Daily OM for February 8th – Keeping Things In Perspective

Keeping Things In Perspective
Mountains

 

Mountains have always captured our imaginations, calling us to scale their heights, to circle and worship at their feet, and to pay homage to their greatness. Mountains can be seen from thousands of miles away, and if we are lucky enough to be on top of one, we can see great stretches of the surrounding earth. As a result, mountains symbolize vision, the ability to rise above the adjacent lowlands and see beyond our immediate vicinity. From the top of the mountain, we are able to witness life from a new perspective—cities and towns that seem so large when we are in them look tiny. We can take the whole thing in with a single glance, regaining our composure and our sense of proportion as we realize how much bigger this world is than we sometimes remember it to be.

Mountains are almost always considered holy and spiritual places, and the energy at the top of a mountain is undeniably unique. When we are on top of a mountain, it is as if we have ascended to an alternate realm, one in which the air is purer and the energy lighter. Many a human being has climbed to the top of a mountain in order to connect with a higher source of understanding, and many have come back down feeling stronger and wiser. Whenever we are feeling trapped or limited in our vision, a trip to our nearest mountain may be just the cure we need.

There’s a reason that mountain views are so highly prized in this world, and it is because, even from a distance, mountains remind us of how small we are, which often comes as a wonderful relief. In addition, they illustrate our ability to connect with higher energy. As they rise up from the earth, sometimes disappearing in the clouds that gather around them, they are a visual symbol of earth reaching up into the heavens. Whether we have a mountain view out of our window or just a photograph of a mountain where we see it every day, we can rely on these earthly giants to provide inspiration, vision, and a daily reminder of our humble place in the grand scheme of life.

The Daily OM

 

 

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Spirit Guides

Spirit Guides

Author:   Mar-Garet   

My Creative Writing teacher (about 20 years ago) had just assigned to us: ‘Imagine an entity who would symbolize to you great wisdom.’ Then we were to write a dialogue with that entity in our journals. My ‘entity’ turned out to be a Porpoise by the name of Rosa! I enjoyed our journal dialogues so much… .I could ask her anything, and she’d always end up give me good (if sometimes quite hilarious) advice!

One day, I was dialoguing with her when she said to me, ‘Wait, I must assume another form in order to answer that question.’ What was going on? She changed form into a beautiful and wise female ‘presence’ who has been with me since I was a very young child. The name of this ‘presence’ I called ‘Saji.’

It turned out that Rosa was simply one aspect, or form, of Saji. I had always wondered why a porpoise would be named after a Rose… .then I remembered that the Rose was one of Saji’s ‘symbols.’ Saji, I finally comprehended, is one of my Life Guides (I have two of them, one female — Saji — and one male). Saji has always been there for me, through all my good times and bad times, to comfort me when I was young, and to guide me as I grow older. Her presence is total love, and I love her with all my heart. To me, she is the voice of the Goddess in my soul.

As I continued my journal dialogues, I found that Saji was there for me whenever I needed her. Sometimes, my male guide, Zohar, would come through—a completely different energy than Saji, but still full of love. I knew they were my Spiritual Guides because they seemed to embody my ‘ideal’ Self, and they never steered me toward any kind of negativity, always toward love and positivity. And they never demanded that I ‘obey’ them. They simply communicated their perspective to me… and it was and IS a much wider perspective than I am usually able to see! And it was then up to me to decide whether to follow their advice or not. When I DID follow their advice, I always found a positive experience.

My Creative Writing teacher was interested in hypnosis as a creative writing tool, and he asked for volunteers to participate in his experiment. I readily agreed to be a volunteer. For 32 hypnosis sessions, we explored the world of my Guides, and met other Spirits also.

