Shrines

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Yesterday in my post about altars, shrines and sacred places, shrines didn’t really get a mention. Today I thought I’d share with you the little that I learnt about shrines when I was fortunate enough to visit whilst in Japan last year.

There I learnt that the difference between a temple and a shrine was that a temple contained a representation of something whereas a shrine didn’t. I am sure this is incredibly simplistic but basically, in Japan at least, a Buddhist Temple contained a representation of Buddha, one or more altars and could be entered, whereas a Shinto Shrine was simply a building that housed the spirit of whatever the shrine was dedicated to. Although the area around a shrine could be entered the shrine itself could not be.

Although there are shrines everywhere in Japan  the sacred mountain of Mount Kurama near Kyoto is dotted with them all dedicated to an individual spirit, often one connected with an aspect of nature, which is itself at the heart of Shinto.

All of the images here are a small selection of the shrines on Mount Kurama.

 

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It’s November

imageI know it’s November because I put the dried fruit for the Christmas Cake in soak yesterday 🙂  I do this every year and my cake is always yummy. The first year I lived in Ireland, with a great deli to shop in I bought fresh fruit for the cake and because the fruit was so moist it didn’t soak up the alcohol and the cake wasn’t half as good. Lesson learnt.

Anyway, I didn’t really aim to be writing about my Christmas Cake, more the fact that I without it I would have trouble believing it’s November. The sky is blue and the sun is shining plus it’s really mild. All the windows are open and despite the leaves on the ground the garden is looking very green still.

I kind of missed October completely as I was away in Japan. There the weather was also amazingly warm and sunny although it didn’t stop the leaves of the maple trees turning the most wonderful shades of orange and red. Despite being keen to plant native plants wherever possible I am now looking at getting a Japanese Maple for the garden especially as I know they grow here as there is a beautiful specimens outside a cafe in town.

Before I went to Japan nature had gifted me some oak saplings. These I carefully planted in tubs but before long most of them were looking unwell and now they are just twigs 😦 I do though have one healthy sapling, which after all is all I really need 🙂 This I know will also lose it’s leaves soon, appearing to die so that it can rest and gather its strength for the spring when it hopefully bursts into bud once again.

Normally by now I would also be thinking about gathering things in, shutting down a little, starting to conserve my energy and preparing for the winter so that I am in tune with the seasons. It is after all the start of the New Year being the time after Samhain, the time when things are still, where we enter the dark time, the time where seeds are sown and nurtured ready for the Spring, but with the weather the way it is it is hard to believe that it is time to do this yet.

I have actually been shut down for a couple of months now, hibernating, recharging and reflecting. This process isn’t finished yet but I am aware that change is afoot. On a personal level it feels more like stepping into Spring already so for the next while I am going to be watching for signs and symbols, messages from both ordinary and non ordinary reality to help me understand what it is that I need to do now.

For the moment though I am going to enjoy the gift of today, I am going to enjoy the sunshine, the warmth, the garden and will watch the birds who are very active today. It is unlikely to be here for long so it’s important to be thankful and to make the most of it

Building a Dead Hedge

imageWe have been tidying up in our large and much neglected garden recently, part of my February spring clean perhaps. Part of this has meant curtailing the growth of our buddleia and fuchsia hedging and as you can probably guess, we have been left with a large amount of hedge offcuts in need of a home. We have a multi fuel stove and so larger offcuts have been trimmed and stored to dry out for later use as have small sticks for kindling but this still left a lot remaining.

As luck would have it, in the Sunday Times the other weekend was an article on how to make a ‘dead hedge’ and this had immediately captured our attention. Our garden is ‘neglected’ because we like it to look natural and to provide a habitat for wildlife if we can. On top of this I am always very reluctant to do any serious tidying up without working with the agreement of the spirits of the plants, however sometimes there does come a point where tidying just has to happen. What a ‘dead hedge’ does is provide a place where trimmed hedges can be laid out in such a way as to become, as they decay and die back, a habitat for wildlife. What wonderful recycling!

Stakes or poles are pushed into the soil in a line around 2ft apart, a second line of stakes is pushed in around 2ft from and parallel to the first. Offcuts of the trimmed hedges are then laid between the stakes. The bottom few layers are trodden down to compress them as much as possible so that they compress and can die back into the earth. In time the hedge will pack down so new layers can be added.

The buddleia hedging which had been neglected for several years looked too thick to make the ‘dead hedge’ but the thinner whippier fuchsia was perfect and so the ‘dead hedge’ in our garden has begun to take form. It is only a short length at present as it seemed sensible to try on a relatively small scale first and see how it worked, but we can add to it over time. The photo shows how it looked as we began to build it.

I for one am looking forward to observing the changes in the ‘dead hedge’ as the seasons come and go, to watching the lower layers begin to decay and to seeing what wildlife is attracted to make its home there.

