Daily Archives: August 1, 2011

Lammas – Fulfillment of Promise

Lammas – Fulfillment of Promise

by Gemini Star Child

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Lammas is a rare celebration for Seattle pagans. It is sometimes the only outdoor ritual we can perform without sweaters! The circle to which I belong tries to celebrate the Sabbats outdoors as often as possible, but even our tough little group enjoys the warm bliss of summer’s high sun at Lammas. While Litha is the longest day and the pride of the Sun Goddess, here, in Seattle, real warmth and sunny skies are often only an August thing.

So how do we celebrate Lammas – this “ripening in the sun”? We gather in a pleasant place where air and light can play and we bless the first fruits of harvest. In wheels past, we looked forward to the coming dark and the shortening of days. However, we decided that this year, having finally arrived at our one sunny Sabbat, we shouldn’t rain on the parade! Let’s live in the present and enjoy it.

Lammas is the fulfillment of the promise of light and seed. At Yule, we emptied ourselves completely to the void, embracing the fullness of fallowness and surrendering all to the Dark Mother. Light came from darkness and we recognized it at Candlemas. We presented our seeds to the light at Oestara and the Two were blessed in Beltane’s love. Light Mother gloried at Litha in the growing life of earth and ocean. Now, at Lammas, She shares with us the first fruits of the seeds we entrusted to Her.

Lammas has, sometimes, been depicted as a time of hope, for the full harvest could still fail. I prefer the optimistic “cup half full” view, however, that sees Lammas as the promise of harvest fulfilled. The vegetables are on the table, the cornbread is in the oven, and the apples are turning red. As deeply as we surrendered to the Dark Mother in the fallow time, so now we take joyful satisfaction with the Light Mother in the fruitful time. Lammas is the season to bask in bounty and acknowledge that “Life Is Good”.

Mabon will come and the full harvest, but then we will not bask, for there is much work to do. Later will come Samhain when we will store the seeds and release our bonds to this life and this cycle. That is then, but this is now. Be happy and rejoice! Dance, sing, and eat your fill! Life indeed is good! Happy Lammas and Blessed Be!

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HARVEST BLESSINGS: A LAMMAS RITUAL

HARVEST BLESSINGS: A LAMMAS RITUAL

by TaTa Chakra a.k.a. TerraFire

From Oct 98-Oct 99 I had the great blessing of living in a run down farmhouse at the foot of Mount Pisgah just southeast of Eugene, Oregon. I knew when I moved in that my stay there would be impermanent but I quickly grew deeply attached to the beauty of this five-acre property.

The man who had lived there before my housemates and I was an avid gardener whose devoted labor had turned an acre of the property from old river bed full of blackberries into a resplendent garden of visual delight. Because this man had been on good terms with many of the local green witches there were many people, mostly women who came to the garden to harvest the herbs and make herbal medicines. The man had also planted plum apple, peach, cherry and asian pear trees. There were logan berries, gooseberries red and gold raspberries, elderberries and of course many many blackberries. He had trained the blackberries over a bower and around the fence so that they created a privacy screen.

Behind the 16 more or less straight garden rows which had an irrigation system, was a ritual circle with three rings of wildflowers. My housemates and I dug a fire pit in the middle of this circle. We also began to keep bees, which was something that I had longed to do for many years. Bees are very sacred to me and the sound of their humming buzz is one I have always associated both with the cone of power and with my own inner guidance.

There were many lovely trees on this property as well, besides the fledgling fruit trees, there were two transplanted redwoods, not more than 30 years old, three old black walnuts to which we assigned the archetypes of maiden, mother and crone. The plant being that I grew most attached to was a Cottonwood tree, which was at least 75 years old. This tree was at the far northwest side of the property just 6ft from both edges of the property line.

A thick growth of mugwort had been planted against the fence. The cottonwood tree welcomed me as her magical companion. I regularly meditated by the tree, created a directional invocation with her, held counseling sessions, taught classes and also did trance work laying in the grass beneath her branches with a mugwort breeze drifting over me. My housemate called the place fennel farm because no matter how much fennel we weeded out more sprang up in its place. Fennel Farm was the most idyllic place I have ever lived and the perfect setting for the 3rd annual Luscious Leo Lammas party.

The Luscious Leo Lammas party was a brainstorm of how to create a public ritual space with the organization Cauldron of Changes and simultaneously celebrate my birthday (Aug 1st) and the birthday of my dear friend Mike (Aug 7th). I also had several other close Leo friends whose birthdays could not be ignored, (take my advice: never ignore a Leo’s birthday if you hope to be close to them).

For several years we had held the party and ritual at Mike’s house in town but this year it would be at Fennel Farm and bigger and better than ever. In addition to the ritual we had a keg, a huge vegan birthday cake (it was Eugene, remember), party lights and tiki torches, a stage for performance of poetry and music and we also hired a local African Dance troupe “Foli Kan”. We made crowns for all of the Leo’s to wear and had a kids activity area.

Lots of people came prepared to sleep over night in tents and we prepared the neighbors and invited them to join in. I had written a special invocation chant for the Goddess and God and practiced this and a directional invocation song with a small group of other priests and priestesses. We spent a considerable time preparing the ritual space and gathering our ritual tools and props. As Night began to fall Mike and I (High Priest and Priestess), gathered the ritual attendees together at the gate that lead into the garden and the ritual space beyond. We explained the ritual to everyone, what would happen in what order and taught them the chants. Then the High Priest picked up a tiki torch and lead a procession into the ritual space singing “We are a circle within a circle” by the group Welcome to Annwyfn.

As the group of about 80 people created a circle entering the ritual gate in the east and traveling clockwise around to take their spaces, I walked the outer perimeter with my smoky quartz athamé casting the circle three times. The group continued to sing “we are a circle” as each directional priest/ess in turn raised their voice above the group to call in their direction. In the East the song goes “You hear us sing. You hear us cry, Now hear us call you, Spirits of Air and Sky” which the directional priest finished by marking an invoking pentacle in the Eastern Watchtower with his athamé. He completed the invocation by lighting the three Tiki Torches set in the East.

Three more rounds of the chant were sung before the Southern Priestess sang out loud and clear, “Inside our hearts, there grows a spark, love and desire, a burning fire.” She raised her wand and drew an invoking pentacle on the Southern Watchtower. The song continued again and the Western Priestess sang, “Within our blood, within our tears, there lies the altar, of living water.” Holding the chalice another invoking pentacle was described and hung in the air in the Western quarter.

The North Priestess took her turn singing strongly “Take our fear, take our pain, take the darkness into the earth again.” Holding her paten up as invoking the northern pentacle. Then all the directions sang together “The circles closes, between the worlds, to mark a sacred space, where we come face to face.” And the song ended. The High Priest and I thanked everyone for coming to participate in our Lammas ritual. We explained that we were going to chant to draw down the Goddess and God into each other. We called the God to us and into the High Priest. We Called the Goddess to us and into the High Priestess. Everyone repeated this three line sing song refrain I AM THE GOD, I AM THE DIVINE, I AM THE DIVINE And the priest responded with the following: IN THE DARK I’M THE NIGHT IN THE DAY I’M THE LIGHT. Then everyone sang the Goddess chorus which was simply: I AM THE GODDESS, I AM THE DIVINE, I AM THE DIVINE and the priestess responded ” I AM THREE I AM ONE AND I CAN’T BE UNDONE”. While this sounds complex on paper it was rather simply done and the text of this singing invocation are given here in completion:

Singing Invocation of God and Goddess

Chorus refrain A:
I am the God
I am the Divine,
I am the Divine

Chorus refrain B:
I am the Goddess
I am the Divine
I am the Divine

Chorus A
God response:
In the Dark I’m the Night
In the Day I’m the Light

Chorus B
Goddess Response:
I am Three I am One
And I can’t be Undone

Chorus A
God response:
I am Young I am Old
I am Green Black and Gold

Chorus B
Goddess Response:
Maiden Mother and Crone
In them Each I am Home

Chorus A
God response:
I’m the Flowering Rod
I’m the Bountiful God

Chorus B
Goddess Response:
I am tree I am snake
I will keep you awake

Chorus A
God response:
I am Hoof I am Horn
As I Leap through the Corn

Chorus B
Goddess Response:
I Spiral and Wind
As I Labrynth through Time

Chorus A
God response:
I’m the One Inbetween
I’m the Seen and Unseen

Chorus B
Goddess Response:
I’m both Woman and Man
Alchemist that I Am

Finish with both Priest & Priestess hands joined singing:

In My Heart and My Mind
I am the Divine

The Priestess says:
The God is Amongst us,
Blessed Be!

