Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How to hold a drum

How to hold a drum?  This was an important question when I first became a drum maker since I understood that the fastening at the drum back was in fact the drum maker's signature.  My inspiration was this cedar withe found in an old style lobster trap in Nova Scotia, when I was first thinking about making a drum.

The ring became my signature for many years, until I noticed that the space inside the ring is like a bead.  I learned from Martin Prechtel that a bead is really the hole and not the material surrounding it to show its shape and size.  So what to do with the hole that is a bead?

Fill it with something magical.

Every space is an Oracle of potential meaning, and its journey is never-ending.
Even the simplest thing ends up involving the Universe.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What to do on Solstice eve

This is what I am doing during this solstice eve at the end of time.  
I am putting out on the ground my sacred stones and my sastun to be in the returning light of this most precious new day. 

 I am making cookies for the birds to hang upon a wild solstice tree.

 I am honoring with light the spirits that guide me. 

 I am honoring my family with prayers. 

 I am getting up this coming morning at 3:31 am to sit in meditation, asking to be in loving kindness for the world.  I am sending all blessings to my readers of these Journey Oracle postings.  Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Oracle Card workshop

I am preparing for a Journey Oracle workshop in Edmonton, Alberta this January 2013.  Although I have given several workshops about my divination cards there—this is a workshop with a difference.  I understand that this is the card workshop where, using my participants’ sharing of experiences and readings, I make my final decisions about the form and content of the Journey Oracle, and then proceed to enlisting a publisher for this long-time-being-born Oracle with the support of my dear friend and patron Ann Mortifee.
My Journey with the Oracle began in 1992, and one of my first pieces of writing was this Preface to the Journey Oracle. I recently found the page again and realize I am describing quite precisely my own adventures across these 20 years.

 Are you willing to work for revelation that is truly yours, instead of receiving someone else’s version of spiritual truth?  Are you willing to journey into authentic self-discovery?

The word work in this opening passage is the signature experience of both creating the Journey Oracle and conducting a reading.  Not work in an arduous way but work that requires engagement and commitment to go deeply.

The usual experience with most Oracle decks is passive, after the act of choosing a card is accomplished.  It becomes easy to receive pronouncements, easy to hear similarities, and easy to forget these.  This is because there has been no investment in discovery, in seeking connection, in self-education. It is not easy to look beyond what we think we know about ourselves to glimpse the mystery of who we really are.  It is not easy to fracture the acceptable truths of our situations so that revelation can emerge.

Across these 20 years I have discovered that spiritual progress is not supposed to be easy.  Right now is the time in the Earth’s unfolding story to commit to doing the work we came here to do. Now is the time to not be lazy.

The Journey Oracle is a symbolic and actual journey into life’s situations.  A journey takes time, and if we are to learn from the time spent traveling, it takes attention.  When we are truly attending to a new view, we often initially feel overwhelmed and confused.  Little makes sense according to our usual perspective.  When we pause to absorb and process information we discover new understanding that both extends and expands our attention, and we literally see with new eyes.

When creating these oracle cards my deepest struggles and satisfactions have been about how to create something with which others truly connect.  It is like these 20 years have been one long reading.  To honor this insight I just now drew 5 Oracle cards to reflect back to me the journey I have been taking. If you read in sequence the questions and phrases of these cards, while gazing into their images, you will have a guided tour of my Journey with the Oracle.

The Journey Oracle will reward your time and attention with revelation.  This is not easy, but the wisdom is unforgettable.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Meaning of symbolism in a drum

 Every part of a drum I make tells a story and while each part is just itself—the wood and skin that gives spirit a body and a voice—each part is also a symbol that means something more. This drum is a custom order using a hard to obtain doe skin and I discovered meaning at every stage.

The BC spruce wood hoop is laminated from 4 pieces that represent the 4 oceans, 4 rivers, 4 mountains, and 4 winds of the world—all the bones and blood and breath of this world.  And one of these pieces of hoop wood broke.  The tiny diagonal line will not be noticeable when the drum is dry, but I know that something broken in this reality will become something whole in the alternate reality and since this piece of spruce is in the “heart” of the hoop—the bones of this drum will mend a broken heart.

