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.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting my work on Patreon, buying my books here on my website, buying my art and books on Etsy, or tipping me at Ko-fi!

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.

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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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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!

Bella Morte

Note: This was first published on No Unsacred Place around 2011-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!

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The beauty of the wild is the long gesture of life in time. The beauty of skin and fur and feathers, the beauty of blood, the beauty of bones sinking into grass.

–John Daniel, from The Soul Unearthed

That is the quote I painted on a recent creation of mine, shown in the picture above. My canvas was a piece of rawhide left over from a drum kit. The visual punctuation of the entire piece included an eclectic mix: a rooster feather; a coyote toe bone; a sea urchin spine; and two pieces of deer hide, fur and leather.

I chose the quote deliberately for that piece. There is a certain ambiguity to the words, flowing from one end of the life-death cycle to the other. “Life in time” breathes and pounds its heart, while the “bones sinking into grass” create a vivid image of the core structure of the animal, all the rest borne away, disintegrating into nourishment for the flora. In between, the hides and the blood are left open; they may be alive and running yet, but the blood may also be sluiced upon the ground, and the skin stripped from muscle and tendon and prepared for preservation.

In much of the United States, people have a poor relationship with death, to include that of nonhuman animals. The idea of the “poor, dead animals” (particularly those that aren’t carved up on a dinner plate) is often enough of a shock that no one wants to think, let alone talk, about it. We eat beef and pork, not cow and pig, and very few of us ever eat anything that’s looking back at us; even the shrimp are conveniently decapitated for our culinary comfort. The most common discourse about dead animals seems to come from some animal rights activists who quite often use guilt, shame, and shock to try to convince unsuspecting leather-clad omnivores into changing their ways. When the choices are either silence or stigma, there doesn’t seem to be much room in between for more moderate discussions.

“Skin Spirits” book cover photo by Lupa, 2009

I choose what I perceive as one potential moderate path, tempered with much awareness. For over a decade I have been an artist of animal remains, part aesthetics and part spiritual work. On the one hand, I very much appreciate the lovely curve of bone and the lush texture of deerskin, the intricately veined colors of feathers, and the varied structures of the hairs of all sorts of furs. Beyond animal parts as an artistic medium, though, the core of my work is funereal. From the beginning my art has been about reclaiming these remains from being trophies or status symbols, and a significant portion of my “supplies” is made of old fur and leather coats, reclaimed taxidermy, and the like.(1) I guide these remains to a better “afterlife” with others, as has always been my role with them, and everything I make with animal parts gets a full ritual purification as part of my pagan practice.

Over the years I’ve gotten a wide variety of reactions to my work, from awe to indifference to outright hostility. Thankfully the responses have canted toward the more receptive, whether in person or online. I get the distinct feeling, though, that most people, regardless of their views, are highlighting certain individual facets of the work that, together, I tend to take as a whole.Most of the people who favor my work seem to primarily connect with it on an aesthetic level. They like having something pretty, whether as something to wear, or as a “powerful” ritual tool. They appreciate it as art, which is perfectly fine. At the other end of the spectrum are the occasional activists who come in swinging; they see the death and the remains, to the exclusion of anything else.

On some occasions, though, I will meet people who bring my art home both as art, and as sacred remains. They haven’t glossed over the fact that what they hold was once living, often combining the parts of animals that never would have met in life (such as the cow and the sea urchin in my wall hanging above). But they still see the beauty in those remains, and in the fact of their death. They can appreciate the loveliness of a long-dead deer’s ribcage seated in a field, and the arrangement of those same ribs into a totemic shrine. They know they carry lives in their hands.

I have not lost sight of the living end of the cycle, either. I have always donated a portion of the funds I make from selling my art to nonprofit groups that work to preserve both animals and their habitat, as well as informal donations to friends and acquaintances in need of help with emergency vet bills and the like. I think my partner, S., put it best when he told me that my most powerful alchemy was taking the remains of animals that had often died cruel and inhumane deaths, and turning them into funds to help those creatures still living and the environs that support them.