The Priest Says:
The Goddess is Amongst Us,
Blessed Be!

After the invocation, the ritual continued with an explanation of Lammas, The High Priest and Priestess asked participants to look around them at the bounties of the earth and to think upon all of the goodness and wealth that the planet offers us daily. Their words spoken here were in the form of spontaneous offerings from the deities invoked. They explained that Lammas was the first harvest of three harvests, that this was the time of harvesting fruits and flowers, the time to celebrate community and friendships, the time to begin storing things for the coming time of darkness.

As the Description of Lammas ended the Priest and Priestess started Charlie Murphy’s chant “It’s the blood of the Ancients that runs through our veins, And the forms pass, but the circle of life remains” And as the drummers chimed in and the group picked up the chant the Priest and priestess took up a basket and bowl respectively and revealed a Mystery to all the participants in groups of two or three around the entire circle. The Priest showed his basket full of harvested fruits, vegetables and grains saying solemnly “This is the God” and the priestess showed her bowl of rich garden soil saying solemly “This is the Goddess”.

When the Showing of the Mystery was complete a brief grounding meditation was led and each person was asked to answer the Question “What Magickal gift is present in your life right now?” Participants were asked to think of the blessings of this gift to experience it’s presence in their life and to make their awareness of it as big as possible.

They were instructed to focus on the sense of gratitude and blessing and send it off to the earth and sky to anyone in need of it during the cone of power. The cone of power was facilitated by high priest and priestess with the help of the directional priest/esses and began with our imitation of bees buzzing. After several minutes of our toning getting progressively higher the cone was sent off and then held in resonance as we fell to the ground, earthing the energy. Several minutes of silence followed before the priest and priestess arose and moved again to the central altar. They brought out local Blackberry wine and freshly made blackberry juice and a rack of fresh honey comb. The Priest said the Feasting Blessing (from Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, p.169)

All Life is Your own,
All fruits of the earth
Are fruits of your womb
Your union, your dance.
Goddess and God
We thank you for blessings and abundance
Join with us, feast with us, Enjoy with us!
Blessed Be.

And we took the honey and wine and juice to each person as they laughed and made jokes and began to dance and sing again. When all had eaten and some had seconds, it was time to “devoke” the deities and directions, earthing again the powers we had raised and acknowledged. God and Goddess, each direction in turn were invited to leave and thanked for their presence. We sang “The Circle is Open” of course ending with Merry Meet and Merry part and merry meet again.

It has been a moving process for me to share this ritual with you, to consciously re-enter my experience of that sacred day in that beautiful and sacred place where I had the good fortune to live for a while. I hope that our ritual may inspire further rituals, that we humans may become more and more compelled to experience and express our closeness to the earth and our gratitude for her bounty. Blessed Be.

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To Burn in Sacrifice: A Lammas Ritual

To Burn in Sacrifice: A Lammas Ritual

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by Melanie Fire Salamander

The sun rises hot in the sky, dries the long grass yellow. Summer has settled in, and from crops in the fields and wild things in the forest the sun presses the first fruits of the coming harvest. It’s a classic time for ritual. Around the world, farming cultures have traditionally offered up the first harvest gleanings to their deities to ask that the remaining harvest be full and sweet. So too, symbolically, do we, many of whom have come away from our agrarian roots but still feel the pull of the seasons and the older gods.

My coven and I presented the following ritual for Lammas, or Lughnasadh, in 1997, following one traditional theme of the Sabbat, sacrifice. In many pre-Christian European cultures, Lammas was the time when farmers, probably first using a human representative, later an effigy, sacrificed the Corn King, symbolizing ever-reborn vegetable life. Traces of this tradition can be found throughout the British Isles and the Continent. In the ritual I describe following, participants identify themselves with the dying and rising God by first sacrificing to the fire straw dolls, symbolizing the selves to be left behind so that new selves can be reborn. The ritualists then consider the harvest they have gleaned and continue to glean from the past spring and summer and give thanks. Raising energy to symbolize that harvest and the giving Goddess and God, ritualists put the energy into ritual bread and eat it, taking in the harvest more fully.

Preparation the week before

A week to ten days beforehand, the high priestess or priest begins ritual preparation by making Lammas incense. The recipe for the incense I used is as follows:

2 parts frankincense

2 parts sandalwood

1 part pine resin

1/2 part bay

1/2 part cinnamon

1/2 part coriander

1/2 part meadowsweet

1/2 part oregano

1/2 part rosemary

A few drops rose oil

Slightly less oak moss oil

Very little patchouli oil (start with one drop)

For more on how to make incense, see my article “Start Making Scents” in the Litha 1999 Widdershins, which you can find at http://www.widdershins.org.

On the day before or the day of the ritual, the high priestess or priest bakes Lammas bread. To do so, you can follow any simple bread recipe to produce a loaf to your liking. We shaped ours into the form of a small man for the sake of the sacrifice symbolism, but that’s a personal call. While baking the bread, the ritualist should concentrate on the harvest, the Good Goddess and God and thankfulness. When the bread is finished and cooled, consecrate the bread. I raised energy and consecrated the bread with a pentacle of blessed olive oil, but you can use whatever form of consecration you prefer.

During the week before the ritual, participants should collect or make flammable decorations to symbolize attributes or events they’d like to either leave behind or offer as sacrifice. The ritual as structured leaves it up to individual participants to decide whether they want to let go of negative things or truly make sacrifice, giving up something so as to receive blessings from the deities. You can amend the ritual to focus on either approach.

During the week before the ritual, the high priest and priestess and any helpers should also collect the following:

· Wood, matches and fire starter materials to build a fire

· Straw, enough for all participants to make dolls from

· Multiple colors of yarn and embroidery thread

· Scissors

· Flammable ornament makings, such as colored sisal, dried flowers, flammable cloth, colored paper and markers

Bring enough materials that any ritualist who hasn’t been inspired previously can whip up a few symbolic decorations on the spot.

Preparation on the day of the ritual

On the ritual day, an hour or two before the rite itself, the high priest, priestess and helpers build a fire, and the high priest and priestess consecrate the built pile of wood and tinder to the ritual purpose, without actually lighting it. Likewise, ritualists set up their usual altar near the firepit (not too close!). On the altar or a side table nearby, helpers place the ritual wine and juice and the various ritual materials.

In my coven, we celebrate every Sabbat with a potluck feast. A feast is particularly appropriate after this ritual, which ends with the intake of our year’s harvest. I’d suggest traditional harvest foods (think Thanksgiving), but really hot weather might call for salads and ice cream. Before the ritual, everyone should make or set up their potluck dishes so that the ritual can segue smoothly into feasting and merriment.

Just before the ritual begins, the high priest and priestess should explain the ritual to everyone, start the Lammas incense on the altar burning and light the fire.

The ritual itself

The high priestess or priest begins the rite by leading everyone in a grounding exercise. Several past Widdershins have included Erika Ginnis’s excellent groundings, in particular “Body-Wisdom: Grounding,” Yule 1997, available at http://www.widdershins.org.

After grounding, the high priest, priestess and coven members cast the circle and invoke elements or directions in their usual way. The Goddess and God should be invoked with their harvest attributes; you can choose a particular pair of harvest deities or just call general female and male deity energy in harvest form.

Creating and burning dolls for sacrifice

The high priestess or priest then explains the technique for making straw dolls. To make such a doll, you take a hank of straw, bend it in half and tie a loop of string around the bent end. That creates the head. You then tie off some straw on one side for one arm and some on the other side for the other arm. Leaving some straw for the torso, tie a belt around the waist. Next, tie off one leg and then the other, and you’re done with your basic straw person. You can tie on or otherwise create genitals if gender is important in your sacrifice.

When the doll bodies are done, ritualists decorate them, incorporating the materials they brought and also things provided. Everything that goes on the dolls must be flammable and ideally should burn with a sweet scent. As the ritualists create their dolls, they concentrate on imbuing the dolls with the qualities of self that they bring to sacrifice, that their new selves be reborn. The high priest and priestess should keep an eye out and when doll-making is nearly complete ask the slower workers to finish.

When everyone’s done decorating dolls, it’s time to call the energies to sacrifice into the dolls. Before doing so, the high priestess or priest can describe how through this ritual we identify ourselves with the dying and rising God of Grain and Vegetation: Lugh, Tammuz, Dumuzi, Adonis, et al. To raise energy, the group performs a circle dance widdershins around the altar and chants the well-known couplet:

Horned one, lover’s son, leaper in the corn

Deep in the Mother, die and be reborn

This verse is not entirely vegetation-god oriented, but it’s a sweet chant most pagans know and definitely brings up dying and rising god energy. You can of course create your own chant instead.

