the train to the north

Touching and insightful in equal measure. Wonderful piece of writing, observation, and reflection.

dhamma footsteps

POSTCARD #267: Newcastle-Inverness journey: Head spinning with ear-popping air pressures and momentum of the great storm that brought me here. The travel industry is the largest network in the world. Miles of corridors, two planes, Delhi/ Amsterdam/ Newcastle and the train to the North. Everything is linked with everything else – absolutely everything… who runs it all? (is there a God?) Inappropriate question; taxis, escalators, the spinning flow of it just moving along by itself. I jump on a train to Scotland and join the others already there. Get my seat, and we’re all swept away by these huge mountain scenes passing through the train, opening up in the windows, then changing to the next picture.

Train arrives at my stop, a small town I visited when I was a kid, long ago and far away. I feel like a stranger now, my whole reason for being here is to…

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A Gift for the Seer

“Inner Oracle”
Copyright: Carlos-Quevedo (on DeviantArt)

The Clan has gathered. The Seer has returned. Mother to many, yet mother to none. She appears tired. A lifetime of mundane query has taken a toll.

The Lights process, following a sacred path to the Seeing Stone.

The Guide stands, Portal Guardian, as the Seer prepares; awakening the stones, one by one; calling the Sentinels, and opening the Portals of Hope, Strength, and Truth.

The Ancestors gather.

The Guide collects each Light in turn, “Do you have a question, for the Seer?”

The question, heard only by the Guide, is carried, with the Light, into the Sanctuary. The Seer awaits.

The Temple falls away. Infinite circle of darkness. A star. The Seer awaits.

The Eye in the open Heart. Stone upon stone. The Seer awaits.

Sinking into the light. Ancestors whisper.

Gems of Truth cast into the void. Ancestors whisper.

The Seer gathers the lots. Ancestors whisper.

The Seer speaks.

My gift? Is not nearly enough…

(Part of “The Feathered Seer” series)

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The Feathered Seer – Part 3 (No. Really. The Feathered Seer!)

Nine Ladies Stone Circle, Stanton Moor
Copyright: Graham Dunn

During the exploration session on Spirit Animals, presented during The Silent Eye (a modern mystery school) “Leaf and Flame: the Foliate Man” weekend in 2016, one of the companions enquired about “Shape-shifting”. Since this was outside the scope of the discussion, the concept was briefly addressed without going into any real detail. It was, therefore, with some surprise, that I found myself agreeing to present an exploration session on the topic during “The Feathered Seer” weekend in 2017.

As April approached, the usual buzz of anticipation built towards the day that the work-book was released, and roles revealed. Most surprised, therefore, when an email arrived indicating the “costume” arrangements for the weekend. Other than the, at this stage, mysterious “Weaver” and “Spinner”, only I would be required to be costumed: in the role of Shaman. This made it easy, as I probably had a few things lying around which would foot the bill.

As it turned out, this was a double blessing, as neither Robe, nor Shell were to be found. Ironically, both would make a reappearance, pretty much where they were always believed to reside, before the weekend was out!

The work-book, when it arrived, proved to be a masterful crafting of ritual movement, wrapped in a touching storyline; at once intimately personal, and, ultimately, Universal. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was fully “ready” to experience the Temple energies that the unfolding of such a story was likely to unleash, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the Shaman of the Raven Clan.

Did I mention synchronicity?

The exploration session I’d outlined focussed on the reasons why shape-shifting appears so difficult. It isn’t that we cannot do it, indeed we do a form of shape-shifting on a daily basis, without ever really thinking about it. It is only when we come to consider shifting into a form other than human that we become stuck: in a variety of fears, ultimately centred on the persistent illusion which we fear most. The weekend, unknown to me, would approach an inspection of the root, and illusory nature, of these very same fears.

Ghost Dance, Mary Wright.
(Source and story here)

It took much longer than usual to find a motel, and it was with some relief that I managed to secure a room around midnight. In hindsight, it was probably just as well; allowing regalia to be “smuggled” from car to room (and back, in the morning) with few observers. By the time I finally lay down, I expected to be out like a light… that’s when the “itch” started. Something wasn’t right. It wasn’t till around 3am that I finally caught on… and with no idea how I was to explain this odd “change to the plan” to the Directors of the School, I promptly fell asleep.