These Spirits included: Many of my own past selves, writers and other historical figures who had lived in the past and who we admired, extra-terrestrials, nature-spirits and elementals, dragons, unicorns, etc. Once Spirit called itself (it was beyond gender) my ‘Oversoul, ‘ and mostly showed itself as a bright light! I met Saji’s teacher and was told that his name was Carrefour. I was curious about this and found that in the Vodu religion, Carrefour means ‘crossroads’ and is the Moon God.

I was a little concerned about Carrefour, as I had read that he sometimes has a negative aspect. Eventually, I came to realize that what is important is how *I* relate to him, because I feel that every Spirit I meet reflects something within my own soul. The Carrefour that I know is a Trickster spirit, and yet he is so full of love and compassion that he practically overflows with these qualities!

My subsequent research into Vodu has brought me a lot of interaction with that pantheon. I am learning a very positive path, but always there is much struggle against the prejudices associated with this ancient way. That is part of the challenge I have chosen in this particular incarnation. To me, these ‘Lwa’s’ (as they are called in their own language — also called Loa’s) are ancestors who have progressed to the point of merging with world-Archetypes as interpreted through their own tribal mythology.

My own Past Lives often come to me and inspire me with creative ideas and projects. Some of them teach me (or, more accurately, remind me) what I have forgotten! They also help me recognize certain spiritual qualities in other people, which can come in handy when I am doing a reading or a healing. And they always bring with them Spiritual contacts that harmonize with the culture, mythology, and worldview of those past lives. Working with past life selves is simple — as long as you remember that the PRESENT is where power resides. The purpose and work of the PRESENT LIFE is the most vital and most important.

Certain of my Guides and Past Lives also serve as ‘Gatekeeper’ when I am searching psychically for information and communication from other spirits. They keep it positive, healthy, and filter out any negative vibes.

One book that I found helpful in ‘discerning’ Spirits (and Lwa’s) is Initiation: A Woman’s Spiritual Adventure in the Heart of the Andes by Elizabeth B. Jenkins. In this book, Ms. Jenkins describes her spiritual quest in the Andes, and how she progressed from a worldview that was dominant/submissive to one that was more egalitarian. As a family therapist herself, she had a unique view of Spirit-Human relationships and she had a ‘feel’ for when they became dysfunctional. She explains her own spiritual lessons and how she went from a child-level to an adult-level in functioning on the spiritual plane.

In Ms. Jenkins’ perspective (as well as mine) one becomes a member of a FAMILY of both human and spiritual beings. A family works together for the good of all, and Spirits assist only if invited and welcomed. As the Spirits participate and prove themselves as allies, they become part of the family, too. (You may substitute ‘coven’ for ‘family’ here, also.)

James Redfield, in his book The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision, describes ‘Soul Groups’ that contain all the past selves of each individual human. These ‘Soul Groups’ contain all the knowledge that the individual has gleaned from life so far! As we move into the Aquarian Age, we find that groups are becoming more and more important in our spiritual evolution. Working with groups is challenging, but promises a great leap forward in our consciousness. As we work ‘for the good of all, according to free will’ (Thanks, Marion Weinstein!), we learn the meaning of spiritual cooperation, without the loss of individuality.

I enjoy groups that form themselves ‘organically, ‘ and just come together in a natural way. As such, families can be defined as a group of entities who are have come together related to each other in intimate ways. Families have something intrinsic in common. And the families we create are connected by love.

Families do not always get along, nor are they always in the same mood. However, they ARE always close to each other, whether they are in group-formation or not. They experience kinship; that is, they recognize each other as ‘my kind.’

In spiritual pantheons like Vodu, or in shamanic paths, one can be called by, adopted by, mentored by, and even married to, a Spirit or a Lwa. This is a more intimate connection and requires a greater level of commitment than just working together. One becomes, essentially, a priest or priestess of that Spirit or Lwa’s specialty. This doesn’t cancel out one’s HUMAN parent, mentor or mate. However, it does require a certain amount of time that must be dedicated to the relationship between the person and the Spirit or Lwa. During this special dedicated time, the person and the Spirit/Lwa learn from each other and cooperate in channeling specialized energy through that archetype.

