Tuesday, December 12, 2017

2017: Challenges and Hidden Treasures

The instructions given by Mr. Lionharts were rather simple: intentionally select three cards to represent your central challenges of 2017. Then, let the cards suggest advice for each one.

The first part was, unfortunately, a quick task for me; this past year has been one of the hardest in the last decade or so. All three of these cards have come up for me on so many occasions throughout the year that I’ve entirely lost count.
Ancient Italian Tarot - Lo Scarabeo
Temperance was my “card of the year,” drawn last December as the theme for 2017. Finding balance, healing, losing equilibrium, tearing open wounds, throwing a stick in the alchemical spokes, regaining balance, learning how to live with disharmony, learning that disharmony is a powerful tool, learning how to seek balance once again. The 8 of Swords has had me identifying and attempting to destroy extremely outdated paradigms that were restricting my growth. The Tower - ah the Tower - has made a deep and potent friend out of fire and destruction. Watch it all burn, and see what is left when the ashes are carried away by the wind. Catharsis. It’s not over yet, but I do think that I’ve crested the summit and am heading down the other side of the mountain.

On to part two: advice for each challenge.
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot - Uusi.us
The Queen of Fire speaks to Temperance. She has been a regular feature of my 2017, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see her here. She matches the heat of Temperance’s alchemy, hot and cold, a conflagration, a waning intensity. When I am her, reversed, it’s not much use talking to me; I am a ball of fire ready to reduce my interlocutor to ashes. But it is part of the birthing of her dynamic and deeply powerful essence within me. When I am her, upright, I enjoy engaging new people like never before - the hermit out of the cave - I hunger for connection, I laugh, I consume the beauty around me like a starving animal. This isn’t so much advice as a recognition that provides helpful perspective. I know this about myself, now. Some days balance is easier to achieve than others. I am learning to integrate this Queen into my soul, and that’s a process.

The Knight of Pentacles speaks to the 8 of Swords. Releasing those old and restrictive paradigms requires steady progress, one foot ahead of the other. I can measure it in small but tangible differences in my everyday life. It feels like I’ve been walking forever and the landscape has changed little. But one day I look up and can see the plains stretching out below me; little changes make all the difference in how I perceive the world around me, and remind me that I am indeed moving.

The 6 of Cups speaks to the Tower. I call this my “re-membering” card; through it I pull back the parts of myself that I’ve lost along the way. The Tower built of concessions, limitations, “buts,” “oughts,” “can’ts,” hard histories, and the stories I tell myself.... it falls. And in its destruction I find myself again.

Here's to closing out a thoroughly transformative year and inviting in 2018!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Binding of Fenrir

It is a gorgeous November morning. I am sitting next to an open window, a cool breeze wrapping itself around me as I type, hot mug of coffee keeping me company. It's been a long six months. I've not tended to my blog as often as I would like to largely because of the busy-ness of my professional life, and the turbulence of my personal life. But today I am making space.

I suspect that Instagram has been both a help and a hindrance to writing longer blog posts: on one hand it's a wonderful medium for expression when I can't (or don't want to) be exhaustive with my language. I can post every day, as much or as little as I like, which means that consistency isn't a challenge. However that very thing also diverts my energies away from focused posts in this platform. It's always therapeutic, in a way, to put thoughts to "paper," and I am working on ways to integrate blogging back into my more regular practice again. That said, if you don't already follow me on Instagram, you can find me at @firstearthtarot :)

So back to the moment. In many ways the texture of my life seems to be finding a calmer and more predicable pattern after a 2017 spent largely on destruction, release, reorganization, new connections, purging, dis-integration, chaos, discomfort - you know, fire and brimstone, basically. The Tower was a pretty common daily draw. And yet while life is ebbing away from the deep, frequent (and exhausting) rise-and-fall of energetic currents, there are artifacts left in the wake; items that cannot simply be strolled over, but that rather urgently demand the attentions of my consciousness. It is the next phase in some new and unfolding chapter. An IG challenge prompt for today asked:

What is really holding me back? (And how can I work with that energy?)