Using this chant, raise energy and project it into the dolls.

When the dolls are imbued with energy, it’s time for sacrifice. Each participant, going widdershins around the circle, walks to the fire and feeds his or her doll to the flames. Ritualists can say a few words or work in silence as their dolls flare up.

While the dolls burn, people can also sacrifice to the fire by jumping it, as at other fire festivals. If you choose to do so, you can call out your sacrifice as you leap, or leap in silence. It’s probably best to limit ritualists to one jump each, lest the momentum of the ritual be dissipated. Once all are done jumping, the group grounds any remaining sacrifice energy and moves to the second part of the ritual.

Taking in the harvest as bread

At this point, the high priestess or priest asks ritualists to recall their spring and summer, particularly any ritual requests made six months ago at Imbolc, and to consider the things they are beginning to harvest.

Having considered their harvest, each group member going deosil around the circle gives thanks, spoken or wordless, for that incipient harvest. After thanks are given, the group raises energy of thanks and hopes for harvest by performing a circle dance deosil around the altar. For this second dance, the group can either create a thanksgiving chant, continue to call out their personal thanks or simply intone:

Thank you for the coming harvest, blesséd Lady and Lord.

Sometimes simple chants are best.

With the chant or calls of thanks, the group sends the raised energy into the ritual bread. The bread consecrated, the high priest and priestess break the loaf, take a piece each and pass the remainder deosil around the circle. Each ritual participant breaks off a chunk and eats it, taking the harvest within. The group follows the bread with ritual wine and juice.

When bread, wine and juice are finished, the group releases the elements or directions and deities in their usual way and takes down the circle.

This Lammas ritual is simple but contains, I think, some techniques to get energy moving. For me, sacrifice by fire and the intaking of bread — grain transformed by fire — create a satisfying cycle that resonates with the harvest beginning in this season.

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CONSIDER SACRIFICE: THE TRULY SPIRITUAL BECOME OFFERINGS THEMSELVES

CONSIDER SACRIFICE: THE TRULY SPIRITUAL BECOME OFFERINGS THEMSELVES

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by Blacksun

If there is one subject that will nearly always get a knee-jerk reaction from Pagans everywhere, it’s the topic of sacrifice. The very word will send eyebrows up and tongues wagging. And put the word “ritual” in front of it and you better hope you’ve got a good health plan! To say this is a touchy subject would be the understatement of the year. But I believe that we not only don’t really understand the positive value of ritual sacrifice, but that we should be utilizing it much more than we presently do.

At this time of the year, we acknowledge the harvest time as a significant reference point in not only the seasons but our own lives. The spiritual lesson of reaping what you sow is obvious, but how many of us make the connection between the cutting of the grain and the sacrifice of the Corn King? Most Pagans sort of gloss over this part and figure, “Well, that was in a time when things were a lot more brutal and less ‘civilized’ then they are today,” right? Did they really sacrifice somebody, or was it only symbolic? Why did they believe that a bloody death would somehow make any kind of difference if they really did snuff some luckless guy? Surely they didn’t think that human blood was the best fertilizer. (Besides, one guy’s supply of blood wouldn’t go very far even in a backyard city garden of today!) So, what is it with this notion of sacrifice and why should we, as modern, civilized Pagans, buy into it?

In the first place, sacrifice may come in many forms. I certainly don’t advocate slitting somebody’s throat and catching their blood in a bucket for later distribution (well, I’ll admit to thinking of this with some people at times, but I’ve kept myself from actually doing it). Whether or not the sacrifice of the Corn King was actual or symbolic, the idea is relative and vital.

There is nothing in human nature more reliable than the idea of ownership. If we make something, do something, think of or feel something, we have a sense of ownership about it. And when we “own” something, we will struggle to preserve it and to maintain control over it. It will hold our interest and be a part of our decision making processes. In a sense, it will own us. Even if we give it away, it will still have a hold on us in some way. If it is destroyed, we still feel a connection, sometimes even more intensely.

To sacrifice something – anything – is to give it away and (usually) to see or know it will be destroyed for some purpose. At the very least, our control over it will be destroyed. Most of the time, such an act will push thoughts of whatever we have sacrificed and the reason for it higher into our consciousness and keep them there for a considerably longer time than normal. Done under ritual conditions, it will also push the act into our unconscious minds, where the meaning of everything in our universe is first formed. This results in a significant change in everything we experience from that point on. Obviously, a sacrifice under ritual circumstances is a powerful thing and its use should be well thought out before implementation.

I’m a staunch advocate of planned and well considered rituals. Our religion emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility (how else can we do magick?). For any in the position of deciding what the meaning of the universe will be for others (and that’s exactly what is done by those who create and present powerful rituals), the short and long term effects of every part of a ritual should be mulled, fretted and worried over with the most loving and caring of hearts. So, what should be considered when using sacrifice in a ritual?

Ownership is a big consideration. Making sure that everyone involved in the ritual feels they own (and are owned by) something of the thing to be sacrificed is absolutely necessary. Without such a connection, there is no sacrifice. I’ve seen instances of sacrifice where one or two people, such as the HP and HPS, feel a great deal of ownership of the thing to be sacrificed, but little is done to inspire the rest of the people in the rite to feel a similar ownership. So, while one or two might get a lot out of the ritual, the rest sort of stand around wondering what’s going on and why. Often this could have been made much more meaningful for everyone if some time had been spent preparing the ritual goers so they felt a real connection with what was being sacrificed. Of course, each situation will be different, but if you are in the position of creating/presenting such a rite, think about ways of getting everyone to feel ownership. You might explain how the object of sacrifice connects to their lives. You might have them make a part or all of it. You may have them infuse it with their blessings, thoughts, wishes, etc. Whatever you do, make sure they feel they have created something of their own, that the object to be sacrificed is now theirs to give over for whatever purpose designed for it.

The purpose and the object of sacrifice should have an easily understood connection. Remember that the act and the object will be foremost in the conscious thoughts for a long time. These will also be pushed deep inside the psyche of each person in the rite and will be a powerful influence on the meaning of their lives from that point on. Every possible way the sacrifice can influence these people should be considered. Of course, nobody can think of every way, but plenty of time should be spent beforehand on what can be figured out.

The manner of sacrifice should also be taken into account. Respect for the object as well as the purpose of the sacrifice needs to be given. Respect for those who make the sacrifice should also be shown. A sense of loss will inevitably result from the sacrifice and a reverence for that loss is important. Indeed, it is a vital part of the sacrifice itself.

One final word about sacrifice. Our lives are finite; we only have so many days, hours and minutes to give. Those who give their energies, time and heart to the quest for spiritual meaning give sacrifice to the gods. They willingly give of themselves; not only for their own benefit, but for the good of the universe they know. To give even one second of your life to this end is to be a willing sacrifice to the gods. Is it possible that the Corn King was dealt a mortal blow in accord with his own recognition of this truth? Perhaps. But, whether this is true or not, the concept of the “willing sacrifice” is an important one. Any who walk the Spirit Path, no matter what they name their gods or their brand of spirituality, become the willing sacrifice. Our rites should act as a reminder of this for us so that we do not take our role lightly. Think on this and you will have a better understanding of how to use ritual sacrifice in the future. Ultimately, everything we have, even our lives, will be given over to someone or some energy. This gift should be meaningful and given with love. Love not only for the giving and the gift, but for the receiver of that gift. With such a powerful energy behind your sacrifice, GOODNESS will be your result.

The time of the First Harvest is upon us. The life-giving food that we symbolically give back to the land represents our understanding and reverence for the Life that has been bestowed upon us. By ritually marking this time, we renew the link between us and the spirits/energies that have given us that wondrous gift. May your life be a miracle.


Blacksun is a ritual leader in the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and author of The Spell of Making.

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Animals Talk, We Should Listen

Animals Talk, We Should Listen

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by Napecincala (Little Paws)

The early autumn air lay cold and damp around me as I tried to find a comfortable spot in my blanket. I had been in this pit for two days with no food and no water, but no vision came despite hours of singing and praying. I leand up against the wall and rested my back. I was tired and hungry and very thirsty, but I remained standing and stared at one of the fruit wood poles that my prayer ties were hung on. A little black spider started to spin a web between the pole and the string of my ties. It worked very quickly. I watched the operation, entranced by the beauty of the design and the opalescent colors that danced off the thread in the early morning light. It was beautiful when it was done. Then she crawled up the web and waited at the place where it was attached to the pole.

