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the trickster archetype

The Trickster Archetype

Daredevil skateboarders, snowboarders, BMX bikers, skiers, and motocross riders have an ever increasing dictionary of tricks. They are our modern day trick-sters, doing what defies logic and seems impossible while having a good time. An avid snowboarder for many years, I could never fathom what a rodeo flip was, let alone how to do it, but it didn’t matter, I still admired the beauty and grace of my trickster friends. These amazing tricks are a simple demonstration of how the trickster archetype stretches the bounds of what we think is possible.

Blaming the Trickster

Like the counter-culture members of modern-day youth, the trickster archetype is often viewed as a mischievous outsider. The trickster is interested in breaking through convention, undoing structures and over-stepping bounds.

Most people think of the trickster as a misfit that causes trouble. Many distrust the trickster.

The trickster archetype is blamed for our computer crashing in the middle of completing a lengthy tax form, our pipes breaking and flooding the basement during a dinner party, or an overdue loan payment getting lost in the mail. We often don’t see the trick coming, it comes at the seemingly worst possible time, our plans are defeated, and our life as we know it is ruined.

In viewing the trickster from this one-sided perspective, we leave ourselves subject to the whims of this energy. We feel powerless and helpless. We pass off blame. The best we can do is throw up our hands and hope life gets back to normal soon.

Paradox of the Trickster Archetype

When asking, “what is a trickster?” a key piece to realize is that the trickster is known for duplicity, landing us in situations that are both a blessing and a curse. This propensity for paradox is signature of the trickster archetype.

The Greek God Hermes

The trickster archetype has taken many forms throughout history, and the greek god Hermes is one that most embodies the paradox in this archetype. Only hours after Hermes’s birth, he made off with a handful of the god Apollo’s oxen. Initially, Hermes denied ever stealing them, but soon enough took Apollo to the cave where they were hidden. Apollo couldn’t stay angry with Hermes for long because he was charmed by the sound of the lyre instrument that Hermes had just created.

This story shows that the trickster archetype can be both charming and frustrating. We want to stay mad when the trickster wrecks havoc in our lives but we soon throw up our hands and find laughter. Usually the act of the trickster is so preposterous that we can’t believe it. A newborn baby stealing oxen and inventing a musical instrument is about as absurd as it gets. There’s nothing left to do but laugh in exasperation.

Hermes was known for being both the inventor of sacrifices and protector of sacrificial animals. He was the god of commerce and was a thief. He was heralded as a peacemaker and committed fraud. He was a great container for paradox.

The Roman God Mercury

The greek god Hermes was known to the Romans as Mercury. Today, astrologers call the planet Mercury the trickster.When the planet Mercury goes into retrograde (moves backward in relation to the earth), astrologers warn us to be on the lookout for the trickster. The element mercury itself is paradoxical, and as Carl Jung points out, Mercury “is metallic yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery, poison yet healing draught—a symbol uniting all opposites.”

Blessings of the Trickster

For some, the trickster is a constant presence. For others, he merely comes to visit on occasion.  However often he drops in, the trickster’s influence is typically unwelcome.

Many people believe that the best way to thwart the trickster is to become more conscious, mapping our patterns and befriending our shadows. This comes from knowing that the trickster is incredibly good at finding what is hidden, unveiling our greatest insecurities and fears.

In this protective stance against this multi-faceted archetype, we miss key blessings of the trickster archetype:

  • The trickster manifests what we wish for but are too afraid or meek to actualize. Whether it is changing careers or investing more time in a relationship. The trickster breaks what we no longer want and makes room for the new. The trickster makes the time and space for what we’ve secretly been craving.
  • The trickster knows what is best for our soul and cares little what is best for our reputation and pride. Staying home to dry vac a flooded house may be just what’s needed to unwrap us from the constant need to achieve and produce and impress.
  • The trickster is our natural “eject” button that pulls out of a crash course leading us precisely to a life devoid of soul. Even though the trickster’s tricks feel like a crash landing, the trick is a rescue mission bringing us out of our ego and into our soul. Anyone who values humility should befriend this archetype.
  • A trickster experience brings disappointment and elation. The trickster archetype teaches us the divine truth that everything contains its opposite. When we stop trying to frame experiences as either good or bad, we come closer to the sacred.
  • Fun, welcome, liberating and happy accidents are also the craftsmanship of trickster. Remember to keep an eye out for the faux-pas that delight and inspire. Give thanks to the trickster.

The Divine Trickster

Above all, rather than fear, revere the trickster. The trickster archetype has appeared as Gods, Goddesses, spirit animals, demigods, guardian angels, and helping spirits. He has played pivotal roles in creation myths and helped shape countless life forms. The trickster acts as a divine messenger bringing us much needed guidance when we are most blind to our own need. Leading us to cosmic truths, the trickster helps us transcend into the infinite. One of the most common forms the Divine takes to intervene and save us from ourselves, the trickster is a sacred instrument.

Confused with Tricksters

There are a number of archetypes that are confused with the trickster archetype, among those are the fool, magician, and alchemist. The fool makes jokes to alleviate tension within conventional structures whereas the trickster is set on breaking free of the structures.The fool often wants people to like his jokes. The trickster is not trying to make friends. The trickster could care less if we think he’s funny or not. The magician archetype is caught up with creating illusions and fascination. The trickster exposes illusion. The alchemist is concerned with the evolution of the soul and is invested in forward momentum. The trickster is glad to take one step forward and two steps back.

Want to know what archetypes are yours?
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Spirit Animals: RACCOON the BANDIT

He sneaks about in the darkness looking for the slightest opportunity. Any tidbit hidden in a crevasse becomes a jewel in his hands. He is at home in the city or the country. No matter where we find raccoon spirit animal we will find a dose of both good humor and good conscience. Who thought such a common animal could bring such luck?

These little bandits are ubiquitous across the whole of the North American continent. Found in swamps and marshes, on the banks of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, in the vastness of the desert and prairie, in the seclusion of forests, on the tops of mountains and the bottom of canyons, and in cities and suburbs, raccoons have adapted to any environment. Raccoons are happy to den anywhere from a hole in the ground to a cubby in an attic. They are the quintessential omnivore and will eat anything, plant, insect, trash, or animal, that they can get their little paws on.

