Shapeshifting Into Kin: Part Two

Note: This post was originally posted on No Unsacred Place in 2011, and then later Paths Through the Forests. I am moving it over here so I can have more of my writings in one place.

This is part two of a two-part series; you may read part one here.

There are many purposes for shapeshifting—celebration, drawing on the power of the being you’re changing into, learning to change yourself, etc. There are also many techniques, some stationary, others involving dance and other movement. This version of shapeshifting is quieter, and is primarily for the purpose of creating connection with, and fostering awareness of, other beings. It’s a way to begin healing the rift we as a species have created between us and the rest of the beings we share this world with. It requires a certain level of intimacy; you can’t become a being without having some empathy for it, and the world could certainly do with more empathy all around.

Although you can theoretically shapeshift (non-physically, of course) into any being (and I use that term to refer to animals, plants, waterways, mountains, and more), I recommend choosing a being who is physically close to you, such as a particular tree or waterway near your home, or a species of animal that you see frequently. Even in my fairly urban Portland neighborhood, I still have a huge maple tree right outside my kitchen window. No matter the weather or my state of health, I can still check on “my” tree to see how it’s doing, how many leaves are left today, who’s perched in the branches, and so forth. And I have a good vantage point to watch the crows, fox and grey squirrels, and scrub jays that frequent the tree and surrounding high places.

You’ve already created something of a personal connection there, but let’s talk about taking it further. How much time do you spend every day observing this being? If it’s something relatively stationary like a stone or pond, try to make a daily visit in all weather, at least as much as you’re able. Or, with animals, see if there’s a place where you can fairly reliably see individuals of the species, if not daily then at least regularly. Take note of what you see each time. How does the being change with the time of day, the weather, even the seasons? How does it fit into its niche in the ecosystem, and are there any changes in that over time? What about human impact?

Balance out all this experience with some research as well. Read about the being online and in books; talk to others who have worked with it. Get the objective viewpoint to balance out your subjective observations and impressions, and allow them to complement each other.

This all can be an investment of years. That’s okay. We spend years getting to know other people; it works for other beings as well. Even after you’ve tried shapeshifting to this being, you can still keep up the daily observations, just as you may regularly check in on loved ones.

There’s no single, universal “right time” to make the step from observation to shapeshifting. A lot of it has to do with mutual trust; a being that doesn’t trust you won’t open up, and it’ll be harder for you to be receptive to a being you’re wary of. When you feel the time is right, go to the being. If the being is stationary, ask to sit on, against, or otherwise near it. For animals, sit where you’ve been able to observe them best (hopefully by now they’re used to your presence). If you are unable to be at the place itself, such as for health or safety reasons, find a place at home or otherwise where you can meditate for a while, undisturbed, and perhaps have some reminder of the being you’re connecting with at your side.

If you’ve already “spoken” with the being or a spiritual representation thereof, great! If you haven’t done such communication yet, you may wish to use a guided meditation to introduce yourself. Here’s a simple one:Close your eyes. Relax. Breathe. Be aware of where the being is in relation to you. Imagine a shining cord extending from your third eye to the being—not quite touching, but inviting the being to make that last step to complete the cord between you. Once the cord is complete, greet the being, and begin the conversation. When you feel the time is proper, ask the being for its help with shapeshifting, that you want to have a better understanding of it by becoming, even just a little, more like it. Allow it to answer as it will, and go from there.

If the being isn’t ready, respect that. Keep up your visits, and when you feel ready, try asking permission again (unless you have gotten a very firm “No, never, not at all” from the being).

Once you have gained permission, then it’s time to try the shapeshifting itself. Go back to the place where you can be with the being without disturbance. Close your eyes, breathe, and relax. Be very aware of your boundaries, physical and otherwise—where “you” end and the rest of the world begins. Now imagine those boundaries are becoming much more permeable.

Make physical contact with the being or its representation, and allow the boundaries between you and it to be more blurred. You may feel as though you are “melting” into each other, or you may feel your own form change and move to be more like that of the being. You may even feel you are being carried along by the being, a sort of “rider”; there may even be multiple representatives if you’re working with a very social animal such as schooling fish. Any way it manifests, allow this change to happen, and observe how your perceptions and thoughts change as well.

What is it like to be that being? How does it differ from being yourself? How do you feel? Is it fun? Scary? Do you feel curious? Are some things more important to you now than they were before, and are others less so? How comfortable are you in this form?

Is the being itself staying in contact with you while you shift? Try asking it questions, if you can, or share observations—after all, it’s the expert on being itself!

When you’re ready to come back, thank the being for its help. Then imagine what your body feels like normally, or state your name, your address, and other “human” things. Don’t rush it; allow yourself to ease back in, let the boundaries reform at their own pace. Once you’re awake, take some time to ground. Eat something protein-heavy, observe the way your hands move, recite the lyrics to one of your favorite songs. Do things that gently bring you back to being human.