Surt 🔥 and Fenrir 🐺 from the Giants Tarot:
A powerful duo, that speaks in layers and very clearly. Fenrir's is an interesting tale. Son of Loki and Angrboda, it was prophesied that he would be Odin’s end, and so the Aesir bound him on an isolated isle until Ragnarok. The funny thing about prophecies is that we can never be entirely sure that the actions we take to avoid them aren’t precisely the actions that cause them to manifest. Perhaps it was the very binding of Fenrir that produced the deep, ferocious, all-consuming fury that ensured Odin’s ultimate demise.

It is interesting to speak of binding when the prompt today is itself about restraint.

What am I holding back? 
What lurking shadows act like chains to my limbs? 
What simmering power must be released from its pot in order not to boil over? 
Will restraint lead to resentment, a wave of potent sentiment that only ever turns back on itself eventually?

If the Aesir had not bound Fenrir, but developed relationship with him (as had Tyr prior to betrayal), how might the story have been different?

So, perhaps the key lies in the (continued) deepening of my relationship to my own shadow self; it lies in making space to understand and recognize those emotions, to let them breathe, so that they do not consume me. 🔥🐺⛓🔥

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Triumph of Life Tarot: Cancer Sucks!

The Triumph of Life Tarot has been a few years in the making. Over 70 artists came together to create a deck to help fund cancer research. All of the artists who participated have been touched in some way or another by cancer. I created the art for the 6 of Disks, dedicated to my brother-in-law, José Manuel, who died of lung cancer. The card backs feature the initials of those the artwork honors.
Andrew McGregor of Toronto's The Hermit's Lamp spearheaded and coordinated this large and time-consuming project. He writes this about it:

First, get a bunch of people to contribute art to a tarot deck whose focus is the celebration of life. Make it as inspirational and life affirming as possible without denying the hardships we might face along the way.

Each artist would strive to create a card that answers the question ‘How does this image help us get from a place of loss and suffering to a place of joy and remembering?’

Second, print up the deck and sell them.

Third, take the profits and donate them to cancer research.

So 72 artists came together and made it happen!
Here is a selection of card images:
For information on the deck and how to acquire one when they become available on November 1st check out thehermitslamp.com 🙏🏼

Monday, October 2, 2017

What Are Your Names?

I am participating in the research project of a Heathen acquaintance, and while working on a questionnaire that in part discussed "labels," I was inspired to create my own version of stanzas 46-54 of the Grimnismal (a poem in the Poetic Edda where Odin lists his many names).
What would you say about yourself? What are your names? How have people known you? This is just a draft of my own, but it was quite thought-provoking to consider:

I have been called Peace-Maker, and Ungrateful, 
Kind-Heart, Leader, 
Gentle One, and Tall-Girl.
I have been called Diviner, and Image-Maker,
Furious, and Schemer.
I have called myself Scholar and Loner,
Herb-Harvester, and Shy.
Joyful-Spirit, Heart-Breaker, 
Weak-One, and Strong-One,
Dancer and Fearful and Brave.
They called me Strange-One in Bergvik’s hall, 
But Quiet at Titus’s place.
I was called Odd-Duck, and Mystery
Observer, and Terrible,
Rude, and Filthy, and Fearsome.
Olivia is my name, but before that I was 
Battle-Avoider and Laughter-Wise.
I think all these names were used for me alone.

I may add to this over time, but it was a great exercise. If you decide to write your own, please feel free to share it with me!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ghost Dance: Thoughts About the Sacred Vision Oracle

Today is the first day of October, and hence the first day of the multitude of shadow work challenges on Instagram (I'll be participating in two - I love me some shadow work!). So it feels appropriate to post about something I've been mulling over - and to an extent avoiding - over the past week: my struggle with certain aspects of the newly released Sacred Vision Oracle cards. (To be honest, I didn't even want to talk about this - ever. But my sister urged me to, and I decided to listen.)

