I can be so damned hard on myself sometimes–“Oh, look, I screwed this tiny little thing up–I am the most horrible person in the world. WOES.” Okay, maybe not that bad, but I am one of those people who is hir own worst enemy.

I’m also learning to not feel guilty for going easier on myself. I have to remember that just because I forgive myself, doesn’t mean that I’ll suddenly revert to all of my absolute worst possible behavior patterns all at once. Maybe, on the other hand, it means that I can trust myself a bit more.

So believe you me, I am enjoying my Water month–not that I wasn’t enjoying the others, but this is a welcome break. Granted, I’m well aware that Water isn’t always the nice warm bath, and Bear isn’t always cuddly Mama Bear. Sometimes you get pounded by tidal waves, and mauled by an angry Bear. But this month, I think, is meant to be a break before I dive into the more intense work to come–as well as a reminder that I am allowed to take breathers as needed for my health. I was talking to Bear about this during my meditation today. She said that while dedication is certainly admirable, the spirits really don’t want a burnout on their hands. Better to get a bit less done, but do it more consistently and with more joy and determination, than to try to cram more into what time we have, and push myself past my limits into burnout territory. There’s shaman’s sickness, and then there’s just dissociation from your body to the point of ignoring its needs and causing ill health (to say nothing of mental stress!). Or so I understand it.

From what I’ve gathered, there’s a time and place for ordeals. They’re necessary, and sometimes life just throws them at us when we didn’t expect them. But as for living in a constant ordeal, I’m really not a hair shirt kind of person. I’ll roll around in the thorns as necessary, but I want my (increasingly eco-friendly and relatively healthier) cookies, too, dammit! (Speaking of which, I’ve eaten entirely too many of them tonight–please step away from the baking stone…)

* Maybe it’s not complex humor, but I love LOLcats. ICHC FTW!

Well, Water’s Off to a Great Start…

Wouldn’t you know it? I have a cold. Almost exactly three months after I got sick at the start of my Earth month, I’m beginning my Water month with another date with everyone’s favorite Rhinovirus. Gee, Bear, thanks for the reminder that I’m supposed to focus on healing this month.

However, as with the Earth month cold, I am paying attention to my body. Normally when I get sick I spend so much time kvetching about how awful I feel that I don’t stop to listen to my body. I just do like most folks do and play the body-dissociation game (if I ignore it long enough maybe it’ll go away!). The past two times I’ve actually listened–and my body has made it very clear what needs to happen: “I WANT FOOD. NOW. LOTS OF IT. STARVING.” So, having temporarily invoked The Thing That Ate Portland (or whatever major city is handy), I have consumed quantities of (mostly healthy) food, and felt better for it. I recovered quicker last time, and I’m betting on it again this time (though last time I also slept for something like sixteen hours right after it hit, not possible at the moment).

Still, does the lesson have to involve quite so much Kleenex?

And From Fire Into Water

Tonight was the end of my Fire month and the start of my Water month–the last single-element month of my six months. There’ll be the final month which will involve all four of them again, and then the Equinox will be the transition into the next phase of my training. I’ll admit I’m a bit nervous about what’s to come, but also excited. Still, I’ve two months to go before that point.

So, Fire. Fox seemed pleased with my progress, especially over the past couple of weeks after I talked to him about my frustrations with this particular element. He asked me to tell him about what I learned. I started with the fire in the body, metabolism, heat in the cells, and then moved onto the fire of the decay and rebirth cycle, and that change. We talked about changes and transitions (and have barely scratched the surface on that one!). And we talked about passion and creativity and drive, as well as the fear of being burned. He warned me against letting that fear hold me back, and told me Bear could help me with it more. Overall, I did better with Fire than I thought I would, and I feel more comfortable with it than I did at the beginning of the month. This is good, since I believe that it’s the elements we’re least comfortable with that we need to work with the most.

On to Water, then, and Bear. Normally Bear shows up to me as two bears, one male and one female. However, for the purposes of my Water month she chose to appear as the female brown bear rather than the male black bear. I’ll admit I was a little scared when I went to her. She’s always made me a little uneasy, because she’s one of those totems who’s been pretty stern with me at times. However, when I went to her she was incredibly warm and welcoming, which surprised me quite a bit.

Bear told me she only had two things for me to focus on this month–emotions, and healing. Not that this is the sum total of Water’s lessons, but these were the ones she wanted me to concentrate on in particular. I’d definitely agree with that assessment; the work of the past few months has asked a lot of me emotionally, and I’ve been looking forward to a month of healing! While emotions and healing may seem simple, they’re incredibly deep subjects, and Bear said they would be exceptionally important, both for my Water month and for the shamanic practice ahead of me.

I talked to her at length about her demeanor; I think I kept expecting her to lash out at me for some mistake or shortcoming. However, she made it very clear that she was quite pleased with my progress and very happy to see me. I told her I was worried about letting myself feel like I was unique to the point of letting my ego tell me I was this awesome chosen child of the cosmos, etc. You know what she said?

“Yes. You’re special. So is everyone else. Now get over it!” Then she laughed.

She told me to stop comparing myself to other people, and instead compare myself to myself (which isn’t the first time I’ve been told that!). She emphasized the progress I’d made, and told me she was really proud of me for it–which is great praise coming from her and the other elemental totems! She also said she’d been exceptionally worried about me (Mother Bear, indeed!) because the first four months had been really difficult on me, including emotionally. It’s not all things I want to talk about here, since there are a lot of private experiences, but she knows what’s been going on, and she told me she’d been looking forward to her month with me partly so she could “patch me up” after the rigors of the previous months. It’s not that she can’t be a tough beast when she has to be, but she told me not to worry so much about people’s scary stories about what shamanism should be–and instead listen to what she was doing right that moment. Just because Bear wasn’t dismembering me or lashing out didn’t mean she wasn’t being herself. It’s not all about the challenges and the difficulties, after all, and I think I’ve needed that reminder.

In reading the Water chapter of Starhawk’s Earth Path, I’ve been particularly struck by the concept of physical Water as Abundance. I think that may be my environmental focus for this month. I really like some of Starhawk’s observations on the nitty-gritty of the elements in particular, and she’s given me good food for thought with each of the element-specific months.

So here we go into Water!