Detached is for garages

“‘It’s her choice,’ seems to have been their approach to Amy Winehouse’s survival. And isn’t that an enraging but suitable response from individuals and a culture that believes personal choice is king, that interference of any kind is patronizing…and that no one is responsible for anything except their own actions and how those actions impact only themselves….” [click for full article]

And more isolation for those wounded, and more personally justified detachment from those around them.

In my earlier years, on several occasions, some friend pulled me aside and said “I’m concerned for you.” Whether or not I felt their concern was justified, I was struck by the fact that each cared enough to speak up, even if only to NOT have an unrequested front row seat for what they feared was an impending train wreck. (Um, yes, that was me, back in another time.) They connected with me and voiced their concern. And, even if it took a while to sink in, it mattered.

As I’ve grown, and grown more…mature? wise? calm?… I find that my friends tend to echo that growth: less risky behavior, less acting out, less recklessness. The friends that are still here, I mean. Not all lasted long enough to outgrow their wildness or outrun their demons. And I fear some of them never heard a friend say, “I’m concerned for you.” Either we didn’t say it clearly enough (such delicate “personal choice” verbal tiptoeing!), or often enough (to finally get through the static) or at all. If I’ve ever been that not-clear, not-often or not-at-all person, let me never be her again. “Detached” is for garages. Life is connection, and connecting saves lives.

Predators. Liars. Same thing.

dore_shepherd_wolfpDear ladies*,

When a counselor (or therapist, healer, teacher, reader, clergy person of any kind – shamanic, pagan, Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist, whatever) tells you that entering a sexual relationship with them will
validate your divine womanhood,
or heal your wounded inner child
(or whatever the f*#% but it sounds great),
and especially if this relationship will be a secret known only between you two…

You are not being validated or healed.
You are being used.

Someone in a position of trust is taking advantage of your vulnerability.
* They are a predator. *

And you probably aren’t the first person to be entrapped, because they know all the key words
to make you feel wonderful and special and compliant.
This isn’t special. It’s predatory, and it’s also oath-breaking conduct that goes against every professional and ethical standard.
And P.S. This is NOT standard or acceptable behavior within the pagan community.

And when you break it off, or when they’re done using you, if they tell you that no one will believe you, that it’s just your word against theirs, they’re lying about that, too, and trying to keep you powerless. How healing is that?
Speaking to trusted friends and Elders helps reclaim your power. Break the isolation and find someone who can hear your truth.
Speaking up makes it harder for this predator to continue stalking your sisters in the community.
And the opposite: Our silence enables them, and helps them keep on using, abusing, preying on the vulnerable.  It means we’re keeping the predator’s dirty secret.
Be a good ally to yourself and your sisters. Speak up.


* This note is written from my personal perspective, speaking to what I’ve seen, but this topic does not apply only to women: All variety of people are preyed upon sexually, energetically, psychologically, et. al.  Rather than presuming that my voice can adequately to speak to your experience, I encourage you to speak your own truth.

Illustration: “The Fable of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” by Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

Called by Spirit?

 

trumpet-girl-no-captionQ: I’ve been told [by a psychic, a shaman, a Tarot reader, a healer I’ve worked with, etc.] that I’m meant to be a shaman and a healer.  I’m not even sure what that means!  Where do I start?

A: On questions of prophetic information, my first question is usually “How do you feel about what the person told you? Does that information ring true for you?”  Especially when we’re going through confusing times, it’s natural to seek clear direction.  But check in with your own inner barometer:

  • Does this feel true, right, cosmically familiar, appropriate, appealing? 
  • Or does it feel – at least for now, at this point in your life – baffling, unappealing, maybe weird or even scary?

We are never obliged to rearrange our lives based on the information delivered by psychics, readers or shamans – really!  This is true no matter how much you paid for the reading/session.  If what you were told doesn’t ring true or feel right for you, put it aside.  This doesn’t mean going to other readers, telling them what you were told and asking for verification – it just means:
Put it aside. 
If this path is really yours, it will reappear.

If such a message does feel right, a good starting point is a basic workshop in shamanic practices and journeying.  Once you’re journeying regularly and developing a strong alliance with a Power Animal or some other Spirit-Plane Guide, that being will let you know if yours is the path of the healer.  Since you’ll do any healing work together, building that alliance of mutual trust is the beginning.  Without that strong alliance with your Spirit Guides, a shamanic healer’s path isn’t even possible.

