Thursday, December 26, 2019

Holiday memories in an shamanic photo album

Holidays create time to explore--while looking for decorations and addresses for holiday greeting cards--and I found some old photo albums with some painted drum images dating from the 1990's when I first moved to Cortes Island

Who plans as a kid to become a painter on rawhide? 

But this is what has happened.  Seeing these old print images has been a revelation about what has changed, and what has stayed constant in my shamanic paintings on the drums that I make.

I began with a timid uncertainty, 

that soon reached toward the pure unusual.  

Tension emerged,

whether the creature was solitary,

or in relationship. 

Before I added an interlacement pattern 
to the back of my drums as the handhold, 

the images themselves began to interact with the cedar rings
 that have become my drum maker's signature

Always there is the question of what to do with the bullet hole?
The doorway of death that is the birth of voice. 

The most remarkable constant across these 30 years
The story of raven catches the light
painted entirely on the reverse of the drum.

A painting of a dream journey
so vivid,
in which everything was just itself
and always something more. 

I do not know, finally, where I am going,
or why they come. 
I am only so grateful that they do. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

A different look at Hawai'i

I have visited Hawai'i 10 times, but this time was different. I was looking for something. I was not sure what:  Hawaiian history? What happened? It has always felt so odd to be there, to be on the outside of the culture, while at the same time in this delicious tropical immersion.
Hula dancers and swirling colours, ukuleles and drums filling the senses as white and Asian and East Indian people applaud enthusiastically while holding cocktail crackers and plastic cups with pineapple wedges stuck to their rims is not an Insider experience. An endlessly colonial moment.

I went on a manta ray night snorkel, a never-before-seen experience. Here was a key to the something I was looking for. It was in the movement of the manta rays, as they rose through the dark water toward the plankton shimmering in the lights beneath our canoe. Apparently they cannot really see us, see what we are, floating there in such clumsy appreciation of their ballet. They only see the plankton, shimmering. They are performing only for themselves.
So I went looking in books, as this is almost always my default setting for tracking a new direction. There is a tiny bookstore, a bookshelf really, at the National Park Information kiosk in Pu’uhonua o Honaunau: the Place of Refuge. A place in ancient times where, if a lawbreaker could make it here, rituals could be performed in this place of Asylum, and all would be forgiven. Just felt like the right place.
I was drawn to a volume by Martha Warren Beckwith, the translator and editor of Kumulipo: a Hawaiian Creation Chant. I tried several times but could not get inside the words, or maybe it was the commentary that accompanied the poetry. I love the academic. But somehow,  these pages of explanation were not the manta rays flowing and turning in the shimmering light.
And then I saw a tiny book, slightly larger then a bound collection of square postcards, by Martha H Noyes,  titled Then there were none. Based on a documentary film by Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey Bayers, Ph. D. Page 2 begins, 
The world knows of our green mountains and blue seas. The world knows of swaying hula dancers and of Pearl Harbor. The world knows of pineapples, mai tais, Kona coffee, and macadamia nuts. The world knows of coco palms and white sand beaches, a flower leis and bright-colored mu’umu’us. But the world does not know of us. We are Hawaiian. This is our story.
Page 100 begins
In the 1970s and into the 1980s, “sovereignty” was a word spoken in whispers. Then the whispers grew and sovereignty was spoken aloud. 
In 1992, the United States returned Kaho'olawe to the people of Hawai’i. 
On January 17th, 1993, ten thousand people converged on the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace. The day marked the 100th year since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.  And on the 17th of January, 1993, from the steps of the Palace where our last ruling Queen had been made a prisoner in her own home, dignitaries read an official apology by the United States government for its illegal participation in the overthrow of our nation. 
Now sovereignty is on the lips of Hawaiian and non Hawaiian alike. Some utter it with a vengeance, some with hope, some with fear. Sovereignty is no longer just the dream of a few young Hawaiians.
While waiting to board our homebound plane just after midnight, all the way up the loading ramp, watching the palm trees in the arc lights outside the terminal, I kept saying “sovereignty, sovereignty.” I’m sure I heard the wind speak the word back, it’s hot breath flowing everywhere in the shimmering light.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Bear Doctor drum

The Bear Doctor drum.  