I have considered being a Priestess of a certain Spirit/Lwa, but have decided that I like to keep things more flexible. I like being able to have a variety of Spirits/Lwa’s to relate to! This is similar to the way I like to relate to my human family and friends. I like a large variety, to bring out the different aspects of myself. (My Venus and Jupiter are in Aquarius, for those astrologically inclined!) I have had many varied incarnations, and I think that I am a very international person!

Other people may have kept to one culture during a lot of their incarnations and, therefore, relate with a smaller number of Spirits/Lwa’s, in a closer and more intimate way. There is nothing wrong with that inclination, either. There are many ways to relate, and many ways to group. There are many kinds of families, but the ones we CHOOSE to create need to be those that encourage us, bring out our talents, support us emotionally, and merge with our own individual style!

Ayahuasca: What the Spirits Want

Ayahuasca: What the Spirits Want

  • Eden, selected from AllThingsHealing.com

by Stephan Beyer, Contributor to Shamanism on Allthingshealing.com

Article first appeared in the Journal of Shamanic Practice

Learning the Plants

At the start of every ayahuasca ceremony, my maestro ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho goes around the room putting agua de florida cologne in cross patterns on the forehead, chest, and back of each participant. As he does this, he blows smoke from the powerful tobacco called mapacho into the crown of the head and over the entire body of each participant, and he whistles a special song of protection called an arcana. The song has no particular name — it is just la arcana — and no words; it is intention abstracted from human language; the wordless whistling approximates instead to pura sonida, pure sound, which is the language of the plants.

The goal is to cleanse and protect. The song calls in the protective genios — the thorny palm trees, the fierce animals, the predatory hawks and owls that are used in sorcery and thus best protect against it. The strong sweet smells of cologne and tobacco attract the protective and the healing spirits, seal the body against attack, and avert the pathogenic projectiles — the darts, scorpions, monkey teeth, razor blades — of the envious and resentful. The goal, as don Roberto puts it, is to erect a wall “a thousand feet high and a thousand feet below the earth” to protect himself, his students, and all who are in attendance.

But why such precautions at a ceremony that is, after all, intended for healing? Part of the answer is rooted in what I have called the tragic cosmovision of Upper Amazonian shamanism, where there are no bright lines between healing and sorcery, life and death, good and evil, predation and renewal. In this tragic cosmovision, the dark and the light, killing and curing, predator and prey are at once antagonistic and complementary; the price we pay for life is death, and out of death comes healing and life. The same plant and animal spirits, the same tools, are used both to protect and to destroy; the shaman who knows how to heal is at the same time a sorcerer who knows how to kill.

Once you drink ayahuasca, I was told, once you start to learn the plant teachers with your body, the world becomes a more dangerous place. Sorcerers resentful of your presumption will shoot magical pathogenic darts into your body, or send fierce animals to attack you, or fill your body with scorpions and razor blades — especially while you are still a beginner, before you gain your full powers. Peruvian poet César Calvo Soriano says that drinking ayahuasca makes one into “a crystal exposed to all the spirits, to the evil ones and the true ones that inhabit the air.” Such transparency is perilous.

But again, in the Upper Amazon, there is no bright line between the evil and the true spirits. Some of the most powerful of the plants, such as catahua and pucalupuna, want to deal only with the strongest and most self-controlled of humans, those willing to undertake long periods of solitude and fasting in the wilderness. Other humans they kill.

We do not need to be ourselves embedded in the ambiguous and perilous shamanic culture of the Upper Amazon to recognize the power of these beliefs as metaphor. What the protective ceremony is saying is this: You cannot be a tourist among the spirits.