If you’re meant to follow a healer’s path, get to know your own Guides: They’ll will make sure you know about it, even rather insistently or over your own objections. 
Really, they’ll make sure you know.


This comes from the Frequently Asked Questions page on my website. I teach beginning and advanced shamanic workshops, as do plenty of other experienced and reputable people. You can find many of them here.

Breaking a lengthy silence…

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…that didn’t involve being silent anywhere but here in the strange terrain of Blogville.

I’ve had a few months of emotional processing that wasn’t the stuff of public posting – the health, hospice and healing and long-term care… or demise – of other people.

And yesterday, I was one of the officiants in a memorial service that felt like it both gave me closure and opened the way, simultaneously.  The memorial was for a not-close friend and former student.  Over her months in hospice,  I gradually became aware of her long-time activity in a variety of wide-ranging areas in her own life – in Wicca, in incest/abuse-recovery, in her lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community, in her vocational circle, in her Daughters of the American Revolution circle.  Like me, many of her friends knew her only through one of these avenues.  At her memorial, her very Wiccan memorial, people were cross-pollinating between groups and meeting each other for the first time.

And given the nature of the woman we were remembering, those who appeared for her memorial were open, and curious, and willing to share of themselves in sharing their stories about her.  There were tears, but some were tears of laughter.  People knew her vividly, because that was how she’d lived.

When we imagine a vivid character, there’s a tendency to conjure up the Auntie Mame archetype: an extravagant, wealthy eccentric, someone “living large.”  None of that here, since money – or its absence – was often an issue.  But character isn’t dependent on cash.  Mentions of this woman’s sense of humor  wove a quirky strand through so many remembered episodes, humor that was irreverent in laughing at life and at circumstances and at herself, a sense of the absurd. And one person after another spoke of some remembered comment she had made to them, thoughtful words, kindly spoken, freely given at a time and in a way that had deep and lasting significance to that person.

After sharing and laughing and crying, we all shaped ourselves into the rough form of a boat and rowed her spirit into the West and waved farewell.  It wasn’t quite what she’d requested: She originally wanted us to build a physical boat.

Sometimes in my shamanic journeying, I used to ask about compassion, to better understand compassion, to know more clearly how to help foster more compassion in myself and in the world.

My power animals and other guides eventually got tired of this.  “Quit using these big words.  Compassion!  Compassion!  You and your big words!”

Me: “Well, then, what?  Help me understand this better.”

“Forget compassion.  Be kind.”

As I absorbed this and let it expand, their short-and-sweet teaching spoke to whether we wanted to perceive ourselves as large-spirited, noble and high-minded beings, or whether we could simply act on the impulse of being kind.  The idealized self-perception versus the simple embodied action.

I don’t recall anyone yesterday describing our departed friend as “compassionate.”  But they shared story after story that spoke of her kindness.

“Death is that state in which one exists
only in the memory of others,
which is why it is not an end…”
— Tasha Yar, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

Standing in the rain

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Thunder rolled overhead, and then the sound of rain began, soft and then louder, pounding the ground.  So I went outside.

When I was a kid, one of the best things to do ever was to be outside during a storm, feeling the rain, , splashing through puddles, getting drenched.  I’d take long walks in the rain and come home soaked and happy.  One of the best ways to be in the rain was at night, laying in the wet grass, face up, feeling the rain pound across me in waves.   I was outside of time, merged with energy of sky and land, a small being between sky and land, mediating the space between them, dissolving that boundary.

 I am the daughter of Earth and Water, and the nursling of the Sky… I change, but I cannot die.*

Sitting inside today, working, hearing the thunder begin, I realized how seldom I’ve been outside in a storm in recent years.   Some camping trips have been remarkably wet, but when camping, weather goes with the territory, and staying dry is a good practical decision. Here at home, I may feel thankful for rain, but when outside in it, I tend to run from doorway to car, from car to doorway.

Choosing rain is different.  I’m not dodging raindrops to get somewhere. The rain itself is where I’m going.  The object isn’t to get wet… that’s just a side effect.   The object is the rain itself, the moisture, the atmosphere, this particular way of experiencing water and weather.   There is a recklessness about rain.