Wandering into the Queen Anne, Friday lunchtime, of a Silent Eye weekend pretty much guarantees finding “the usual suspects”. Hugs, helloes, and “Oh, by the way, I might be about to completely mess up everything, but I need to make a change to the script…” They accepted this news much more readily than I could have imagined possible.

What had come the night before was the realisation that the Clan would not rely on a single individual, the Shaman, to Cense the Sacred Space. Indeed, opening and cleansing the Space would have been, very much, a community activity. Prior to Ritual 1, then, I found myself teaching the basic steps required for the Companions to perform a round dance. Not only that, but directing them to be aware of the possibility of “recollecting the Song of the Raven Clan” seemed rather fantastical, even as I was saying it.

Weaver and Spinner

With some trepidation, I then explained their new role to the “Weaver” and the “Spinner”. Handing over your most sacred object, in complete trust, is a big ask. I shouldn’t have worried. Both executed their new duties with such reverence for the Drum, that it was only a matter of time before a snippet of the Song would be revealed in all its unexpected glory.

The Shaman was to “stand, off” for the first three rituals. Thankfully, one of the Companions would be unable to arrive until Ritual 3. I say thankfully, as only in Ritual 3 was I required to “stand, off”, playing the missing Companion’s part in the first two. I say thankfully, as  the energies raised in the round dancing, to the Mother’s Heartbeat, filled the Space so completely that they were all but palpable. As the Companions passed the Light, and themselves, along the ritual pathways of the Hexaflow, it became all but impossible to maintain any sense of equilibrium as “Watcher”.

It was only to get worse, of course, in Ritual 4. It seemed simple enough on paper. Take the assembled Companions on a guided meditation, preparing to take them on a physical journey to “face their fears”. What transpired, was most unexpected, as I found myself walking: first the circuit of the Temple, the triangle, another circuit, then the Hexaflow, followed by a final circuit, at the end of which I found myself, Staff now in hand, completely shaken, disassembled and brought together in a new Octave

Raven Landing
Found online. Copyright Unknown.

How my fading, ever-shifting voice affected the Companions, I can only guess. That the text was such perfect length to allow that journey, depositing me in the exact place required, and prepared, in full regalia, to accompany the first of the Companions on their own journey through the Veil, remains a mystery. If I tried it now, out of the Space, and the combined Energies thereof, I really don’t believe it entirely possible.

Nor do I believe that it is possible to attend such a weekend and return unchanged. It usually takes several weeks to fully recover a sense of equilibrium in the “everyday”, and for the “lessons” to merge, and become “part” of the “re-newed” you. Those to whom we return, in the “real” world, may even look on us with a different eye, trying to figure out what is “different”, what has “changed”. Yet, ironically, it is not us, but they, who have been changed by our experience of it…

The exploration? Ah. Yes. That went… well(?) Or as well as might have been expected when you get lost in “What it is to be human…” [Coming soon…]

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Unexpected Shaman (1)

An extraordinary series of posts. Thoroughly recommend…

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

The Silent Eye


Jerome (not his real name, but those are his hands) had been teaching us some elementary Spanish.

We had been advised that the lesson was half an hour later than billed, but it had started on time. By the time we got there, the other two students were well ensconced in the picture cards that match local Mexican animals with their Spanish names.

I should have known then, really… Stuart, in particular, would have smiled, given the starring role the similarly sized Druid Animal cards had played in the previous year’s Silent Eye workshop – Leaf and Flame.

At the end of Jerome’s hour, he was drawing things to a close when he began to refer to the Mayan temple at Chichen Itza – our single destination for a very long day, tomorrow.
In response to a question about the geometry of its construction, he said, ‘You have to be…

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is there anything?

dhamma footsteps

POSTCARD #266: Delhi-Newcastle flight: There’s something about these long, high altitude journeys – this flight is only 9 hours but long enough to realize, as the hours and miles go by, we have totally left our place of origin… everyone seated, seatbelts fastened, and facing the direction of travel, committed to going ahead with ‘the plan’ which is still in its unimplemented state at this time, and rushing towards that reality at 600 miles per hour in a huge forward-facing directionalized force – teeth-clenched momentum.

Where we are in the meantime is so obviously unimportant, there’s a small fold down table, a reading light, a TV screen. Look outside and we’re in a nowhere place. A strange fractured light, clinical bluish-white, in a place of no-place, just the sensory receptors; eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin-feeling, and mind, in a shared space. Seeing the events without the story. Seeing the seeing…

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The Feathered Seer – Song of the Raven Clan

The elders gather; to the stones; all that remain of the Raven Clan.