I was browsing online a couple of weeks back when I happened across this deck. Whenever I see indigenous-related work the first inclination I have is to verify that the artist is of that same cultural background, and so I was pleased to learn that the images in Sacred Visions were painted by Robert Taylor, an Oklahoma artist with ancestral roots in four indigenous nations. Lynn Andrews created the concept for the deck, and I'm superficially aware that she has written several books on shamanism (I can't speak to her abilities or legitimacy, so I won't). As I understand it, the images for these oracle cards were derived from pre-existing artwork as opposed to having been created specifically for it, and I think that's important: when artwork is matched to a concept after its creation there are often at least some wrinkles in the final product (it's possible that I'm wrong about the way in which the deck was conceived, though if so, I am even more confused by what feels to me like forced congruities).

I want to say that I love the quality and intensity of Robert Taylor's paintings. As often happens with important artwork, the images and symbolism can be provocative and moving. That is good. However I am not always comfortable with the way in which certain "oracular messages" are juxtaposed with some of the more sobering and loaded images, and I'll use just one as an example. I drew this card one morning several days ago and it stopped me completely in my tracks insofar as open work with the deck is concerned (I still haven't resumed regular card draws with it):
In this painting, an indigenous man floats above the earth with hands upraised, showing the Christian symbol of stigmata on his palms. This carries so much historical weight. Robert Taylor himself suggests that this figure is meant to represent a Ghost dancer. Ghost dancing was a movement among many indigenous communities in the 19th Century, said to have been sparked by a vision received by the Paiute holy man, Wovoka, who dreamed that Jesus was reborn as an indigenous man with the purpose of protecting indigenous communities. The dance was meant to call back the spirits of the dead to help put an end to the ravages of Euro-American colonialism and to establish peace in the land. Black Elk, the famous Lakota spiritual leader, had received a related vision about the creation of special Ghost dance shirts that would repel bullets. The Wounded Knee massacre is said to in part have been triggered by resistance of a Lakota man, Yellow Bird, to the demand by U.S. soldiers to surrender weapons. He began to Ghost dance, asking others to join him, reminding them that their shirts protected them from the soldiers' bullets. There is so much more to the story of this horrific massacre, and I encourage everyone to learn about what happened there. Needless to say (perhaps) the soldiers' fear ultimately led them to kill more than 150 men, women, and children that had been herded into the Wounded Knee encampment.

I have been to Wounded Knee on several occasions as part of work with the Oglala Lakota nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and it's hard to describe the pain that is still palpable there. I would break down quite unexpectedly each time I visited the cemetery. The subjugation of the First Nations though murder and the spread of communicable diseases is one of the most egregious stains on the history of this country, and the effects are still evident today.

When I see images like this, I feel grief. I see powerful and charged symbolism in the correlation of the destruction and dismantling of indigenous culture, language, and communities to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I am disgusted by it, too. The painting itself is extraordinarily powerful. To elicit these feelings and thoughts in and of itself is a journey through shadow.

But then it is coupled with this description:
I've read this a multitude of times, and I'm still not sure what Lynn Andrews is trying to say. Is she suggesting that the literal interpretation of visions by two important indigenous leaders was an unfortunate mistake that led to more deaths than might have been necessary? Is she saying that colonialism sucks, but it's more important to buck up and move forward? Is she equating the desperation of indigenous peoples to being "unaware of true reality"? Why is the card called "Vision" when some aspects of the card narrative seem to encourage a focus on the mundane? Why is the subtitle "Heaven Is Where You Find It?" What does this last line, "Heaven is before you; your dreams are coming true," have to do with an image of a Ghost dancer (whose visions certainly did not manifest)? The guidebook provides a small reflection on the "spirit of the card" which is easier to get my head around: For what do you hunger? What makes you float in a state of grace? If I divorce the message from the card image, I can grab hold of some interesting food for thought and reflection (an essential purpose of oracle decks). I can't, however, manage it when the card narrative is on the flip side of the card image.