Shamans in the Upper Amazon have established a relationship of trust and love with the healing and protective spirits of the plants. To win their love, to learn to sing to them in their own language, shamans must first show that they are strong and faithful, worthy of trust. To do this, they must go into the wilderness, away from other people, and follow la dieta, the restricted diet — no salt, no sugar, no sex — and ingest the sacred plant that is the body of the spirit.

Thus, the shaman learns the plant — its uses, its preparation, its songs — by taking the plant inside the body, letting the plant teach its mysteries, giving the self over to the power of the plant. There is a complex reciprocal interpersonal relationship between shaman and other-than-human person — fear, awe, passion, surrender, friendship, and love.

Opening the door to the magical world is not a day trip. Every approach we make to the spirits entails reciprocal obligations, the risks and dangers of the vision fast. What those obligations are is a matter between each of us and the spirits, but at the very least they require gratitude and humility — a willingness to be courageous and vulnerable, to speak honestly from our hearts and listen devoutly with our hearts, to tell the spirits our truest stories.

The Vision Fast

Any encounter with the spirits is like a vision fast. During a vision quest we leave our ordinary life and comforts behind; we stay in solitude in the wilderness for four days and four nights without a tent or food or fire. In this way we express not only our willingness to undergo hardship for the sake of the spirits but also our separation from our normal social relationships. The voluntary privations are part of our newly liminal condition, in which we encounter the dangerous unknown in order to bring back a gift — song, a ceremony, our own unguessed talent — not for ourselves but for our people. You cannot be a tourist on a vision fast.

When I have undertaken vision fasts in the desert, and when I have helped others to do their own vision fasts, we often did a small ritual. On our way to the place each of us had chosen for our fast, we would pause and draw a line ahead of us on the path. When we stepped over that line, we knew that we had crossed over into the land of myth and fairy tale, where we would meet ogres and helpers, where every experience — ravens circling in the sky, a cloud drifting across the silver desert moon — became meaningful, magical, and full of mystery.

The same is true in any encounter with the spirits. The encounter is risky and meaningful. We must be willing to undertake the dangerous opening of our hearts, to tell our stories to the spirits with openhearted honesty, and to listen devoutly with our hearts to what the spirits tell us in return, often through the merest signs, the inchoate movements of our hearts, the silent singing of the plants.

The Talking Circle

Any encounter with the spirits is like a talking circle. In a talking circle, people sit in a circle, and pass around a talking stick. Whoever holds the talking stick gets to speak, and everybody else listens. There are no interruptions, no questions, no challenges. People speak one at a time, in turn, honestly from their hearts, and they listen devoutly with their hearts to each person who speaks. The effect can be miraculous.

In many ways, the talking circle is the paradigmatic healing ceremony. The talking circle makes demands on us — that we have a listening heart, what St. Francis called a transformed and undefended heart. The talking circle demands that we put aside ego, speak our truth with humility, and open ourselves to the unspoken motions of the human heart. You cannot be a tourist in a talking circle.

When people speak honestly and listen devoutly, when they tell their stories — when they sing their songs — to each other, healing occurs, miraculously and spontaneously. Speaking our truths with humility in circle touches upon something that is deeply and fundamentally human. Communities become strong and relationships grow deeper on the basis of the songs and stories we sing and tell each other, and by our willingness to be transparent, and vulnerable and accountable to each other.

In a talking circle, we do not ask or demand that the others in the circle help us or heal us or change us. We speak honestly from our hearts; we express our fears and hopes and regrets; and we listen to the songs and stories of the others, opening up our hearts, becoming, in a mysterious and sacred process, better people. Sitting in circle with others is itself the healing.

Dreams

Any encounter with the spirits is like a dream. We are always strangers in the underworld of dreams. We are talked to in a language we do not speak. We are surprised at every turn by the exotic goods unloaded in the marketplace, the jokes we do not understand, the sudden kindness or treachery of our dream companions, our own capacity for compassion, terror, and rage.