I am superstitious about counting the number of holes in the rim of the drum skin, especially since this number in turn controls the number of thongs that tie into place the inner ring.  Some fundamental meanings of the symbolism in a drum have to be left to the drum itself to determine.

The 4 directions and the 4 solar holidays of equinoxes and solstices appear in the lacing that ties the drum head to the hoop—and therefore ties the voice into the drum.  I sometimes tie on a drum head with 3 thongs for the three lunar seasons, and sometimes 5 for the five kinds of time.

This inner ring of this drum became tied with ten thongs which in the Tarot is the number of manifesting success through perseverance on this earthly plane. The person who commissioned this drum wanted the inner ring filled with the magic hexagram, a symbol of protection, because it offers no “gates” through which an evil spirit might enter.  .  The broken rim wood, number of thongs and pattern of lacing in the inner ring now make another layer of symbolism in the drum.  The drummer holds the sign of protection, which extends outward in rays of success, to a strong heart in the spirit world.

Some meaning of symbolism in a drum is just for me.  Many years ago I had a ring break after a drum had dried, and the special skin presented to me by a MicMac elder could not be re-soaked for repair.  Soon after this I lifted a wounded snake from the road to a warm, round rock in a mossy bank. The snake opened its mouth wide and held my gaze, and I saw the snake as if on the surface of a stone drum, wrapped around the holding ring.  Although that drum, and the snake, died—ever since I have honored their teaching by securing the cedar ring with a copper snake.

All of the symbolism in making this drum disappears beneath the rim as the drum dries.  But what appears is even more magical.  Now the never -before -seen faces and forms of creatures begin to emerge in the patterns of the drying skin, and the drum transforms into a journey oracle of the spirit world adventures which await the keeper of its voice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The meaning of flowers in dreams

Much of my shamanic guidance comes in dreams.  I first dreamed about the Journey Oracle in 1992 and have been following the dream images for the oracle cards ever since.  Last night I had a dream of guidance about a stone oracle, a Sastun, that is requiring me to discover the meaning of flowers in dreams.  I understand to set an intention when asking for a dream and my purpose for this dream was ,“what do I do now to care for the Sastun? This is one of three dreams I recorded:

 I’m with L at her house.  Even though it is not the season I see bright red tulips blooming in front of an evergreen hedge.  I borrow a trailing yellow- blooming plant in a wire hanging basket to use to open the door into the back of the house, but it is too flimsy and doesn't work.  When I return the basket to its place over a hole—something unseen in the hole pulls the plant in.  I tug it back out but the plant looks the worse for wear.  L arrives, and says she will keep the all-day visit by setting up at the craft store.

What are the meanings of flowers in this dream?  The bright red tulips out of season certainly could indicate early spring, and mean that this work of caring for the Sastun will be clear during that time of year.   Intense colors of flowers also indicate intense energy and feelings associated with the color.  Like this brilliant purple rhododendron is the color of power, intense red is the color of heart-felt passion, and of the core energies of family and survival. The “home” where I am looking for help caring for the Sastun is a place marked by strong feelings of family, and contains passionate energy, even if these feelings are at times “out of season”.

The yellow flowered plant in the wire basket is the wrong form for doing the task I intend.   Just like this Iris seems out of place in this drift of beach gravel, trailing plants in wire baskets are too insubstantial to hold open a door—I am using the wrong plant and form to do the work of caring for the Sastun.  I understand that the third chakra of personal power is associated with the color Yellow, so the form of personal power that I am presently using to care for the Sastun is the wrong form for doing the work.   The plant being pulled beneath the ground is a metaphor for my personal power being pulled into a place I do not easily fit or belong, and also an image of being "grounded" in my care of this Oracle.  The effort to pull myself back from the practices I have been following with the Sastun have taken a toll on my personal power.