So what do I do with this? If I continue to work with this deck, do I take the card descriptions with a grain of salt (or else not read them at all), and focus mainly - or solely - on symbolism in the images? (To be fair, not all image-description combinations are as jarring as this one). Do I scrap this as an oracle altogether and frame the pictures as a mini art gallery of Robert Taylor's stunning work? I'm undecided. For the time being I may continue tentative work with these cards, though I'm not sure that I will talk much about the experience in any public forum. I'll follow my heart where it leads me in relation to this matter, but I at the very least agree that my sister was right when she suggested that it was worth putting my perspective out into the ether.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Njördr and Re-Membering Myself

I asked Njördr for a message; something to help change my perspective on this *thing*.... Soon I will meet a colleague to share our artwork with each other. It was a suggestion on his part to help encourage me as I get back into drawing and painting, and I am grateful for that intention. And yet I keep finding myself anxious or unprepared, worrying that my pieces aren't good enough. It's really annoying, and I don't want to feel this way, but it is nevertheless how I feel.
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot
I don't think I could imagine more appropriate cards for this matter. The Page is my creative self - the one that doesn't judge or compare - only expresses. The 8 of Swords represents my mental cage, my self-imposed limitations. Strength shows me that I am so much bigger than those needling thoughts and fears, tells me to show myself compassion, and embrace the fullness of my own being. I love how the Page and Strength look in at the 8 of Swords, perfectly equal to the task of releasing these blockages.

Mannaz reinforces the fact that this is all tied up in how I see myself, and myself in relation to others - and it's time for a narrative shift.

I spoke to Njördr at the ocean the other day, and asked him to help me remember who I am. I have indeed felt myself re-membering over the past week, calling back parts of myself. This is one of them.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Kitchen Witchery: Making an Arnica Salve

My husband has been suffering from a pinched nerve that has made his entire arm and shoulder feel as if lit on fire. For nearly two weeks he's been wrought with constant pain from the nerve and associated muscle soreness and tightness. Prescriptions and over-the-counter muscle creams couldn't touch it. A few days ago he reminded me of an arnica salve that I'd made a couple of years ago - I had totally forgotten! (The helenalin in arnica montana serves as a powerful topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic*) So I set out to make another, and was pleased to find that I had everything I needed on hand:

A cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of beeswax
Dried arnica montana flowers (about a half cup)
Rosemary essential oil 

There are a couple of ways to create herb oils, and due to time I chose the short method: letting the dried flowers steep in hot oil for 30 minutes (being very careful to keep the stovetop heat low so as not to cook the herbs).
While the oil was doing its thing, I set about chopping up the beeswax (you can use beeswax beads which work perfectly well, but raw beeswax is something special!)
I paused halfway through and lit a green candle for the healing goddess Eir. May this salve effectively help ease Jorge's pain. Since my arnica wasn't extra fresh, I also asked for a little boost in the potency of the herb itself. I thanked the plant, and its source. I opened my heart to Eir in invitation.
I traced the runes Uruz and Kenaz over the heating oil, and chanted their names quietly. After 30 minutes I strained the oil into a saucepan.

Then, at very low heat, I added in the beeswax and about five drops of essential oil. As the beeswax melted, I used a wooden chopstick to stir.
As I was preparing this salve rather out of the blue, I didn't have a jar or other receptacle ready to receive it. I decided to use a small glass storage bowl that has a fitted lid. As soon as the beeswax was fully integrated, I poured the salve into the bowl to cool.
Cooling is a surprisingly fast process, almost as if the wax desperately wants to be solid and is trying to return to that state as quickly as possible. Within an hour (probably less) I was spreading it over Jorge's back and shoulder and arm.
There is something truly magical-feeling about creating medicines out of such simple and natural ingredients. When it works, it almost seems like an accident, or something too good to be true. It's silly to feel that way, but we are so trained to rely on pharmaceuticals (most of which are based on plants anyway!). And so I found myself entirely warmed over and thoroughly pleased when Jorge reported to me a couple of days later that this arnica salve has been the only medicine to make a substantial difference in his pain level (his exact words were: "You should label this stuff 'miracle salve'"). It is this rather humble blend of plants and oils and wax that has managed to provide true relief.

*Arnica is toxic to consume orally unless specially prepared by a certified homeopathic practitioner.