The Shaman, bearing the Mother’s heartbeat, draws to the centre of the assembly; there to be joined by the Spinner, and the Weaver of Lore.

The Weaver kneels, offering a reverent hand skyward, readying himself to receive, and to support, the sacred, living, and breathing connection to the Creator.

Spirit of Deer. Spirit of Maple.

The drum-keeper, bows; surrendering his most hallowed charge, in trust, to the Weaver.

The Spinner stands in patient deference, awaiting the honour of Grandmother’s arm.

The drum-keeper, bows; surrendering his most hallowed charge, in trust, to the Spinner.

A contemplative pause. Respect the moment. Await the breath…

Grandmother speaks. The Circle turns. Silence. The Song of the Raven Clan; lost, long ago.

Spirit of Deer. Spirit of Maple.

Thunder roar. The Mother’s heart.

Beats.

In a brief, joyous moment, the Spinner hears; and is reminded.

Her Spirit bursts forth.

The Song of the Raven Clan; reborn.

~~~

This post is a little bit naughty. It is really “The Feathered Seer – Part 4”. However, Part 3 is yet to be writ, and the Song wasn’t willing to wait…

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Spirit Animals

This post is based on the outline of an exploration session presented at The Silent Eye  (a modern mystery school) “Leaf and Flame: the Foliate Man” weekend in 2016. Whilst I have attempted to retain some of the flavour, and changes in direction, of the actual talk, the interactive elements of the exploration are absent, and since most of it was done “on  the hoof”, it is not really a true reflection of the session. Many of the sections are expanded considerably from that presented on the day…

~~~

Sourced from internet. Artist unknown.

Whether we recognise it or not, we receive guidance, often in areas in which we have no direct experience, from what can only be considered an “external” source. This “subconscious” guidance may be considered to emanate from many sources, including “spirit animals“.

Belief in spirit, and spirit guidance, is firmly rooted in the Paleolithic. Much rock art remaining from that time includes the shamanic “conjuring” of animals, the dedication of the hunt, and relies on the primary concept that there is no separation between the physical object, its spirit, and the depiction of that object in art.

This system of belief is referred to as animism.

In animistic society, everything is considered “as”, “containing”, or “of” spirit. In additional to the Gods and the Ancestors, this included objects in nature; stones, trees, springs, mountains, and streams; the forces of nature; wind, rain, lightning, and fire; the inexplicable nomads; the stars, sun, moon, and tides; humans, themselves, and the plants and animals upon which they relied in order to survive.

A core principle, in living a hunter-gatherer existence, particularly at higher latitudes in which times of uncertainty and scarcity would be the norm in certain seasons, was that of gratitude; for each new day, for continuing health, and, particularly, for the sacrifice of spirit made by the animals and plants on which they survived.

[Group discussion: expressing gratitude for everything we eat. The spirit of breakfast and the sacrifices thereof.]

We know how our Paleolithic ancestors thought, because there are still societies who maintain a hunter-gatherer existence. Much of what we know, of course, has been gleaned from cultures destroyed by exposure to European agricultural civilisation: Native Americans and Australian Aboriginals, when first encountered, remained largely unchanged, reliant upon, and completely in balance with nature.

It was our Ancestors of the Neolithic period who began to shift away from merely subsisting. Taming and controlling nature, however, came at significant cost. Whilst periods of food scarcity might be generally avoided, the invention of agriculture ended a hitherto nomadic lifestyle, and required considerable investment of both time and energy to be successful. (Every Monday morning, as you press the snooze button for the third time, it is your Neolithic Ancestors whom you should thank for the invention of work!)

With the move from nomadic to a settled cultural model, Nature slowly lost her spirits. The objects of gratitude shifted to the spirit of “things”: land, seed, livestock; leading to a perversion of the relationship between Man and Nature. The Gods, ultimately, supplanted by the veneration of Things.

Talking of things.

It is important to make a distinction. A totem animal is NOT a spirit animal, despite the two phrases being all too freely regarded as interchangeable in much discussion on the subject. Totem is strictly reserved for a sacred object that acts as an emblem, either of a group of people, a clan or a tribe. This may be a natural object which has the appearance of the symbol for which it stands, or a man-made object which serves the same function. In this respect, a “totem animal” might be a carved representation of that animal, or its spirit; but never the spirit animal itself.