So who is L?  Someone who lives where there are intense energies of family and survival.  Someone who has passionate energy, even if sometimes out of sync.  L is also someone who is willing to spend a full measure of time setting up a “power” store—as kraft in German means strength or force.  Although the visit will be intense, the flowers in this dream have helped me recognize just who L is—a woman friend I need to go see, who is as beautiful, helpful and dangerous as these Brugmansia flowers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Winter Solstice rituals and decorations

Winter solstice rituals have been the centerpiece of my year for more than 2 decades.  I can feel the energy building toward this sacred day celebrating the birth of the sun, as the light recedes to a pale wash in late November.    I am especially drawn to the power of trees in my winter solstice rituals, and to finding ways of honoring their magic in our lives here on this out island in the Discovery Passage of BC.

I honor apple trees during this winter celebration of the longest night.  The apple is the tree that most represents the Goddess, and women’s ancient wisdom, to me. When cut horizontally the 5 pointed star, or pentacle, appears within the pattern of the core.  The apple holds the special place of spiritual origins for me, because my first awakening to a spiritual practice came through full moon rituals grounded in Wiccan teaching.

I honor cedar as the grandmother of my shamanic relationship to the other-than-human-worlds of nature and spirit.  When I first began making shamanic frame drums I understood to tell the tree the purpose to which I planned to put its child branch, and to leave a gift at the root for the twig.  These small offerings of broken corn kernels and meal have grown throughout the years into a mindfulness practice to never take anything, even the most ordinary pebble on the beach, without putting something in its place to keep from making a hole in the spirit world.

I honor family by decorating my winter solstice windows with trees that come from away.  This candle holder made of a birch log came from my partner’s family woodlot in Idaho, a tree species that does not grow here.   This is a reminder to me that I live on the bones of someone else’s family and ancestors; my ancestors’ bones are far away in England, Scotland, Germany and France, and so I am always a guest on this soil I call home.

While I love the twinkle of colored lights and the glow of candle flame that wavers in the heat from the wood stove during winter solstice, this honoring of trees in my winter solstice decorations comes from the same understanding I wrote about for learning from nature when creating the The Journey Oracle. “Does not the sun shine and rain fall on one as much as the other?  Is not every entity living the one that is adored?  No creature is better than another.  Each one is the perfect teacher of its unique qualities and usefulness.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Asking an Oracle is exercising free will

I believe asking an Oracle is exercising free will.  I seem to be able to find lots of reasons to consult something more mysterious than myself during those moments when I want counsel that is wiser than myself.  For me, an Oracle does not tell me yes or no—this would be the negation of my free will.    An Oracle shows me the traces of unseen or unconscious hopes and fears; of motives and perspectives that may be operating in my hidden present, while leaving the responsibility for my choices and actions with me.  I recently had the opportunity to conduct two readings that illustrate the Journey Oracle’s ability to show pathways without demanding which route be taken.

A young woman asked me to comment on the “animal streaked with white” in her Journey Oracle card image.  I remembered the magical meaning of colors in Wylundt’s Book of Incense:  White: brings about awareness and understanding; for all general magical workings; brings about happiness, honesty, loyalty, peace; protection (physical and psychic): purification, religion and spirituality; tranquility.  This young woman was concerned about a possible negative interpretation of the dark red “shadow” on the right side margin of the image—yet the highest creature “streaked with white” brings a sense of protection and tranquility to the oracle card image.  It is her choice to determine which way the meaning goes.

I conducted a joint reading with a friend about what is keeping our creative enterprises from finding the sponsors and supporters who would help her music and my art move out to a larger public.  We dropped this oracle card while shuffling the deck together.  We described this image as “an old wolf peering out, a creature gaunt with burnout, a waiting, a seeking.”  As we moved through the reading we discovered that this image was not of us, but of the spirit world waiting for us to stop endlessly finding perfection and move our works to finish.  We suddenly said the phrase this way:  “Move on.  Out of the way.” This has a different tone and meaning than “Move on out of the way.”  It is our choice to place the emphasis and therefore shade the meaning.

