Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving prayer

Several years ago, when I was a student in Bolad's Kitchen, I heard a beautiful prayer offered in thanksgiving, and I want to share the story of how it touched all of us who were present. About twenty of us students had gathered for a potluck one night during the school session. Most of us were new to studying with Martin Prechtel and only knew a few of our fellow students. Martin had been shocking many of us awake by requiring eloquence as well as attention in our responses in class.

Two men from the eastern US were last to arrive, and as we all stood awkwardly about the dining table, one of the men turned to the other, named Joseph, and asked him to say a prayer before we began eating. Joseph began, "I am thankful that for now my body is without pain or illness. I am thankful I am wearing these shoes that fit my feet, and keep out the water. I am grateful to be wearing these clothes that keep me dry and warm. I am thankful I am under a roof tonight, and have a place inside to sleep where I can relax and not be fearful. I am grateful I have this food to eat this evening, and that it is cooked and warm...."

Joseph continued on for some moments, offering thanks on behalf of all of us for having what really matters: warm food, safe shelter, dry clothing, health. I know that for myself, before he began, I was expecting something filled with lofty thoughts and beautiful phrasing. I was startled and then deeply moved by his profound gratitude for the most simple of his needs being met.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, many people have been struggling with snow and cold, power outages and roadway nightmares. As you read this, if you are warm and fed and safe at home--please say Joseph's prayer. May your gratitude for your good fortune bless those who are without tonight.

These two images are the cards of fate in the Journey Oracle deck, the only two cards that have no phrases or questions and are not numbered. Drawing either of these two cards stops the oracle reading--we see either that our situation is filled with food, as reflected in the seasons of spring and summer, or that our situation has no food, reflected in the seasons of fall and winter. May you always have the blessings of enough food.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Receiving a drum honoring ceremony

While I was in Edmonton this last week to present a Journey Oracle card workshop I had an opportunity to meet Jay Saka, a man of Japanese ancestry who has been building drums and teaching others how to make and honor the drum. He first telephoned me some months ago because he saw my segment on the Vision TV series Guides and Gurus. At first we spoke tentatively because I am uncomfortable sharing my drum making experience in a 'pick your brain' request. I have spent many years gathering my direct experience with drums and drum making, and feel that effort is dishonored when given away with no corresponding effort from the person making the request. However, Jay offered to send me a gift for my knowing, and began calling me periodically to share stories and experiences from his drum making workshops. Just before I left for Edmonton I received a large box of prairie sage bundles from him, one tied with prayer flags to honor my teaching.

Jay and I almost missed each other, since I was calling and calling a telephone number that I had copied incorrectly. We connected just one night before my leaving. Jay brought drums and beaters, smudge, tobacco, photos of his ceremonies at several Alberta medicine wheels, and a workbook of his teachings that he shares with his students. He began by offering me a smudge and praying with tobacco to the four directions, then by singing an honor song for the Directions. He sang me many songs from the Cherokee, Blackfoot and Ute Nations, and finished our time by asking me to autograph his copy of the Journey Oracle cards.

I felt very honored to receive such a blessing from someone who considers me their teacher. I I found myself thinking about special teachers I have had, and wondering if I ever thanked them for shaping the directions my life has taken. The Journey Oracle has been such a teacher, so thanks to the Oracle, and thanks to you, Jay, for reminding me to always be grateful for learning.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The history of Oracles

I have recently been reading The Greek Myths, collected and commented upon by Robert Graves. I had previously known Graves' work from reading The White Goddess, and it has been a revelation to discover his commentary on the stories of my deep cultural past. I was delighted to discover a chapter titled The Oracles, which presents myths about how the Oracles of Greece began and came to be taken over by the patriarchal invaders.

All oracles were originally delivered by the Earth Goddess, whose authority was so great that successive waves of invasion make a practice of seizing the shrines and either appointing priests or retaining the priestesses in their own service. Thus Zeus took over at Dodona, and King Ammon took over the Oasis of Siwa, both oracles sacred to the dove and oak cult of Dia or Dione. Later Apollo captured the oracle at Delphi. Besides these, there were numerous other oracular shrines: those in the Lycaeum and on the Acropolis at Argos, at Boeotian Ismenium, at Clarus and at Telmessus. The sick received oracles at Pharae, Hera was consulted near Pagae, and Mother Earth spoke through her priestesses at Aegeira in Achaea. Dice were thrown at the oracle of Heracles at Achaean Bura; dreams were consulted at the oracles of Asclepius and Laconian Thalamae.

Perhaps Graves' most provocative statement, for me, is his comment that prophesy was the only skill not taken from women in the transition from a Goddess-centered to a God-centered culture. This first card I painted for the Journey Oracle seems in its image and phrase to be an echo of this unbroken tradition of women as soothsayers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to interpret fairy tales using oracle cards

I use my Journey Oracle deck for many more tasks than seeking advice about troubling or unclear situations. Interpreting fairy tales becomes a journey into layers of personal meaning and insight when I ask the cards to make connections between the story and my personal situation. Here's an example of what I do.

Last week I chose a fairy tale from the Red Fairy Book to help me gain insight about a group of new shamanic students with whom I am going to be working. I opened the book to the tale: the Death of Koshchei the Deathless. Here is my brief summary. Prince Ivan, on the instruction of his dying parents, helps his three sisters each marry a bird and then fly away to their kingdoms. The Prince then finds his own beloved, who tells him he can do anything but open the locked closet. Of course Prince Ivan does and discovers Koshchei the Deathless who is begging for a drink of water. After he drinks three buckets full he bursts his chains and carries away the beloved of Ivan. The Prince goes after her and is met by the Falcon, the Eagle and the Raven brothers-in-law and his sisters. Each couple asks for a token of silver by which to remember Ivan, and after these meetings at last he comes to his beloved. The royal couple flee three times from Koshchei who forgives the first two but on the third escape cuts Prince Ivan into pieces and seals these in a barrel flung into the sea. The bird relatives rescue Ivan and rebuild him, telling him to find out where Koshchei obtained such a fine horse that is always able to catch the runaway lovers. The beloved Marya finds out that the horse came from a Baba Yaga as a reward for caring for her mares. On his way to the Baba Yaga, Prince Ivan meets and agrees not to eat a chicken, honey from a bee hive, or a lion cub. The Baba Yaga tries to trick Prince Ivan for three days into losing some of her mares, but each day one of the animals he spared rounds up the wayward mares and drives them home. The prince then steals from the Baba Yaga a sorry colt who becomes a wondrous steed. He returns to his beloved Marya and carries her off. When Koshchei catches up to the pair, Ivan's magical horse smotes Koshchei with a kick from his hoof. The Prince then makes an end of him with a club, then burns him on a pyre, and then scatters his ashes to the wind. And of course at the death of the Deathless the couple live happily ever after.

I am naming myself Ivan, the three sisters my new students, and the bird husbands are the shamanic paths each must choose. But who is Koshchei? In the Russian fairytale Koshchei cannot be killed by conventional means because his soul lives outside his body. I drew this card number 47 to show me who is this deathless energy in my own story. What a surprise to see the card that most represents to me the Mystery; the card that represents the deepest water of Spirit. Certainly the water that brings Koshchei back to strength is the most fundamental of food. Is what I struggle against, and my love of the Mystery, the same thing? Perhaps my struggle against what I think keeps me from what I love will die with the help of those I help. Maybe this means that my new students are with me because it is I that must receive from them. Prince Ivan seems to have a kind heart, and doesn't give up trying to be with what he loves . I'm hoping naming it makes it so.