After you’re done, think about how you feel about the being now. Do you have more empathy for its place in the world, and the challenges it may face? Do you feel differently about yourself and your own place here? What may you have learned from this experience that you didn’t know or understand before?

Do keep in mind that all of your impressions are still processed by your very human brain and mind, even in the depths of the shapeshift. You can’t entirely sever your connection to being human. It is a good idea to check your impressions against more objective information, and to have sensitivity toward whom you want to identify with. It may not cause much trouble for you to be convinced that mosquitoes really suck other animals’ blood because they want to steal their power. However, shapeshifting into American Mink, and then being convinced that you now have to free all the caged mink at fur farms, is a bad idea, no matter how deeply you may have connected with that spirit.

Done with care, shapeshifting can be a highly effective way to be more empathetic toward other beings, to raise our everyday awareness of their presence, and to foster greater consideration of them both individually, and as a society.

In my next post, I’ll be offering more practical information on methods of shapeshifting, with a special emphasis on practicing it as a way of connecting with other beings.

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Shapeshifting into Kin: Part One

Note: This post was originally posted on No Unsacred Place in 2011, and then later Paths Through the Forests. I am moving it over here so I can have more of my writings in one place.

There’s a recurring dream I have; it started when I was young. In it, I take my form as a white wolf. I’m in a forest, and the forest is burning. The tall pines and fir trees crackle and split in the flames around me, and I can hardly breathe for the stinging clutch of smoke at my throat. Hot embers scorch the pads of my paws. The tops of the trees begin to topple over, weakened by the flames, and the ground is suddenly made more hazardous with smoldering logs. If I could only find my way out…where is my pack?

I awaken suddenly, panting, startled, thrust back into my skin and flesh and bone all too quickly.

Human legend and lore is full of shapeshifters. Sometimes the changes are literal—physically transmuting the body into that of another animal, or even a plant or stone. Sometimes the person may become a breeze, or a waterway. Sometimes the change is conscious and consensual; other times…not so much.

There are other shapeshifters, too. They include those who take on many roles—Lugh Samhildánach (The Many-Skilled), who excelled at any task given, or polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci. Many people, from thespians to cosplayers, take on a new persona when they don particular clothing; we see this in the wearing of ritual regalia in many traditions as well.

Shapeshifting, for some, is only about taking on a role, wrapping a core self with a persona that may be worn or removed like clothing. But in a more ritualized, spiritual setting, shapeshifting is about becoming something other than ourselves.

The idea of stepping outside of the self and into another is often alarming to the Western post-industrial mindset. It brings up inaccurate images of mental illnesses, or at the very least identity confusion. We are taught that each person has only one identity, and while it may be tweaked a bit here and there depending on whether you’re talking to Aunt Mabel or your secret crush or a job interviewer, you’re still supposed to essentially be you.

Yet to be done fully, shapeshifting necessitates a very deep empathy with another being. Most of us don’t empathize beyond emotions; we allow ourselves to feel with another person’s pain, for example. But to really become another being, we have to open ourselves up beyond that, and set ourselves aside.

I am 23 years old, at my very first pagan gathering, a weekend celebration at Brushwood Folklore Center in New York. Night has long since fallen, and I am at the drum circle, with a fire burning brightly in the center. In my hands I hold my grey wolf skin that I have transformed into a dance costume with carefully tied leather straps. I have spent hours practicing dancing in it in my apartment for the better part of a year, but this is the first time I’ve been brave enough to dance in front of others.

I drape the hide over my head, slip my arms through the same holes that lupine muscle and bone once filled, and tie the hide to my head, wrists and ankles. I feel Wolf the totem, and wolf the spirit, slide over me with the hide, and I suddenly feel I am so much more than myself. I step into the lines of dancers circling around the fire again and again, and I—we, the wolves and I—begin to dance. And soon, it is just I, Wolf-I.

We require an Other place to shift into an Other self. It may be Other only in the sense that one’s physical setting has changed—going from work to home, for example. But the Other place may also be the land of dreams, or the spirit world of journeys, or a physical wilderness unlike one’s home territory—or a deliberate ritual setting.The dreamland is often the first place we experience shapeshifting of some sort, due to its universality in our experiences, as well as its mutable nature. The dreamland may alternately be described as the subconscious romping ground of our brains and the cumulative inner landscapes we have inherited from our many ancestors, or entry into an entire world apart from us where we might literally meet our ancestors, among other spirits.

As we grow older and become more integrated into relationships with other beings, human and otherwise, we develop the ability to make subtle changes in ourselves according to present company and setting. The shifts are largely unconscious, and we may only be peripherally aware that they’re happening most of the time. By comparing how we present ourselves in various situations, we can begin to better understand the processes by which we change.