Monday Musings – Earth

imageA long time ago now when I was on the threshold of stepping fully onto the path I now walk, I was taking part in a huge drum circle and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to lay on the floor surrounded by about sixty drummers drumming on shamanic frame drums. As I lay there on the ground I first of all heard the drums, the beat of the drummers, then the voices of the drums themselves singing in words as the sound circled around the room and around me. After this there were layers of sounds, both voices and the rhythm of the drum beat and finally underneath everything I heard another beat. Deep, deep within the Earth I heard the heartbeat of Mother Earth herself, an experience that affected me deeply and which has stayed with me ever since.

When I think of Earth it is of that heart beat, the energy that flows beneath me, the one that feeds me on a physical level, nourishing my body with every breath. Earth is the one that grounds me and helps me to function on a physical level in this incarnation. Earth is the mother that gives me and all things life.

Spring Cleaning

imageI can always feel my heart lift slightly when February comes to an end because I know then that the sun has more strength, the days are growing steadily longer and the cold weather, even if it has one, or two final encores, will soon lose its grip.

I am really not a winter person, I don’t enjoy the cold but if I am allowing myself to fully align with the seasons, I should learn to how to really appreciate that we need this time, knowing that seeds are being sown and germination is taking place deep within my being as it is within the earth.

So here I am at the start of February, not at the end no matter how much I might wish it could be so, and I fully intend to embrace this time of the year even though I may find it goes against all I would wish for.

A few years ago I discovered that Februarius was the original Roman name for February and that it was named after the Latin Februum meaning Purification. I also learnt that every year on 15th February, the night of the full moon in the old Roman Lunar calendar, a Purification ceremony known as Februa was held. February is also where we find the period known in the pagan wheel of the year as Imbolc which may have got its name from the old Irish Imb-tholc meaning to wash or cleanse oneself in a ritual cleansing. This may also of course be where our idea of Spring Cleaning came from. These discoveries gave me a way to approach the month that for me anyway, gives it a real purpose and helps me to both connect with it and appreciate it more fully.

So for me, using the month of February as a time of cleansing and purification makes complete sense and by doing so I know I am really preparing myself for the months ahead. In this way I am preparing the ground for the seeds of whatever I want to bring in during the year ahead. I have been doing this for the last few years but each year it takes a different form. This year I am much more drawn to a physical cleanse than I am to an energetic one which is what I would have been doing during previous years.

Now I’m not about to do as the Romans did and make the whole month a time of cleansing and purification, nor am I about to spring clean my whole house but I can think of a few places in the house and my healing room where I know I am holding onto books, papers and notes that I can’t ever imagine needing again, so probably this is a good place to start. I can already imagine a bit of recycling, a lot of re homing and of course some ritual burning to be going on with as well as the cleansing of the space that follows. It’s always nice to get guidance on the best way to do something like this though so I journeyed to gain insight into the most appropriate way for me this particular February.

I am sitting by a fire with my two teacher guides, around us the earth is covered in snow but despite this tiny snowdrops are in bloom, clusters of them, heads up looking cheerful against the cold snow. The fire is burning brightly and warming the ground around us creating a circle of heat, we are all wrapped up in blankets and I am told that even though I am looking to cleanse and purify I have no need to strip off and roll in the snow, I also need to keep warm and there is nothing wrong with this which I am delighted to hear. As we sit there I become aware of the sound of a horse and carriage and shortly one draws up nearby, a box is offloaded and handed to me. As I open it I see it is full of things that belong to me, photographs, notebooks, papers, files and so on. As I begin to take things out I am told to sort it carefully that it is important not to throw everything away. I begin to sort it into piles. One is of photographs; of me, my family and of my ancestors, some of whom are unknown to me. The next is of my notebooks, my journals, things that are important for they represent my journey here. The final pile is everything else and it is this pile I know I can release and recycle. I carefully pack up the things I am keeping, tying them up in small bundles with coloured ribbons. These I place back in the box and on the box I write the word Memories. I am handed herbs, pine and lemon grass and I place these in the fire breathing in the delicious cleansing fragrance as they begin to burn. I am then told to place the remaining pile on the fire, all the things I wish to clear out, but to do it one piece at a time so that I spend time with what I am giving away. I am told that it is important to do this with clear intention so I am fully aware of what I am doing as I cleanse and purify my life at this time.

As with all journeys everything here is symbolic and it is up to me to make sense of it, to interpret, not at face value only but to make sure that any deeper meaning is brought to light. Although this journey was for me I undertook it whilst writing this blog and so I am sharing it here as it may resonate with some of you reading this. If so then please put yourself in the place of the one cleansing and purifying, preparing the ground and feel free to interpret in a way that makes sense to you.

