Friday, December 27, 2013

Create a winter solstice celebration

Happy Solstice from the Journey Oracle.  My partner and I had a untypical winter scene this year on Cortes Island as we celebrated all those creatures and plants that keep us alive during the year.  In our winter solstice celebration we begin by finding a place in nature for a fire that is sheltered from the wind and close to the water for safety.  The beach gravel near our oyster lease made a perfect site.

Its helpful to have a helper that knows how to make a fire burn well the first time, especially in the snow and west coast drizzle.  The little tepee acts like a chimney to pull the flame to the back log.

Once the fire has reduced to coals we feast with one of each kind of creature that keeps us alive--under the ground, on the ground, above the ground and in the water.  This is also a great opportunity to get properly messy like when we were kids since we don't bring any utensils or hand towels...just one pocket knife to share between us.

After our feast we decorate a tree for the birds and animals in our area with ornaments of bird seed and popcorn  held together with suet and peanut butter, so that others may have good food in a full tummy today.

May we all have good food, and a warm dry place to be, and a safe place to sleep during 2014.  Happy New Year and every blessing to our families, in all their 10,000 forms.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Winter Solstice decorations with spirit paintings

The Winter Solstice is a high holy day for me and I like to create winter solstice decorations by using spirit paintings. When I have bits of hide left over from making a drum, I sometimes mount these within a rough hoop of unpeeled cedar, and gaze into the dried disk until images appear.  These images are then painted with raw earth pigments.  This is the way I first created the paintings of the Journey Oracle cards, by gazing into surfaces of deer skin and also ammonites and agate.

These paintings tell stories from every angle.  I hang them in doorways so they move in the passing air currents like slowly turning snowflakes.   Sometimes they seem like a spirit call made to the other side, with the phone accidentally left off the hook, so drifting snatches of conversation float back through my awareness. 

For my winter solstice celebrations, my partner John and I go out into the forest for the shortest day and have a wilderness feast of every kind of food that keeps us alive--so we can savor each one and say thank you.  And yet these northern Cortes Island forests are also home to the apex predators of wolf and cougar.  It requires lots of my courage to spend the day in the woods around a scent-laden smokey fire roasting pieces of beef, chicken, pork and salmon, knowing that we saw cougar prints only last week on the driftwood steps coming up from the beach. 

And yet I remember a wonderful quote from a book I am re-reading after many years:  The Sacred, by P Beck and A Walters.  "Do not be afraid of the animals.  They do not dislike you."
Happy Solstice from the Journey Oracle. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The purpose of a shamanic drum

When I finish a new drum I like to do a Journey Oracle card reading, asking to be shown the drum's purpose for coming in this shape and at this time and for this person who ordered it.  I am just completing a new drum I featured on last week's blog so here is my reading with the Journey Oracle cards.

This card of the South was drawn to represent the situation of the drum at this present moment.  I see a creature who is both wary and seeking, moving from an area of rigid form into an area of clear space.
The South is the direction of home to me, and this means that this drum is looking toward home. And yet the clear space indicates that "home" is not yet filled in with form and detail.

This card of Stars represents the experience this drum is having, and therefore the experience it will bring to the person for whom it is a spirit companion.  We need the darkness to see the stars, and within the clouds and vapors there will be places where we can see into heaven.  This drum will bring clear sight, as when the darkness parts and the stars appear.

This card represents the change that will come with this drum. This is the card of the January full moon, so the change coming with this drum will arrive at its new home before then.  More importantly, this is the change of ice which asks, "Will the rim hold if the center falls out?" We may seek spiritual guidance when it seems that some center of our life has fallen out--and this drum of the ice full moon will be able to hold the rim together until we are able to collect back our center to ourselves.

This is the card of Whole Self, which is the solution brought with this drum.  Our whole self  always looks directly at us with the spirit reality eye, even if our ordinary reality eye is barely registering what there is to be seen.   This drum will bring solutions of clarity without judgement.

