Thursday, December 29, 2016

Turning weakness into strength

Ever wonder how to turn a weakness into a strength? This story of turning weakness into strength is about the making of a new frame drum from Journey Oracle.

The blacktail deer hide came from a old hunter here on Cortes Island, whose eyesight and steady hands are failing.  The skin had a number of fleshing cuts but as these did not go through the hide, I took a chance calculated on experience that the finished drum would be alright.

The drum made up beautifully--the skin laying just right on the frame, which did not warp .  Yet after the drum dried these two stretch marks appeared in the drum rim.

I had tied an interlacement pattern in the back of this drum that represents the 8-fold path of the Buddha's teaching: a way to gain enlightenment through right effort, mindfulness and concentration.
So here was the drum's first teaching about strength and weakness.  The weakness in the drum rim has its balancing strength built right in: strengthen weakness with mindful attention.  The person who will own this drum will have to pay attention to keeping the drum away from extremes in temperature so the stretch marks do not become tears.  And in spiritual practice and life--sustained attention is strength.

I decided to paint this shamanic drum and began looking for who was looking back at me.  Soon I saw this remarkable bird.  At first I thought it was an eagle but it became what Martin Prechtel would call "a never before seen thing."  The shaman bird.

When I paint a drum I look for a story.  Only rarely does a single creature or person appear without being in relationship.  And so I kept looking.

I saw a figure of an old woman.  This is the drum's second teaching about strength and weakness. Most of us think that being old is being susceptible to weakness. But she is holding a smoking bowl in her hand.  Making an offering.  Offering the wisdom of experience is a strength, yet stories from elders, how they make or do something, can seem sometimes as wispy as smoke.


But look who is coming to listen.  See what the offering of wisdom through the experience of mindful attention can bring.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Celebrating Winter Solstice

Celebrate the birth of the undying Sun with a glowing fire.

Unseal your door and let the wandering Sun in, out of the falling snow.

Feed the Holy in all its many guises.

Make Spirits joyful with golden lights.

Eat of all the good things.

Light a candle that the Sun may live again. 

Offer a prayer that the world may rejoice in its diversity, rather than hate its differences.

Happy Solstice from the Journey Oracle.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What is a shamanic journey?

In my experience, a shamanic journey begins with intention. I travel within an altered state and attempt to directly experience the Mysteries.  I may seek aid from the invisible realms, receive learning first hand, and return with knowing.

Shamanic intention is rooted in knowing that everything that is, is alive.  Everything alive has meaning.  All things bring a message and are a sign.

Creating an intention for a shamanic journey flows from understanding that all natural phenomena exist in both the physical and spiritual dimensions. All of nature has both visible and invisible form.
All of nature can be talked with.

I use a journey drum to gain access to the spiritual dimension.  I understand that access to spirit is through the physical.  The spiritual realm is this world with the veils removed.  I experience the lifting of the veils as an altered state of trance: a sparkle of light beyond my eye's comprehending; an awareness of meaning beyond conscious thought; an awareness of form as a glimmering.

I am gifted with direct experience of the Mysteries while on a shamanic journey because I know that what I receive as knowledge, awareness and experience cannot be explained. When I explain what I experience, to myself or others, I am speaking from doubt instead of inner certainty.  And nature has no tolerance for doubt.

Whether I ask directly or not, I receive aid from the invisible realms in the form of balance.  I feel my alignment to the elements as these move within and about me, I sense a mother's love in the penpoint gunnels that guard their eggs in a cast off oyster shell,  I see the friendship of trees that  put on their heaviest branches away from their close-by companions so as to not take away the light.  Seeing my nature in balance with nature is the root of my well-being.

All the images in this description of a shamanic journey are from the Journey Oracle cards.  The creation of these oracle cards has been my greatest training from nature.The story of their completion traces the tracks and trails of many years of going on shamanic journeys.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Reading an artwork is like reading an oracle card

Reading an artwork is like reading an oracle card.  I learned this art criticism technique from Edmund Burke Feldman while teaching art education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.  While teaching others to read the oracle cards I created for my Journey Oracle deck, I realized that this method is a good way to understand the meaning of both art and oracle cards. 

I begin with description: saying only what I see without any statements of judgement or feelings of preference. 

My painting is a realistic underwater view of stones, sea plants and creatures, and a piece of rusted metal. I look through bands of light patterns and distortions to see these objects. 

This oracle card is a spiral design of reds, purples, and yellow on a white ground.  A portion of the left side outer rim is patterned with black X shapes  There is a figure that is also a face on the right side of the oracle card.

I next use a more formal analysis next to see deeply into the composition of the artwork, and to understand my experience of the oracle card.


Acrylic used as watercolor is painted over the surface of the paper.  The rhythm of the darks and lights create a sensation of movement.  Forms are indicated using patterns of alignment between shapes and colors.  There is an experience of "overallness" to the work, as if all the parts are joined into a larger whole.  

As I gaze at the oracle card, I experience the black X marks as figures joyfully dancing. There is a lightness to the image because of the soft brushwork and scattering of dots of ink.  This feels like an easy path to be on. 

Next I use interpretation to try and understand what I the artist is saying.  In the oracle card this interpretation becomes insight about the change that is coming to the situation which prompted me to read the oracle cards. 

This painting is titled "Tinfoil."  The image of the rusted metal is the only place where red is used, which causes the painted form to jump into my awareness.  The tin doesn't fit with the rest of the undersea life.  Because of the title of the artwork, and what I know of how metal eventually rusts away in seawater, I understand the artist is saying "man made objects won't last in the forces of nature."

In the oracle card, it is the right hand side of the image that calls my attention for interpretation.  As I look at the detail I see a white face in profile, and then suddenly, another face appears slightly behind the first.  This one looks African  The name of this oracle card is "Path."  I interpret this to mean there are many paths to take toward joy.

Last, I allow my judgement to enter into the reading of the artwork and the oracle card. 

The patterns of light and distortion both include and absorb the small piece of metal, just as the ocean will absorb this human cast off.  So yes, the physical rendering of the artwork and my artist's message enhance each other. 

The oracle card offers a resolution to my query, which allows me to judge my situation differently than when I first started the oracle card reading.  The faces become a dancer.   Hair and hands raised in joy.  Perhaps she is holding a heart, the only touch of red.