Thunderstorms – big ones, real gully-washers, the kind that pound through town, that sweep twigs and leaves into the storm sewers and then vanish out into the plains – used to be a regular part of the spring and summer.   These sudden storms seem rarer now.   Rain seems rarer.   But the plants, the soil itself, are hungry for rain, excited for it.  Rain is erotic… Mother Earth getting a sloppy-wet kiss from the sky.  Carpe diem?  Carpe pluvia… sieze the rain.

Comes a time, with age or infirmity and the benign incarceration they can bring, when going outside at all unassisted may not be an option.  When a request to go outside into the rain may be translated as “let’s increase your dosage.”   I have loved ones and friends in that situation now, needing help to navigate a even few steps, protected from recklessness, protected from rain.  Well, you don’t need to protect me, not yet, dammit.

So, outside I go.  The rocks along the garden are brighter, their colors intensified by the moisture.  The scent of the rain-bruised mint plant infuses the wet air.   The clouds move off to the east, taking the downpour with them, but the grass glows green, and I’m wet.

My thanks to the storm gods.  My thanks to the water goddesses.  My thanks to the cloud spirits. My thanks for wet skin and the ozone rain aroma.  My thanks for this human form that I get to inhabit here for a while, so perfectly designed to enjoy a rainstorm.

____________

“The Cloud,” P. B. Shelley

The Magical Reappearing Women

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Wow, thought young-teenager-me, a woman artist!  The only ones I’d ever heard of were Georgia O’Keeffe and Grandma Moses.  The name I had found was “Joan Miró.”

Oops. I quickly realized that Joan is a variation on Juan.  I felt like crying.

This was during the early 1960s, before the rediscovery of so many female artists  during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, a resurrection largely driven by the women’s movement.  Like an archeological dig into history, there were all these amazing women artists hidden just out of sight, apparently ignored during their own lives and then further forgotten by time.  That reclamation is often called herstory.

But guess what?  Many of those artists were known, even respected and successful, in their own time.  Here’s a tiny list of a few:

I’ve seen popular books on art history from the late 1800s that mention many of these artists.  Most weren’t been buried very deeply at all until the mid-1900s.

So what the heck happened?

H. W. Janson happened, known to generations of college and university art students as the Janson who wrote History of Art, which first appeared in 1962 and remained the standard art history text for decades.

The number of women artists Janson included?  Zero.

This wasn’t an accident.  Like Jane Austen’s Mister Darcy describing the rarity of “really accomplished” women, Janson said: “I have not been able to find a woman artist who clearly belongs in a one-volume history of art.”  A revised Janson edition in 1986 finally included some women artists: By then, the wealth of research made it impossible to entirely exclude them.  (You can find some references listed at the bottom of Wikipedia’s “Women artists” page, and see more images reaching much farther back in time at Suppressed Histories Archives.)

Art, and the absence and eventual re-emergence of women artists, is part of my background and studies, and more viscerally, part of my coming-of-age DNA.  I’ve never forgotten this particular gender issue – the lie – but it no longer keeps me awake at night.

Fast forward, from art to shamanism, and Mircea Eliade.  He was the author of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, (France 1951; in English 1964) an extremely influential popular text on shamanism.  Having slogged through Techniques of Ecstasy myself a couple of times, I’d noticed the near-absence of women.  I assumed ignorance or worse.  It was worse…

Enter Barbara Tedlock’s excellent book, The Shaman in the Woman’s Body.  While Tedlock’s focus is on the many powerful women working in shamanism in the world, today and throughout history, she does mention their relative scarcity in recent texts on historical shamanism.  In fact, there’s so little mention of women in Eliade and most post-Eliade texts that I’ve had discussions with people – they’ve tended to be male people – who feel they can state for a fact that most shamans are male.

Yet, according to Tedlock, “[Mircea Eliade] never met a living shaman and thus had to depend on published sources.” That’s our expert?  Bad enough, but far worse: Contrary to his own source material, Eliade “went out of his way to deny shamanic status to women.”  The women that Eliade did mention were generally misidentified as “sorceresses,” or “possessed” or as being engaged in evil or just plain ineffectual practices. 1

And that wasn’t true. From Tedlock again:

One of the authors [Eliade] cited was Jan Jacob Marie de Groot. But de Groot, perhaps the most authoritative source on ancient Chinese religion at the time, had actually noted that women shamans predominated in early Chinese shamanism and that they were considered great healers… [Eliade’s] erasure of women from important religious roles was not even remarked upon for forty years. 2

Sure enough, working off Eliade and subsequent writers who use him as a primary source, many people come away with the erroneous impression that women practitioners are rare in shamanism.  And that isn’t true.  But Eliade’s prejudices have become a perpetuated lie.