Ritual is a deliberate shift. We put on special vestments, create ritual space, and utilize items that are unique to that setting. We may still remain ourselves, though yet a different part thereof. But some of us also become other beings entirely through invocation and similar rites. While our earlier experiences with shapeshifting may seem to be out of our hands—literally—practice does make perfect, or at least better.

Drumbeats carry me into the journeying state; I can still vaguely feel my left arm pounding the beater against the horsehide drum held by my right. However, it is an arm covered in white fur. The fingers are shorter, stubbier, ending in claws, and growing less and less human as I watch. Were I to return to my physical form, I would find myself just as human as ever. But here, in the spirit world, my human form melts away—wolf-form is easier to travel in, easier to protect myself in. And there are beings who will only speak to me in this form, too. Humans can be scarier than wolves, you know.

Consciously shapeshifting into another being, especially with the aid of a representative of that sort of being, can be one of the most powerful acts of magic. The effects may be wide-ranging.

On an individual level, we may go places we couldn’t otherwise, in spirit and in emotion and in mind. We can break out of personal ruts, learn valuable lessons from the beings we become that we can then bring back to our human lives, and strengthen our imaginations and other creative spiritual skills.

We also stand to learn more about the world around us, to be more aware of the importance of other beings and places. It is harder to disregard someone that you have been yourself, even for a short while. Indeed, for many people what is most sacred is that in which we are most able to immerse or surrender ourselves.

Those sacred things that allow us to temporarily blur or remove our boundaries vary from person to person. I have limited my anecdotes to my experiences with Wolf and wolf spirits—partly due to tradition, and also to show that it’s possible to work with the same energy/being in different forms of shapeshifting. But it is quite possible to connect with a variety of animals, plants, stones, waterways, places, and yes, even buildings and statues and parks, through shapeshifting. This holds true whether it’s on an individual scale, or something as potentially elaborate as Joanna Macy’s and John Seed’s Council of All Beings.

In my next post, I’ll be offering more practical information on methods of shapeshifting, with a special emphasis on practicing it as a way of connecting with other beings.

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Ecopsychology and Neopagan Relevance

Note: This post was originally posted on No Unsacred Place in 2011, and then later Paths Through the Forests. I am moving it over here so I can have more of my writings in one place.

Ecopsychology: the psychology of how we relate to the natural environment, and the therapeutic application of the restorative qualities of nature.

When I enrolled in a counseling psychology Master’s degree program in 2008, the single biggest magnet for me was the series of three ecopsychology courses that were offered. I had read Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, which explained human psychological development in part through one’s relationship with nature.

Through three straight semesters, I learned the basics of ecopsychology and who some of the key figures were; I also explored how to incorporate a client’s relationship to nature in their therapy, along with family history, spirituality, and other important parts of the client’s experience. I even spent four days out in the woods with other students learning hands-on wilderness therapy techniques. (I also gave a presentation on how Alan Moore’s run of the Swamp Thing comic book could be used in ecotherapy, but that’s a story for another time.)

Not surprisingly, I discovered much that enhanced my neopaganism. Furthermore, I saw a wealth of material that could be relevant to neopaganism in general, as well as elements of neopaganism and related paths that could enhance the development and practice of ecopsychology. I wasn’t the first person to make the connection of course; on the contrary, some of the very foundational concept of ecopsychology are quite relevant to nature-based paganisms.

Here are just a few of the salient points:

Ecopsychology helps to explore and understand the development and maintenance of a nature-friendly mindset.

Why do we enjoy being out in the wilderness? What is it that makes us respond better to a tree than a live plasma-screen movie of the same tree?(1) What are the effects of disconnection of nature, both on an individual and systemic basis? Ecopsychologists seek to not only find answers to these questions, but to utilize the information in helping clients achieve better states of mental health. Many pagans are already familiar with the relaxation that can result from a weekend spent camping, or the difference between an indoor and outdoor ritual; ecopsychology provides additional insight as to why we may feel that way.–Ecopsychology sets the individual firmly within the context of the ecosystem they are a part of, human and otherwise.

One of the criticisms that ecopsychologists have of much of modern therapy is that while the average therapy intake form asks clients about their family members, significant others, home life past and present, and other human relationships, it doesn’t ask about the client’s relationship to nature. As psychology, particularly applied in counseling, takes an increasingly systemic view of people and their mental health, research and anecdotal evidence alike deny the (particularly American) ideal of the “rugged individualist”. Rather than an island, each person is part of an interconnected greater system, and the natural world is a part of that. Ecopsychology gently reminds us that our very minds and perceptions are inextricably linked to our environment, something that many neopagans have been living consciously for years.

Ecopsychology meshes well with nature-based religion.

From its inception in the late 20th century, ecopsychology has always been closely entwined with spirituality, especially (though not exclusively) nature-based spiritual and religious paths. Even the anthology Ecopsychology, which came out in 1995 and is considered one of the foundational texts of the subject, included an essay by Leslie Gray entitled “Shamanic Counseling and Ecopsychology”. Whether theistic or not, spirituality is an intrinsic part of the right-brained tendencies of ecopsychology, and paths ranging from neopaganism to Catholicism(2) have been explored within ecopsychological writings.