And, perhaps like our own journeys, like our encounters with the spirits, like our vision fasts, dreams have a purpose — to make us richer and more human.To that end, dreams are willing, perhaps like our own journeys, to teach us things we do not always want to learn. You can not be a tourist in your dreams.

Our encounters with the spirits, our vision fasts, our talking circles, our dreams all make demands on us, and the demands are all the same. We can evade these demands, pretend they do not exist, but the obligations are real. We must be transparent, and vulnerable, and accountable. When we encounter the spirits, we must pass them our talking stick, we must speak honestly and listen devoutly for what they are saying to us, in signs and whispers and silent motions of the heart, as if they were the mysterious songs of dreams and visions.

A World Full of Spirits

There is more to be learned from the shamanism of the Upper Amazon. When the soul of a patient has been stolen away, hidden perhaps by an evil sorcerer in a mountain cave, a shaman in the Upper Amazon does not travel to find it. Rather, the shaman sings the song that summons the evil sorcerer before him to demand the return of the stolen soul, or summons the soul itself to travel back home to the body of the patient that lies on the ground before him.

Sometimes, too, the mermaids who live in the lakes and rivers will steal away the body of a fisherman, or a dolphin will seduce a young woman to join him beneath the waters. Here again, the shaman does not travel, but commands, through the power of his songs, that the underwater people give up the still living body of the one they have enchanted and stolen away.

Similarly, when they heal their patients, shamans in the Upper Amazon sing the songs that invite the healing spirits to the place where the ceremony is held, so that the spirits can direct the shaman’s magical healing songs and show him the location of the pathogenic projectiles that have lodged in the body of the suffering patient.

Again, we do not need to be ourselves embedded in the culture of the Upper Amazon to recognize what this teaches us. The spirits are all here, with us, right now. This world is as magical — as filled with ogres and allies, signs and mysteries — as the miraculous world of the vision fast. What ayahuasca does, I was taught, is to render before us the unmistakable presence of the omnipresent spirits. We need not travel to find the healing and protective spirits of plants and animals or to hear and sing their songs. We need only open our hearts to the miraculous present.

If, as the shamans say, the spirits are always present, and are brought into focus and visibility by the power of ayahuasca, then so are their voices and their songs. Don Carlos Perez Shuma says that the songs of the plant spirits are like radio waves: “Once you turn on the radio, you can pick them up.” Or the songs are like prerecorded tapes. “It’s like a tape recorder,” don Carlos says. “You put it there, you turn it on, and already it starts singing…. You start singing along with it.”

My maestro ayahuasquero don Roberto told me that he hears the spirits clearly, speaking in his ear, instructing him. Heal like this, they say, sing this song, make such and such a medicine — just as if they were standing next to him, just as, he said, you and I are talking right now, just like this. And he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “This is the sickness this patient has. Use this medicine,” with startling clarity.

Right now, if I could see it, my room is tessellated with delicate blue tiles, filled with receding pathways to crystal palaces, opening out onto sparkling waters, crowded with spirits and visitors from other galaxies, and resonant with the singing of the plants.

So: Our vision fast is taking place right now, at every moment of our lives. Why must we draw a line in our path? We are right now in the land of myth and dream and fairy tale, in a world full of magic and miracles, if we could only open our eyes and hearts and minds to the wonder that surrounds us. What ayahuasca teaches is that right now, at every moment, we already live in the magic forest.

Suppose you dream that you are walking on a path, trip over a rock, and look up to see a child holding a flower and smiling at you. The dream is salient and powerful; it seems to you to be what some call a Big Dream, mythic and meaningful.

There are many ways you might reflect upon what this dream means and what its significance might be for you. You might go back into the dream to meet the child — or sit quietly and invite the child to come to you in a vision — and ask, Who are you? Why are you smiling? Will you be my teacher? Or you can ask the rock, Who are you? Why did you trip me? What lesson are you teaching me? Then hand the child, the rock, the flower your talking stick, and listen devoutly with your heart to what is said.