Raccoon spirit animal brings the message that you have the occasion to be at home and find sustenance, even wealth, wherever you are. He does not cover a wide range, but he utilizes and explores every nook and cranny of his territory. Raccoon symbolism is all about being flexible with what’s available.

Raccoon is marked from birth with that characteristic black eye-mask. He has a reputation for being a trickster and nighttime bandit in disguise.

Disguise

Raccoon spirit animal teaches us about the nuances of disguise and what we do when we think we’ll go unrecognized. In movies, cartoons, and drawings, the archetype of the thief is pictured so often with a black scarf with two holes for eyes. In many legends, raccoon is busy stealing things under the cover of night or out from under the noses of blind people. Raccoon symbolism is closely linked with what we might be blind to or what others are blind to in us.

When we wear a mask or watch a character in a movie wear a mask there is the unwritten understanding that the wearer is attempting to escape the consequences of their actions. Even if the thief is robbing from the rich to give to the poor like Robin Hood (i.e. stealing for “good”) they still have to hide and evade because they are operating outside the law.

In the end, raccoons in legends are always caught and marked as thieves as evidenced by their face mask and ringed tail. In our world, we may escape without any outer consequences, but we will still have the inner doubt that plagues us. What if someone did find out?

It is worth evaluating how you use a disguise to get away with stealing. When you go to pay for a service and remember that you didn’t bring enough cash along, do you pose as innocent to convince the other person to take less money? Raccoons have the sweetest, charming little faces and they aren’t above playing the innocent to get away with something they want.

There is a splash of white all around the edges of the black eye mask of the raccoon. This can point to an inherent goodness shining out, a need to be recognized for the light we are in the world. Sometimes the masks we put on aren’t necessary and can be born of a shame that requests healing.

Raccoon the Bandit

Raccoon has lightening quick paws to grab aquatic creatures, pluck mice and insects from hiding places, and invade bird nests to take tasty eggs. He is known for raiding campsites and trashcans when everyone is sleeping.

We all steal from time to time, be it something as simple as a pen or as invisible as the attention of another. Stealing energy or time from another person, or even stealing from their reputation by mentioning their name, wears away at the fabric of who we are over time. Raccoon spirit animal teaches us how to notice the telltale signs in ourselves of when we are snatching up little bits that might not be ours. He helps us come further into integrity.

This isn’t about looking at the ugly side of your nature and disliking what you see, not at all. It’s about developing a mature conscience. An immature conscience depends on the opinions of others or even the laws of society. Both of these conventions can be mischievously fun to break. A mature conscience taps into the value of one’s motives and understands whether we mean to do harm or do kindness. It’s that simple. When we come from a place of valuing kindness, mischief falls away.

Some questions to ask yourself when contemplating raccoon symbolism:

  • What are the things you tell yourself to justify stealing? (They’ll never find out. There’s enough extra. They don’t need it anyway.)
  • What motivates you to steal? (Maybe it is feeling like you aren’t worth something, like you can’t come by it honestly, or like you just can’t wait.)
  • What is conscience to you? How do you decipher right from wrong?

Trickster

Mircea Eliade, a well-known scholar who studied shamanic practices around the globe, talks about the trickster as a character that plays all sorts of jokes. He makes fun of others and is made fun of. Oftentimes in myths, the trickster is actually a demigod in disguise come to bestow blessings on the object of his high jinks.

We think we know the path and set out on it the way we’ve decided is best. Then the trickster comes and bumps us off our road. This is the flat tire when you’re running late or the hard drive crash right as you type the last word of an important document. We learn to laugh with a sarcastic, “ha, ha” at the trickster’s joke, but often we are at the very least irritated by the interruption or at worse absolutely derailed by the catastrophe.

Once it’s all over we find we are better off or we are brought to a gift we never expected.

In the legends, raccoon cons wolf into freezing his tail into the ice and deceives three blind women into breaking their favorite pottery. He is among the ranks in the animal world of other tricksters such as coyote, raven, and fox.

Thus, raccoon spirit animal has the potential to bring you great teaching and wealth, but it will likely not happen in the way you anticipate. When working with raccoon it is a good idea to keep a loose sense of plans.

Dexterity

Raccoon’s sense of touch is his most heightened of senses and the majority of the focus is in his front paws. He has “hyper-sensitive’ hands that have long whiskers known as “vibrissae” that assist with identifying objects before actually touching them. Nearly two-thirds of his portion of the cerebral cortex responsible for sensory perception is dedicated to the processing of tactile impulses. He thinks a lot about what he feels.

Raccoon will wash his food whenever he has the chance. It is thought that he does this to soften the thin horny layer on his paws, which makes it easier for him to feel his food. Whatever the reason, he loves to play in the water with his hands.

Raccoon can adeptly open jars, untie knots and turn door handles. His five toed front hand closely resembles ours. His lack of an opposable thumb doesn’t stop him from attempting to enter our world. Raccoon symbolism is about how we choose to handle situations. Will we “grasp” quickly for what we want or will we take the time to “wash our hands” of our wrongdoing before enjoying the incredible opportunity around us?

Working with our conscience is all about how we handle situations. Raccoon spirit animal is most definitely here to help.

 

Want to learn more about spirit animals?
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animal symbolism

How to: Research Animal Symbolism

Venturing into the world of animal symbolism, otherwise known as the study of power animals, can be very daunting. There are sometimes wide gaps and obvious contradictions between the various books and websites that tell you what a spirit animals signifies. It is important to fact check any power animal reading as well as flesh out these readings with additional information. I can tell  from experience, that it would be incredibly easy to write an entire book about the symbolism and power of just a single species of animal. That means that any power animal interpretation available (yes, including mine), will not cover the entire scope of the animal’s gifts. Most books and websites have a limited number of animals listed, and it can be hard to find a reading on the less common animals. This is when we are forced to create our own interpretations, which is a good thing!

