September 23, 2013

Caught Between the Full Moon and the Equinox

Harvest Moon 2013
Harvest Moon just after dusk September 19th.
Welcome to Autumn of the year 2013. It is official now, not just the media and image driven Fall we have all been enjoying for some weeks now. Summer, still clothed in golden sunshine and shimmering heat has heaved her last sigh, but the weather in very many places would fool you if you did not know better. It is not as hot here. We have had some small relief from the sweltering heat we have bathed in for the past couple of months, so why do I feel such grief at Summer's passing?

It is, I think, because I do not understand everyone's need to hurry. As though time were not already zipping by at an incredible rate, there seems a constant clamoring for the next thing; the next event, holiday, season, year, I phone version, the list just goes on and on. As a culture, our attention span is shrinking even faster than the Earth's rapidly depleting natural resources. That is a frightening thought on many fronts. There are times when I just want to make it all stop. Not long term, mind you, but I would like to have time to savor some of the fleeting moments of my life. My Eternal Now wont stay still long enough for me to recognize it as now rather than yesterday, the past, the already been there and done that.  I do not want to hurry any more. I want to once more find that rhythm that accompanies this planet on Her journey around the Sun. I want to respond to and live within the seasons, with the cycles of creation, birth, growth, age and death that are embodied therein. I need to feel the tug of the Moon as she waxes and wanes, engendering tides of creative energy, reflective peace and new beginnings in my soul. I know that I have lived this way before. I have only to remember how to disengage from the madness of contemporary life, to turn from outward obsession to inner contemplation.

The Autumnal Equinox is not yet  twenty-four hours old as I write this —Alban Elfed to those of us of Druidic inclinations (and by other names; Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair, etc) —and I am trying to find that place within me that can not only embrace the season, but to feel its ancient currents and manifestations deep within. I noted in my last post that there seemed to be a great deal, even more than usual I think, of anticipation for Fall this year. Despite wanting to hang on to Summer just a little longer, I have felt this too. Also, most of my household seem to be thrumming with a not pleasant, but demanding and anticipatory, energy for the past week. Our sleep around here has been restless, interrupted by strange dreams and physical discomfort. My own mood has been heavy, unwieldy and almost impossible to interpret. I suppose that I was hoping that the day would pass and it would begin to lighten up. As I write this I feel quite wretched though, without any real reason, but perhaps with some still unknown or unacknowledged purpose.

Moonrise at dusk. Full moon on Sept. 19, 2013.
Moonrise through the Rose Arbor.
In my post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that though this time of year has typically been sad for me, an interlude of unhappiness and sometimes near despair, last year's busyness had seemingly spared me. As this years Autumnal Equinox approached, currents of memory swept over me, and I remembered that last year was no exception to what has become my Rule for perhaps twenty five years now. It is merely a tribute to how thoroughly I had cleansed that negative energy, that I only recalled it in the depths of night from what was nearly a dream state, and that I can think of it now with only a bittersweet twinge around my Heart. Perhaps it is only because it is an anniversary, but I was unaware of exactly when this sad cycle began for me until just this week also. Seemingly, it was time to remember that also. A quarter of a century is a fairly long cycle. Maybe it is time to break it.

I do not know for certain. I am not sad exactly at the present. This entire year has been quite harrowing—difficult in ways manifest and spiritual. I regard the next month or two to come with a wee bit of apprehension. But I think that this is more habit than any actual precognition. If I am cognizant of any probable future at present, it is seemingly on a much larger scale. I feel something looming, for good or ill I haven't a clue, but since it seems to me that the Mass Consciousness has so assiduously been courting the Fall season, it may very well be something that is at least positive on the surface.  I choose to wait and see.

The Barn-- Sept. 2013
From this...
 In the meantime, I am occupied and preoccupied as usual. We are planning a party for the weekend following Halloween, which is on a Thursday this year. The party will be on a Saturday, honoring as best I can the collective collision of schedules that are my family's. In other words, going for maximum convenience and scheduling pretty far ahead.  So officially, It will be an Feast of All Souls or The Day (Night) of the Dead. Close enough. Music, food and drink, costumes and hopefully a bonfire will make for a merry gathering. We have decided to stage this fête in the barn, throwing the doors wide open to the night. This House has seen many parties over the years, but I think this will be the first one actually in the barn.