Although you may hear otherwise, you CANNOT choose your spirit animals. They choose you! The form of that choosing can take many forms; including appearing in dreams, physical sightings in unusual circumstances, “signs” and “symbolic” appearance which have a significance beyond the mundane reality of that appearance.

There are four main types of spirit animal which you may readily encounter without much effort.

The first of these is the Messenger. This augury has a single, definite purpose for appearing in your life. He may be persistent, but generally comes and leaves quickly, especially if you remain open to hearing and accepting the guidance he has come to impart.

The second is the Shadow guide. You probably know this one better than you realise; this guide fills you with fear. It is very worthwhile to spend quality time with the Shadow: understanding the source, and root, of your reaction will assist in shedding the fear that he engenders.

The third is the Journey guide. This spirit animal walks your current path with you, guiding and following in turn. He may be with you for a considerable amount of time, sometimes a whole lifetime, but can also change should you choose to walk a different path, come to a major crossroads, or following a significant crisis.

Finally, the Life guide, of whom we will speak further, remains with you through your entire life. Irrespective of changes in direction, life circumstances, or belief in self, he remains constant.

In a modern context, devoid of belief in such things as Spirit, how can we best consider the concept of spirit animals, in a manner both recognising their inherent power to inform, and accepting their validity as a guiding force?

Probably the easiest way, is to see them as an extension to Jung’s Archetypes. Indeed, the four archetypes of Jung align surprisingly well (with a little work) with the spirit animal types outlined above. It is worth noting, of course, that, as with working with Jung’s archetypes, each spirit animal brings a negative aspect, not just a positive one. The importance of being open to the negative message; refusing to fall into a “habit” of focusing only on the positive; certainly if the experience is to be one of meaningful, spiritual expansion and growth, cannot be overstated.

Of course, since we are at a Silent Eye weekend, it must be possible to reconcile the teaching tool of the school with the archetypal model proposed. Luckily, it may be easier than anticipated!

Around each of us, at all times, there are nine spirit animals. In addition, each of us are guided by a significant group of ancestral spirits, grounded by spirit of place, and maintain spirit connections with a wide range of events, people, and concepts which are important to our personal expression of Self.

The nine spirit animals “choose” us at birth, but can change as we develop spiritually, physically and emotionally.

Six of them are directly associated with the six directions. Correspondences, which may differ depending on the tradition being expressed, are:

  • East – spiritual connection
  • West – personal truth
  • North – gratitude
  • South – trust
  • Below – grounding
  • Above – connection to Great Spirit

The other three are considered critical aspects informing the outward expression of our deepest self :

  • Centre – usually our life guide. Informs how we express our inner joy, core personality traits, and our path to personal truth
  • Left – expression of our feminine aspect; including relationships, and nurture of others
  • Right – expression of our masculine aspect; including courage, and our inner warrior

If you show willingness to communicate with them, each of these spirit animals will communicate more joyfully and openly with you. One way to achieve this, is to spend time with a totem of an animal to which you feel drawn. So, this morning, we will work with the totem cards you chose yesterday, and, hopefully, you may get something adding to what you may have already managed last night.

[Group exercise:

  • Exchange of breath – making the initial connection to the spirit animal through the intermediary of the totem.
  • Imagination! – Be open to whatever comes. We haven’t defined spirit, for good reason, as “it” may present very differently to each if us.
  • Sound! – journey work through use of drum and rattle.

Optional sharing of experience. ]

So how can we develop a closer relationship with our own spirit animals, and become more open to the guidance they offer on our path? **

  • Spend more time in nature
  • Express gratitude often; particularly to the spirit of the animals and plants sustaining us
  • Observe animals and how they act, and react – what is their nature?
  • Pay attention when an animal appears in your life – particularly if repeated
  • Pay attention to animals appearing in dreams
  • Consider animals that you are drawn to
  • Meditate
  • Keep a journal
  • LOOK for patterns
  • Finally, find out what the spirit animal’s associations are. Use more than one source, but REMEMBER, your own associations and personal insights are always more important than anything that external sources might say.

~~~

** Irrespective of the tradition we follow, spirit animal work has something to offer. After all, no-one told the spirit animals that they had nothing to provide in supporting our desire to become Buddha / the greatest Magician since John Dee / Satan’s little helper…

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