Ecopsychology lends itself well to ritual practices.

Joanna Macy and John Seed’s Council of All Beings rite, and Mary Gomes’ Altars of Extinction(3), are just two of many examples of how ecopsychology has delved into ritual as a way of healing and processing the profound level of grief many feel at the destruction of the environment. Ecopsychologists recognize ritual as a structured way for clients to process and work through life experiences past and present; additionally, as many neopagan rituals tend to be focused on the bright, celebratory side, an exploration of the processing of grief may be valuable to our spiritual communities.

As you can see, just in these few examples there are plenty of areas of overlap between ecopsychology and neopagan interests and practices. Our relationship to the world, to include that expressed in spirituality, depends heavily on our perceptions and cognitions; we cannot experience and interpret what is around us without the filters of our senses and our thoughts. Ecopsychology is a formal, though often quite organic, exploration of that relationship between personal microcosm and universal macrocosm.

1. There’s a great study done a few years ago that demonstrated just that; you can read the paper that resulted at http://faculty.washington.edu/pkahn/articles/520_kahn.pdf

2. During my first ecopsych course, one of the co-authors of the excellent text, Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth, spoke at one of the classes. Those readers with a particular interest in interfaith dialogue may be interested in the book, though it’s an enlightening read in general.

3. The Altars of Extinction project was featured in issue #96 of Reclaiming Quarterly: http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org/96/96-altarextinct.html

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It’s Okay To Not Hustle

There’s this meme going around Facebook right now, saying “If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, your side hustle started, or more knowledge, you never lacked time. You lacked discipline.” Thankfully multiple people have already skewered it, but it continues to be shared around by the sort of person who is trying to one-up everyone else, or who’s just plain clueless–or, for that matter, just trying to guilt you into buying whatever they’re selling.

Now, there’s not a damned thing wrong with self-promotion. That’s how indie artists, authors, and other self-employed folks get the word out. You have to be able to talk good talk in order to get people’s attention. But leading with this meme? Guilting people for not leaping from sudden unemployment straight into the thick of the ever-shifting gig economy? That ain’t gonna fly, Brocephus.

You Have Good Reasons to Slack

Excuse me while I dust off my counseling psych degree a sec, here. *ahem* We are in a very sensitive, turbulent time right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century in the Western world. We are in a hugely traumatizing situation here. Not just for the financial losses, but the fact that COVID-19 has killed thousands of people and left many more with permanent lung damage. We still haven’t gotten a handle yet on exactly how contagious this thing is, how long you’re contagious for, or whether you’re immune once you’ve had it, assuming you survive. We don’t have adequate testing, emergency rooms estimate that for every positive test there are 10-20 people out there infected and untested, and everyone with a cough is suddenly Schroedinger’s COVID case. Governments worldwide are slow to react in spite of the rising death toll. People have had friends and family die horribly from this thing in a short period of time. Even people who didn’t already have issues with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses are feeling stressed, strained and scared–and, yes, traumatized. This image is guilt-tripping people who are actively being traumatized.

So we’re already starting with a populace that is dealing with this collective trauma, as well as whatever personal trauma each individual is experiencing. Not always easy to seize the day when you’re going through that. And I can think of a few other reasons that might further complicate this whole “Just get a side gig!” thing:

–They’re a parent who suddenly has all their kids at home, all the time, demanding time and attention and food, AND they still have to work eight hours a day from home, or maybe even more if their S.O. is unemployed/sick/etc. By the way, if someone trots out Isaac Newton or William Shakespeare or some other historical guy who managed to do epic things during a pandemic, remember that they usually had wives or servants to do all the laundry and cooking and cleaning and (if applicable) childcare for them.

–They’re disabled or chronically ill, and don’t have the ability/energy/etc. to just go and make something happen, just like that. Imagine if you just randomly got the fatigue from a really bad flu, and you never knew whether it was going to last a day or a month. And if you tried exerting yourself when you were feeling better, chances are you’d slip back into fatigue-land. That’s what a lot of my chronically ill/etc. friends have to deal with, to say nothing of issues with accessibility of resources for starting a side gig.

–They don’t have any money for the supplies needed to start a side hustle, or the supplies have been hoarded by hobbyists preparing for a Pandemic Staycation.

–They don’t have the skills for something that just requires what they already have (like, for example, writing on a laptop you already happen to own). Often these skills are things that can’t be perfected in a few weeks at home, but may take years to develop before they’re really marketable–like, for example, the skill to make a decent living on side hustles.

