Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Making a new spike fiddle

Sometimes a new creation takes a long time to be born. Several years ago, when I was first posting this blog on my Journey Oracle website, I wrote about making a spike fiddle from my Grandmother's bed. In almost all the time between that experience and now, I have been making a new spike fiddle. Tonight I put the deer hide left over from making a frame drum onto the sound chest. Now there is only the fitting of the strings and the rosin on the bow.

During the making of this new spike fiddle, I learned about how to apply orange shellac, also called French Polish, to the wooden newel posts and head boards, mostly by learning how not to apply it. I also was shown by a young clerk at a local hardware store that sometimes something new joins with something old, and learned to seal the shellac with Show Car glaze. I even discovered that Barbecue gel lighter fluid is just the right kind of alcohol to thin the shellac.

I wonder what my great great Grandfather Samuel Webb, who built the bed in 1896, would think of that? I bet he would like knowing that his work is still being shaped and sanded and polished. And I'm pretty certain that this ancient wood from Russel County Virginia wants to sing with this young deer from Cortes Island, British Columbia. May the first song feed all my ancestors.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Learning about animal totems, allies, and helpers

I was recently working with a student who is learning about animal totems, animal allies and animal helpers. Of course, as Loren Cruden says in Spirit of Place,all beings from the plant, mineral, animal and other realms who have helping and teaching relations with humans can be totems, allies or helpers. So what's the difference?
In my understanding, a totem is a being who is family to us on the other side. This is a long term and wide ranging relationship that also reflects the form we ourselves take on the other side. This Journey Oracle card is what I understand a totem energy to be like. I remember once as a small child seeing a man very far away on a golf course. He was much too distant to recognize any features at all, and yet I instantly knew it was my father because of the particular way he stood due to a childhood injury. A totem is like this; a remembered song that we always know how to sing.

For me, an animal ally is a being that has a relationship with me covering a specific range of purposes; the animal or bird and I have a contract to do work or learning together. An ally relationship for me begins with a formal request for connection and I understand that the being and I have the right to say yes or no to each other, without assumption or obligation.

In my shamanic experience, an animal helper comes unbidden to be a helper, teacher and protector; bringing challenge, confirmation and empowerment. I don't usually recognize an animal helper until the same being has shown up in the same circumstance several times, and I connect its presence to the situation I am in. I remember several times feeling particularly grateful at the success of an oracle card reading and then going for a walk to discover a snake that interacted with me in some significant way. Eventually I understood that Snake was a helper for the Oracle of the cards, and now I look to meet one as confirmation of the Oracle's presence during a session. Everything that is alive has the power to be a helper, and in my shaman's world, everything is alive.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What is an art installation?

I am working this week with two other Cortes Island artists to create an art installation in the Old School House Gallery. The show is titled "The bottom of the Garden" and is a presentation of a new set of oracle cards that I have been painting for the past four years: a Faery Tarot Card deck. As we have been working together I have been noticing the interesting way in which an art installation comes together. The materials and art pieces find their way of being together mostly by not finding their way--over and over again. It seems each version must be taken to its full expression, and then comes the discovery that the space or selection or resulting impression is not right and so the entire construction must be reconfigured into a new arrangement.

It seems to me that much of art is like this. We discover what works only by discovering what does not work. And finally at some moment all the elements click, and the meaning of the art fits the shape created for it, like a well-made pair of shoes fits our way of walking.

The creating of my shamanic paintings and frame drums is like this. I feel my way toward the new work mostly by seeing what is momentarily not working. I have learned not to control or limit the versions that want trying, but instead to surrender to all the forms that ask to be seen. I am beginning to understand that the only path to power is surrender, even though this initially seems to make little sense. If I try and control the progress or the outcome of my artistic or spiritual path, I am only holding on to what I already know. Only when I truly surrender what I already know will the next learning have a place to grow and live in my art, and in my life with spirit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Do I believe what I know?

This afternoon I fired some micaceous clay masks, using a technique I learned from Felipe Ortega, an Apache potter in New Mexico. The process requires me to be fully present to the fire as a living being, a presence that wants to eat well and receive respect, just as we all do. First I must build a house for the fire where it can consume the feast of my clay masks. This clay is quite unusual; its mica content is naturally so high that it can be fired not in a kiln but a bonfire, producing a glittering finish that is spontaneously marked with the fire's tongue. Yet first the fire has to be invited with song and gifts into the house.

I learned that inviting a presence as big as fire to dinner means that I let go of my desire to control. Although it's true that before the fire is lit I must calculate the size of the house floor, walls and roof--so there is just enough hot-burning wood to cook the clay--but once I offer the gifts and light the protruding corners of paper I was taught to DO NOTHING ELSE. What happens next is up to the fire; its willingness to come and consume. If I have been skillful in my preparation and invitation, the house will spiral in upon itself, making a kiln that is just the right size and temperature for the clay pieces inside.

Yet this time I made a small interference. One of the little masks was near a corner and the spiral opened that area rather than covering it. I remembered what I was told--that the fire was in charge--and still I chose to move a piece of wood back over the opening. All looked well as the flames moved away from the feast; the fire had indeed danced over the shapes in beautiful ways.

But the lesson was there. The little face (center row far left) was only half cooked. Is this because I didn't control the fire better? Or because I tried to control the fire? Working with spirit guidance is like this. The correct understanding seems always a choice between the far ends of the continuum. Do I believe what I know of the science of matter, or do I believe what I know of fire as a living entity? What do I really know?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Attracting spirit helpers

In my work as a shamanic counselor and drum maker, I am asked about how to attract spirit helpers. My first response is we have to taste good to what we are asking to come.
The other-than-human world loves what it finds to eat, but often avoids or challenges others of its kind. So if I want to attract eagle energy, I want to be more like a mouse instead of like another eagle. But how do I be a mouse to attract eagle as a spirit helper?

Many years ago I was giving a drum making workshop on the BC coast. Although the scenery was beautiful, the energy between the participants and myself was not. I understood from my shamanic guidance before the sessions began that this workshop was a lesson for me to "be a mouse" although at the time I didn't know what this meant. Because there were many issues of competition, judgment and self-promotion among the women and myself--I found myself rating my interactions at the end of each session according to "merits and demerits."

When I was annoyed at tardiness, or made veiled criticisms of someone's attitude, or required effort without a break--I gave myself a demerit for my lack of sensitivity. When I stayed detached and polite to another's self-promotion, watched for the best moment to share information rather than follow a schedule, felt kindness toward another's struggle--I gave myself a merit for being balanced in a sacred manner. Toward the end of the drum making workshop I had a revelation: this is how a mouse finds food. The mouse considers each seed for its nourishment or lack, it focuses on details as it moves along; the mouse builds a supply of what tastes good and knows what to avoid.

I believe my attention to detail and perseverance across the drum making workshop did attract spirit helpers who receive nourishment from these mice aspects. If you are wanting to attract spirit helpers, ask to be given experiences in which the energy of your actions will be good food for the spirit helper you are seeking. And then watch and learn from the experience.