What does that even mean?  I have only a small idea, although I find the image that came to this 14 inch frame drum to be quite haunting.  The Shaman holds the right bone, and the bear comes, and touches, and guides deep healing.

At first I thought I was painting the head of a deer.  OK. Certainly appropriate for the blacktail deer skin but not very unusual. And most of the time I can tell when a drum painting "jumps up" because I could not possibly have designed the figures and their relationship before I started. I could not even have imagined them.

So first I see this incredible face which emerged suddenly from the partially closed eye of the deer.  Doesn't make any sense in the telling but like the vase/face  drawing, first one was there and then suddenly the other one was.  And the eye became the bone.

My grandfather James Sweet began 6 generations of  bone setters who set dislocations and fractures using "inner sight,"  in Rhode Island beginning in the 1600's. Different wisdom about what we know and how we know it.  Maybe this is a bone shaman.


You would not believe me if I told you what little pigment I added to the woman's face, the bear's head, the hand of the woman.

I understand that the colours of this realm of usual reality, and of the other-than-human realm,  are red and blue respectively. These are the only coloured pigments that wanted to be on the deer skin.

The Star of the 7 Sisters is a traditional defense against outsider's penetration of one's secrets.  Maybe a bone setter's wisdom is like that.  Seven legendary priestesses were said to have founded major Oracle shrines in the ancient world.  I  make the connection between having bone setters as ancestors, and creating an Oracle deck, but that is just my nature to make connections and find patterns.

Every wisdom needs a doorway, a way in.  The way into the wisdom of a drum is death. What is the way into the wisdom of a bear doctor?

Perhaps it is the inner sight that guides the hands. 

You can hear this drum being played with a felted drumstick 
by clicking on this youtube link.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Dream inspired art

A new dream inspired painting has this question for a title:  Is there another way to get there?  The more I think about this question, after completing this 9th painting in a series of 47 dream images inspired by the Journey Oracle cards, the more I wonder where "there" is.

Is there downhill? This rushing toward comfort and convenience.  Go with the flow, just be, which sometimes means just be happy more than be awake.

Is there a place where we need to be bundled for protection against the elements?  Is there a place where we bundle up certain kinds of animals in order to protect them from the nature that is their goodness of fit?

Is there a place where we expose ourselves to peculiar rites and rituals, or maybe a place where we just go back to sleep and  forget the difficulty of seeking the truth in the journey?

Maybe there is another there. A place that requires us to be fully flighted. Richard Maclean Smith states that there is "the powerful idea that beyond the realities we can comprehend lie other, more majestic places waiting to be discovered if only we had the requisite knowledge and tools to get there." 

Or maybe, actually, the there is really here.  Staring right back at us from just outside the door.  This present moment. Is there another way to get there?  Is there another way to get here? There are as many ways as there are teachers.  Ask everything to be your teacher.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Elder wisdom about climate change

At 71, I consider myself an old person, OK, and older person; a still oyster-farming, drum-making, oracle card reading older person.  And some old people get to be elders.  I have been paying lots of attention to our climate crisis recently, and then I realized I have been paying attention to our climate crisis for 50 years.  And that length of perspective creates some small wisdom I would like to share.

I read The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich in 1968, and was influenced enough by his dire predictions that when I was diagnosed with a pre-ovarian cancer situation in 1976, I decided not to have the surgical option that would allow my choosing to have children later, and instead said, "there are too many of us already," and went the more drastic route. 

Elder wisdom arises when looking back at a decision made not for now, but for decades into the future, without knowing the conditions or consequences of that decision. Do I regret not having children?  No. Because I have learned not to miss what I do not have. And there is wisdom in that learning.