Any true inquiry into the nature of a power animal should include an absorption of simple scientific facts about the colors, structure, eating habits, mating, survival, and environment of the animal. Understanding how the animal makes a living and what their social lives are like can be incredibly enlightening.

Look for what makes this animal unique in the animal kingdom. Take notes on what fun facts really jump out.

We are drawn to the qualities in our power animals that we either identify with or we desire. In pinpointing what we like about our power animals we have the opportunity to make these characteristics conscious in ourselves. Identifying with power animals is a great way to boost self-esteem and become more empowered in who we are. It can be hard to sit down and write a list of what traits we like about ourselves, and a good place to start is by listing the positive aspects of the power animal that match our own great qualities. If the power animal has a characteristic we covet, they have come to help us manifest that expression in the world. A elk that proudly bugles his voice into the world can help someone with speaking up and claiming their territory.

Don’t dismiss what is ugly, cruel, or frightening about an animal. These traits help point out our judgements and fears.

We often think that our power animals are a direct reflection of ourselves, so when we unearth a piece of information about the animal we don’t like we tend to get discouraged. Just because a salamander eats baby birds doesn’t mean that those of us with salamander power animals are heartless individuals that devour helpless beings. This fact can either be taken as a metaphor – that the resource we need may come from those who haven’t left the nest – or as a generous reflection. When we find something that turns us off, this can direct us to the way we judge others unfairly. When we polarize strongly against a certain way of being, we are limiting our own path. In choosing to not do something we can waste a lot of energy making sure we don’t become what we fear.

With the scary or gross power animal we have the chance to learn acceptance and let go of fear. When we encounter a power animal we’d rather not have, we are being offered the opportunity to look into our own shadow. The characteristics of the animal will point out the best way to do this. A bat who is a creature of the night, for instance, is a perfect helper in going into the darkness. They often go out in groups and they use a chirping voice to call out into the darkness and see what’s around them. This could mean that the best option is to join a support group that is a safe place to navigate frightening subjects and ask the others to be a sounding board for what we’re working through.

Any animal can easily help us with both our fears and our triumphs. It is up to us to determine what the animal has come to help with.

Once we fill up to the brim with information on our power animal, it’s time to filter through the information and get clear about what the animal has come to help with. Some facts about the animal might resonate while others don’t. Our intuition is a powerful ally for us in this process. Try not to think this through too hard. Our rational minds can help sort the information while our intuitive nature deciphers the meaning.

Creating our own power animal interpretations is a practice that takes a lifetime to perfect, and it gets easier with each reading we create. I’ve put together a list of my favorite online resources for biological information on wildlife. If you have a website you’d like to share please post it in the comments below.

Here are my videos on Spirit Animals:

 

IN DEPTH ANIMAL GUIDES

This list of websites starts with sites that have the most animals listed with the most information on each animal. I also recommend an internet or library search for information on the particular animal. There are many books and websites dedicated to a single animal (such as polar bears) or group of animals (such as marine mammals) that have much more in depth information not always found in the general animal guides.

Encyclopedia of Life has all species around the world. Be sure to click “Read Full Entry” link below the bottom right hand corner of the image of the search result: http://eol.org

National Geographic has pictures and videos of featured animals: 
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/topic/facts-pictures

 

QUICK FACTS ABOUT ANIMALS

Short on time? These sites will give you a quick summary so you can get in, get what you need, and get out.

One Kind is an animal protection charity with quick and great unique facts: https://onekindplanet.org/animal/

A to Z Index of Animals has wildlife and domestic animals: http://a-z-animals.com/animals/

Defenders of Wildlife has many North American megafauna: http://www.defenders.org/animal-factsheets

World Wildlife Fund has megafauna throughout the world that are of conservation interest:
https://www.worldwildlife.org/species

 

BIRDS AT THE SPECIES LEVEL

There is a lot of great information out there about different species of birds and I highly recommend that all interpretations of birds go to the species level. To simply have an “owl” as a power animal will get you some of information about what they offer as guidance. Being able to see in the dark and fly without making any noise are characteristics of the whole group, but we are limited on what we can learn given that there are over 100 species of owls around the globe. Going to the species level helps us delve deep and gives us magnitudes more information.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the premier source for all things avian. Be sure to listen to calls: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search

Seattle Audubon Society has facts about species hard to find elsewhere: http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/

 

ANIMAL LEGENDS

For fun I wanted to add in some animal mythology. I couldn’t resist sharing this link to an extensive list of Native American myths about animals. http://www.native-languages.org/legends-animals.htm

hummingbird totem spirit animal

Spirit Animals: HUMMINGBIRD ELIXIR

Hummingbird Symbolism

Everywhere she goes there is this constant hum. The whiz of her wings shakes up the air. The vibration lights up her senses. She is a vibrant being of color seeking vibrant flowers. She drinks high powered nectar full of sugar. Hummingbird is energized with enthusiasm for living. Her mate rushes by in a blur of squeaks and buzzes. The flash of ruby on his throat takes her breath away. This is how it goes in the warmth of morning. By mid-day she may perch on a tiny branch to preen and rest for a bit. Then she’ll be back to the business of lighting up the world with her sound, her energy, and her love.

Hummingbird Love & Joy

We love hummingbirds. Over and over when they show up our eyes  twinkle. Our hearts unfurl one more step towards the infinite in the presence of these tiny little creatures.

If I were given only one word to describe the meaning of hummingbird symbolism, I would say, “love”. Give me two words and I say, “joy”. Love and joy can be such ambiguous answers although, especially when we don’t have access to them. Love and joy can slip through our fingers and escape the grasp of our hearts. We can’t make love or joy happen any more than we can cage the high powered, nectar fueled hummingbird.

Hummingbird spirit animal has much to teach us about the nature of love. She is not an anchored beast that has all four feet on the ground, nor is she a soaring bird of prey detached from the world below. Hummingbird spirit animal does not take a direct path. If a trail of light were to follow her wherever she goes, we’d see that she weaves through the world. The threads of love that connect us all are what weaves the world together.

Hummingbird’s wings move so quickly that we can’t decipher a single wingbeat. We can only watch where flight takes the bird. The nature of love is like this. We can’t identify where it is in time and space, but the threads of love determine the paths of our lives.