I stared up at the sky, and as the morning progressed the air warmed the dirt around me. The pit transformed from a cool retreat to an earthen oven. I pulled my star blanket over my head to keep off the biting deer flies. Only my blanket-clad head could be seen above ground by the helpers who periodically came to check on me. They did not speak to me, and I supposed they just came up to make sure I was still breathing.

Every once in a while I would look down at the web, but the spider had not caught any breakfast that I could see. A rabbit, unaware of my presence within a circle of prayer ties, hopped out from behind a rock and started to nibble on the fruit I left for the spirits. Crows called to each other, and butterflies, attracted by the bright colors of the prayer ties, would light on the string, searching futilely for the way in to the nectar of this strange, red cloth flower.

A large vulture soared on the warm updrafts above until it spotted a potential meal and disappeared over my diminished horizon. An hour or so later he was circling above me again. I kept thinking he was just waiting for me to die so I could be the next blue plate special. I held my pipe in my hands and sang prayer songs one after another in a high keening voice, begging for a vision.

As evening approached, bats performed amazing acrobatics above my head, hunting the wretched mosquitoes that had plagued me for nearly four days. I welcomed them and watched them dance in the gloaming. Even with all the mosquitoes in the air, the little spider still waited at the end of its web for a meal.

Stars lit up the prairie sky one at a time as darkness descended. I heard the scuffle of some ground animal behind me, though I never saw the passing porcupine. Only her tracks in the dust attested to the visit.

I woke that morning to a vision of diamonds suspended from the spider’s web. Morning dew and gray light formed a beautiful sculpture. Still the spider waited, and nothing disturbed the perfect form of the web. When the helpers came to take me out of the pit, I was weak with hunger and angry. In four days I had not been granted a vision. During the sweat lodge afterward the medicine person asked me what I had seen.

“Nothing,” I replied.

I could hear the smile in his voice as he asked, “So you were sleeping with your eyes open?”

“No, grandfather, what I meant to say was that I didn’t have a vision.”

“Oh,” he said across the darkness, “So you did see something while you were up there.”

Then I talked about the spider and the crows, the rabbit and the porcupine, the butterflies on the line. I described in detail how I felt and what I was thinking about, but I am sure he could hear the bitterness and disappointment in my voice. I had prayed and fasted for four days for a vision and spirit helpers, and it felt like it was all for nothing.

“Did the spider ever catch anything?” he asked.

“No.” I replied. It was the only part of my time “On the hill” that he asked about.

When we were all done and I was readying to leave, a woman helper came up and said that it takes a long time for most human beings to understand why things happen the way they do.

“We don’t really live in a fast food world, you know.”

Months later I began to understand that my time on the hill had given me everything I asked for.

*************

The above story is a parable, pure fantasy, a modern re-telling of an old Lakota story designed to teach something about the error of expectation and the need for patience when seekers are trying to learn from the natural world.

The reason I chose to write this parable in this way is because most white people walking the red road (learning about Native American spiritual beliefs) have a similar experience when they start out. I certainly did. More importantly, speaking in detail about personal visions and spirit helpers is a little like talking in detail about your sex life. It is usually more information than anyone has the right to know about you, or wants to know.

Like most people raised in a Christian culture, I came to the ceremony of “hanblecia,” crying for a vision, with all kinds of preconceived notions about what a vision was and how it would come to me. My pagan ideas also came into play, as I imagined animal spirit helpers as more like familiars that I could command than teachers I could learn from. Perhaps the most limiting expectation that I had was that I would be given an “important” animal spirit, like an eagle or a wolf or a bear. So, when my spirit helpers showed themselves to me, I didn’t see them, because I was not looking for them in the context in which they appeared.

My day-to-day world is bound by “clock time,” which is faster than Nature’s time, and “computer time,” which is so fast that I can’t even perceive it. As I contemplated my own hanblecia I began to see that time is a key to being able to listen to the animals. Lots of questions came to mind in the weeks following. Does a stone live on the same time as a hummingbird? Do daytime animals perceive time in the same way that nocturnal animals, like bats and porcupine, do? Why is it that most vision seeking ceremonies impose such difficult physical demands? What the Elder lady was trying to say, at the end of my story, was that Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) has no respect for human concepts of time. We do not really live in a fast food world, and a real connection to Nature’s spirits requires that the human being accommodate them, by slowing down and focusing.

As in the Christian tradition, Lakota stories say than humans were the last thing to be created. But rather than being superior to everything, man was decidedly inferior. All the animals stood around First Man and First Woman and laughed and cried at how pitiful these naked things were. They had no fur to keep them warm, no teeth and no claws to feed themselves and they had nothing to offer the other animals in return for knowledge. Coyote laughed so hard at the sight of them that he died of it. Almost by accident, First Woman stepped over his prostrate body and brought him back to life. In his gratitude, Coyote begged the Great Mystery to do something to help these pitiful creatures. He thought that if they just died it would be better than the miserable short existence that they were in for.

Wakantanka had another idea. He created a plant, tobacco, and gave it exclusively to human beings. He also made the every spirit in nature long for the taste and smell of it, but the only way they could get it was if human beings offered it to them. So it was that human beings learned from animal spirits and other spirits in the world how to live.

I love this story because it clearly says that we needed the spirits in order to live. They did not need us. It is only with offerings of tobacco and a certain amount of humility that they are willing to reveal themselves to us. This was the purpose of the hundreds of red prayer ties I made in preparation for my ceremony.

In my fable, though, I did not have a vision in the way I expected. Rather the actual animals appeared in my world and demonstrated through their actions what I needed in order to live. The spider demonstrated careful construction and patience. The rabbit showed a certain amount of courage to come out into the open when it knew predators were still around, that there is a certain risk involved in really living. The porcupine taught me that I could figure out what was going on around me by simply opening my eyes and seeing the evidence. The vulture spoke to me of the opportunities to grow and change that death sometimes represents. The crows talked to each other and helped each other by sharing information. The butterfly reminded me that there is beauty in persistence. Even when it won’t get you what you want, it makes you stronger. The bats taught me flexibility and the immense power of listening carefully.

None of this interpretation came out of a book and the holy person who was assisting me did not even attempt to interpret what happened to me on the hill. He did stress, by his silences and later his questions, that while I could not control the things that happened, I certainly did control what they meant. It was my responsibility to find the meaning in the ceremony, not his. On reflection, I could tease out the lessons that all these helpers had given me. None of them were glamorous or particularly powerful medicine, but each brought me a lesson I needed at that time.

He also brought the spider back into my awareness with his question. “Did the spider ever catch anything?” When I thought about it later, I came to understand that just because I had done all the ceremony in the right way, at the right time and with the right materials, it did not guarantee that I would “catch” anything. And in another way, my answer had been wrong. The spider did catch something. It caught my attention. In those few minutes that it was spinning its trap, I was transported. I felt no hunger and no thirst. Time stopped as I gazed in awe at the beauty of the thing. I was listening and they were speaking in the language of symbols. Those moments, when time was suspended — that was my vision.

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Bad Kitty Chooses and Trains Her Witch…

Bad Kitty Chooses and Trains Her Witch…

story

by L. Lisa Harris

The candles were lit, as the heavy scent of incense caressed the air. “We all come from the Goddess” was playing softly in the background as we passed energy hand to hand to cast our circle. Deities were invoked, and quarters were called with poetry and passion. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a movement as a furry black paw reached out from under the altar cloth and snatched my ritual candle lighter. The familiar strikes again.

The day before last Thanksgiving, I had an overwhelming urge to adopt a kitten. It wasn’t planned out. It wasn’t even rational. I needed a cat and I needed it that day. After we bought our house, we had discussed adding a new pet to our family some time in the future, but had made no immediate plans. As a matter of fact, my dear husband had not actually agreed to it. I rationalized my impulse by telling myself that since our whole family would be home for four days, it would be the perfect time to bring a new family member into the household, especially since the smell of roasting turkey is so welcoming. Visions of our happy family playing with a cute, fluffy frolicking kitten filled my mind. It was time; hubby would come to see that once the cute little fluff ball snuggled up to him and purred.

I picked up the phone and called the local Petsmart adoption center. I was in luck, an organization called “Spaying To Save Our Pets” had several cats and kittens up for adoption, but I would have to get there before 1:00 p.m., as they were going to be packed up and taken back to the shelter for the four-day holiday. I took an early lunch and headed up to South Hill to see the kittens. When I arrived there was quite the display of meowing, yowling, tumbling and cuteness.

These cats knew that they were “auditioning” and were hamming it up good. It was almost sensory overload.