In the late 70's  I discovered Lewis Thomas, and read The Lives of a Cell, and then The Medusa and the Snail.  I was completely taken with the idea that the human species are like locust on the prairie; we are devouring everything until our wall of destruction starves us out.  I began seeing locust behavior everywhere--looking like industrial logging and factory canning ships, strip mining and arctic oil drilling. And of course now we are too slowly realizing that there is no more food, no more prairie.

Thomas contrasted the locust with what he called "climax species."  Partnerships of creatures and plants that create an equipoise of stability. Like the red squirrel and the oak tree where the eating and the planting sustain both. In 1986 my partner and I decided to leave the city and find a place with "more trees than people." And on Cortes Island we learned that we could be more like the squirrel and less like locust.  There is good wisdom in learning not to want more.

Perhaps the most profound influence on my attention to the increasing world crisis was the small book, Good Life, Good Death by Gehlek Rimpoche, published in 2001.  Although the entire book was valuable, somehow all these years later I still haven't gotten past the title. 

What is a good death? I find myself looking at the lettuce in a store for a glow of  vitality because a human hand pulled the plant from the soil, brushed off the roots, perhaps cleared away a damaged leaf before placing it in a box.  This glow is from a good death.  I avoid food that was kept from a good life--kept from being in the vibration of the earth, or kept from moving naturally upon it. 

And I ask this question of myself, "Am I making a good death?"Maybe this is the greatest elder wisdom. Death is coming.  And what we make of ourselves with it is the greatest learning.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The other Halloween is Samhain: the spiritual new year

Samhain (pronounced saah-win), Summer's End, the Day of the Dead.   The time when killing frosts complete the harvest and Earth energy pulls back into death before rebirth.  The time when the veils between the worlds are thin. A time of contact and communication with the other side. A spirit-filled series of days for honouring the turning of Nature's cycles that coincides with Halloween, but is not the same as the secular holiday.

Here is a free reading from the Journey Oracle with a twist of Samhain energy: the messages in the four cards of the reading are arranged to create a journey into reflection and action regarding this beginning of your spiritual new year.  The first oracle card represents reflection--oracle messages about the challenges and accomplishments of the past year, the second oracle card represents integration--messages about your experiences when receiving this learning from the year.   The third card contains messages of release: about what is no longer useful, about creating new patterns that renew and transform.  The fourth oracle card presents a story containing messages of guidance, and suggestions for ways to act to bring this guidance alive in your spiritual new year.

Thanks to Selena Fox and the Circle Sanctuary for inspiring this renaming of the 4 cards in a Journey Oracle reading.

reflecting on the past year

Describe the challenges and accomplishments
of 2019 as shown in this image using simple phrases.  
Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  
When you feel inner quiet, consider the Oracle’s identity. 
 Identity of Oracle: East 
Why is this the Oracle of reflection? 

Message from the Oracle about your challenges and accomplishments: 
more wisdom

Why are you receiving this message? 

pronouncements from the Oracle about your year

An Oracle reveals the forces that are moving beneath your year.    
These sentences are not statements of logic or reason.  
 If a statement draws a blank from your unconscious, 
move on to the next sentence.

This year began by reconnecting.
The prevailing energy of this year was 
dramatically unexpected.
The core energy pattern of this year was a soft covering.
The Mother of this year was inventive.
The Father of this year was burnt.

Your relationship to the prevailing energy was 
ready for flight.           
Your perception of the year was obsessive

The impact of your perception was flamboyant.
The connection between the core energy pattern 
and the year was felt as diffident.
The momentum of this year was fed by 
tightening up a few phrases.

integrating what you have learned

Describe your first impressions of this image representing 
how you have integrated what you have learned.  
Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  
When you feel inner quiet, consider the Oracle’s identity.

Identity of Oracle:  Ice  Moon (Full Moon in January)
Why this is the Oracle of your integration? 