How is love changing your path right now? How can you abandon direct-line thinking and adopt the hummer-path? Where is your heart effortlessly lifting you up to? How does it feel when you are in the space of love? What makes your soul hum?

Strength of Hummingbird Spirit Animal

Hummingbird can cross a giant body of water like the Gulf of Mexico in one crossing, so it is easy to see how the strength, the stamina, the acrobatics, and the tenacity of hummingbird befuddles us. As with any great creature with abilities beyond our comprehension, hummingbird has found her way into all the great myths of the world.

Every society has a story to tell about hummingbird symbolism. In these stories, hummingbird spirit animal is associated with timelessness, tirelessness, rain, rainbows, warriors, fairies, lightness, beauty, circles, and jewels.

Hummingbirds and Immortality

Bears are omnivores, deer are herbivores, hawks are carnivores, and hummingbirds are nectarivores because they eat nectar. What a fun word – nectarivore! The word “nectar” originates from Greek words “nek” and “tar” that translate into “overcoming death”. Thus, nectar is synonymous with the “elixir of life”, a magical potion believed to make one immortal.

Not only does hummingbird drink life giving nectar, but she also literally overcomes death by going into a hibernation-like state called a “torpor” when food is scarce. Her metabolic rate is slowed to 1/15th of its normal rate. This speaks of going beyond survival.

How can you go beyond thinking only in terms of survival? Are you able to overcome your fears of failure, be that financial ruin or debilitating illness, and drink from the nectar of the Gods? What is the nectar that feeds you? Is it material wealth that you must attain or are you seeking recognition from others? Or is it the beauty of the world blossoming open in front of you?

Nectar is the literally the essence in a flower. Nectar contains a sweet scent that attracts pollinators. Hummingbird helps flowering and fruiting plants proliferate by spreading pollen about. She is the assistant in the creative power of nature. Hummingbird spirit animal goes straight to the essence, the heart, of the flower and drink up the truth that is there. By doing this she nurtures the beauty of the world.

Hummingbird animal totem can teach you how to go straight to the heart of the matter, the essence. Then you can carry that essence to other situations in your life. How will the truths you discover now result in abundance of spirit once the rains come?

Illusion and Hummingbird Symbolism

Hummingbird can hover in place, but the amount of energy and movement required to remain hung in midair is anything but still. She is a flurry of activity. Much of what hummingbird does is an optical illusion.

From one angle the black-chin of a Black-Chinned Hummingbird looks black, but in the right light it flashes a brilliant magenta. Many of the colors on male hummingbirds shimmer with a jewel-like iridescence when light skims across their feathers at the proper angle.

This is a reminder that all life is an illusion, and that magical flashes of the divine come when we’re not looking at something straight on. Our lives may look still outside, but be a blur of activity inside. In allowing the needle-like beak of the hummingbird totem animal to penetrate the opening flower of your being, nothing will ever look the same.

 

Want to learn more about spirit animals?
Visit the Spirit Animal Guide

 

 

Medicine Wheel by Season

How to: Prayers for the Directions

In an earlier post on “Calling the Directions & The Medicine Wheel” I shared a definition of medicine wheels, how to move about the wheel, and associations with the directions on the wheel. In this post, I share with you methods for composing a prayer to call in the directions.

The Nature of Prayer

Prayers are peculiar things that can take on any nature. Just because we call something a “prayer” does not make it sacred. The ego can compose self-involved pleas to a Higher Power. Many people choose not to pray because they’ve become frustrated with petition and gratitude prayers. Others grow weary of prescribed prayers (such as the Hail Mary or Lord’s Prayer) that can lose their spark over time.

So, how do we say sacred prayers that foster connection? How do we avoid the dry wishlist and rote repetition? Practice composing our own organic prayers helps. Petition and gratitude prayers are often fueled by fears. In tracking how our unconscious fears creep into our prayers, we can tailor our prayers to admit and release our fears consciously. Lastly, it helps to have a practice of cultivating your connection with your intuition and your soul. The stronger this connection, the more able you will be to create authentic, spontaneous prayers.

If you feel like you are entirely new to tracking your fears and cultivating soul connection that’s okay. Continue on the path of learning and, in the meantime, rely on the written prayers of so many who’ve gone down this path before.

Composing Your Own Prayers

Do not be anxious. There is no need for you to compose beautifully worded prayers. Use whatever words suit your needs and desires…. But don’t spend all your time summoning up the presence of God…. Simply set out your needs and acknowledge that you have no right to be always aware of God’s presence. There is a time for this, and a time for that. Observe them. Otherwise your soul will grow weary.” – Saint Theresa of Avila

Below are elements of calling in the directions that you may choose to include in your prayers for the directions. How you word your prayer for each of these elements will vary with your relationship to them. Notice that words aren’t the only elements here. Actions are just as, if not more, critical to your prayer. The cardinal direction you choose to start at is your choice. I recommend going clockwise on the wheel and finishing with all the cardinal directions before going to earth, sky, and center.

Step 1: Aligning

To align and show your intent for working with a direction you can very simply face the given direction. For the earth you have the option of kneeling and placing your palms on the ground. For the sky you may choose to raise your arms up to the heavens. In this portion of the prayers for the directions you state the name of the direction. It may be as simple as “Spirit of the East”. Some use “watchtower” or “guardian” instead of spirit. You may also choose a more complex name that you have adopted such as “Goddess” for the earth or “Our Heavenly Father” for the sky.

Step 2: Opening

You may choose to demonstrate your openness to greet and welcome in the power of the direction by standing with your arms open and palms facing outward. In a more private prayer you may choose to bow or kneel. You can simply say “I welcome you to our circle”. In my prayers, I typically follow that with the phrase “with open heart, arms, and mind.”

Step 3: Invitation

Here is where you can take the opportunity to name the graces or gifts of that direction that you are inviting into your life. “Please bring your graces of new beginnings and fresh starts” would be a perfect prayer to include for the East. Not to be confused with petition, this portion of the prayer helps us name and embrace what we are inviting in. You may say “I embrace/allow/invite your gifts”.