My eyes went immediately to an older kitten, about six months old, with long silky black fur and penetrating amber eyes. I knew that my husband and daughter liked very young kittens with short hair, and that hubby would have a fit if I brought home a cat whose fur clashed with our white carpet. My dear husband has what I consider to be an unnatural attraction to vacuuming and takes great pride in making each nap of the carpet stand at attention, spotless and clean. He’d freak out if I brought home a cat with long black fur just waiting for the opportunity to shed all over the place. I tried to ignore her and find something interesting, or attractive about the babies and shorthaired cats, but I kept returning to those big amber eyes, that penetrating stare that said, “You want me.”

“It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick the cat I like, just because she looks like a `witchy kitty'; this is a family pet.” I told myself. Kitty had other ideas.

After the other cats and kittens got done making fools of themselves or completely ignoring me, my eyes returned to the black kitty. She calmly sat in her cage, regal and oblivious to the hubbub going on around her. With her head held high and her fluffy tail gracefully circling her perfect little paws, she let out three dignified, soft, throaty mews, then reached her paw out of the cage and put it on my arm as if to say, “You may pick me up and hold me now.” I asked the clerk if she could get the kitten out so that I could hold her and she instantly began to purr and snuggle. I was hooked. When I looked at the tag on her cage, I noticed that her name was “Sabrina,” a fine witch name. She had been brought back earlier that very day.

The adoption center people wanted to make sure that we didn’t have a dog, as she had been returned for “beating up” a Yorkshire Terrier in her previous home. I had to respect a tough kitty and considered myself fortunate to have had the urge to come adopt a cat the same day that this fabulous creature had been brought back in.

She bewitched the rest of the household in short order, and I began to wonder if she would become my familiar. She loved the whole family, but attached herself to me quickly and completely. She could not sleep unless it was on or in my face, and I was not allowed any unauthorized or unsupervised trips to any other room in the house, especially the bathroom. It became apparent that I had acquired a fluffy shadow.

She was attracted to anything magickal, and had a weird thing going with my Witch Barbie’s familiar. She would jump up on the dresser at night and steal her little gray plastic cat, as if to say, “I’m the only familiar in this house and don’t you forget it!” I soon found that she had a collection of sacred items, including one of my rune stones stashed under the altar in our bedroom. It didn’t take her long to earn the nickname “Bad Kitty.” One afternoon I came home from work to find her sitting in the middle of the small Brigid wheel on the living room altar as if to say, “I’m magick.” She somehow managed to jump from the floor, over a circle of seven-inch taper candles, into a space of less than 12 inches, without knocking a single candle out of place. I have no idea how she did that, but she was quite proud of herself.

The first time I cast a circle in her presence, to charge some herbs for witch balls I was making my coven members for Yule, she went crazy (more so than usual), tearing in and out of the bedroom and creating a ruckus. Finally, as she was taking a short breather, I yelled down the hall at her, “If you want to be my familiar, get your furry little butt in here and help, otherwise go harass someone else. I’m busy.” She stuck her nose and tail in the air as if to say, “It’s about time you offered me a proper invitation” and sauntered into the bedroom and sat next to the altar concentrating on my work, only occasionally taking a break to lick herself. Once she was formally recognized, she left Witch Barbie’s kitty alone, as it apparently posed no further threat to her status.

From that point on, it was apparent that I had a certified “energy junkie” on my hands. At our monthly coven meetings, she simply must be in the middle of the circle as it is being cast. She bounced off the walls for three days after “attending” her first circle. She has since learned to ground her excess energy. There is to be no magick in the house without Bad Kitty being in the middle of it. She will only leave a circle if drums are bought out, and only for as long as the noise is going on. She is able to slip in and out of the circle without actually breaking it.

I do a lot of magikal work involving meditation and visualization in the bathtub, as it is the only place in the house that I can get any quiet and privacy. One night, as I was meditating in the tub with my eyes closed, I felt a “furry presence.” Bad Kitty had let herself into the bathroom and was perched on the edge of the tub with her front paws on my shoulder, her face right in mine, and her bushy tail dangling in the herbal water. She and I were sharing breath, and much to my surprise, energy. I could feel that the circle was stronger after she entered it.

Bad Kitty is in transition from silly kitten to serious magikal partner. We spend a bit of time each day working on our physic communication. We play a little game where one of us pictures in our mind’s eye, what we would like the other to do. It works about 85% of the time. She often uses this skill to argue over when and what she’s being fed. When she’s not filling my life with trickster energy, she’s actually helpful magickally. At rituals held in my home, she will often feel and fill an energy gap in the circle. If someone is distracted, uncomfortable or for some other reason is not moving energy as well as they normally would, she sits just behind them as if to fill in the gap. Several of us have felt the circle strengthen when she has done this.

Unfortunately, she is still young, at just over a year old, and definitely has her moments when she’s an unfocused, obnoxious adolescent. I was recently working a seven-day spell for something extremely important, and discovered that she is up for no more than three days in a row of any single working. The first three days, she could sense me getting ready to do the work and enthusiastically supervised my preparations, lent her energy during the actual working and served as guardian. On the fourth day she couldn’t decide if she wanted to be involved or not and grudgingly entered the bathroom with me. On day five I picked her up and carried her into the bathroom with me, thinking, “I started this working with the cat, I should complete it with the cat.” After that, I realized that no familiar is better than a bored familiar and let her off the hook for the rest of the working.

The more we work together, the more I discover how powerful the magikal connection we share really is. I often wonder why I had the overwhelming need for a cat at the exact moment I did. I would like to think of myself as a humanitarian who “rescued” a homeless kitty from a shelter. But we all know that I was merely the pawn of a cat looking for her own “pet witch”.

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Animal Spirit Guides Enlighten Us

Animal Spirit Guides Enlighten Us

article/story

by Shiela Baker and Kim Pearson

We all have spirit guides. Very often these guides take animal forms. Animal spirit guides live deep within our universal unconscious, our subconscious minds and in the relationships between us as souls. The practice of shamanism offers a way to connect deeply with the wisdom and guidance of these creatures.

Shamanism and Animal Spirit Guides

In shamanism, our spirit guides are the protectors, the witnesses and the pathfinders. They are the shaman’s primary helpers in facilitating healing. Shamans have strong relationships with their guides that are continually reinforced in journeys taken together. These interactions are the basis for shamanism and the foundation for the power of the shaman. As in any intimate relationship, they are intense, emotional and sometimes fraught with danger.

Our ancestors lived in close relationship with all forms of nature. They interacted with the environment and shared this knowledge. In shamanic journeys, I have found the ability to reclaim my ancestral heritage and to commune with these carriers of deep knowing, most of whom are animals. Communing with these animal guides during journeys has taught me about my passion for life, about right action and right timing and even about right communication.

Lessons From Your Power Animal

Finding your power animal is one of the great treasures of life. Animals come as guides and protectors, and of course as teachers. One of my favorite stories is of a guide who is large and has small feet. One day, while on a shamanic journey, we were wading in a river and I was complaining about the cold water, the slippery rocks and a multitude of other picky things. My guide head-butted me with his enormous head, sending me flying to land in the frigid water. Gasping, I got up and looked at him in astonishment. He looked back at me and said, “How big are my feet and how much do I weigh? And how big are your feet and how much do you weigh?” I understood the point. My esteem and respect for him increased greatly that day. Animal guides have much to teach us, and not always gently. Animals are powerful metaphors for the medicine of the lessons our soul has come to learn and heal.

Totems and Clans

Guides are also known as animal totems and power animals. A totem is an object, usually an animal or plant (or all animals or plants of that species), that is revered by members of a particular tribe or clan because of a mystical or ritual relationship that exists between the totem and that group. Generally, the members of the group believe that they are descended from the totem ancestor, or that they and the totem are “brothers.” In the case of a clan, descent is traced to a male or female common ancestor. Such groups have been known in all parts of the world and include some that claim the parentage or special protection of an animal, plant or other object. They also include such familiar groups as the Highland clans of Scotland (the English word clan comes from Gaelic). Most clans stress mutual obligations and duties to these animals. Many clan badges have animals as well as tartans associated with them.

The totem — or rather the spirit it embodies — represents the bond of unity within these groups. The totem may be regarded as a group symbol and as a protector of the members of the group. In most cases, the totemic animal or plant is the object of taboo. It may be forbidden to kill or eat the totem animal, as in the sacred cow in India. The symbol of the totem may be tattooed on the body, engraved on weapons, pictured in masks or carved on totem poles, as among Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest.