–They have anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions that make it hard to function even in the best of times, but even moreso in this…well…mess. Even people who were mentally healthy before are going to be developing diagnosable anxiety and depression disorders before all’s said and done. And speaking from personal experience, those of us who look successful on the outside can still be internally hamstrung by these conditions at times.

–Plus there’s the fact that we’re not supposed to, you know, leave our homes, which narrows down the field of potential side gigs by a lot.

Even doing something less financially-wrought like learning a new skill or subject takes time, energy, and sometimes money, any or all of which may be scarce for the reasons above and more.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

I am saying all of this as someone who is arguably an expert on the side gig. I have spent the past eight and a half years 100% self-employed (and a lot longer doing it part-time) as an author and artist, able to cover all my bills and expenses, and for a time I was the primary breadwinner of a multi-person household. I have like ten different things I was doing for a living before this all hit, a pretty diverse set of streams of income, even if most of them just up and evaporated in the past few weeks. And while I’m definitely a hell of a lot leaner now than I was a month ago, I still have my head above water for the moment. So I think I know side gigs.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m overall healthy. I have a dog who is a lot less demanding of my time than kids would be. I have my own space where I can focus more or less without interruption. More importantly, I have the skills, the knowhow, the drive and the personality to go out and seek new opportunities. And I’m used to fluctuations in income, though admittedly this one’s unprecedented. Don’t gauge yourself by where I am now. I’ve spent twenty-two years building up my art business, my first book came out in 2006, and I’ve had a series of really good opportunities come my way that I had the privilege to be able to make the most of. I am not your measuring stick, so don’t say “Well, if she can do it why can’t I? I must suck!”

If you’re feeling crappy because you aren’t hopping to it and carpeing the diem and getting everything done, here’s what I have to say to you: Look, you just had your world turned upside-down. Job loss, scarce commodities, sudden lack of outside childcare, restricted movement and inability to be around much of your support system, and did I mention a pandemic is happening, too? Any single one of those things would be difficult for just about anyone to deal with, never mind all at once. And I don’t even know what all else has already been going on in your life–unstable or unsafe living situation, other health issues, breakups and other losses, interpersonal conflicts. You know, normal life stuff.

You’re Not Lazy, or Screwing Up, or (Gods Forbid) Undisciplined

It is totally okay if all you’re doing right now is surviving. It’s okay if you feel like you’re drowning, overwhelmed by all that’s happening both on a global level and more personally. It’s okay if all you can manage right now is to get out of bed and stumble through each day a moment at a time, struggling with a tidal wave of emotions. It’s okay if you’re just trying to keep your kids busy, dealing with a crowded home every single day, or trying to keep COVID-19 at bay. It’s okay if, instead of firing up DuoLingo or opening an Etsy shop, you spend your evenings vegging to Netflix or reading a book or playing hours and hours of Animal Crossing.

Not every moment in your life has to be about being productive even in the best of circumstances, and that goes exponentially so right now. Be patient with yourself, and be kind. You may be one of those folks who literally has to spend all their time scrabbling to try to cover the bills or get some leeway from bill collectors, and you have to dedicate your waking time hunting for resources just to try to get through this week. Believe me, I feel for you, I have a lot of friends in that situation right now, and I hope all of you can find some relief and assistance.

May I suggest something? If you have the energy for something more than the bare essentials of getting by, put that energy toward self-care, whatever you can manage under the circumstances. You can use it to recuperate, to rebuild your emotional and physical resilience. That way if things get rough again in the future, you have more internal reserves to build on. If your usual methods don’t work or aren’t accessible due to lockdown, ask others what they’re doing to keep themselves grounded in this trying time.

Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you don’t have to throw yourself right into something productive! Don’t feel pressured to just go-go-go the moment you have a little freedom to move. If you do decide you want to try a side gig, or a new skill, or learn all about some specialized topic of interest, go for it! If you have the energy and attention and opportunity to pursue something new, it can be a great coping skill during this traumatic time. Just don’t pressure yourself; keep it fun.

One last thing: I want you to save the image I have at the top of this post. And then if you see someone post that meme, saying “Come on, you lazy bums, get up and make that side gig happen! Learn new stuff! Do all the things! No excuses!” you pull out this version, and you look at the edits, you remember that it’s okay to be where you are, and you get back to doing things at your own pace no matter what someone else says. (I find visualizing stapling a printout of the edited version to the offender’s forehead to also be therapeutic, but that may just be me.)

Hang in there, okay? It’s going to be a rough time, but you’re not alone, and what you’re feeling right now is shared by so many people. So just let yourself be where you are in this moment, and we’ll see what hope tomorrow brings. And remember that whatever you’re capable of in this moment: it’s enough.

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Incoming Storm

The last few weeks I’ve felt like I was preparing for a storm.