The "haunted barn" waiting for Halloween.
To this.... Hooooooooooo
This is all well and good. I loved the idea from its first conception. Hay bales, strings of lights, casual seating on a miss-mash of lawn chairs, throws  and wicker, a buffet table on the workbench and drinks on ice or in the 70 year old fridge (it still works) we have out there. It will be lovely. That is, if we roll up our sleeves and get some cleaning done. I really hope it does cool down a mite more. Mostly it is just a matter of motivation I think. Wish I had more of that than I do most times of late. Hopefully, most of the spider webs out there for the party wont be real. Let the transformation begin.

On other fronts, I have stayed busy as usual. The yard is not growing quite as fast, but still occupying us for hours every week. I have planted two figs and a guava in the yard on the garden end, and a new oleander out by the driveway.  I am in the process of freshening mulch, expanding some beds, and always pulling weeds. The pear tree in the yard has yielded a good crop this year of hard golden brown fruits.

Pear Tree-- Sand pear or Pyrus pyrifolia
Asian or Sand Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia)
Sand pears in bowl It is what my mother calls a  sand pear. The fruits are very hard, a bit grainy and not as sweet as conventional pears. They are irregularly shaped and inclined to be lumpy looking. Many people do not like them for eating raw, but I have to say that their crispness appeals to me. I find them quite tasty. Mostly though, they are used for preserves, jams and pie fillings. I made a double batch of jam late last week and will be making a gingered pie filling later on this week. And I will still have pears to spare.

Sand Pear Jam cooling on kitchen counter
Now that I have lived through another Summer, through the transition into Fall, and as the moon which hung so large and lit the nights like daylight a few days ago wanes, I look forward to this new season with both trepidation and delight. I know that it must seem that I am rather gloomy (I can be) and pessimistic oftentimes as I write these posts, but that is not really the case. I am realistic though, and I seek to be truthful to myself and to my readers.

HopeLet me say that I try not to make suppositions as to what the future will bring, but that in spite of myself I do often expect the worst, only because that has too often been the case, but I also hope for the best. And where there is hope, there is always a ray of sunshine waiting to pierce the clouds. So, I leave you today, not only with any blessings I am capable of bestowing, but with my best wishes also, and with Hope...

September 10, 2013

Confessions of a Shabby-Chic Shaman

Yet another month is flying past me. Summer is fleeting—autumn will arrive sooner than seems possible. That is calendar autumn though, and this is Florida. We won't notice much in the way of weather change for a while yet. However, this morning the temperature was under seventy degrees when I first got up, and that was mighty fine. There seems to be a great deal of anticipation out there (meaning, what seems to be buzzing on the Web these days) for fall this year. Perhaps it is the longing for cooler weather, or apples and pumpkins, but it seems to me, at least, to be a sort of mass nostalgia. It is as if the world, or this part of it I am privy to anyway, is collectively longing for those traditions, from harvest to Halloween, that ushered the world that was into the dark advent of winter. It may be that I feel this way because of my own thoughts and reflections these days, but it just seems very Pagan somehow, to me.

Autumnal dirt road in western North Carolina
Dirt road to our previous home in Western North Carolina in the fall.
While I am quite capable of being nostalgic about the lovely weather and earthy colors that thoughts of autumn conjure, I do not know what the hurry is. With time zipping along even faster this year than last, seemingly, I really felt cheated of spring this year, and I have not nearly finished savoring the mellow days of summer as fully they should be. Still, autumn is bearing down on us, and I will go with the flow. In my own personal experience, going back a number of years, though I am no longer certain of how many, the fall of the year has been a sad, sometimes despairing interlude. A paradox seemingly, because I adore Halloween and Thanksgiving. While living in North Carolina, how could one not be enamored of the foliage as it turned into the colors of a candle flame— orange, gold, red and yellow? Autumn is the doorway to the death of the year though. We celebrate the harvest because we know that darkness, wind, snow and cold will all have their heyday before spring once more comes around to succor us.

Vintage Victorian Halloween CardAnd if you are a shaman, or indeed a member or practitioner of almost any Earth religion or Pagan tradition, you know that it is the time of the year when the solidity of the world comes into question, when the walls between realities thin, and beings and entities uninvited find their way into our world. By now, most people have heard the stories behind the traditions we still hold to at Samhain or All-Hallows-Eve. Our forbearers carved turnips or beets into the likenesses of demons and monsters, creating lanterns to ward off evil and protect the bearer from the darkness. Halloween costumes, a more recent custom, originally represented the pagan and gothic characters the holiday derived from. That is the reason for the proliferation of ghosts, demons, witches and fairies on this holiday. While fire was very important to all of the quarterly and cross-quarterly celebrations of the Pagan year, it was essential at Samhain to ward off evil by keeping the darkness at bay.