An Oracle prompts revelation by unveiling mystery more than by providing answers.  The subtlety and layering of the Oracle’s phrases and questions require us to use our free will to access deeper wisdom that expands and transforms into meaningful action and self-knowledge.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A dreamer's drum

 This new drum is calling out for a dreamer.  Someone who can read the shapes of messages behind the stars.  A drummer who hears the songs of the night sky.

This new drum of Cortes Island deer and BC spruce wood is fastened with a pentacle, the most widely revered of all esoteric symbols.   In ancient times the pentacle meant 'life' or 'health' and was derived from the apple core pentacle of the Earth Mother, according to The Women's Dictionary of  Symbols and Sacred Objects. 

 The pentacle of this Dreamer's drum is also an interlacement pattern, which means its double layer of rawhide thongs is one continuous thread of invocation to the Sacred.  The ancients generally regarded stars as living entities: angels, legendary heroes, the souls of the unborn or the newly dead.

This drum was built during the summer season of light, but has waited until this season of  darkness to be offered.  As dreams need time to incubate in darkness before coming into their strength just before dawn, so some spiritual companions need time to mature into their purpose.

Please check the posting on YouTube in the next weeks for the voice of this drum being played with a felted drumstick.  If this is your drum unpainted, please email me at  Otherwise I look forward to sharing with you, during the first weeks of December, the painted face of this Dreamer's drum.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oracle card reading for Halloween

Many people celebrate Halloween as the pagan New Year’s Eve, and in honor of this understanding I decided to do a Journey Oracle card reading for the new year.  Maybe my insights will be helpful for your coming year also.  I drew card #30, which in the Journey Oracle deck is called “Whole Self.”  This oracle card tells me that the big themes surrounding my year will be Boundaries, Desire and Work, as this card is part of the Journey Suit in the deck.  This means that all parts of the reading are brought awake within these three themes of awareness.

When I gaze at the image of the card, this is what I see: a dancing figure on the far right whose dress and shadow make a set of two faces—one white and one black.  The motion set by the dancer’s hands flows out through the final turn of a spiral, while the dancer and faces are made of shapes flowing up from the spiraling center.  Many small black “X” figures seem to dance along the rim of the spiral with a joyous feel. The colors of soft pink and pale yellow-green diffuse out from intense and dark reds.  This image feels like a journey coming upright and close to completion; the movement is both delicate and complex, yet the overall pattern is clear.

I next choose from the Journey Page the sentence that has the most charge for deepening the meaning of this description of my coming year.  The core energy pattern of this situation is no negativity. I feel a sense of relief at reading this statement, because this time of year often feels like I am in a struggle to let go of summer’s business and release into the beginning of the dark time.

I turn the oracle card over and this is what the Journey Oracle shows me is my relationship to the situation whose image I just described on the other side of the card.  I see a large round face in reds, pinks and yellows; it appears bloated with indistinct, blurry edges.  The left eye is starring out with an intense gaze while the right eye seems swollen and barely sighted.  Not the image of a confident, clear relationship that I was hoping for!  Although the colors between the two sides of the oracle card are similar, on one the color is delicate and on the other it is almost garish.  When I choose again a sentence from the Journey Page that has the most charge to deepen the meaning of this description, I select the momentum of this situation is fed by finding what is needed. This feels like exceptionally good advice.  I am too filled up trying to juggle my spiritual practice of meditation, my on-going work on the Journey Oracle deck, my drum making and shamanic counseling.  No wonder I look like I’m holding my breath.

On the bottom of the front side of the Journey page I see a question and in the next line an answer of a single word.   This is the same question that appears on the oracle card:  Why is it now in four parts? I imagine that I have asked the Oracle this question and she has given this word: whirlwind, as the answer.  This exchange alters my perception of the situation because I see that by finding what is needed in each part of my busy life; I can be like the whirlwind which spins an intensely focused cone of energy.  With the whirlwind as a new year’s guide I can spin these parts into the whole picture.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Release demons

 I am doing shamanic counseling with a young woman who is struggling to release demons from her spiritual, energetic, and physical fields of awareness.  We may understand our demons to arise from within because we are troubled by distracting thoughts, having problems with anger, with attachment and desire, or suffering from karma related illness, as Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche describes in Tibetan Yogas of Body, Speech and Mind.  We may believe we are being invaded from outside by negative energies that overwhelm our stability with visions of violence and loss.  We may attribute our inability to function normally to imbalances in our body chemistry.  Whatever the root cause our conceptual mind and lived experience assigns to our situation—until and unless we can release demons—we suffer.

