The changing faces of our landscapes ~ how our surroundings mirror our inner journey

The changing faces of our landscapes ~ how our surroundings mirror our inner journey

In my Twitter bio, one of the four things I describe myself as is a mystic. It’s written partly in jest, the way I also use the term explorer, but both are true. As an explorer I may not stride off into the wilderness with a bush hat and a Swiss army knife, but I do explore. Some of the places I have been are dark and dangerous but filled with things that bring wonder to the world too. I get asked too: “What is a mystic?” and I’ve yet to find an answer that satisfies me enough to give it until now.

I make patterns out of things that seem random to others and I ascribe meaning to those patterns. I see the inner story of ordinary things. I visit other realities while keeping most of me in this one. I see God in all things and in nothing.

In my mid twenties, the connection I have always had with the natural world began to deepen into something that permeated my waking consciousness and I began to explore a path that took me a long way from the safe, secure religious routes that I’d previously stuck to. It brought me accusations of being a witch, and caused me to become very wary of sharing my experiences with anyone. I got a drum and began to journey to the beat of the drum, wandering deep into a world that exists alongside our own.

We lived for six years in a very rural part of Norfolk, and I had the joy of being able to wander freely and explore both the outer landscape and the inner ones. I also had the delight of finding a number of kindred spirits, who knew more than I and were willing to teach and to learn alongside me. But the land itself taught me things. The creatures and the living beings of trees taught me, and the grass itself held wisdom.

When we moved to the Midlands, the landscape changed, and so too did the creatures I met in my daily walks. I wrote this poem over a year after we moved:

 

Changing Faces

 

Nightingale and deer,

The shining grass-snake

And the great green woodpecker

Once peopled my landscape.

Now heron and buzzard

Fly across my skies;

Kingfishers flit in formation

And the owls call in my night.

A drowning weasel

Clings to my sleeve,

One fear conquering another.

And I wonder at how

My life is so changed.

7.12.04

 

The creatures I had met and even walked alongside in Norfolk had a very different focus in their teachings. There was a strongly shamanic flavour to the animals I had close encounters with, powerful totems for a healer, a walker between the worlds. The drumming of the woodpecker is a hint to its connection with the shaman’s drum. The snakes that I handled along the river told of healing work, and that is what I worked with, the healing of others.

When we moved, the focus changed dramatically. The reflexology work I did failed to thrive, and though I had loyal clients, it felt like climbing a mountain without oxygen to gain more. Along the river, nearly daily, I saw heron, and often kingfishers. I used to sit and watch them all fishing. I saw once four kingfishers flying along the river as a tiny flock. The flash of the bright wings as the bird darts is like the sudden flash of inspiration and within months of moving there in 2003, I found myself compelled to write again, something I thought long dead and buried. Words flowed from me, in torrents. Poetry, novels, all spilled over like a spring long buried.

In the three years there, though I sought them, I saw not a single snake. The habitat was right, and they were reported to live in certain areas, but while I looked, I never saw them. In our Norfolk home, during the spring and summer I saw snakes frequently, and handled them too. I walk softly, and I know where to look, but no snakes.

In 2006, late in the year, we moved here. I’m a mile as the crow flies from the sea. I’m surrounded by sea-birds. I walk along the shoreline and I see sea creatures. I found a young seal our first New Year here, not faring well alone, and he came to me. I sat for four hours on a freezing beach waiting for the RSPCA to come and collect this seal to feed him up. He lay with his body touching mine. In our five or so years here, I have been walking along the shoreline of the unconscious, making forays out into the ocean depths and seeing what I can find. My mind has soared with the sea-gulls, and my words have travelled the oceans of the world. I have thrown back fish and jellyfish and seahorses back into the life giving waters and my words have perhaps brought new life to other explorers thrown high and dry and gasping on the harsh strand-line of life.

I make patterns out of things that seem random to others and I ascribe meaning to those patterns. I see the inner story of ordinary things. I visit other realities while keeping most of me in this one. I see God in all things and in nothing.

This is what I do, this is what I am. A mystic, of sorts, trying to find meaning in the chance happenings of daily life, a woman who tries to hear the small voices of the other inhabitants of this astonishing world, and echo those voices so that others might hear and understand this: we are not alone.

 

I face another move, another set of faces, human and animal and plant. May I see and hear their voices too.

Hey Babe, take a walk on the wild side ~ with Walker by Jane Alexander

Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side ~ with Walker by Jane Alexander

Over Christmas I downloaded a book I was not sure I would like. When I was a kid, the genre YOUNG ADULT barely existed, if at all, and I’d have run screaming from it, as the condescending marketing ploy from publishers it surely is. However, Walker by Jane Alexander has been placed in this category because the main character Hunter is only fifteen. So, I swallowed my doubts and began reading.