Now suppose that exactly the same events occur while you are awake. One day you walk along, trip over a rock, and see the smiling child. Why is that experience any less meaningful — any less salient and mythic — than the same events in a dream? Why do we show our waking experiences the disrespect of dismissing them, when we should respect them as much as we do our dreams? Rather, we should give our waking experiences the same respect we give our dream experiences — hand them our talking stick and take them as our teachers, rich, deep, and full of meaning.

Now: Think of what happened to you today, or yesterday. Put it in the form of a story. If this were the story of a dream, then what is it saying to you? What is the meaning of what happened to you today, or yesterday? Is all the world speaking to you — the rock you tripped over, the child who smiled at you, the rain and moon? Are you listening? This is how we make the world meaningful, and full of mystery.

What the shamans of the Upper Amazon teach us is that we are always surrounded by the spirits and their music. We see them sometimes, at the edges of our vision. Their music is pura sonida, pure sound, the language of the plants, reflected in the whistling and whispering of the shaman, and in the susurration of the shaman’s leaf-bundle rattle. We can learn to listen for their music in the humming of our blood, in the singing of the stars, in the stories we tell each other.

In an encounter with the spirits, in a vision fast, in a dream, sitting in circle with others, we seek meaning and depth in our encounters. But what we have learned is that there is no difference between the vision fast, the dream, and our everyday waking reality. We always encounter the spirits; the world has the depth and meaning of our dreams, and we are on a vision quest always, even in our most routine activities.

In an encounter with the spirits, on a vision fast, in a dream, a rock can be a teacher and an ally on our path. Why not in everyday waking reality? A rock can be our teacher because a rock can engage us in a reciprocal relationship: we can give tobacco to a rock, and a rock can give us a gift in return—a song, a ceremony, a teaching.

What the Spirits Want

The spirits make demands on us, and we cannot ignore those demands. It is no excuse to say that we were just tourists, just visitors with no intention of staying overnight. We cannot visit the spirits and then come back home, because the spirits are already here with us. And when we open our eyes to them, when we listen for even the faintest echoes of the songs they sing for us, we have undertaken an obligation to them.

The spirits love us. There was a mythic time when all beings spoke the same language.The plants want us to be back in that time with them. They love our stories, and they must love our music. Why else would their gift to us so often be a song for us to sing for them? Above all else, they want us to be grateful and humble, humans who walk in right relationship with each other, with the plants and animals, stars and thunder.

Here is the way to recognize a demand the spirits have placed on us: It does not gratify our ego. It is not the purpose of the spirits to make us feel important or superior, to be able to say, I am a shaman, or I am a healer, or I walk with the spirits. The demand may be something we do not want to do, or something we must give up, or a task we think is beyond our powers. What the spirits want, I think, is that we all become better human beings.

Sometimes the spirits hide our keys, put things in our way to trip over, make us emit embarrassing noises at a formal dinner. Why? So we can learn to laugh at ourselves, and stop taking ourselves so damn seriously.

And that, I think, is the meaning of humility — not to take ourselves so damn seriously. To be humble means being content with both our gifts and limitations, not regarding others as competitors but as fellow travelers on the path. It means wasting no time in envy of others who have different gifts. It means never to be ashamed, never to need to inflate our importance in the eyes of others, never to need to buttress our self-esteem.

Humility means taking joy in the exercise of the gifts we have, rather than despairing over those we lack. Indeed, these are the very gifts we discover on the vision fast that is our life. Humility means being fundamentally happy with ourselves.That is the kind of human person the spirits want us to be.

Many people drink ayahuasca, go on vision fasts, seek to encounter the spirits for essentially self-centered reasons — for their own healing, their own transformation, their own empowerment. The spirits meet with people where they are. But I think that encountering the spirits, or going on a vision fast, or dreaming a deep and salient dream is pointless if it does not make us — somehow, and perhaps over a long time — willing to walk through the world carrying a talking stick.