Here on the coast, we get winter storms that come in off the ocean with a salty chill; they whip raindrops and sleet through the air like birdshot. From October until May I keep a radar map open in my browser so I can track them as they approach, and I get emails telling me when particularly bad storms are on their way (1). I go through the same preparations each time, too: make sure I have water saved up, make sure I have enough food, make sure the car has gas if I need to use it as a backup source for charging phones, check the animals’ shelters to be sure they’re securely tucked away. Check, check, check the boxes.

And then when everything is buttoned up, I return to the house, change into warm, dry clothing, and I wait. Sometimes I curl up under the covers, and hide, listening to the wind as it pushes at the windows and flings rain on the roof. Often my dog joins me, curled up on her bed on the floor, feeling secure in my company.

Most of the time the power stays on. Our local utility district is good at stormproofing the infrastructure. But I always have to be prepared in case it goes out, making sure there’s enough firewood for the wood stove, and candles, and oil for the lamp.

Chores have to be done, too. Animals need to be fed and watered, eggs need to be collected, loose tarps and other items need to be tied down. I gear up in layers and a raincoat and wait for a lull, however slight, then get through the work and come back home. Sometimes I have to duck into the barn when a particularly bad squall hits, and shelter for a few minutes as it blows itself out.

Eventually the storm passes, though some may last for a day or more. I check for downed trees and other damage; we’ve been lucky on that account. I take a moment to appreciate the rain that the ecosystem here needs so much, and that I have safe shelter to hide in.

The last few weeks, though, feel like I’ve been going through these preparations all over again, even though the storm season is more or less done. The first weekend in March, when the advisory was “no group activities over 500 people”, I vended at the under-500 Northwest Tarot Symposium, my first–and possibly last–event of the year. I wore a mask because I managed to catch a cold right at the start of it, and even though that particular coronavirus isn’t as terrible as COVID-19, it’s still not something I’d like to share with people.

And I was grateful for the income, because I didn’t know when such a thing would happen again, and because it allowed me to prepare. Food for me and the dog and the chickens, gas in the car, toilet paper because somehow that was becoming a scarce commodity and I was down to my last couple of rolls anyway. Check, check, check the boxes again.

That was two weeks ago. The storm is rolling over, dark clouds unfurling to blot out the stars. This time, though, there is no radar. Nothing tells me for sure when it will end, and the moon will shine her silver light down again. No one can say how bad the damage will be, what the cost of cleanup will come to, and how badly we will pay for the delay in preparation.

And now, I wait. I stay safe and warm and dry in my wing of the house, isolated from my landmates. I eat good food, and I create, and I rest. I watch my fish in their aquarium, flitting through the leaves of the plants and playing in the aerator bubbles. The trails are all closed, so I only go out for food or medicine. On nice days I can still take my dog for a walk on the empty beach by the house, reveling in the sun that brings a sparkle to the water and a gleam to the dampened sand. It is a much-needed respite, but I know that I always must return to the safety of home, especially if dark clouds loom on the horizon.

No one knows how long this will last. And so, each day, I prepare.

  1. I use https://emergencyemail.org/Default.asp; the site’s appearance is a little dated, but the email alerts are solid.

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New Paths to Animal Spirits is Now Available!

I am pleased to announce the newest offering in my self-publishing endeavors! To be clear, New Paths to Animal Spirits is NOT the brand new book I alluded to in yesterday’s post; that one’s still being written. Instead, it is the new, self-published edition of my now out of print Llewellyn book, New Paths to Animal Totems. As the title suggests, I updated the language to be more culturally neutral; however, the content is basically the same, so if you already have the first edition, don’t bother buying this one unless you happen to be a completionist or something like that!

However, if you don’t have this book, it’s actually one of my favorites that I’ve written ! I was reminded of this as I was doing the interior layout for this edition, re-reading the text as I went along. Like all my books, it’s a toolkit that you can pick and choose form, rather than a monolithic chunk of holy writ. I like recommending it to newbies because it breaks my practices with animal spirits down into systems, but it also offers more experienced practitioners some ideas, too, as I basically dissected my practice into the three main approaches I take.

You can read more about this book, and preorder a copy at http://thegreenwolf.com/books/new-paths-to-animal-spirits/ (you can also get instant gratification and order an ebook there, too!) I just got the approval over on Amazon/Kindle, and I’ll place an order for my first batch of paperbacks at the end of the week; your copy will come out of that first batch. I expect to have the box o’ books in hand by the second week in April, and will prioritize getting those out to everyone who preorders now.

I have a few more books that I’ll be converting to self-published status in the weeks to come, so keep your eyes peeled for those new editions!

State of the Lupa Address

It’s been over a year since I wrote a brand new blog post with anything other than a bit of promotion. Truth be told, I needed a break. I started my first blog in 2007, I think? Earlier if you count Livejournal as a blog. For a few years I even had multiple blogs going at once, and that just got exhausting.

But it gave me time to work on other things. As you may remember, four years ago I moved my art studio out to the coast to a farm owned by a friend of mine. I gradually moved my entire life out here, and I’m now a full-time resident. I’m still self-employed, with my art and writing joined by a small contract doing a bit of environmental education locally, and selling eggs from my chickens.