Now, due to my depression I often find concentrating really hard and unless fiction is exceptionally well written, I can give up within pages. I finished it in about two days, either side of the festivities.

What hooked me most was the presentation of a hidden world, that lies in and alongside our own, a world I see glimpses of from time to time. I’ve done some shamanic work and while it may seem really “woo” it gets results. Many psychotherapists use soul retrieval techniques to heal serious psychological traumas so going back to ancient basics with the original techniques has become very popular.

The story is so finely written, I soon forgot my doubts. I was transported to Exmoor (which I had visited a few months previously) and to a landscape that is ancient and powerful. I’ve walked the hidden valley of Kitnor, and let me tell you something: despite it being a sunny day in early September, not a bird sang; the air throbbed with unseen power. This is the blurb from Amazon:

Hidden temples have always protected the Earth. But now they are dying. Concrete is spreading over the valleys, pollution hangs heavy over the cities: greed is consuming the world.
Deep in the heart of England, there is one last hope. Kitnor, a remote Exmoor valley, could be a new place of power. But it is young and vulnerable to attack. The guardians, ancient keepers of the land, have to find the new temple and bring it to its full power. But their mission is failing and time is running out.
One teen, Hunter McKenzie, survivor of the car crash that killed his parents, is a shaman, a walker between worlds. He alone could find Kitnor. But Hunter doesn’t know his power. He doesn’t believe in shamanism. He doesn’t even believe in himself.
Help comes from unexpected quarters. Rowan is another teen shaman with her own ‘power animal’, a black panther called Comer. Rowan, however, has her own problems, her own potentially fatal Achilles’ heel.
Hunter meets many strange beings on his quest – the Ferish (cruel fairies who hate humankind); the punkies (souls of dead babies and young children); ancient warriors, Tibetan lamas and, above all, his own powerful animal spirits. Some will help, some hinder. Some are not what they seem.
Walker is a magical eco-quest. It is based on the ancient practice of shamanism, in which the shaman ‘journeys’ into other realms with the help of power animals and guardian spirits, to find wisdom and power. Shamanism holds the earth and all its creatures as sacred – the shaman’s duty is to protect the earth and honour everything in it.
While the story of Walker is pure fiction, the shamanic practices used in the tale are all based on fact.

While the story is filled with mysticism the young hero is filled with doubts, not only about himself but about all that he experiences. Not brought up to this kind of thing, it is utterly alien, but seeing it through his eyes aids the reader understand the practises and beliefs involved.

This book ought to be a rallying call for eco-warriors young and old alike. My only caveat is my personal concern about this being considered a YOUNG ADULT book. It might put off people who do not fall into this demographic, as it almost did me. I also worry that since the techniques are real and can be dangerous, ill-advised attempts might be made by children to reproduce the experiences, but since generally shamanic power comes either by long training, hard knocks and often near-death experiences, I suspect that all that would really happen is a few terrifying nightmares at worst. There’s enough information out there on the internet freely available after all.

From my own perspective, this book reminded me of the work I have already done to explore the Otherworld, and encouraged me to continue it, in my own way. Being an eco-warrior is about more things than recycling and acknowledging the hidden world and working with it is as important as more mundane and accepted practises.

At less than you’d pay for a decent cup of coffee, I can’t see why anyone interested in both beautifully written adventure tales and environmental matters wouldn’t buy it. What’s that you say? You don’t have a Kindle? Well, you can download a free app to your PC, Mac or tablet, or even your phone, and then you can buy Kindle books and enjoy them without shelling out for a Kindle. And if this book sells well enough as an e-book, I’m hoping the author will consider producing a paerback as the cover art is so beautiful it deserves more than an Amazon thumbnail!

UK link

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Walker-ebook/dp/B006J74FX6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335696148&sr=1-1

US link

http://www.amazon.com/Walker-ebook/dp/B006J74FX6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335696148&sr=1-1

Snake ~totem of transmutation and creative power

 

Last night I had a short dream that has stayed with me. I dreamed I was in a building with other people, and a snake appeared, sending the people around me into a frantic panic. The snake, predictably, vanished under furniture and people continued to mill around panicking. Now I’ve never had the slightest fear or dread about snakes; I’ve handled wild snakes before, when we lived in Darkest Norfolk and I encountered grass snakes quite frequently. In the dream, after a short time, the snake emerged and I picked it up, holding it firmly but gently behind the head. It was a greyish colour verging on blue and have zigzags along its back. It was extremely beautiful and it didn’t struggle in my hands. I realise now it was actually an adder, Britain’s only indigenous venomous snake, one I have seen just once as a glimpse last year a few days before my dog died. I had no fear, even though I recognised in the dream that the snake might bite me. I carried the reptile outside and found a suitable spot and released it. It vanished with such speed.