Step 4: Gratitude

Although we don’t want to fall into petition and gratitude prayer, gratitude is a valuable component to consider. To avoid saying “thank you for blah, blah, blah” instead say “thank you for your presence”. One way to field test your gratitude prayer is to see if it’s attached to a certain outcome. If you say “thank you for your fresh start” that is an outcome, but “thank you for the guidance and healing you offer” is less results oriented.

Step 5: Closing

Once you’ve completed your ceremony, it is customary to thank the spirits again and release them. Ultimately the space we use for ceremony is left off to serve another purpose and it is up to us to release the space to its new purpose. Often the ending sounds something like “Spirits we release you. Thank you. Your service today and always is greatly appreciated.”

Other Practices to Keep in Mind

When saying prayers for the directions many people like to include an instrument that goes beyond the power of words into the power of sound alone. Shaking a rattle or beating a drum while praying is common as is whistling or playing a flute. Some sing their prayers.

Speaking out loud helps us practice with the weight of words. Creating prayers like these helps us understand how powerful the words from our minds and mouths are. Mindfulness with speech is an important spiritual practice. When we decide to summon divine support let us do so with reverence and attention. And, it is worth listening to Saint Theresa of Avila when she advises we “use whatever words suit your needs and desires”. Take these prayers seriously, but not too seriously that you get tongue-tied. Be willing to put yourself out there in your beautiful imperfection.

Spirit Animals: POLAR BEAR

Polar bear spirit animal’s world is frozen, with landmarks often hard to find. To make matters more challenging, the wind constantly moves the drifts and the floes carrying his plans and thoughts asunder. He does not have a preference for one way, the way, but rather relies on the wisdom of the ages and the abundance of the underworld to carry him through. He’s been doing this for a long time you see. He was the one who knew who we were before we did.

Polar Bear Spirit Animal’s Coat

When we see a polar bear’s coat we assume that the individual hairs are white, but they are actually clear. The translucent hairs scatter sunlight with no preference for any particular color ray and, thus, they appear white. This brings to the fore an incredible truth as the color “white” is often associated with goodness and purity, but “white light” is interpreted differently. White light is synonymous with Source, God, and divinity.

Polar bears, like the stark, snow-covered landscape they live in, reflect divine light. If a polar bear has walked into your imagination, dreams, or ordinary world , now is the time to pay homage to the blinding beauty that is the Creator. The immense size and presence of these apex predators gives additional gravity to the message.

Polar Bear as a Channel for Grace

The longer guard hairs of a polar bear’s coat are hollow as well as transparent. The hollow hairs were originally thought to conduct the sun’s warmth down to the  bear’s black skin, but this theory has proven false. Most of the heat from the sun doesn’t make it past the polar bear’s incredibly dense coat. Through the qualities of his hollow fur, polar bear spirit animal demonstrates how being a hollow reed can reflect divinity out in to the world. It is so clever that scientists used to think the hollow hair conducted the energy of the sun to the bear’s skin to warm him, and now we know this is not true.

In your own life, examine your beliefs about why you have decided to be a channel for grace. Do you believe allowing joy to move through you will bring you more joy? Are you afraid to allow the light to move through you for fear you’ll be overheated or overwhelmed? Do you spend all of your time trying to clear yourself so that you can be a channel for healing? The polar bear spirit animal has come to guide you through this process, and before we barely get below the surface we see the first set of lessons about appearances and beliefs concerning channeling divine energy. Being perfect or pure or good is not the goal, radiating the divine is.

 

Find your spirit animal workshop. Painting of red-tailed hawk.

 

Connection to Snow Symbolism

There is a compelling parallel between the polar bear’s fur and snow. The multi-faceted ice crystals of snow flakes cause all color rays to bounce around, not absorbing or reflecting any color with any consistency, which causes us to see the snow as white in the same way we do the polar bear’s fur.

Many dream interpretation guidebooks define snowflakes and snow as “frozen emotions,” but I particularly am interested in the less common idea of these representing “spiritual truths”. The spiritual aspect coming from the white light they reflect and the truth coming from the concrete form of an ice crystal. Also, like any spiritual truth, snowflakes are temporal and infinite in nature. We all know that no two snowflakes are alike. Being of the land of snow, polar bears bring an innate ability to connect with the nature of spiritual truths.

Contrast of Scarcity and Abundance

There is intense contrast in the realm of the polar bear. He lives in a white, seemingly barren landscape, but just below the surface he has easy access to a dark, fertile underworld. The ocean that he navigates as effortlessly as the top world is teaming with life.

His own physique mirrors his outer world as his hollow, transparent fur hides a black skin covering a thick layer of blubber over 4 inches thick. He has a hard time staying cool in one of the coldest environments on earth. This shows that although you may appear to have a stark life on the surface, you hold vast resources below/within. How can you begin to see your life inside-out so you may honor this abundance more fully? Is the contrast jarring you at this time? Polar bear spirit animal has come to help you walk and swim the duality with grace.

Polar Bears in Folklore and Art

In the mythology  of the Inuit, polar bear spirit animal is known “Nanook”. Many northern tribes say polar bear is the one that taught man how to hunt and survive. In Greenland he is known as “Tornassuk” the master of helping spirits and the main agent of initiation for shamans. The Inuit too saw him as the primary guide for shamans. In many traditions, he is rumored to take a human shape, being a human while inside the igloo, which he also taught humans to build, and a bear while out on the ice.

I’d like to highlight one artist has dedicated her life’s work to depicting the white bear. I’ve known since childhood and always adored Barbara Stone. In the 35 years she’s been captivated by the polar bear’s presence, she’s traveled to the north to observe them dozens of times. Her whimsical artwork shows the bears taking baths, sitting down to tea, and out tending the garden, and readily demonstrates how these massive creatures can easily assume our form. She has tapped in to an archetypal, subconscious knowing of how we are linked with these animals.

The Polar Ice

Ice plays a critical role in the life of polar bears. Their migration follows the flow of the polar ice pack. Polar bears need the ice to ambush their surfacing prey from. When ice is less prevalent polar bears will swim hundreds of miles to new ice floes in search of hunting opportunities.