Yes, I have chickens! Twenty of them! And a tank of guppies and platies, and a dog. And there are other animals I get to take care of here, too, so that keeps me pretty busy. I also spend what little bits of free time I have outside, whether I’m hiking, taking the dog for a walk, or fussing around on iNaturalist.

Like so many other people, my life has been shaken down to the core the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. Because I already live a pretty isolated life (but not in a bad way) I’m at fairly low risk of contracting the disease, though I’m still careful. However, all of my streams of income have either been severely cut or evaporated entirely within the past month, which has meant I’ve had to adapt quickly. It’s going to be a lean year for sure.

On the one hand, there’s the stress of not knowing what my future will hold (no matter how good I am at divination!) On the other, the shifting around of responsibilities and priorities, and so many things now being put on hold, has left me the opportunity to move some projects up the to-do list. For instance, I have a few books that are either out of print or just about to be that I’m moving over into my self-publishing efforts; hopefully the first of those will be available later this week (and yes, I will post here.) This involves doing an entirely new interior layout and cover for each manuscript, plus whatever minor edits are needed. I don’t like to rewrite my older works entirely, partly because the information is still good, and partly because I’m in a very different place in my life now.

But that also means I have room to write new books, too! I mean, I have other things going on right now, but I’m making time to work on a manuscript that I actually started a couple of years ago, and then had to back-burner due to life happening (and needing to get Vulture Culture 101 out the door.) The working title is Coyote’s Journey: Deeper Work With the Major Arcana, and while it will be based on the animals of the Majors of the Tarot of Bones, it will be useful for anyone studying Tarot in depth regardless of what decks they use. Each chapter will explore some of the messages and concepts associated with each card in detail, followed by exercises and meditation ideas, all written within the story of Coyote (the Fool) going to meet each of the animals associated with the other cards.

I have no idea what the timeline is for publication. A lot depends on how well I’m able to keep paying the bills on an even thinner shoestring over the next several months, and what other side gigs I manage to scrape up to keep things afloat here. But for now, once I get my OOP/almost OOP titles squared away I intend to put a lot more focus on Coyote’s Journey, and hopefully do a little blogging on the side, too.

On that note, I’d just like to remind you dear readers that art and books are still the backbone of my income, and while I have always appreciated every single sale (seriously, I still sometimes squee when I get notification of a sale in my inbox), they matter even more now. If you’d like to help support my work, here’s how:

You can find my books on my website here!

You can find my artwork on Etsy here and some non-Etsy artwork on Storenvy here! I’m still making plenty of hide and bone ritual tools and other art, but I’m also customizing Breyer model horses, too.

You can be my Patron and get art, books, and sneak peeks every month here!

Or you can just tip me on my Ko-Fi account here!

Many thanks, and it’s nice to be back. Be well, and I’ll check back in soon.

Green Tomatoes Are the Reason For the Season

Note: This was first published on No Unsacred Place around 2012-ish, which went defunct a few years ago (RIP–it was a good site). Then it was on Paths Through the Forests, but I split from Patheos a couple of years ago due to philosophical differences with their new ownership. As they have not honored my request to have my writing taken down, and I don’t want to direct more traffic to them, I am slowly reproducing my work from there here. That way if I want to share this post with someone it will come from my site and not theirs. Please help me by sharing this link around–thank you!

Late Autumn is a very special time for me. Yes, Samhain has come and gone, and the air gets colder, and it’s time to toss extra blankets on the bed. But what really gets me excited is green tomato soup.

I am an urban gardener. Sadly, I am not fortunate enough to be able to rent, let alone own, a house here in the middle of Portland. But I don’t need to in order to grow things. Since I moved here, I have put in a small vegetable garden every year, no matter where I’ve lived. This year was the most challenging, since all I had was a small porch, about thirty inches by six feet. But I stuffed it with containers of herbs and carrots—and tomatoes.

Tomatoes are the ultimate example to me of locavorism and why it’s important. Like most Americans, I grew up with grocery stores that had all kinds of produce year-round, even in the dead of a Midwestern winter. I didn’t really have a sense of seasons; I just knew that there were some parts of the year where the watermelons didn’t taste quite as good.

It wasn’t until I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life that it really hit me that food wasn’t always available all the time. I mean, I knew on some level, but when you grow up in a nation where you can get bananas any time of year, you’re in great danger of forgetting where food comes from. This problem is compounded even further when more and more families, due to finances, time restrictions, and even basic accessibility, favor pre-packaged, overly processed “food products” over fresh fruits and veggies and other base ingredients. Farmers may as well as be an alien species for all that many people here are concerned.