While I was at the Birken Forest Monastery near Kamloops British Columbia, I discovered I could release demons with art. I had chosen a large cow vertebra as subject for 4 drawing meditations: each piece to explore a different emotional characteristic of the bone.  Of course I discovered each feeling state contained its own demon as soon as I began working.  “Brittle” allowed uncertainty to surface.  Quick, jagged marks created a broken surface that revealed an increasing lack of confidence.  Relaxing into the discovery of having no purpose in mind other than to keep making marks, I discovered that the demon of uncertainty also vanished. Uncertainty only exists if there is an intention directing the result.

“Soft” allowed anxiety to arise.  I do not choose to work in graphite or charcoal sticks because of the increasing mess.  I was alarmed that my wide gestures and crumbling materials would spoil the carpet, my clothes and the drawing.  I discovered that the demon of agitation disappeared when I slowed down, becoming more focused and deliberate in my process. Anxiety is always about what might happen, and is released by being fully aware of what is happening.

“Sinister” allowed aversion to surface.  The more I moved the India ink around on the wet Yupo paper, the more out of control the marks became.  When I instead became curious about what the ink and water would do next, the demon of aversion turned into play.  Aversion is resistance and the remedy always begins with curiosity.

“Dramatic” allowed attachment to surface.  Although I began this piece in a wild state of distress because the blue crayon was much too vibrant, and the foliage much too indistinct, I soon became delighted by the spontaneity and freedom of the marks.  This demon of attachment was certainly the most difficult to release, and in the best understanding of art making as an Oracle of revelation, I am continuing to explore what Matisse said, that “art is a lie that tells the truth.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Art as meditation on Buddhist lessons of Dhamma

I have just returned from a meditation retreat at the Birken Forest Monastery where part of my practice was to use my art as a meditation on Dhamma.  I understand from reading Ajahn Sucitto that Dhamma is the Buddha’s teaching that the stress and suffering of life is unavoidably bound up with the human condition; and because this suffering has a cause, that cause can be eliminated; and finally that there is a Path of practices that will lead to the elimination of that stress and suffering.

Certainly the way I create art usually involves a fair amount of stress, and so I decided to try and do a series of drawings during which I did not become attached to the outcome of appearance.  “Does this look acceptable as art? What will someone think of my skill?”  It was very difficult to let this inner voice of judgement go silent.

The first pieces I did, following the Drawing Projects outlined by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern, were surprisingly interesting.  The first task involved drawing with the pencil attached to a three foot stick, and the next one required using two pencils taped together.  It is easy to not get tangled in the hindrances of aversion and doubt when the experience is new.

 However, the next piece became quite as prickly as its subject matter—a twig of dried thistle.  “Art talk” swarmed into my head and I created frustration regarding composition, balance and repetition.

I had less stress with this “lookdrawlookdraw” technique of contour drawing, but then this is my usual way of mark making, and the tendency to revert to old patterns was hard to escape.  The most interesting work in this series was a drawing exploring “one decision-one mark” which makes a drawing that is very controlled and deliberate. I was quite put off by the rigidity, and when a later task asked me to revive a failed drawing, this is the one I chose.  Lots of smudging and eraser work created some openness, and then the addition of the colored apple created the surprise.

Of course the art mediation on Dhamma was not during the drawing experiences, but afterwards, sitting in meditation with the feelings, letting them arise as body sensations, and then letting them go without attachment. In this way, the least successful art works were the most successful objects of concentration.  Feelings arise; they pass away.  Apparently in art as in life, the best response is to relax, have fun and try not to get attached.