This speaks of the usefulness of having a solid, but fluctuating boundary between our outer and inner worlds, to trusting that what we need will come from the unknown of the dark depths below, and to knowing when to put in concerted effort to seek out new nourishment.

Ice being more permanent than snow, it represents frozen spiritual truths, and polar bear can show us the need to freeze some of our beliefs into the ground we walk on for a time. When the seasons change and the time comes, those beliefs will naturally break up or move on and new floes of ice will form to support us. Polar bears will fast for a time when the ice floes are absent. This is a reminder that it is okay not to have beliefs to stand on for a time, and that you have the reserves built up to last you until you are supported in freezing up a new belief system.

Association with Seals

The diet of polar bears consists mainly of seals. Seals are linked with creativity and the imagination. Thus, we see here the need to harvest the fruits of our creative endeavors rather than solely allow them to surface for breath on occasion. Time to haul that beautiful gift of yours up onto the ice and allow it to provide the sustenance you need to take you into the next length of time between projects.

Mother Polar Bear

Mother bears typically have twins which again highlights the dual nature of these white beasts. The number two is significant here and it may be worth your time to look into mythology surrounding twins. Have you given birth to two ideas at once? How will these creations co-exist? Mother polar bear may be able to help you with these questions. Just know that she does not wean her young for 2 and a half years, so this process of raising two dreams at once may take some time. As always with the polar bear spirit animal as our teacher, patience is a virtue not to be forgotten.

Spiritual Masters

It turns out these great beasts have a great amount to teach us. It is even worth looking in to what spiritual masters and mentors have made a difference in your life. Which of these teachers radiated the divine without preference for a given color, way, or understanding? Who was willing to offer guidance without attachment to the outcome, purely for the bliss of sharing? Who gave support and knowledge to you without asking anything in return? These are the polar bear spirit animals that have wandered into your life in human form. Watch carefully what they do for they will teach you how to survive in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

 

Find your spirit animal workshop. Painting of red-tailed hawk.

 

 

“Humble Island of the Soul” from Gracious Wild

I opened my eyes, stretched in my sleeping bag, and looked around. After a few moments, I recognized where I was and realized that I still wasn’t. I still wasn’t much of anywhere or much of anyone.” (from Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks)

These are the first three lines of a book that I wrote on a crisp fall morning seven years ago. These are the first three lines of a story I lived many mornings of my life what seems not so long ago. This is the broken world we all have such easy access to. How can the first thought we wake up with be so alienating, so painful, so grave? I still wake up with that same pit in my stomach some mornings. I don’t know if I’ll ever not know this feeling or if my memory will be cleansed of this kind of suffering. Just now, I’m soothing a pit from my stomach with a hot cup of chai tea.

My black cat Gretchen sits on my desk next to the keyboard purring. She wishes she could be in my lap pushing her full weight through her back into my belly, kneading my thighs, and forcefully jamming my arm off the keyboard, but she’s not. She reminds me of my commitment to embracing the void, to being courageous in the face of not knowing. There is no turning back now. Her overbearing presence makes that clear.

On the island, the fears were so tangible and immediate. I really was alone. Now the fears are like smoke that slips through my fingers. My vision is clouded and the air smells odd, but I am surrounded by people, civilization and the busyness of life. This morning as I prepare myself for another day, the day of the release of my book Gracious Wild, I go back to these first lines of the story for guidance. They help me remember the raw, sobering truth that we never really know who is out there and what is coming, that our minds can play fabulous tricks on us to make up fantastic fears, and the very best we can do is get brave, really brave. In being brave I learn over and over again that we are both inconsequential to the course of the universe and of utmost importance. The ego cannot grasp this truth, but the humble soul can. Imagining myself alone on an island brings me back to my fear, but also to my humble soul.

Today I pulled a beautiful card from the deck “Osho Zen Tarot” named “Creativity.” I’d like to share a quote:

Whatsoever you do, if you do it joyfully, if you do it lovingly, if your act of doing is not purely economical, then it is creative. If you have something growing out of it within you, if it gives you growth, it is spiritual, it is creative, it is divine… The important thing is to be open to what wants to be expressed through you. Remember that we don’t posses our creations; they do not belong to us. True creativity arises from a union with the divine, with the mystical and the unknowable. Then it is both a joy for the creator and a blessing to others.

May this book be a blessing to the world and to you the reader. May you find healing in the pages. May Graccia and Thalia and all who gave their lives to this story touch your heart. This is the blessing I offer to you and the service I am in to the creator.

 

 

 

 

 

Spirit Animals: MAGPIE the MYTHOLOGIST

Magpie goes about her business, chattering to and fro. Both of the old world and of the new, she wears her black and white costume with her brothers and sisters going on about life as if everything were normal. Then a ray of sunshine glimmers over the tips of her wings and tail and a burst of royal blue radiates. She knows this and she is clever. She does not worry if the rain will come or go. Magpie is the rain and lightening. She is the drought and wind. She carries on as if neither were of consequence, full of joy and mirth, warning of nothing and foreshadowing everything. Magpie knows that she and her tribe are bigger, louder, and brighter than the others, and she knows stories about the others. She is an artist at knowing these stories.

The Rebel in Biblical Lore

Magpies are found around the world from the western half of the United States to China to England and Africa. Their association with humans goes back a long time as they followed nomadic people scavenging leftovers from hunts. There is a story from biblical lore that survives today that the magpie would not go into Noah’s Ark, but instead insisted on riding out the storm on the ridgepole of the boat, chattering the entire time. There are some references to the fact that the magpie either did not attend or refused to mourn Christ’s crucifixion. This pairs this cunning corvid with the archetype of the rebel.

Magpie spirit animal reminds you to ask: What beliefs did you adopt that now act as blocks in your quest to find your divine self?