How to Pray

The spirits are persons — other-than-human persons, but still persons — and, like all persons, they are ends in themselves and not means to other ends.They are not there for us to use, but rather for us to meet. They sit with us in a great talking circle. We pass the talking stick back and forth as we tell each other our stories, as we sing each other our songs, as we give our gifts to each other. In a true meeting with another person — a human, a spirit, a rock — we do not seek any end other than genuineness in our meeting.

The spirits are willing to help us in many ways. They give us songs and ceremonies and guidance, and what they want in return is gratitude and humility. Once we have started on this path, they will teach us these things, whether we want them to or not. Why? Because you cannot be a tourist in your own life.

We cannot just go to the spirits and expect them to give us what we want. They may well have other plans for us. In fact, rather than asking — or, as some people do, demanding — that they heal us, or transform us, or make us into someone else, we should just pour out our hearts to them in prayer. We should not go to them with requests or demands or even expectations.

We should tell them what we need; tell them what we fear; tell them what we regret. We should speak to them honestly from our hearts, and then listen devoutly with our hearts to what they tell us.

We must pass the talking stick to the spirits, to our companions, to the trees and plants, and be deeply alert to what they are saying to us. We must do this with everyone, all the time, because the spirits want us to be human beings, in right relationship with all persons, both human and other-than-human. We must allow them to show us how, and not block them by telling them to transform us, or empower us, or heal us, or turn us into a healer. Perhaps we will be a healer in a way completely different from what we expect. Perhaps they will heal us in unexpected ways, or perhaps we will be healers who are ourselves wounded or broken. We must put aside expectations, pray with an open heart, and weep for our visions.

If we must ask for something, let us ask them to be our teachers, ask them to give us a gift, not for ourselves but for our people. And let us recognize that the gifts of the plant spirits grow in plant time, not in human time.

We all live, shamans included, not on the mountain peak of spirit, but in the valley of the soul, amid anger, love, envy, resentment, grief, sorrow, loss, and mess. This is where the spirits want to meet us, because this is where we live. And the obligations we owe the spirits are right here and now, in the genuineness of our meeting with all persons, both other- than-human and human.

The spirits miss us. They want us to return to the time of myth, when all creatures spoke the same language. It is up to us to figure out how to walk upright with the spirits through the miraculous valley of the soul. It is the quality of our meeting that matters, what we are willing to learn, whether we are willing to be taught by what we encounter, whether we will take our chances in the epistemic murk of a transformed world.

Earth Science Pic of the Day for Nov. 23

Lenticular Sky at Sunrise

November 23, 2011

Lenticular clouds in Argentina

Photographer: Hector Fabian Garrido
Summary Author: Hector Fabian Garrido; Jim Foster

The photo above showing a sensational display of lenticular clouds was snapped near La Rioja, Argentina, at the base of the Andes Mountains, on September 9, 2011. I was doing seismic testing just after sunrise and was taken aback by the gold and tawny wave clouds that appeared across much of the sky. These lenticulars took shape to the lee (east) of the Andes, just west of my location — the Sun was behind the camera. Lenticular clouds are generally orographic in origin, forming in lee waves when air is forced to rise over elevated terrain. On this early spring morning, the smooth structure of the waves, the illumination by the low Sun, and the absence of other types of clouds, gave the sky a surreal look.

Encounter with an Ancient God

Encounter with an Ancient God

 

by Janice Van Cleve

As Samhain night approaches, our Women of the Goddess circle quickens into high gear. We collect old mattresses, blankets and cushions. We buy cases of garbage bags and rolls of duct tape. Don’t forget the red candles! We haul, we clean, we make architectural decisions on the fly. For this is the time of the year when we transform a simple basement into the Underworld.