Question from the Oracle about your integration:  
Will the rim hold if the centre falls out?

Why are you receiving this question?

Your integration named: 
Mother inside looking out

Your integration experienced:

anxiety, lighten up
the planet, mother inside looking out, consternation
no judgement
detachment, eye tightness

no judgement, consternation
angst, mother inside looking out
reflecting back feelings, anxiety
hello, you look like you’re in pain, 
desperate for nourishment
lighten up, the planet
Exterior support for integration:
an exterior or support system for integration is odors.

releasing what is no longer useful

The Journey Oracle’s answers change the way you see things. 
Your anxieties, fears and desires emerge to be recognized and resolved, 
and hidden transformative energies are released. 

Describe your first impressions of this image representing 
the releasing of what is no longer useful.  
Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  
When you feel inner quiet, consider the Oracle’s identity.

Identity of Oracle: Nion (Ash tree)
 Why this is the Oracle of release? 

Message from the Oracle about release:  
Endless dancing

Why are you receiving this message?

creating new patterns of transformation 

These statements bring an in-depth recognition of change 
that you feel coming.  
These indicate new patterns that are asking to happen.  
If a statement draws a blank from your unconscious, 
move on to the next sentence.

The power needed to transform will be a sound of contentment.
Transformation will come by starting a war.
Your relationship to these new patterns is frigid.
The moment of letting go into transformation will smell of sex.
The concern to be avoided within this transformation 
will taste of famine.
Divine Will
The wisdom of life still going on will empower the transformation.
Completed transformation will be felt as a quality of 
drifting in and out.
Dream on this question:

 Are you willing to trade places?

How is this an answer?


guidance for the new year

Describe your first impressions of this image 
of guidance for the new year. 
 Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  
When you feel inner quiet, reflect on the Oracle’s identity.

Identity of Oracle: Mystery 
Why this is the Oracle of your guidance? 

A guidance question from the Oracle: 
Are you happy here?

Why are you receiving this question?

 a Fairy Tale from the Oracle to guide your new year

The dense weave of meaning in a fairy tale provides insight into 
the hidden forces within your new year. 
In this fairy tale, your unconscious wisdom knows 
the names of all the characters, 
all the actions needed, and what is the happy ending.

A pair of robins built a nest outside a woman’s kitchen window. Back and forth the sleek, strong parents flew, and yet she did not much attend to the new life’s manifestation that might be curling inside that twiggy bowl. Then one day she saw a wee curving form and a flash of translucent orange greet an adult bird’s arrival. The gaping mouths wavering on rubbery stalks counted three, and from that moment the woman’s attention often rested on the little family.
The hatchlings grew until their jostling with each other for the offered morsels threatened to send one over the edge. The woman began to wonder what she would do if a chick fell out, or if the nest itself came down. She plotted how to keep the birds safe, but always stopped short of action because it seemed this is how they are, even when the chicks were so big that they would teeter on the edge of the nest, buzzing their wings like whirligigs, reaching out always to say there is not enough food.
One morning the woman saw a chick sitting on a branch near the nest, receiving a morsel from its skinny overworked parent. It was weaving a bit on its untrained feet and rebalancing frequently with wild flutterings. “How can this be?” The woman thought in alarm. “Surely it’s not time yet for the survival of the species story.” But she resisted trying to help and just kept watching. And then, as if someone said “one of you has to go”—all the birds were gone. No chicks were left in the nest, the one on the branch could not be seen, and the parents no longer came.
         The woman went outside, and saw a robin a distance away in the garden. Then another flew past in the yard. A third dropped to the ground at the edge of the forest. “Is that you, my friend,” she wondered, “or maybe your child?” Suddenly the woman was seeing what she loved everywhere. 

Who are you in this story?  

What guidance is in the story for your new year?

Based on who you are in the story, 
now what are you now going to do
to begin your new year?