Tedlock’s terrific book – another reclamation – mentions Eliade and “the disappearing act” as just one facet of her rich research.  Her focus is on the amazing work that shamanic women have always done and continue to do.

Janson’s and Eliade’s: Have either of these particular old lies impacted your own work?  While I love setting my own course, I’ve found that I like knowing that someone has gone before and “broken a trail,” made a path that I can perhaps follow, or at least know that someone else made an attempt.  Although art and shamanism both are so inherently idealistic and alive and lit with passion, art can also be isolating, and so can shamanism.  Obscuring a trail is a low-minded, sneaky deed.  Done like this, it cuts away chances for inspiration and continuity and community.

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I’m thinking of all this today because of Pamela Colman Smith, arguably one of the most influential artists in the world.  And relatively unknown.  She’s the artist behind the 1909 “Rider-Waite” tarot deck.  Her work was shown in New York by Alfred Stieglitz at his gallery 291, years before he crossed paths with Georgia O’Keeffe.

Tarot people know Pamela Colman Smith, but she is still nearly unknown outside the realm of tarot.  The tarot images she created have inspired dozens – probably hundreds – of other decks, and every day around the world, thousands of people look at her art, or derivations of it, as they have their tarot cards read. Influential and unknown.

For every trail we forge going forward, chances are there are multiple  paths tracing back to earlier roots that can help inspire the way.

We’ve got to keep brushing away all the damn dust.

______________

1 Tedlock, Barbara, Ph.D.  The Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine.  New York: Bantam Books, 2005, pages 63-64.

2 Tedlock, pg. 64.

Fire Ceremonies: Igniting Change

Campfire_Pinecone

We stand around the fire bowl, drums pounding, flames leaping, and – one by one – step forward to discard and bid farewell.

Our objects look like sticks and colored paper and string, but looks can be deceiving: They’re more than that.  Having asked in shamanic journey what we personally needed to bid farewell to, we’ve each created an object as directed by Spirit and then infused the object with intention, with energy, with the very essence of that which we release.  That stuff, that baggage, is now literally out of me and into my object.  I consign it to the flames for complete transformation.

Fire is cathartic. Whether it comes from the sky as a lightning strike or from this snazzy foot-long lighter, we know on a visceral, non-verbal level that Fire is powerful.  It can be our friend, or it can mess with us.

Today we engage with Fire as an ally.  This fire was laid, kindled and fed with clear intention, specifically to receive and transform this old psychic debris we’re releasing.  Be gone!  And it is gone.  We can feel the shift.

*   *   *

That was Saturday.  Last night I watched another, different fire ceremony.  More people were present, the circle was on a beach, and the items discarded were notes written on the spot, spontaneously. People read their notes aloud, then handed them into the flames.  Fire was a good ally to them, too: As the group finished, participants were dabbing their eyes.  On camera.

This fire was on Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, a show that I happily consider guilty-pleasure-TV.  In this episode, plainspoken Australian trouble-shooter Tabatha gathered the dysfunctional beauty salon’s owner and employees on a nearby beach, and they use Fire to help purge and heal their accumulated ill-feelings.

Which version did I prefer?  The one I took part in, of course: heat, drums and hollering, and my clothes still smell like smoke.  But why should fires and ceremonies be just for us pagans?  I generally see practices like these coming into the mainstream as a great thing, because these practices work.  Let’s all take our healing where we find it, and wherever we find room to create it.

More people with more healing = a more healed world.

_______________

Campfire-Pinecones image from Emeldil at en.wikipedia

Mad about sacred saffron

Saffron_Crop

“I’m just mad about saffron…”*

People are beginning to mention crocuses coming up.  I haven’t spotted any yet, but in Colorado these things change suddenly and on a yard-to-yard basis.  Always one of the first Spring flowers, insisting its way up through soil and snow, and with that dynamic deep yellow-gold stamen that it so eye-catching.  The real business portion of the plant, however, is the stigma, the thready reddish bits dangling between the petals of the true saffron crocus.   The picture above shows piles of the little things.  This portion of the crocus is laborious to harvest and has been used since antiquity, both good signs of its high value.

