Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alternative Thanksgiving

In our family, we are vegetarians (which has nothing to do with being a shaman), so for Thanksgiving, we celebrate a little differently than some of the folks around us. We do go to visit friends and share the big meal of the day, eschewing the Turkey. One year we tried a Tofurkey, but it wasn't for us.

But at some point over the holiday, we take a trip to the zoo. This may seem just another form of unkindness to our animal friends, but we are lucky enough to live in Miami, and we have a wonderful zoo here that is cageless and renowned for research and conservation programs. I do believe that the animals there are treated well. And the weather is always spectacular this time of year (sorry to my norther readers). Plus it is a huge zoo, so we easily walk off many of the calories from sweet potatoes, pecan pie, green bean casserole, cornbread, etc.

This year, I spent some time thinking of totem animals and what they have to offer us. The most obvious example is the pair of Andean Condors that our zoo has, because the form of shamanism that I practice comes from Peru, and the Condor is associated with one of the four directions. We thank Condor every time we open or close sacred space, and it was lovely to be able to thank this pair in person.

But the one that struck me most was a giant tortoise who walked, very slowly, across an expanse of grass right up to the fence to visit us. He stayed at the fence for a long time, looking at us as my daughters looked at him. I don't think I've ever noticed a tortoises's eyes before, and they were so kind and patient, as was he. My preschooler has had a peaked interest in the story of the tortoise and the hare this week, so it was a special treat for her.

When I read over the message for Tortoise, I realized the importance for my own life. Tortoise teaches patience and focus. I have recently been in a period of lacking focus (starting several new blogs, writing pieces here and there, working sporadically on my novel) and have been frustrated at the lack of progress. It is said that when tortoise comes into your life, he is ready to share his ancient wisdom. I thank tortoise for his gift at this appropriate time.

Look around in your own life at this time of hectic schedules. The holidays increase everyone's pace. Could you benefit from the lessons of patience and steady focus offered by Tortoise?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November Shamanism Gifts



Shamanism is a spiritual practice that honors the Earth and all of her inhabitants including plants, stones, winged creatures, those who swim, four leggeds and two leggeds, as well as all of nature including the great Star Nation and our sun, moon, and planets. Shamanism is practiced by indigenous peoples throughout North and South America and has roots in Mayan and Native American culture.

In practicing shamanism, the medicine worker seeks ways to connect with the natural world and import meaning from the experience. Various methods are available to the Shaman to find guidance for specific questions or issues, including power animals and journeying.


One method of divining personal messages of significance is through animal totems, or power animals. An individual’s animal totem may come to him through a dream, by visitation in the physical world, or by other representations such as an affinity for a particular piece of art depicting an animal. Power animals may come for a specific time or may remain with an individual for a lifetime.

For November, students of astrology in the United States would typically associate the power animal Scorpion. Those who feel the connection to Scorpion may learn to use self-defense and preparedness to their advantage, as the scorpion teaches vigilance. Because scorpions molt several times over their lifespan, metamorphosis and openness to change may be lessons for scorpion medicine workers. Passion, fearlessness, and waiting for the right opportunity before striking are also associated with this totem.

Scorpios may also carry the gifts of the Eagle and the Phoenix. The Eagle is a pervasive and important symbol throughout shamanic cultures. Shamans call on the Eagle, which is associated with the East direction, for opening sacred space to begin any medicine work. The Eagle teaches us to fly high above our world to see the overall picture, and still have the ability to focus in on one particular aspect in great detail. The Phoenix offers us the gift of death and rebirth, allowing fire to burn away all that is not part of our essential nature. Use of fire is important in Shamanic ceremonies as a cleansing power that releases energetic impurities. Each death by fire of Phoenix brings him closer to pure energy.

For those who feel drawn to Native American astrology, the month of November is characterized by the Eel and the Snake. Eels are very mysterious creatures who are masters of disguise and camouflage. Snake is a powerful healing totem animal across every shamanic practice. Snakes are also a symbol of molting, shedding their skin all at once to emerge anew, leaving behind that which no longer serves a purpose.

Those interested in the Mayan calendar may notice an affinity for the Owl or Peacock. While each particular breed of Owl bears distinct gifts, the Owl in general bears the gifts of reincarnation and acute sight. During November, the young male Peacocks start to regrow their tail feathers. The long, colorful plumage associated with peacocks falls off after mating season is over, then starts to come back in during the winter to reach peak beauty for the Spring mating. This reminds us of the cycle of nature in its perfect order, and in November, it is a promise of the coming season of plenty.

Should you feel an affinity for one of the power animals, you may seek your own specific meaning from this association. However, in seeking an overall message for the month of November, there is a commonality among the animals in symbols of molting, burning away the past, shedding skin, and going forth anew. If this resonates with you, determine what no longer serves a purpose for you and know that you are in alignment with nature and receiving support.


Another shamanic practice for determining personal and worldly messages is the Journey. Typically, a shamanic journey will be induced by rhythmic drumming that alters the energetic vibration and allows a shift in consciousness for the shaman. The shaman enters this state when seeking guidance for a particular question.

In preparing for this column, I journeyed and asked for a message for the month of November. In keeping with the power animals at work this month, I chose to call on the Eagle spirit to be my guide. Often, there is great joy in experiencing the power in the Eagle’s flight, but I sensed a feeling of needing to relocate or move from a current situation or location, and the Eagle provides the necessary perspective to seek out a more appropriate physical, emotional, or spiritual location. I was reminded of the old saying that when we are in trouble, we see only what is directly ahead, but God sees around the corners, as a more familiar representation of this journey. I asked for a gift to bring back, and the answer I received was “courage.” If this feels appropriate for you, if you are leaving one location or situation for another that is more suitable, then enjoy the gift.


Shamanism also honors the connection between the lineage, those ancestors who have gone before and those who are yet to come, including you in your perfect place in time and in the lineage.

For readers who will celebrate Thanksgiving this November, it is an appropriate time to include thankfulness for your own lineage. Take a moment to honor those who have gone before and receive their gifts with gratitude. Then hold a dream for the future, for those yet to come in your own lineage and in the world. Look around at your family members gathered together and see how the lineage flows through each one. Make note of any particularly strong image or impression to find your own personal message.

Dreaming for the world to come

Beginning in December, you will also be able to find my monthly reports on The Cosmic Path