Magpie Funerals

These birds are related to crows and ravens and are a member of the jay family. They mate for life and are dedicated parents. A pair can spend up to 40 days building a large covered nest and they often are seen in small groupings of 3-5 birds as they travel about in their undulating flight looking for food. “One of the most notable Black-billed Magpie behaviors is the so-called ‘funeral’—when one magpie discovers a dead magpie, it begins calling loudly to attract other magpies. The gathering of raucously calling magpies (up to 40 birds have been observed) may last for 10 to 15 minutes before the birds disperse and fly off silently.” [1] This speaks of the ability to call on the help of your tribe in times of mourning.

When studying the meaning of magpie symbolism, it may be time to watch how you congregate with your kind and remember how others can help you with a death. This could be a death of the ego, the self, a way of life or a loved one.

 

Find your spirit animal workshop. Painting of red-tailed hawk.

 

Magpie Helps with a Healing

This September, I started to see two or three magpies with my horses on a regular basis. My horses would cock a back hoof so the magpies could clean the underside. The magpies would jump up and cling sideways to the horse’s legs to pick bugs from their fur. Other times the birds would be perched atop my mustangs cleaning bugs from their ears, manes, and backs.

Cherokee and Legend seemed to enjoy the attention. I was absolutely caught up in the beauty of the scene. I started working with what the birds’ appearance meant in my life and began to discover a link between their presence and my process of breaking down myths I held about other people. We all attach stories, judgements, beliefs and meaning as to why other people are who they are and what they represent in our lives, but ultimately these myths keep us from truly connecting with people. The myths stand in the way of us truly seeing them and truly being seen. I started to notice the birds every where: at work out the window, on my drives home, at my house, and with the horses.

Then, last week Legend, my white mare, feel gravely ill. A large portion of her colon had flipped 180 degrees and gotten stuck between her kidney and spleen. I went on a three day mission to save her life and the magpies were no where to be found. But, I felt their presence still haunting me and haunting Legend.

Magpie Omens

In British and Scottish folklore magpies are believed in different numbers to foretell death, a funeral, and bad luck. I learned the popular saying about magpies: “One for sorrow. Two for mirth. Three for a wedding. Four for death (or birth depending on the origin)”. [2] 

As is the way of things, Chinese folklore portrays magpies of omens of good luck and sometimes I had seen the fortuitous two or three birds at a time, so I tried not to be overcome with foreboding. I waged an inner battle with my fear and superstition.

Here is when I realized that my fear of my loved one’s death was keeping me from my ability to channel healing for her. I had adopted the myth that “I can’t really channel healing that makes a difference on a physical level” because I feared what would happen if I surrendered myself fully to grace and had her die anyways. I didn’t know how I would recover from that kind of grief, but I couldn’t both protect myself from utter devastation AND surrender to divine guidance. As I broke this myth down I went through waves of intense fear, doubt, and suffering. I showed up for Legend to channel the healing power of grace in a way I never had experienced before and she survived.

Less Myths and More Meaning

On the morning of the fourth day, I checked Legend over endlessly to absolutely convince myself that she was okay. A single magpie came to her corral and landed on a fence post. As the black and white bird with a long tail looked at me with her shiny black eyes, she christened me back into the world of the living, a new world with less myths and more meaning.

Seeing one magpie is supposed to be an especially grave occasion as the popular saying goes “one for sorrow”. I knew the death and sorrow had happened in me.

I was a different person now. Legend was well and healthy. I opened the gate to let Legend out onto her pasture and life went on.

The Mythologist

This is why I have come to think of the magpie as a mythologist. Magpie spirit animals can help us study myths we have about spirituality, the universe, others and ourselves. Magpies are known for eating anything as is indicated by their scientific name “Pica“, meaning to crave things unfit for food, and they remind us how we can crave and eat odd stories that aren’t true in an attempt to secure nourishment and safety or to feed the small fears that protect us from the big fears.

Ultimately it is not important to know why we adopted those myths in the first place, but to understand the role of myths in our lives and to treat them lightly. There’s no need to crawl inside the ark and hide away from the storm for the storm of fear and suffering is of our own making. We can light upon the ridgepole of the boat and find humor and humility in the art of rebelling against that which we thought we ought to always know.

I would like to finish by quoting a favorite song of mine by Neko Case that takes on a deeper meaning now. It’s from her album Middle Cyclone and is called Magpie to the Morning. I have to say that Legend was always the closest to death in the mornings…

Magpie comes a calling
Drops a marble from the sky
Tin roof sounds alarm
And wake up child
Let this be a warning says the magpie to the morning
Don’t let this fading summer pass you by
Don’t let this fading summer pass you by

You can listen to these lyrics on her website: http://nekocase.com/music/discography/middle-cyclone/

References: [1] http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/black-billed_magpie/lifehistory [2] http://www.wisdomportal.com/MagpieNotes.html

 

Find your spirit animal workshop. Painting of red-tailed hawk.

 

 

The medicine wheel and the qualities of each cardinal direction.

Calling the Directions & The Medicine Wheel

Working with the Medicine Wheel

Honoring the directions within the framework of a medicine wheel is a common practice of shamanism found throughout the world and at the root of each of our ancestral lines. This prayer to honor the directions can be called a number of things depending on the culture and preferences of the person praying. Some say we are “calling in the directions” while others state we are “calling ourselves to the directions”. Others just see that we are setting up sacred space to do sacred work.

Regardless of the nomenclature, it is important to take a moment and reflect on why you have chosen to enter in to this practice.

Intention for Calling in the Directions

Are you worried about negative energy entering in as you open up to meditate or journey, so you feel compelled to set up protection around yourself? Do you wish to offer your gratitude to the seasons and rhythms of nature? Is it just because you learned it in a class and you’re trying to explore the power of the medicine wheel practice? Are you asking for help from all of creation for a healing? Are you offering yourself as a channel for the Divine? Would you like to call yourself back to center so that you can be your authentic self and be grounded in your being? Do you intend to set up a quiet space for meditation free from the chaos of the everyday?

The good news is that calling in the directions using the medicine wheel does all of the above and more. Your intent will shape the content and power of the chants or prayers you say. So take the time to reflect on your intent and then be willing to allow that intent to shift over time. The beauty of a shamanic practice is that it is personal and place based. Depending on who you are, where you live and what stage of your life you are in, calling the directions will look different because your relationship to nature will be different.