We are so excited! On Samhain night we gather in silence, black-robed and -caped, in the living room. No lights shine nor music plays. No conversation passes between us. One candle only illuminates the room as we wait in nervous anticipation. At the stroke of the hour, the hostess rises to lock the door. Then she bids us line up at the head of the stairs and descend, one by one, as we are called.

Save for flickering votives in colored glass strategically placed here or there, the narrow passages of the Underworld are pitch black. Garbage bags by day become unearthly living walls at night. As we carefully feel our way through the maze, we encounter the Dark Goddess in several of her forms. She may appear to us as Hecate, Kali, Baba Yaga or Erishkigal. She may appear as the Fates, the Norns or as sorceresses and witches. Each challenges us before she admits us past her portal. At last, we all arrive in the Underworld chamber and conduct our rites, thankful for the cushions and other items that give us some comfort from the cold stone floor.

I am as excited as the rest, but my appreciation of the Samhain rites this year will be undeniably affected by an encounter I had in another underworld last month in faraway Peru. I was in Peru for an archeological expedition to various Inca and pre-Inca sites. One of many we visited was Chavin de Huantar, a mysterious temple complex hidden in a steep valley on the Amazon side of the Andes. The Chavin culture exerted enormous influence throughout the region of Peru about 400 BCE, around the time that Rome was just beginning. In the Americas, the Chavin invented the weaving of cotton and wool, engineering with stone and massive architecture. The complex itself is a combination of huge three-story block buildings and large sunken courtyards. The exterior of the buildings was originally decorated with carved heads and painted red. However, it was the interiors that I found most fascinating.

Inside the solid mass of stone were corridors, passageways and rooms in a series of underworld labyrinths. They were ingeniously constructed so that water was drained out and fresh air circulated in through small vents that tunneled through the rock to the outside wall. Linking the rooms were galleries with modern fanciful names such as Gallery of the Captives, Gallery of the Bats and Gallery of the Madman. Just enough electric lighting is installed to present the outlines of the chambers without taking away from their shadowy quality. It was in one of these underworld corridors that I encountered The Lanzon.

The Lanzon is an imposing idol of carved stone some 15 feet tall. It stands in a narrow chamber barely large enough to hold it. Passages less high extend in all four directions from the midpoint of this chamber so the viewer can see only the head and midsection of the idol. A gate prevents visitors from approaching too close. Light filters in from cleverly contrived roof openings above the statue, bathing it in a surreal glow.

The idol itself is a curiously rendered icon, etched into a smooth, wedge-shaped granite prism whose angle faces the viewer. The figure is of an anthropoid being with snakes for hair and fat smiling lips that display a proud set of finely spaced teeth and two fanged incisors. Long sharp fingernails grace its hands; the left one hanging at its side and the right raised as if in greeting. On its head is a tall crown of feline heads, and from its ears hang huge round pendants. Set edge-on to the visitor, the whole work cannot be appreciated at once, but only the portion in view from the corridor. From that position, one or other of the idol’s baleful eyes looks directly at you.

“It’s just an old stone,” I said to myself. But it wasn’t. It was a real idol. To it had been sacrificed human lives, their blood splattered all over the corridor where I stood. Into it had been fused human energy and power, and these I could still feel from it even after all the intervening centuries. It was strange and eerie to be aware of this undead presence, to acknowledge it and yet not be part of it. The Lanzon was the god of a people long past, not my god, yet worthy and real for the human potency with which they imbued it. It disquieted me, yet I felt a respect for it that was different from my own traditions, but for all that no less valid.

So as I approach this Samhain and prepare to enter the Underworld we will create, I am a bit more aware that there are deities and beings in the darkness beyond my ken. They are different. I don’t understand them. I don’t even know them. Yet they do exist, and as the veil between the worlds draws thin this night, I realize my view must be broader and open to the unexpected. No matter how many times I celebrate these rituals and how many roles I take, they still present a mystery. And now, because of my encounter with The Lanzon in its own underworld, I can appreciate the mystery of my own that much more.