And I do my best to educate people about the sources of the remains; I maintain a database of international, federal and state laws on possessing and selling animals parts in the US to help them make educated decisions. Nor do I lie about those of my “materials” that are byproducts of the fur industry; I do not claim they’re roadkilled or “natural deaths”, or wild instead of farmed, to try to assuage people’s guilt or to make me look more ethical in their eyes. To do so would be an insult both to the people I speak with, and the animals themselves, never mind my artistic and spiritual work.

Coyote totem headdress by Lupa, 2011

This work with the remains is another foundational part of my nature-based path, and as I write in this place over time, you may see me refer to the “skin spirits” as a collective term for the spirits of all the animals whose remains I work with, skin, bone and otherwise. My nature-based paganism is rooted in all of the life-death cycle, and this is how I seek the beauty in that which is all too often ignored, or so symbolized as to be almost entirely removed from the gritty reality.

(1) I have become so known for collecting dead critters in certain circles, in fact, that I have been over time gifted with a number of antiques that were inherited by people who had no idea what to do with them, and so decided I was a good next stop for Grandma’s fur coat, or Uncle Doug’s deer heads.

Did you enjoy this blog post? Consider picking up a copy of my book Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Use of Animal Parts, or The Tarot of Bones, or my other books (some of which also have dead things in them!) Or you can check out my artwork made with hides, bones and other natural and found items. And I have a forthcoming book about Vulture Culture, the subculture that has formed in recent years around the appreciation of taxidermy and other dead things.

The Importance of Nearby Nature

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!

Last week I was taking a walk while in between appointments around the residential portion of the Hollywood District here in Portland. It was a glorious day, sunny and warm, and amid the sounds of lawnmowers and cars I could hear the voices of numerous birds in the trees and gardens around me. I walked beneath a male Anna’s hummingbird doing his distinctive dive bomb display with a chirp and a “tze-tze-tze” (that first sound being made by the bird’s tail feathers). And I passed by a pair of tiny gray bushtits in a flowering tree, hunting equally tiny insects for lunch. Numerous ferns and flowers burst forth in lush greenery, urged on by recent rain and immediate sunlight, and even a pair of domestic cats enjoyed their yard (thankfully from the safety of long leashes). It was, all told, quite a pleasant walk only cut short by a text that my next appointment was, in fact, in another neighborhood entirely.

Still, even those few minutes were enough to rejuvenate me through a busy day. Not that this is a new revelation; it’s been several years since I took my first graduate course in ecopsychology, and one of the first things we discussed were the restorative properties of exposure to nature. Research has quantified these positive effects, allowing a more structured understanding of why we seek outdoor places to refresh ourselves and find relaxation. It may almost seem redundant to some of us to have to study things we feel are common sense.

Attribution: Christopher T Cooper
 Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

We are human mammals, Homo sapiens sapiens. As a species, we spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving in wide, open savannahs and scrub forests, and that experience was built on a much, much longer heritage of wild living. The few thousand years that we’ve been living in settled areas, with permanent shelters, is a much smaller period of time, and our current way of life is, at best, a century or so old, hardly long enough for us to properly adapt to it in depth. Our mammalian selves still look for open water and good vistas, and too much time spent indoors can lead to greater levels of stress, among other unpleasant effects.

So why is it so hard to get us outside sometimes? One of the prices we pay for our fast-paced, energy-hungry lifestyles is more of a dependence on controlled indoor environments. We learn from an early age that we’re supposed to do important things inside. Our very education is done indoors, for fear that being outside would lead us to distraction. And this trains us for the cubicle, the office, the checkout counter. Most of us don’t walk or bike to work or school, either, depriving us of even these daily encounters with the outdoors.