Directions of the Medicine Wheel

The medicine wheel can be broken into five or seven parts depending on your inclination, but always contains the four primary directions: East, South, West and North and a central point or axis.

“Above” and “Below” can also be recognized individually or not because the central axis is seen as inherently connected to these two spaces. As you determine what qualities, gifts, elements and power animals to acquaint with each direction of the medicine wheel I have a simple framework for you to start with.

  1. Path of the Sun: The medicine wheel is laid out in relation to the path of the sun. The East is the place of dawn (beginnings) and the West is the place of dusk (endings)
  2. Seasonality: The medicine wheel can be laid over a seasonal calendar which for us places spring in the East, summer in the South, fall in the West and winter in the North (see photo above). If you lived at the equator you would only recognize two seasons, rainy and dry, or if you lived at the poles you would recognize light and dark, so your associations would be different.
  3. Diurnal Cycle: You can also overlay the wheel with the a 24 hour clock with the East being sunrise, South being midday, West being sunset, and North being midnight.

Qualities of the Directions

To help you determine your own, unique blend of qualities to associate with the directions of the medicine wheel, I offer the following ideas that I’ve accumulated from studying a number of cultures and nature herself. You may see some qualities listed in more than one direction. Feel into the quality and see where it fits for you.

  • Qualities of the East: dawn/sunrise, spring, new beginnings, birth, infancy, mental body, element of air, seedling plants, new shoots, fresh start, innocence, play, childhood, the Sun or Mother Earth, blue, yellow, green, swords tarot suit, astrological houses 1-3.
  • Qualities of the South: midday, summer, adolescence, physical body, mature crops, abundance, element of fire, the Sun or Mother Earth, passion, drive, vitality, fullness, ripeness, maturity, red, orange, wands tarot suit, astrological houses 4-6.
  • Qualities of the West: dusk/sunset, fall, adulthood, emotional body, leaves dropping from trees, letting go, harvest, gathering resources inward, the void, discernment, element of water, the womb, the Moon, surrender, trust and faith, the unknown, black, blue, cups tarot suit, astrological houses 7-9.
  • Qualities of the North: midnight, winter, elder, spiritual body, frozen landscape, silence, communion with Spirit, element of earth, the Moon, death, union, intuition, complete understanding, being filled with the Divine, white, pentacles tarot suit, astrological houses 10-12.
  • Qualities of the Center: Heart of the matter, in the moment, timeless, ageless, integration of all bodies, openness, channel/hollow reed, grace, connection to above and below, trees, mountains, inspiration, rainbow, all colors.
  • Qualities of Above: Cosmic currents, collective unconscious, movement of the heavens, wisdom of planetary bodies, future, possibility, stars, galaxies, expanded consciousness, God, angels.
  • Qualities of Below: Planetary currents, collective history, ancestors, roots, creation, fertility, the womb, the cave, Goddess.

 

Want to learn more?
Read this article about How to: Prayers to the Directions

 

Spirit Animals: THE FROG PRINCESS

She is in the world but not of it. She senses the shifting tide of her emotions and that of her brothers and sisters singing in the marsh. She is in her feelings but not of them. She embraces the song while it refuses to define her. Water still clings to her porous flesh creating a sheen on her persona. She wiggles her toes through the dry mud on the shore. The Earth satisfies her too. She contemplates the lily pad floating by and the dry stone just a few leaps away. All of this is available to her. She must choose between being at home and answering the call. In the end, her choice has no consequence. What she needs will always be available. What she feels will always be in her experience.

Many are inexplicably drawn to the cleansing, healing power of frog spirit animal. The mystery our minds can’t solve is that frogs are creatures of the emotional realm and many of us have forgotten how emotions can heal. We are of the land, of the concrete world, and we attach our emotions to our stories, our drama, and our woundings. We surrender to the deception that we have to heal the story to heal the emotion. Frog does not have these illusions. She lives in the boarder between the concrete physical world and the watery world of emotion. She has come from the water as a polliwog, so to her the feeling comes before the happening. For us the happening causes the feeling and we try to prevent the feeling.

The lesson of frog symbolism is that in preventing the feeling we are preventing the experience of life. Frog reminds us to allow the emotions to flow through us, to boldly go as far as swimming in our emotion. It is love. It is necessary. Call on frog spirit animal to help you suspend your judgement of your feelings rather than suspending the feelings themselves. Without feeling we cannot be in the world. With feeling we are not of it. When we allow our emotions to flow like water rather than cling to them, we are healed. Using the mind to justify our hurt, our pain and our joy causes us to be stuck in the past and not live in the present.

Frogs are incredibly sensitive to environmental toxins and many cannot go too long without contact with some form of moisture be it dew, rain or stream. They have been the early warning beacons sacrificing their lives to warn humans of toxic waters. Frogs have helped call people to action on behalf of Mother Earth and helped spawn legislation to protect and clean up our waterways. When looking at frog symbolism in your life, ask yourself these questions: What warning signs are your emotions giving you about your environment right now? Are you feeling especially fearful or sad? What emotions are you avoiding? What in your life is causing you to cling or avoid your feelings? How can you shift your life so that you can flow with your heart regardless of the circumstances?

The frog princess reminds us of how to hold our emotions as both unassuming and royal. We must revere them as a pivotal aspect of our being while not identifying with them. Just as she refuses to choose the marsh, stream, or pond over the shore, mud or bank, we too must learn how to live in the space between attachment and neglect of our feelings. It is this practice that is cleansing. The ability to wash oneself clean in one moment and sink our feet into the mud the next is truly liberating because it puts us in touch with the creative life forces within ourselves and frees us from our story. So, spend a day with the princess of the marsh and learn what it means to feel.

Frog spirit animals are associated with the west on the medicine wheel. They reside in the realm of the unknown, in the void of creation. Emotions can’t be known. If they were they’d be thoughts. Allow your emotions to be without words and find the divine in the infinite experience of feeling.

 

Want to learn more about spirit animals?
Visit the Spirit Animal Guide