Now at times in my life when change and transformation have been particularly active, I have often dreamed about snakes. I often used to see them in a hypnogogic state, curled up at the foot of my bed, or lying in my hands. I saw real living snakes a great deal when I worked in a small capacity as a healer when we lived in Norfolk. When we moved away, despite still working in that capacity in a more limited way, I never saw a single snake in the wild. In fact, from leaving Norfolk in 2003, I didn’t see a snake again until last summer.

I missed them. To me the snake is lovely creature; I once was privileged to watch grass snakes mating in the sun. But to dream about a snake again in such a capacity, makes me wonder now what this may bring. The snake is a symbol of so many things in so many cultures. Here is a brief summary from This Site of what snake may mean:

  • Elusiveness
  • Manipulates lightning
  • Transmutation
  • Exploration of the mysteries of life
  • Primitive or elemental energy
  • Protection from religious persecution
  • Goddess energy
  • Psychic energy
  • Creative power
  • Immortality
  • Connection to or forms the magic cord by which the shaman travels to the soul world
  • Messenger of the Rainbow Serpent

To me, this dream suggests that something misplaced is going to be restored to its rightful, natural environment. I’m not yet sure what that may be, but it does seem to herald powerful changes. I don’t imagine I will become a snake charmer, but perhaps my changing path will involve some element of snake power.

Reindeer-totem of endurance(and winter)

  Reindeer: totem of endurance

 

I have long had a fascination for reindeer; my favourite Christmas present last year was a rather wonderful book called The Real Rudolf(a Natural History of the Reindeer) by Tilly Smith. This is a book for true enthusiasts like me and highly recommended if you wish you seek more information about this amazing deer. Mankind has had an association with the reindeer(also called caribou) since the Upper Palaeolithic era but the date for domestication is hazy. It certainly goes back many thousands of years and continues to this day. In recent history Swedish furniture giant Ikea was pressurised into removing reindeer meat products from their Swedish food shops, citing public outcry at eating Rudolf! I did rather enjoy their reindeer salami and am at a loss to understand the problem.

Reindeer are some of the most appealing deer, and have the most incredibly soft and warm coats. Indeed, externally, the only part of a reindeer not to be covered with fur is their eyeballs. There is another feature that is unique to reindeer and that is the antlers; females and young grow antlers just as the males do. The purpose of the antlers is that of giving everyone literally a fighting chance of getting sufficient food to survive. Bulls(males) shed theirs first, allowing other reindeer to compete for food. The last to lose their antlers are the pregnant cows(females). So the chances are that Rudolf and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s sledge are not only likely to be all ladies but all mothers-to-be!

The connection of reindeer to shamanic wisdom is ancient; carvings and cave drawings go back many thousands of years. Indeed, reindeer are known to eat the hallucinogenic fly agaric fungus,

 and their urine, still full of the properties of the fungus has been drunk by shaman to induce trances. Reputedly, this sort of trance has a flying element to it, linking again to the story of flying reindeer. Drums made from the skin of reindeer have been considered highly powerful tools in working with the Otherworld for the purposes of magic and healing in this one.

Animal Spirits suggest various attributes for allying with a reindeer totem:

  • Connection to home over long distances
  • Power of wandering
  • Protection while travelling
  • Social skills
  • Retention of ones power in group situations
  • Ability to go long periods in the dark

 

On a personal note, I own a drum made with reindeer skin, as well as a reindeer skin that is one of the most warming and comforting items I have ever known.

While the song Rudolf the Red-Nosed reindeer has only been with us since 1939, the association of reindeer with this time of year is probably far more ancient and I can think of no better ally for getting through this dark, cold time than a creature who is so admirably suited to surviving the harshest of harsh conditions.

Dreaming of an archetype?

I find that as the days get longer, my dreams become more vivid and baffling and filled with symbolism.

This morning, I dreamed a strange dream. At first I was in a city I ought to know as I’d lived there for three years but not one of the landmarks was familiar to me; within the dream I told myself that the passage of 23 years had wiped my memories. I was trying to keep up with a large group of people who were walking fast. I couldn’t see who was leading the group or where we were going and after a while I found myself lost. I went into a cafe and tried to sort out my belongings, which were in a small case, but I couldn’t find what I needed.

The dream shifted then and I found myself visiting a house I lived in seven years ago. I didn’t recognise features but I knew it was the house we lived at in Darkest Norfolk . It was empty of furniture and of people and as I walked through it, I became aware I was dreaming. This moment of being lucid within a dream is something quite common for me and no longer catapults me out of the dream. I walked through into the next room and found a structure that resembled an igloo in shape. I was surprised to find it there, not just because the snow is now gone from England but also, who would build such a thing in a house. The structure was dome shaped and seemed to be built out of grey ice or snow, but I had no sense of coldness. I walked round it to find the entrance but when I did, I saw that someone had filled it in.