We also are concentrated more within cities and towns than ever before. It’s where the most job opportunities and other resources are located. However, other than neatly trimmed, rectangular parks with a few benches and trees, cities don’t always have green spaces. Most larger, wilder urban parks, like New York’s Central Park or Portland’s Forest Park, don’t have a lot of affordable housing nearby, and it can be quite a trek for some people to get to them, involving an investment of time and money that not all may have.Which is why it’s important to have nearby nature. What is nearby nature?  By some definitions it’s the wild places just outside a city or town; however, I also use the term to refer to the nature within these populated areas. After all, we don’t entirely pave everything over. There are gardens with flowering plants and trees and other green growing things, and an assortment of birds that have adapted to new ecosystems, and even a few mammals like raccoons and possums that have taken advantage of a lack of natural predators.  But it’s cultivated nature, too–gardens and landscaping and open green lawns (while I may hate grassy lawns and see them as a waste of space, they’re still better than asphalt).

Attribution: Steve F
 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Nearby nature allows us to connect with something other than ourselves; indeed, it connects us, ever so subtly, with something bigger than ourselves. When we’re inside, glued to a television set or a computer monitor or even a book, we can tune out everything that isn’t human-made. We’re lost in our own little world. But go outside, and we’re confronted with our neighbors, human and non-human alike. We have to remember, then, that we aren’t the only living beings on the planet.

This reconnection is beneficial all around. On the one hand, being outdoors in an environment where we feel safe helps to lower one’s blood pressure and relaxes the limbic system, and can reduce stress as well as symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses. We reconnect with our ancient selves, and give our senses the things they evolved to drink in. But it’s also beneficial for all the other beings, in that we–easily the single most destructive species on Earth–begin to feel more of a sense of responsibility for other living beings the more time we spend in their presence.

We shouldn’t have to go to wilderness areas to get that connection, though wilderness is certainly its own amazing experience. By infusing even our most urban areas and tallest buildings with reminders of nature, we’re giving ourselves day-to-day doses of nature’s beneficial properties. Like taking a daily multivitamin, we’re making sure that we’re getting the things we need to be healthy and connected on an ongoing basis.

Did you enjoy this post? My book, Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up, is an excellent guide to connecting more with your nearby nature! Find out more about it and my other books at https://thegreenwolf.com/books

A Couple of Upcoming Events of Note

Hi, all! I have a couple of upcoming events of note that I wanted to share with you:

Northwest Tarot Symposium Free Psychic Fair and Vendor Hall: March 2-3, 2019, Portland (Clackamas), OR

As part of the NWTS in Portland, OR at the Monarch Hotel, the event’s psychic fair and vendor room will be open to the public, free of charge, from 9am – 5pm both March 2 and 3, 2019. I’ll be vending there and will also have some of the Tarot of Bones original assemblages in the art show. I’ll also be signing books and tarot decks from 12pm – 1pm on Saturday (though you can come by the booth for them any time during the event.) There’s a lot more to NWTS, though; find out about full registration and all it offers at the official NWTS website.

Pocket Osteomancy Bone Divination Class: March 17, 2pm – 4pm, Portland (Sellwood), OR

Divination with bones doesn’t have to be complicated! Pocket Osteomancy: A Simple Bone Divination Set is a simple but effective system for using animal bones to focus your intuition and explore possibilities in your present and future. It is based loosely on the Minor Arcana of the Tarot of Bones. It’s great for both beginners who may feel intimidated by more complex systems, and also provides a basic structure for more experienced practitioners to build on and explore.

In this class you’ll learn about Pocket Osteomancy and how to use it, and get to create your own set with real deerskin and bones! You’ll also have a chance to try using your new set for divination, and ask the creator (that’s me, Lupa!) questions. The registration fee is $50/person and includes all materials for creating your set as well as a copy of the Pocket Osteomancy book. To register, please call the Raven’s Wing Magical Co. at (503) 946-8951. Official Facebook Event Page here.

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