The Purpose of Animal Guides

As protective, non-antagonistic spirits, the purpose of animal guides is to support our growth and development as evolving human beings. We are spiritual beings having a two-legged experience. Their direct involvement in protecting and witnessing while teaching lessons is what makes the shamanic relationship to spirit guides unique. Working with an animal spirit guide is like having a watchful big brother in the spirit realm. Without our cooperation, spirit has no way to manifest. We need and want spirit involvement on our life path so that we, too, may manifest what we desire and deserve.

In my experience, some guides are helpers with particular events, lessons or life challenges. Others are here to be life partners. It is by spending time with them that this mystery unfolds. The shamanic journey is the way to find and develop a bond with your guides. Spirit guides may be personal, meaning that they wish to keep their relationship with you private; or they may be public, and willing to be discussed with others. In some circles, it is considered rude to ask the identity of one’s guides. Some guides appear when there is danger; others are playful. There are as many reasons for guides as there are guides. It is in deeply personal interactions that a dialogue begins to unearth the purpose.

By following one guide throughout a year I became aware of subtle things: the need to grow more hair or shed some fur, when to stock up on calories and when to travel to the sweet waters and turn back again. I have heard fantastic stories from others who have taken shamanic journeys, including tales of two-inch bears and of bears with lounge chairs on their heads. I have seen a crocodile remove an old scar. My guides perform the extraction work in soul retrieval (the recovering of lost soul parts). I could not do it without them. (See my previous article in the Imbolc 2001 issue of Widdershins.)

Two Examples of Animal Spirit Guides

Here are two of my public guides, and the meanings they have brought with them for my life. Each animal spirit has many meanings. A good resource for meanings of particular animals is a book such as Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. You will discover some meanings for yourself by working with your guides.

The dragon is described in the the online Encycopedia Mythica found at: http://www.pantheon.org/mythica.html as a mythical beast usually represented as a huge, winged, fire-breathing reptile. For centuries, the dragon has been prominent in the folklore of many peoples; thus, its physical characteristics vary greatly and include combinations of numerous animals.

In many legends, a dragon wreaked havoc on a town or village, and therefore was either soothed by a human sacrifice or killed. The dragon was also often the guardian of a treasure or a maiden. The highest achievement of a hero in Medieval legend was the slaying of a dragon, as in the story of St. George. King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon (literally, “dragon’s head”), also killed a dragon. The giant red dragon in the Bible gave rise to the use of the beast as symbolic of Satan in Christian art and literature. In ancient China, the dragon was associated with fertility and prosperity. Many of the beliefs connected with the dragon are echoed in snake worship.

What I have discovered about dragons for me personally is that dragon medicine is about sitting on top of treasure, being able to fly and the ability to burn away anything obstructing my way. It is ancestral wisdom and great knowledge, and knows just what to do. When dragon appears in a journey, I know that there is fantasy afoot. These journeys are deep in meaning, but light in nature.

The bear, as described in Animal Speak, is a symbol of power. It is also a shape-shifter; there are stories of bears turned into humans and humans into bears. It is associated with the huntress and the goddess Diana. Bears are ferocious carnivores and will eat almost anything. Their medicine is to go within (hibernation) to find the resources necessary for survival in order to make choices from a position of power. Bears are associated with trees. For myself personally, Bear is the ability to shape shift, to be the aggressor and to eat anything in my path. This is particularly helpful in extractions or de-possessions (removal of energy or entities from the client). The cunning and resources of bear allows for powerful shamanic work.

One of the wonderful things in journeying with your particular guide is that only he or she can truly teach you his/her particular medicine. This is for you to discover. There are many great stories told by students of shamanic journeying, such as the one that follows.

–Shiela Baker

Tale of a Shamanic Journey

I studied shamanic journeying with Shiela Baker, and was introduced to my power animal guides. My journeys are almost always presented to me as fully realized stories – with a plot, theme and characters, rich in vivid detail and colorful images. Because I am a writer, artist and storyteller, my guides have chosen to manifest their guidance and teachings as stories because it is the easiest and most natural way for a person of my inclinations to learn. These stories and images speak to current issues or problems in my life powerfully, yet gently. For instance, the following story, “How to Leap Like a Frog,” was presented to me in a journey when I was undergoing a difficult internal debate about whether or not to take a courageous (some may say foolhardy) step in my professional life. As you will see, in this story, my spirit guide, Frog, gives me (“Cronya” in the story) a metaphoric lesson on how to take a leap of faith.

How To Leap Like A Frog

Once, long ago or maybe only yesterday, there lived a woman named Cronya, who had many blessings, such as health and wealth and friends. Even so, she was bored with her life. “Nothing ever happens to me,” she thought.

It is dangerous to be bored with life on this good planet, because life is a mysterious gift from the gods, and the gods intend their gifts to be appreciated. The gods are not happy when people are bored.

And when the gods are not happy, interesting things are likely to happen.

Because the gods are kind (although their kindness is not always known for what it is) they sent Cronya a special gift, a gift that would make boredom impossible. They arranged that for one full year, on every seventh day, a magic chant would pour out of Cronya’s mouth, whether she willed it to or not.

As perhaps you know, magic chants open magic doorways into magic worlds. And magic worlds are never boring.

One evening, Cronya lay down on her bed and burrowed sleepily beneath the covers. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth in a big yawn. But instead of a yawn, what came out of her mouth was the following chant:

Allies and adversaries of the east
Spirits of air
Blow your breath into my wandering mind
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries of the south
Spirits of fire
Burn your light into my passionate heart
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries of the west
Spirits of water
Pour your libations into my receptive soul
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries of the north
Spirits of earth
Burrow deeply into my welcoming body
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.
Allies and adversaries above and below
Sky Father, Earth Mother
Teach me, heal me, bring me into a place of one-ness
Witness my journey, bless and protect me
Show me the way.

Opening her eyes, Cronya finds herself seated in a canoe. The canoe is docked on the bank of a deep green river that flows through a deep green forest. The trees cluster thick along the banks of the river. The canoe slides off the bank and into the water.

The canoe is traveling toward the setting sun, whose rays are lighting the tops of the trees, turning them gold. “I am going west,” says Cronya in some alarm. Cronya has been west before. The west is the land of water, where the air itself is so moist that your face always feels damp, whether you are crying or not. The west is where wet creatures live. The west is where Old Trout lives, down in the deepest depths of the river, past the furthest western fork, near the mouth where the river empties into the Western Sea.

Cronya has met Old Trout before, and it has never been a pleasant experience. But those are other stories for other times, and today will be different because today is always different.

The canoe is heading downstream toward the sea, but the river is full of bends and twists, and Cronya cannot see what is coming next. Her experience with the west says that something will happen, probably a surprise. Cronya is not fond of surprises.

The canoe rolls and bobs with the current, and the shadows are lengthening over the river. Trees and water, water and trees, are all she sees. She stands on the seat of the canoe, teetering on tiptoes and craning her neck, trying to see over the tops of the trees. But no matter how hard she stretches and cranes, all she sees are trees and water, water and trees.

She sits down on the seat and peers into the river. There she sees Old Trout himself, swimming alongside the canoe. He is enormous, longer than the canoe itself. Cronya suddenly remembers the last time she met him, when he snapped her up and ate her. She does not want to repeat this adventure, for it was very uncomfortable. Old Trout teaches difficult lessons. But Cronya cannot take her eyes off Old Trout. She cannot stop looking at him. His rainbow scales shimmer pink and green, beautiful colors that make Cronya want to jump into the water.

Thump! Something jumps onto the canoe seat. It is a green frog with bulging orange eyes and long rubbery legs. “I am Frog! I am a good bug hunter!” announces the frog, as his long red tongue darts out and catches a fly unlucky enough to be going by. “Yum,” rumbles Frog, smiling at Cronya’s expression as if he would like to eat that, too.

“You worry too much,” Frog informs Cronya. “I have come to teach you how to leap like a frog.”

Frog pulls Cronya to her feet and they both stand on the seat of the canoe. “Hold hands,” Frog commands, and grabs Cronya’s hand with his long fingered green one. It feels cool and damp and sticky.

“Now stretch those toes,” he directs, and Cronya feels her toes stretching, stretching, until they are as long as frog toes. She splays them wide and presses them hard into the seat of the canoe, anchoring herself firmly.

“Bend your knees,” calls Frog, and they squat down low. Cronya’s bottom brushes the canoe seat. “Now thrust upward and stretch!” Frog says, and they stretch their legs out to the farthest length they can go, which to Cronya’s surprise is very far indeed. She can see the tops of the trees!

“Squat down low again,” says Frog, and they go down again. “Now up again,” he calls, and up they go, this time stretching even further. Now Cronya can see over the trees.

“Down!” says Frog, then “Up! We are getting ready to jump,” he says. “Practice! Practice!”