I did not feel that old, familiar sense of sadness to any great degree last year. Of course, I was in the midst of preparing for and then living through an interstate relocation. I was just a little busy. And, having experienced the first half of autumn in North Carolina where the days were crisp and cool, and the nights becoming very brisk, only to move to warm and humid Florida just a week or so before Hurricane Sandy decided to sit offshore for several days sending gusty winds and squalls of rain in our direction, was a bit disorienting. Though we had looked forward to the move, and the happy occasions it would bring—my daughter's wedding, a super Halloween party, and a Thanksgiving spent with a number of those I love the most—it was not a pleasant time. Just very different from what I have become accustomed to. I was not sleeping well at all. At first, because I was so intent at getting unpacked and through with boxes that I could not rest, and eventually just because I was feeling so unsettled. Not sad or despairing as in past years, mind you, but apprehensive and not quite able to quell the chaotic sense of upheaval going on inside me. Since then, I have been plagued by frequent bouts of insomnia, more so than at any time in nearly ten years. Another cycle of my life, I suppose, because I have endured these bouts of nocturnal wakefulness before, and the frequency is eerily close to ten year intervals as far as I can remember.

I do not know what this autumn will bring. So many changes have taken place this past year, so much upheaval, and on my part, so much uncertainty as to direction and future purpose. I have jumped on the bandwagon on my Pinterest account. I have an Autumn Splendor board just overflowing with cheerful images of pumpkins and mums, and a Halloween one with Jack-O-Lanterns, costume ideas and spooky decor. I feel that strange anticipation that seems to be charging the very air this September, but I do not know what it means. I will do my best to enjoy it, but I think that I will be on guard also. As a recovering shaman, I will be vigilant as those boundaries between our mundane world and those other spiritual dimensions thin, to protect if need be, and to cross over if the opportunity should present itself. It has been a long while since I was conscious of moving between the worlds, and it is another thing I have missed these past few years.

What is a Shaman?It seems strange to me now that I have thought so little about being a shaman, about the path I trod with complete dedication for numerous years, until just lately. It is as if I have barely existed for much of this last decade. When I look back, my memories are like a string of lights, illumination showing up here and there to guide my way, but sunk in darkness in between. It seems stranger to me still, that I should be writing about things that I have only seldom spoken of to anyone over the course of the last two decades. I certainly did not plan on it, but Spirit always has Its own way in my life, despite what I might think. Before anyone starts wringing their hands and muttering about Free Will, let me just say that having been recruited by Spirit a number of years ago, we have an agreement. I think of it as a binding contract. Therefore, it could be said that I waived my Free Will, of my own free will. I discovered early on in this adventure that I was inclined toward willfulness (and stubbornness), which is a whole other thing from Free Will. I am not giving anyone else on a spiritual path advice. I am merely saying that for me, turning the wheel over to God was the right way to go.

As I was saying, I had not expected to write about this, but there you go. How does one become a Shaman in this day and age? Well, you can apparently take an online course, go to some exotic locale and be trained by a certified expert, or order a set of DVDs and learn from the comfort of your own home. I am not laughing at these things (well, I am, but I am trying not to). I read a lot of books, and if you are interested in shamanism or any other spiritual pursuit, I heartily recommend reading about and researching it. However, I was far into the process of becoming a shaman before I ever read the first book about shamanism. The internet was not such great shakes back in the days of my early spiritual explorations, and I, in fact, am one of those people who really did not jump right onto the technological bandwagon. I am still always behind when it comes to technology. I have felt, from the time I was a child, a great spiritual yearning, a vacuum inside myself that I knew could only be filled from a much larger reality than the one I currently seemed to be inhabiting. Whether for good or bad, I was infected with a sense of destiny, and felt as though I was waiting. In the meantime, life went on and I did a lot of other things. I had to wait for quite awhile. It kept seeming as though I stumbled in the right direction rather than from any conscious intent on my part. I was a very unhappy, chronically depressed is the right description I suppose, person. I desperately hoped that life had some purpose I could not then see, or that for me it would end. Finding and beginning meditation was a Godsend for me, as was an involvement in the metaphysical community. I finally found a bit of peace, and then a framework to contain so many of the experiences of my life that had me despairing for my own sanity.