Of course this is only one fourth of a Dream Journey reading from the Oracle--the part that draws the cards and sees the pictures--if you want the whole reading you will have to buy the cards for yourself.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How to finish a frame drum

As a frame drum dries, its never-before-seen-face emerges in patterns and shifts of color that until now only the Spirit world could see.  Because the deer hide is soaked in a lime solution for 7 days, most drums have cloudy areas on the skin that are the result of weakness in the skin or uneven submersion in the lime.

Sometimes it is the back of a drum that first indicates the energies that will be coming to its call.

During the grounding ceremony I conduct with a newly made drum, sometimes a tiny passenger climbs aboard and sticks to the wet skin in such a way that the energy dries with the skin.  This autumn-frosted red huckleberry leaf brings an ancient lineage of service as food to the animals and people of the BC coastal rainforest.

When the thongs that make the interlacement pattern for the drum's back holder are woven into place, the energies present may become framed in such a way as to jump up into awareness.

After the hide is completely dry, I finish a frame drum with a coat of raw Shea butter.  This is worked into all outer surfaces of the skin as well as the lacing.  The Shea butter lifts the cloud of the lime solution, so the patterns remaining belong to the drum and not to the process. Each step in this way to finish a frame drum is really about lifting the veil between us and Mystery, so that revelations emerge.

As a birthday gift to a new drum, I recently have begun using my Journey Oracle cards to conduct a reading about how the drum might be coming to be a spiritual companion--see you next week with a new Oracle card reading for this drum.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to track on a deer skin drum

I have just finished reading a book about how to track by Tamerack Song titled Entering the Mind of the Tracker.  Song underlines the importance of "being a question", rather than looking for and then stopping when finding an answer.

Yesterday I was beginning a new drum, creating the significant transition between deer skin and drum head, when I thought I would try and read "the song of the track" on the hide surface.  The neck of this Cortes Island deer is toward the right, appearing as thicker, darker skin.  The slightly thicker backbone skin is a faint light ridge of shine. The skin is quite thin and unblemished by rut scars or tick bites so this was probably a young buck. 

On examination of the surface I find three puncture wounds in the left hind quadrant, just off the backbone and angling toward the deer's hindquarters.  The closest two are about 2 inches apart, while the largest cut in not quite three inches separated from the other two.  The cut shape is like a tear drop, with one end rounded and the other terminating in a point.  Trying to understand what happened during this moment in the deer's life, instead of just naming the creature likely responsible, requires much more intensive looking and pondering. 

I am pleased the cuts do not fully puncture the skin because this means I can position my drum head pattern to include them in the playing surface of the new drum, which is shown inside the plastic circle as a faint black line.  With the skin laid out more smoothly on the cutting board I see now that the cuts are positioned more directly in the center of the back over the backbone. 

As I am cutting out thongs from the rim of the remaining hide, I ponder what happened in this moment of the deer's life to create this story.  The pointed end of each cut seems too sharp for wolf claws, and if the deer had pushed under a wire fence I would expect the wounds to look more like a tear than a pucture. I  have seen this tear drop-shaped wound on my own arm when one of my cats hooked me during play.  Could this be cougar claw marks?
We have recently had sightings of cougars back on the island, who disappeared when the wolf population grew several years ago.  I even wrote a story for the Journey Oracle cards about a time I saw a cougar on the ridge beyond our fence.  Now that the wolves are less in evidence, perhaps the cougar have moved back into their territories.  I know that courgar like to attack from above, dropping onto their prey from overhead branches rather than chasing down deer as wolves will do.  If a cougar  landed on the back of this deer but only made contact with one paw before the prey bolted, the stretch and angle of the marks would make sense.
Tracking the song of these marks as been much more exciting, and informative, than just making a guess at the creature's name and dismissing the details.  The energy of this track is part of this drum.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The most valuable part of a frame drum

I have written many Journey Oracle posts about how to build or paint a drum, yet I have not focused on the smallest, most valuable part.  The most important part of a frame drum is whatever is used to hold the hide onto the frame, since without the tension the drum would have no voice.  Some drum builders use thongs made of hide, but many years ago I was shown in a shamanic journey to use a cedar withe made into a ring. 