Up down, up down, up down, they go, practicing, practicing. Every time they go up, Cronya can see the course of the river, the whole river system going down to the sea. The sea is getting closer and closer. She can see that they are approaching the mouth of the river. She can see the waves of the Western Sea lapping the land. She can see Old Trout still swimming by the canoe, his tail fin moving back and forth, back and forth.

It is nearly dark by now, but on an upward stretch Cronya sees the expanse of the Western Sea, and on it a big, white, gleaming, cruise ship. The cruise ship is decorated with bright twinkling lights that are reflected on the waves. Sparkling dance music echoes over the water.

“Okay,” says Frog. “We have practiced, and now we are ready. We are going to jump! We are going to jump right onto that cruise ship.”

“Are you kidding?” says Cronya in alarm. “We can’t jump that far – over the trees, over the water, over the river mouth, high up onto the top deck of that huge ship!”

“Oh, I think we can,” says Frog. “In fact, we must. It’s the way home, you know.”

Cronya sees Old Trout give a shiver of delight from his position alongside the canoe. “Old Trout is there,” she tells Frog, pointing him out.

“Yes,” says Frog, nodding. “We must jump well. We must jump high and long. If we miss the cruise ship, we will fall into the river, and then Old Trout will gobble us, for sure. So it’s important not to miss.” He smiled at Cronya, wiggling his long red tongue at her.

“Grab hands!” orders Frog, catching hold of Cronya and pulling her to her feet. “Up!” he calls, and they stretch up; “Down,” he calls, and they squat low. “Up, down,” he calls again, and they stretch again. “Okay,” he says, “This is it. At the top of the up stretch, release your toes and leap!”

Her heart thumping in her mouth, Cronya holds tight to Frog’s hands, and they go up, stretch, stretch, stretch, and at the last possible moment, Cronya releases her toes and pushes off. They go sailing through the sky, over the trees, over the mouth of the river, up, up, up to the top deck of the cruise ship, and they land safely on deck.

There is a party going on at the cruise ship. People are dancing to salsa music, wearing flowers and ribbons, drinking party drinks, laughing and talking and making party noise. Cronya and Frog join a conga line, cha cha cha-ing around the deck. The party is ending, and soon all the people dance and laugh their way to bed, leaving Cronya and Frog alone on the top deck of the cruise ship.

It is completely dark now, and the vast moon rises, full and sweet, and hangs low over the deck. Cronya and Frog stretch out on some deck chairs, relaxing and gazing at the beautiful Moon.

Frog is totally entranced by the Moon. He gazes at her with love and longing. His eyes bulge even bigger, his mouth falls open, and his long red tongue lies limply on the deck. Suddenly he gives voice to a full, loud, throaty CROAK, which echoes over the Western Sea.

The Moon expands when she receives the Croak. She opens her mouth wide and responds with a croak of her own, which is so vast and booming it makes the deck chairs clatter on the deck and the glass windows shiver as if they were about to break.

Frog jumps out of his deck chair and leaps to the white railing of the ship. “Croak!” he calls, in a voice even louder than before. His croak streaks across the sky and the Moon swallows it with a gulp.

“CROAK!” she booms back, and this time the windows of the cruise ship do shatter, tinkly sounds harmonizing with the echoes in the croak’s wake.

Frog’s knees bend, and he squats down low, low. Then he stretches up high, high, his spatulate toes gripping the deck rail; and then down again, low, low.

He is practicing.

And then with his greatest and loudest croak yet, Frog springs high and releases his toes. He and his croak leap through the air toward Moon.

Moon expands until she seems to fill the Western sky.

“CROAK!” she thunders, and her mouth opens wide, showing her deep mysterious black inner self. In flies Frog triumphantly, and Moon shuts her mouth and swallows him.

Frog is gone. Perhaps, Cronya thinks, he is home.

The cruise ship sails on through the night. It is heading east toward morning, away from the west and the creatures of the water, where Old Trout is no doubt waiting still.

The End

The language of spirit is spoken in metaphors and parables. All spiritual teachers have known the teaching power of stories. “How to Leap Like a Frog,” although a simple, almost childish tale, has some profound lessons embedded within it.

At the beginning of the journey in which this story was given to me, I told spirit that my intention was to explore whether I should take a leap of faith in my professional life, and if so, how I should go about doing so. The answers I gleaned from the story were these: First, I am told to get a teacher, someone who knows how to leap. Frog appears and tells me not to worry, that he is here to teach me how to leap like a frog. The second lesson is to get an overview of the situation, to see beyond the immediate present. Frog teaches Cronya to stretch so she can see the entire river system and the Western Sea. Third, don’t minimize the dangers. Yes, Old Trout is really there, and he is probably hungry. Fourth, practice your new skills in a safe place. Frog and Cronya practice squatting and stretching many times, before actually jumping. Fifth, aim high, even if it seems to be impossible. Jump onto a cruise ship, or even to the Moon. And sixth, when you are ready and have done your preparatory work, let go and leap in spite of your fear.

Animal spirit guides do not play by human rules or live by human logic. But by journeying in their realms, we can bring back their wisdom and apply their gifts to our lives. We are then better able to heal our wounds and the wounds of Mother Earth.

–Kim Pearson

Shiela Baker hails from Canada and has a background in nursing and dance/movement therapy. She combines a passion for astrology, earth-based spirituality and shamanism with professional counseling for empowered growth. She facilitates monthly wolf abundance ceremonies, offers shamanic journey classes and is also available for soul retrieval and after care as well as counseling for individuals, couples, children and families. Visit her web site at www.shamanweaver.com, email her at dragonlaze@aol.com or call
206-903-9404.

Kim Pearson is a writer, artist, storyteller and teacher. She is the owner of Primary Sources, a storytelling resource that helps people tell their stories through memoir, fiction, mask-making and drama. She is the author of Eating Mythos Soup: Poemstories for Laura, Common Disguises and Animal ABC. She has written over 20 personal memoirs for individuals and businesses. She teaches classes on writing and history at various venues around Puget Sound, including Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Finding Your Voice — Writing Your Stories, and You Are a Part of History. She also facilitates a monthly storytelling circle. Visit her Web site at www.primary-sources.com, e-mail her at storykim@home.com, or call 425-865-0409.

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Altars and Shrines

Altars and Shrines

article

by Erika Ginnis

One of my dear friends, who I was married to at the time, made a comment about me once that has stayed with me over the years.

We were getting ready to move into a new house, and we were having some kind of conversation about decorating style. From out of the blue, he said, “Oh yeah, your decorating style is Early American Shrine.”

I stopped what I was doing. I turned around and was actually silent for a moment (anyone who knows me can attest to the rarity of this action). I thought about it for a minute and then broke out laughing. I realized he was totally right. I had just never thought of it in quite that way before.

I asked him to elaborate, and he was more than glad to do so! He said “Given the opportunity, you will make anything into a shrine or altar. Look around at all your stuff and tell me if that isn’t true. You put candles on either side of everything, you add flowers and incense whenever you possibly can. They are all altars. It’s cool. I like it. It’s just what you do to anything that will sit still long enough.”

I took a look around, and I had to admit he was right. It cracked me up. Since that time, I have come to accept with amusement this tendency to create altars wherever I go. I have even used to it to my advantage, being a witch and a healer and a creator of spaces both private and public where people congregate.

define a shrine or altar

Before I go any further, I want to look at some definitions. I sometimes use shrine and altar interchangeably. They are, however, slightly different things, according to Encarta World English Dictionary 2001:

Shrine [shrin], noun (plural shrines)

1. Holy place of worship: a sacred place of worship associated with a holy person or event

2. Container for holy relics: a case or other container for sacred relics, for example, the bones of a saint

3. Tomb of holy person: the tomb of a saint or other revered figure

4. Niche for religious icon: a ledge or alcove for a religious icon, for example, in a church

5. Something revered: an object or place revered for its associations or history

(Pre-12th century. From Latin scrinium, “a case for books or papers,” of uncertain origin. First used to denote a container.)

Al·tar [áwlt?r], noun (plural al·tars)

1. Raised ceremonial religious structure: a raised structure, typically a flat-topped rock or a table of wood or stone, or raised area where religious ceremonies are performed

2. Communion table: the table or other raised structure in a Christian church on which the bread and wine of communion are prepared

(Pre-12th century. From Latin altare, from altaria, “burnt offerings,” from, probably, adolere, “to burn up.”)

By these definitions, I have a working altar and many shrines. Since I sometimes use the shrines to do magickal work as well, the meanings get less clear; thus, I use both words. In general, for me a shrine is to something or someone, and an altar is for doing workings.