  The doorway was blocked with fresh new snow, which was far more like the snow I experienced in February in Austria than English snow. It was soft and light and when I touched it, the whole barrier fell away like the ghosts of cold feathers and vanished. I walked in. The room inside was not like an igloo though the floor seemed to be covered with melting snow and towards the centre there seemed to be a sort of grating in the floor. Sitting over the grating was a figure I at first thought was my mother but soon realised it was not. I thought she was trying to light a fire and again I saw she was not. This ancient figure was sat crosslegged on the floor(she didn’t seem to be getting wet) and I saw that what she sat by was not a grate at all, though the meltwater was seeming to drain into it and vanish but instead it seemed to be a brass or gold plaque or inset.

I came closer and spoke to the old woman and she told me that the plaque was all that was left to commemorate the tribes of the earth and as I looked I saw that the plaque was actually made up on smaller shapes, that fitted together and each contained a symbol. I could see now they were made of worn and ancient gold and not brass as I first thought. I asked how many tribes were there, and I looked and perceived there were twelve symbols. I tried to see and remember the symbols(I was still lucid at this point) but I couldn’t. The images seemed to swirl and change as I looked at them; she told me then that I belonged to the last of those tribes and that she guarded the symbols.

Her hands were gnarled and curled round like the claws of an eagle as she sat and I woke feeling I had seen and experienced something of great moment and yet, now I do not even begin to understand what I saw.

Butterfly: totem of transformation

Butterfly/Caterpillar’s Wisdom Includes:

  • The power of the whirlwind
  • Reincarnation
  • Transformation
  • Transmutation
  • Magick

 

All last winter, through the misery of snow and ice and wind and rain, there huddled in a corner of my study window a small tortoiseshell butterfly, hibernating. I gave it dilute honey to drink and cherished its prescence in my room. Spring has come and the little butterfly didn’t fly. It had simply been too long a winter and it’s dead.

Walking today in the woods, I found myself buzzed by this butterfly, a different species, which came to me in total four times, until I got a decent photo of it. It’s not a small wood, but the same butterfly(I think) came to me four times. Four is a shamanically significant number, signalling truth.

The butterfly is a symbol in many cultures of transformation. My life is being transformed in so many ways right now. This little insect brought me hope through a hard winter and today brought me hope again that the creative impetus has not gone away and that beauty and truth and vision are still  part of me.

The Road of Bones

The Road of Bones

 

There is a zone between here and there,

Where few would choose to tread.

The baking ground shines bright

With the teeth and bones

Of those who lost their way,

Wandered long without a map,

And starved and lonely lay down to die.

The clean white bones, picked bare

Of flesh by wily carrion birds,

Lie as their owners fell.

And if you can but bear to look,

To stare long at the path they make,

The way ahead comes clear.

My path is made of ancient bones,

Holding still their unspoken words,

Waiting for kind and patient hands

To lay their jumbled lives anew

And read the way their bodies made.

I cannot tell which way to go,

Which path to follow, where to roam.

Beneath my feet is only sand

That’s made from bones returned to dust,

Gleaming silver under noonday sun.

No limbs stretch out, no fingers point,

No laughing skull grins at me;

Just pure white sand of powdered bone,

Stretched out till sky meets earth.

The sun is hot, the nights are ice,

But while the sand beneath my feet

Remains this eggshell textured sand,

Then I will know that others long ago

Have trod this road and lie here still,

Guiding my witless feet from harm.

The road of bones leads surely on

To what end I cannot guess;

Its end in sight, then I myself

Will lay my bones along the road,

To mark the way, while I go home,

On silver sand and joyful feet,

And leave the road of bones behind.

The Shaman’s Drum

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The picture above is from an exhibition at the British Museum late last year. The drum is that of a sixteenth century Sami shaman, and is made of a birch bowl carved from one piece with a reindeer hide stretched over it. The paintings on it are thought to be a record of some of the journeys into the Otherworld made by the shaman.

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end when I walked into the exhibition. This drum had been sung to life and it was still singing in the glass case.

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This picture is of one of my drums; it’s made of Alaskan birch, carved into a bowl out of one piece of wood and the skin is elk hide. Inside there are feathers, seeds, herbs and stones that rattle when you move the drum. It’s a mini replica of the Grandmother Drum, the immense cedar drum made for the Grandmother Drum project in Alaska(this drum is seven feet in diameter and sounds awesome) and is about fifteen inches across.

I first started using a drum to meditate with about 12 years ago and I would highly recommend it. Even if you don’t journey in the classic sense, the beat of a drum is very therapeutic. It calms you when you’re upset; it energises you when you’re low.

The drum is said to be the shaman’s horse, taking him/her to the Otherworld.

Where will mine take me today?