The withe is a long thin branch on a cedar tree, traditionally used by First Nations people in the Canadian northwest for fish hooks and fasteners because of its remarkable strength.  Before I cut a withe I tell the tree what I want it for, and make a gift of pounded corn to the ground at the tree base.  This is for two reasons. I learned from Martin Prechtel to always leave a gift of eloquence and effort when I take something from its natural destiny.  I also believe that when a squirrel or mouse finds the corn, and eats well, its joy helps the tree heal.

The withe is peeled of its bark; the ends are "feathered" which means shaped to half the original dimension, and then bent into an aluminum ring with the feathered ends overlapping.  If the withe is the most important part of the drum, then the shavings are the most valuable.  This is because I understand that nothing from Nature is garbage. 

The shavings and cedar brackets trimmed from the withe go back to the tree and are left to melt back into the soil as food for the Holy.  The physical mass of the shavings are not the food, but are evidence of my remembering to feed Nature with my respect and thank you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why do I call my paintings shamanic?

I have just completed a new acrylic painting and it shows why I call my paintings shamanic.  When I write about being shamanic I do not mean be a wannabe shaman, I mean being Nature. Knowing that everything that is, is alive.  Everything wants the dignity of its own lived experience.  Even the most altered of man-made materials originates from the Earth and continues its vibration in whatever form it has.  My acrylic paints are highly altered, for example, the natural iron oxide that is the pigment of raw sienna is suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion which is in turn inside a plastic tube.  And yet these elements still sing on the paper, creating a feeling of being in Nature.

When the sky moves as I move past the painted surface, and the clouds form and fade depending on my angle--this is the shamanic painting being alive.

When the texture of the paint and paper combine to create a surface I cannot predict or fully control, this is the painting showing me its lived experience.

When the feelings of vast space and peace arise in me as I look at the painting, this is the song of being in this place--of passing though the veils that cause the layers of reality to appear separate--and I am again on the beach, and it is the last morning.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wisdom from cats in a dream

My beautiful silver tabby Losha was having some stress-related skin problems and so I asked for wisdom from cats in a dream about what was the cause. I asked "What does my cat need to be happy?" and the answer was so profound I feel it applies to all of us. There were three things required.

The first happiness was belonging to a place.  The dream image made it clear that this belonging was not necessarily to humans, but to a location.  I think we all need to be attached to a place that is a good fit with our temperament, our values, the "colour" of our coat.  The seasonal changes and elemental forces of a place nourish some and challenge others.  What a blessing to be at home in a place.

The second happiness was having food provided.  The dream image was not just about having food, but about having it provided.  When I try to think of what it would take to feed myself without the dubious support of our modern agriculture and transport systems, I quickly realize that I would be in deep trouble until I learned how to forage and scavenge and trap.  And that even with excellent help from  Unlearn, Rewild by Miles Olson, I probably would not be able to learn fast enough.  

The third happiness was a safe place to sleep.  The key image in the dream was about safety more than about sleeping.  We need to be able to relax completely into the certainty that we will be held safe by our place of rest.  

After this wisdom from cats in a dream, when I think of the approaching Remembrance Day holiday, I think of more than honouring brave death on foreign soil. I think it is a day to remember what we all need to be happy, and what many humans and creatures do not yet have: a place to belong to, food provided, and a safe place to sleep.  Blessings on Remembrance Day from the Journey Oracle.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Journey Oracle card reading for a new drum

I made this new drum yesterday during the energy of Halloween, the ancient holiday when the veils are thinnest between all the versions of reality.  Because of this special energy I decided to do a Journey Oracle reading for this shamanic drum companion, asking, "Who are you in this world?" I drew four cards.  This first one represents "the situation" which I understand is being born as a drum on Halloween.

I see an otherworldly creature, whose eyes cannot yet see this human reality.  It looks a bit startled and on guard, as if wondering, "How did I get here? I cannot sort this out."

This second card represents "the experience" of the drum; the story the drum is living at this moment within the situation.  I see a baby deer who is both trusting and at the same time paying full attention.
The expression is wide awake, as if wondering, "Do I have first aid?"