Prized as a flavoring and colorant in food, saffron is also a dye for fiber, yielding a yellow rich in both hue and price.  Its use as a pigment can be traced back as least 50,000 years; its medicinal uses have about 4000 years of recorded lore.  Early saffron-pickers are depicted in a wall painting rediscovered on Thera (aka Santorini), the island whose volcanic eruption decimated Minoan civilization around 1625-1600 BCE.  The Saffron-Gatherers, as they are now called, are graceful, elegantly dressed young women, moving across a hilly landscape dotted with crocus-groups, plucking the stigmas and eventually dumping their personal gathering baskets into a large keep.

Citing a Greek tradition of using saffron to treat menstrual pain, writer Elizabeth Wayland Barber views the Thera wall painting as a possible initiation scene, with the youngest girl helping others to pick something she would now have need of.  Barber’s book, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, focuses on the fiber arts and their creative development.  Barber notes that, to the ancient Greeks, “yellow apparel was considered appropriate for women only, including goddesses…”**

Among little Athenian girls, an ancient rite was the arteia, in which the girls dressed in yellow robes and yellow bear-cub costumes and danced to honor Artemis.  Ursa Major (the Big Bear) is Artemis’ former friend Kallisto, and Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) is Kallisto’s son Arcus. ***

What did that arteia-dance look like? Did each girl spin like the sky-Bears, like a little bear-cub-dervish?

_________________________

* Donovan, “Mellow Yellow,” 1966

** Women’s Work, page. 116

*** More about the arteia and Ursa Major in A Magical Tour of the Night Sky.

The saffron harvest photograph has been placed in the public domain by the artist.  See more.

Bone-Dancing with the Stars

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Once a month, I meet with a small circle of well-experienced shamanic practitioners to work together.  Wednesday night, we chatted, checked in, caught up, but then went on to the main event: Journeying.

Our format: We begin with personal journeys, connecting with our spiritual guides and asking our personal questions, then we “take requests.”

During the evening’s first journey, my main Power Animal told me, “Ahem!  Yes, you!  It’s time for a dismemberment!”  So, after One Person’s healing journeys, the group drummed for me.

In a shamanic dismemberment, your Power Animals and other spirit-plane allies take you apart, right down to the bone or further, especially removing anything troublesome.  Scary, painful?  No, but the absolute glee that Power Animals bring to this task can be unnerving.  They like taking us apart.

Midpoint, when I’ve just reached the skeleton stage, I stand up and dance.  However loose-limbed and shaky, being liberated from ordinary form is ecstatic!  But the dancing mood soon departs, and I lay back down for more stripping away.  Soon, wind whistles through hollow bones.  I’m dust amid the stars.  Nada-ness.

And then, I’m re-membered.  My Power Animals put me back together, sweetly and with such tenderness, leaving out anything that hasn’t been serving me well.  I emerge from the journey feeling… new.

Shamanic dismemberment removes the obvious stuff I’d think to aim for, but also removes the real crap I can’t see clearly: My own limiting attitudes and beliefs.  And it really reinforces the bonds of trust between me and my spiritual allies.  This is a strange, exquisite form of healing.

P.S. Shamanic dismemberment isn’t for those who are new to journeying. Get some live training around it first.

Image: From “The Dance of Death” by Michael Wolgemut (1493) 

A National Memorial for Survivors of Rape and Abuse?

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A National Memorial for Survivors of Rape and Abuse?  Wow.  A couple of ideas here immediately.

  • Many of the ancient sacred sites in the US were earthworks, colossal mounds of earth shaped as animal figures (i.e. Ohio’s Serpent Mound) and/or aligned to particular sky-actions (solstices, equinoxes, lunar extremes). Few remain, but they are profound, and often huge.
  • We have a modern “sacred site” that parallels much that we find in the ancient places: a sense of both privacy and community, connection with “something greater,” aesthetically evocative, aligned… That place is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (shown above in the original design submission).

What could a A National Memorial for Survivors of Rape and Abuse look like? More important, what could it FEEL like?  Safe for all, at all hours of day or night? Open to the moon?  So much food for thought here!