And it’s getting worse. I am 33 years old; I grew up in a small Midwestern town, in a household where good food was thankfully abundant. My grandmother and mother both gardened, and salads were common fare. I also grew up around a lot of farms, so I was aware of what cows, pigs and other livestock looked like.

Contrast that with this video from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, where school children from just a year or so ago have trouble identifying tomatoes, among others. (Okay, I would have had trouble with eggplant, too, but tomatoes?)

So I suppose that as I got older and got involved in more sustainability geekery, I saw myself as trying to turn the tide, and maybe balance out some of that lack of understanding and exposure. I started my own garden in every apartment I moved into once I hit the Pacific Northwest in 2006. I learned to use a pressure canner. I tried more recipes from scratch. And I always had tomatoes.

Which is rather odd, since I used to HATE them. Some of it was age, since our tastes literally can shift over time. But until, as an adult, I tried a fresh tomato straight out of my garden after years of only having access to mealy, watery things in the store and restaurants, I was hooked. I’d planted the vines so I could make pizza sauce from scratch, but fresh tomatoes became a favorite snack. And once the weather got too cold and the sun too far south for the tomatoes to ripen (I never got the paper bag and banana trick to work), I made green tomato soup from the last survivors on the vines.This year, there was only one small pot of soup since my little balcony garden didn’t produce very much. But my partner, S., and I had been looking forward to it for the entire year before. The idea for this post came as we were supping on that one single meal, enjoying a rare treat.

That one pot of soup was extra special this year for its scarcity, and each step of creating it was sacred. From the moment I picked the last tomatoes from the vines I’d tended since March, to slicing them up and adding them to the mix, and then taking them into my body to become a part of me–the entire process was a ritual in and of itself, even if no spirits were formally invoked. For that time, I felt myself to be immersed in cycles that I all too often still ignore, an altered state of awareness that, to our species, was not so long ago the norm.

For now, tomatoes are the main reminder to me of the seasonal nature of foods. I’m still admittedly pretty spoiled for choices, and I don’t buy in season as much as I really ought to. I get really busy with work and such, and when it comes time to go to the store I just want to get through there as quickly as I can so I can get back home to whatever writing or art project I’m working on. And it’s really telling, when even someone who’s conscientious of her actions and choices can still slide into these old behaviors.

As an urban pagan, I face the challenges of observing a nature-based and cyclical spiritual path in an environment that often promotes being numbed to those influences. If we are going to make nature-based spirituality relevant to city dwellers as well as more rural people, then we need to not only utilize the tools of agrarian people from long ago, but to accept that we need solutions for a variety of human-created environments and societies and cultures.

As we slide toward Thanksgiving, a lot of my food-based thoughts are on how to maximize things like leftovers to help my household get through the winter. But I am going to do more research to remind myself of what truly is in season right now, and start to alter my grocery habits to reflect that more as much as I’m able. And perhaps more food will become sacred rituals cycling throughout the year, a reminder of the reasons for the seasons.

Did you like this post? Help me keep writing by buying one of my books, some of my artwork, or becoming my Patron on Patreon!

Vulture Culture 101 is Here!

Vulture Culture 101: A Book For People Who Like Dead Things has arrived! This is the first book about the subculture (fandom?) surrounding hides, bones, and other animal specimens. In it you’ll learn about who Vultures are, how to build your own collection, tutorials on bone cleaning, tanning and more, how to explain Vulture Culture to the general public, and much more. Whether you’re just getting involved or have been a Vulture for years, this is a great addition to your bookshelf–and it’s the perfect thing to hand to someone who may not understand your unusual interests, too!

Get the book here: http://www.vultureculture101.com/buy-the-book/

SHINY NEW PRODUCT!!!!!

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DO YOU LIKE FUN?

DO YOU LIKE WEARING FUN SKULLS????!!!!

Try my SHINY NEW PRODUCT, DEELY BOBBERS WITH REAL ANIMAL SKULLS! After two decades of making stuff with dead stuff, and working really, really hard to come up with new ideas, I am pleased to announce that this greatest of inventions is now ready for YOU to BUY!!!!

LOTS of animals skulls for you to choose from, except all I have right now are muskrats but they’re really cool muskrats. I’ll have more soon, I promise! And you get a leather-wrapped headband so that you don’t have to think about how the plastic inside of it will someday end up in the ocean and kill a progressively smaller array of animals who mistake it for food and eat it and then die!!

if YOU want to be the life of the party!!!! then you need an ANIMAL SKULL DEELY BOBBER! Just $39.95 plus shipping anywhere that’s the United States!!!! And for a really great deal, buy TWO for just $79.90 plus shipping!!!!

“HOW DO I BUY THIS AMAZING NEW PRODUCT??” you ask? Comment below if you want information on how to wire money to me via a secure Western Union transaction!!!

Or better yet, check today’s date, skip the silly deely bobber entirely, and click on this text right here preorder my next book, Vulture Culture 101: A Book For People Who Like Dead Things!

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