This third Journey Oracle card represents "change."  That moment in the situation when something decisive happens or something changes completely.  I see a magical turkey-like bird, which is called the "give-away or thanksgiving eagle" in some indigenous communities.  This is the transformation the drum is experiencing as it dries, and its unique voice and purpose is revealed.  Although this drum is on my smallest 12" hoop, it clearly is showing a big heart full of gratitude.  So this is "Why did I return?"

This fourth card represents the final solution to the situation, what the drum wants as an outcome.  I see two magical eyes, each able to see a different reality and yet looking out from the same face.  I think this is the drum's purpose: to be able to be a guide in both this world and the spirit world, so the drummer need never wonder, "Have I taken a wrong turn?"


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The meaning of rain in a dream

I am now back on Cortes Island, on the rain coast of British Columbia, after several weeks spent hiking in the desert and dreaming of rain.  Here is my understanding of the meaning of rain, using the Dream Journey reading I am developing for the new Journey Oracle cards.

The setting of the dream

A dream begins with a setting that shows the protagonists, and sometimes the time.  I understand that when rain is present, spirit is present.  Rain is life being blessed.  When it is raining in a dream the spirits are blessing everything. 

The experience of the developing dream story 

As a dream progresses it contains complications, tensions, uncertain outcomes.  In a dream of no rain, all the edges are sharp and painful and too bright.  In a dream story of rain, the experience is soft and watery, like the very air is green but maybe poisonous. 

The culminating moment of change

There is a moment in a dream when something decisive happens or something changes completely.  In a desert dream of no rain this moment is stark and unyielding, in a forest dream of rain this change is hidden and then sudden.  Both create revelation.

The dream's solution most desired by the dreamer

The desert is all about finding rain, and escaping the heat from no rain by finding shade.  The northern forest is all about rain, and escaping the wet of too much rain by finding sun. 

So what is the meaning of rain in a dream?  It means a blessing that grows everything, the nourishing and the poisonous alike.  It means a veil that lifts to revelation,  it means waiting for the sun.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Obstacles to choosing a path of spiritual practice

I have been hiking in the Palm Springs, Desert Cities area, and while walking on many different kinds of paths, I have been thinking how a hiking trail is a metaphor for obstacles to choosing a path of spiritual practice.  The first thing I noticed is that three mental states get in the way of being present to the path I am walking on.  The first obstacle on the path is assumption. The assumption that what I see is where I will be going.  Often the path never leaves the forest, even though the mountain beckons.

When I focus too much on the distant view, I do not see what is beautiful and special right in front of me.  This walk along the Ernie Maxwell trail outside the mountain village of Idyllwild  never rose to lofty heights, but always gave an easy slope and shade from the high mountain sun. 

The second obstacle I experienced was complacency.  This hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Bernadino Mountains seemed an easy stroll, with nothing much to be concerned about.  But then the trail abruptly took a turn and presented a new view.

Sometimes our spiritual practice can lead us right to the edge of a dramatic new experience or sense of self, and if we are not paying attention, we miss where to step next.

The third obstacle I discovered to choosing a path of spiritual practice is what I call false courage.
Highway 74 is a winding switchback road into the Santa Rosa Mountains with many spectacular curves and overlooks.  And yet if one speeds through this terrain as a spectator, the real courage it takes to put one foot in front of another becomes instead just exercising the car.

These switchbacks on the Pacific Crest trail, as it drops down into the Whitewater Canyon Preserve is a wonderful confirmation of all these obstacles to a spiritual practice overcome.  The journey is in each moment,  each step requires our full attention,  the courage is in doing the work ourselves.

 As I was experiencing these hikes as metaphors for obstacles in choosing a path of spiritual practice, I kept thinking of a quote in Philip Ferranti's excellent hiking guide for the Palm  Springs area that he titled The Prayer of the Tired Walker:  "If you pick 'em up, O Lord, I'll put 'em down."
May you have a happy path,  from the Journey Oracle.