Now that I have touched on some definitions, I want to set them aside and say that what I really hope you get out of this article is permission to explore and develop what works for you, call it what you will.

why place shrines and altars?

It makes sense to me to recognize the divinity in us and our surroundings. I love arranging things to add that quality of the sacred. I believe it does many things for us. It speaks to a deep part of us that is below the conscious mind, to the deep ocean of the soul. It calms and delights the prehistoric part of us that is, at this moment, still sitting by a fire and telling the mythic stories that run in our blood — the part of us that is in awe and fear of the dark night, the bright moon and the workings of the world, no matter what we do for our living in the modern day to day.

Shrines and altars also speak, at least to me, of beauty. I feel more connected to a sense of grace and loveliness when I am setting things out in a specific way. It puts me in a place of being mindful and honoring, rather than the place of rushing. It helps to remind me that I am spirit. It gives me a place to focus.

My head has sometimes been known to harass me and say; “Hey, what the heck does it matter that you are placing these things thus and so? They are just things, physical objects; how can that affect anything?” In case you also are plagued by this type of inner dialog (or perhaps outer dialog with spouse, partner or roommate), I will say this: I think there are at least two things at work here. (I will warn you that I spend a lot of time seeing things in pairs of dichotomies. I look at a paradox and get really giddy, since I often see both opposites as simultaneously true, and that is where I often find Spirit.)

First, when I take the time to pay attention, when I have an intention and dedicate a space (regardless of the size) to something, it changes me internally. The altar exists inside of me somehow. It creates a mental and spiritual and energetic shift inside of me. This is nontrivial. Some would say that all our experience is really our perceptions of our experience and therefore all reality is actually inside of us. Changing something within us, then, can have a tremendous impact. Whether or not you subscribe to this line of thought, it is easy to see how much our inner stance colors our outer experience.

Second, I think that everything is energy and that when you place your intention and direction onto physical objects you do indeed change them on some level. One way of looking at the world says that everything is part of One Thing, and that everything is just arrangements of energy. So the very act of arranging things with sacred intention is by its very nature divine and imbues an even “greater” concentration of sacred energy into the act and by extension the objects acted upon.

a shrine or altar for a deity or spirit

Now, there is the added aspect for an altar or shrine of the energy of a particular god or goddess, or perhaps the fey; as pagans, we may have direct interaction with all of these as real and tangible. When you create an altar or shrine for a particular energy, being or archetype, you are going to be working with yet another layer of interaction and experience, and I should add, opinion. I know from my own personal experience that I created an altar for Yemayá with all the various things that she would find sacred. The “odd” thing was that I did this prior to even knowing who she was, what her name was and what she would traditionally have on an altar. She was just very clear in telling me what was supposed to be there (see “She Moves in Mysterious Ways: My Relationship with Yemayá,” under the pen name Iris WaterStar, Widdershins, volume 2, issue 2).

If you know that you want to create a shrine for a specific god or goddess, I think it is always wise and also great fun to do research before you begin. Find some reference books about the deity you are working with, and find out what kind of colors, objects and symbols are sacred to that deity. You may even find pictures of specific shrines and altars that will give you some ideas. Take the time to meditate on the god or goddess. I believe if you allow yourself to get internally still, you can connect with something within that can guide you in your creation. It can be an amazing experience.

One word of caution: If you get really good at this, please remember that you may not want to or be able to provide every single thing the god or goddess might “suggest” on the altar. Some of them might ask for actual living lions or precious gems, or something else that might not be feasible. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” can come in really handy here. Statues, photographs, artwork, all of these things can give the energy you are looking for without breaking your lease or your budget. Work with the energy gently, and allow it to be an inspiration.

Your space does not have to be dedicated to a particular god or goddess. Choose whatever you want your intention to be. It can be a place of prayer, or meditation. It can be a creative expression, or even an altar to creativity. It doesn’t always have to be specific. It can be general, such as a shrine containing items that bring a sense of calm or peace. It may be a fountain or a place in your backyard. You may use your altar for magickal workings or for contemplation.

we create shrines every day

Granted, I look at the world through altar-colored glasses. But I believe we create shrines all the time, even if we are not conscious of it. Sometimes they are for things that we would not really choose to honor. That pile of bills we are ignoring in the corner looks a lot like a shrine to a sense of lack. The television that we arrange our living rooms around is certainly a focus of energy. Is there a mantra in our heads that is saying things that don’t really serve us? These “accidental” creations are very powerful uses of energy. I am a proponent of doing as much of what we do on purpose as possible. If not that, I propose we become aware at some point of what the heck we are doing, so we can make choices about how we direct our energy. I believe that we are each spirit. We are part of the divine. We have power. We can create. What kinds of altars do you see around you? Are there ones in your life you would change?

For me, the act of making an altar is part of reclaiming my own power to create or identify sacred space. I grew up with a lot of messages that said that someone else had that power, not me. The first altars I made were difficult for me. I had an internal fear that someone was going to smite me down since I wasn’t “qualified,” that there was this perfect blueprint I had to follow (which I didn’t have) in order to do it “right.”

Over time, I have found many powerful traditions with very specific ways to create and bless a shrine or altar. Such ways come from all religions. They are spiritually valuable to people and as such deserve to be honored and respected. I use many of them. The information has been handed down for centuries because it works. However, keep in mind that these traditions are not the only ways to create sacred space. Get still and go deep inside of you; find the perfect expression of a shrine or altar that is unique just for you. You don’t need someone else’s permission. It may draw from a particular tradition or from several, or from none. The act of finding this part of you can be incredibly freeing and validating.

Some altars are transitory for a day or a season or a specific ritual (some would argue that all things in form are transitory, but that is a separate conversation!), and some altars are a more permanent fixture.

When you have a personal altar or shrine that is more or less permanent, it will collect and hold energy — not only from you, but also from the energies you work with and people who see it. This can be a great thing and a powerful element to draw from. Stonehenge comes to mind. Alternatively, a personal altar or shrine can be something you might want to clear out now and again. I often suggest people occasionally take their altar or shrine objects down and clean or dust them or rearrange them. Doing this can keep the energy clearer and more current. It can also simply make room for change on a personal level. It can feel really good to redo an altar and bring it up to date with where we are at in our lives.

This rearrangement may happen with or without prior planning. A few months ago, I got two fabulous cats. One of them appears to love feathers to the exclusion to all else in the material world. This love has prompted me to shift some things on my main altar, for reasons that became obvious each time I had to replace various items from the floor when I would return home. Also, my fountain shrines needed to be moved to a higher altitude so they would not become drinking bowl shrines. Thus, I have learned firsthand something I have often told students in my altar outline from one of my classes: “If you have children or pets, it is wise to consider what the best placement of your altar should be.”

I am going to conclude this article with that very outline. It presents a few things to consider when creating an altar or shrine. Please use it if you find it valuable. Please do not take it as a set of rules. There are more than enough of those to go around.

I do have suggestions, however. I would suggest approaching this activity from a grounded and centered place so that you will bring more of yourself, and therefore more of the divine, to it. Bring beauty to your creation; let it shine. I would suggest having fun with it. See what you can do when you add a candle or two to the top of a bookcase, or place some flowers in front of a picture. Perhaps we can start a whole new decorating style.

an altar or shrine can be many things

1. Place of prayer

2. Place of gratitude

3. Focus of meditation or magick

4. Reminder of self

5. Dedicated be to a specific deity

6. Place of peace

7. Expression of beauty

8. Creative expression

9. Sacred space

10. Ever-changing

it’s nice to have a reminder space

* Helps to calm you and remind you that you are spirit

how to start if you don’t have one

1. Choose a space.

2. Define the area using cloth, table, rocks, other. It doesn’t have to be flat; it can be a wall shrine (this might be good if you have children or pets).

3. Be conscious of your attention and intention.

4. Start to gather and arrange some objects that have meaning for you, that remind you of your highest, best soul-self, that make you feel good or smile. For example:

* Pictures

* Photos

* Plants

* Shells

* Candles

* Incense burner and incense

* Statues

* Rocks

* Crystals

* Feathers

* Water

if you already have one

1. Clean it.

2. Add to it.

3. Keep your journal there.

4. Make new room for changes in your self.

5. Recommit to creativity or to the deity.

6. Make a new shrine somewhere else.

7. Enjoy!

Erika Ginnis offers spiritual counseling and coaching, psychic reading, healing and classes though her practice “Inspiration is the In-Breath of Spirit.” For more information on Erika and her work, contact her at erika@inbreath.com, see her Web page www.inbreath.com or leave her voice mail at (206) 669-5881.

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