Russan Shaman
So, I meditated, read books on every esoteric subject I could find, delved into psychology, philosophy, mythology and other tangential fields, took classes and workshops, and finally had a social circle where I felt accepted and at home. That fixed everything—right? On the contrary, it seemed to result in my whole world being ripped apart. My new lifestyle put the final weight on the back of a stumbling marriage, and caused ripples that went through and changed every one of my family relationships. I had always had Dreams and Visions, but now I found myself in the midst of a maelstrom of spiritual energy which was tearing away everything I had ever thought I knew about myself and my life. And I had asked for it, though I had not a clue what I was asking for when I did. Remember that old chestnut—be careful what you ask for—well, we are all warned.

I am glossing over all this. And that is the way it should be. My experiences on that path would fill a book, but it would be a book about my experience, and no one else's would be quite the same. I asked for guidance. I asked for purpose and understanding. I got a seven year journey through the circles of Hell. That is the initiatory process a shaman goes through, in a nutshell. At the end of that, I got to endure pain and illness that in my own mind at least, took me through the gates of death and back. I burnt with fever and spent days in a visionary state I would be hard-pressed to describe, culminating in a vision in which my skin was peeled from my body and put back inside out. Not a road for the squeamish. I came through that ultimate initiation feeling not quite solid, no longer part of anything. I was, and am, though it seems little like it to me just now, a shaman.

Digital Shaman
What does that mean in the contemporary world? Should I have hung out a sign and waited for folks to line up for help? Might I have jumped on the New Age bandwagon and turned my years of learning and suffering into a few dollars to get by on? It does not, or should not, work that way. Because the folks who line up for help are not the ones who need your help, and because what they will get from you is not ever going to be what they wanted to begin with. As for making money at what I do—the pay really sucks. We do not live in a world that honors what it does not understand. I found out early on in this job that there was no reward other than that which I found in my own Heart while I walk in this world. To be a shaman is to be a doorway sometimes, a mirror at others. We, or at least I, work in the energy body, balancing and helping to remove those blockages and distortions which afflict everyone and result so often in illness and malaise. I teach and I heal, and most of the time the individual I am working with does not know that anything has been done. Folks tend to love me when I am doing this healing, and then to want me gone from them when it is finished. It is a natural reaction really, though it took some getting used to on my part. I am essentially part of them when this healing is occurring, and when it is through, I am a rather unsettling stranger. It is an unconscious fear of something they do not understand. In this business, friends are hard to make and even harder to keep. It is a lonely path.

Hawk-- birds are often messengers in the shaman's world.
Hawks and other birds are often Messengers. This one was in our yard.
In the past, and in some parts of the world where aboriginal peoples still live much as they once did, the shaman was honored. Still, they remained set apart , feared and respected, included but never integrated into the community. Would I want to go a different way if I could go back? No. I do not believe there was ever a choice to be made. I know that I was destined to be what I am. Do I recommend this path to others? I do not think that just anyone can become a shaman. You either are, or you aren't. I do most heartily recommend following a spiritual yearning if you have one. Until you open yourself to things beyond the mundane world we live in, you will never know who you truly are.

Digital art-- photo manipulation for Deiviant Art contest
Me :)
So what does a twenty-first century shaman look like? I wish I could get away with the feathers, masks and robes of my predecessors, but I am actually fonder of steampunk jackets and frilly skirts. What I really wear are jeans and tee-shirts mostly. These days I read Better Homes and Gardens magazines, and Stephen King and Dean Koontz books. I do crafts and like home decorating. I love to garden, despite the fact that the Elemental Kingdom seems to have declared war on me this year. I cook and clean and shop, and when the need is presented, I do a bit of healing. Mostly, these days, I wait, and that is something I have done before. I live a life which is outwardly not much different from anyone else. And I still scare people off, or perhaps put them off is more accurate, though I do not mean to. I have realized just lately that I have no friends since I have moved here. All of my social interactions here are with family. I think that a great deal of the apprehension I feel about this impending autumn season has to do with this awareness of space being made around me. I wonder what will fill it up?

The images of  traditional shamans I used on this post and in my artwork are courtesy of the New York Public Library Website—

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