Monday Musings – Altars

imageThe only thing an altar should be is a special place to you, other than that it can be anything and be anywhere e.g. in the house, in a special room, on a shelf, in a window, on the floor, or even outside in nature. It can change whenever it needs to change such as over time as you change, with the seasons or with each turn of the wheel of the year. It can be a place where you go to connect with something e.g. spirits, the divine, with your ancestors, or with yourself. It can be a place where you worship or simply a place you like to visit.

The photo on here is of my own altar. It is basically the top shelf of a bookcase in my healing room. Despite having a Cambodian Buddha on it, my altar is not somewhere that I go to worship for I do not worship gods, goddesses or any spirit come to that. My altar is a place where I keep some of the things that are important to me and this includes some of the tools whose spirits I work with. All of the items there are present because their energy makes a positive contribution in some way.

The Buddha is on my altar simply because I like its energy and the peace it brings me when I look at it. The Buddhist prayer wheel is from Nepal which brings back memories, also I love the idea that inside it is the Buddhist peace prayer and that every spin of the wheel sends out the prayer 10,000 times to the world. Tucked in between the prayer wheel and the Buddha is a Reiki crystal which was a present from one of my students. The shape and energy of the crystal remind me of the purity of the energy of Reiki and the gift of being able to work with it and pass it on to others. The key on the blue ribbon was also a present. On it is inscribed that it is a journeying key and this reflects another very important area of my life, that of shamanism.

At the back are two fetishes from the witch’s market in Peru, a sun which, along with the small candle, represents the element Fire and the Condor which came from a witch who told me it was for a traveller. It also balances the energy of Eagle which is here in the small bundle of eagle feathers at the front right. I have other feathers there too, the large feather is from Condor and was another gift. Its spirit works with me in many ways including realigning, clearing and smoothing the energy field. There are other feathers here but the remaining feather that can be clearly seen is Owl. This was a gift at a time of initiation and its spirit now works with me usually at times of initiation of others. Feathers also represent the element Air whereas the various stones that can be seen on my altar represent the energy of Earth. I know how important it is for me to have balance in the energy of elements so also on my altar is, but perhaps not visible here, a shell which represents the element Water.

There are other items on my altar but I am sure that by now you get the idea. Sometimes I add to my altar, sometimes I take away. The cloth and colour of cloth changes often but there is no regular pattern to the changes. Some items are always there, some shift in and out depending on what I need. I always check the energy of the placing of things on my altar and while it may not always look amazing, the energy of it is always perfect for me and the space it is in.

One thing I hadn’t realised until I was writing this is how many of the items on my altar have been gifted to me. This does not have to be so but is how it is for me, at the moment anyway.

There are no rules about altars, no right or wrong, so creating an altar is always a very personal activity and reflects the person who has created it, their energy, their beliefs and what is important to them.

 

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Monday Musings – Personal Practice

imageI’m not sure if it’s my favourite practice but it is one of the most important things to do and that is to ground myself.

There are many ways to do this so I thought I’d share a few of the ones I use. There are many complicated ways to ground yourself which are wonderful when you have plenty of time or feel really ungrounded but these are a couple of quick and simple ways that are easy to do.

Grounding Exercise 1

  • Go outside and find a quiet space with some grass, where you turbed.
  • Take your shoes off and walk barefoot on the grass.
  • With every step be aware of your foot and its connection with the grass and the Earth.
  • As you walk, breath in deeply as you place each foot on the Earth.
  • Focus only on your breathing, the feel of the grass and the Earth energy as it flows into you

Grounding Exercise 2

  • Sit quietly with your feet flat on the floor, without shoes is best, and make sure your spine is straight.
  • Close your eyes and imagine, sense or visualise, roots flowing from the soles of your feet into the Earth (Don’t worry if you are not on the ground floor this will still work).
  • Send the roots flowing down, spreading out beneath your feet, anchoring firmly into the Earth.
  • Now breathe in deeply imagining the breath coming up from the Earth into the soles of your feet, up your legs and into your body.
  • Continue this for a few minutes at least and with every breath feel the connection between the soles of your feet and the Earth becoming stronger as if a magnet is pulling you.

This is also a good way of connecting with the energy of the place you are in or maybe somewhere you are visiting. It can also help to do this to ground yourself if you are visiting somewhere at altitude e.g. parts of South America.

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Pagan Blog Project – Xylomancy

imageI know that is was not necessary to find a blog post for ‘X’ but I love discovering new terminology so decided to take the letter X as a challenge and in doing so I discovered Xylomancy.

Xylomancy it seems is the art of divination using wood. Now divination is a subject close to my heart as it plays a large role in shamanism. There are of course many ways of divining such as through the use of cards, stones, cloud formations, runes, shamanic journeying and so on, the list is long. Wood though is a new one on me.

Derived from the Greek words xylo, meaning wood and manteia, meaning divination, Xylomancy is divination of past, present or future, using twigs, pieces of wood or the fallen branches of trees.

Like in all forms of divination where artifacts are used, in Xylomancy attention is paid to the location, overall formation and patterns made by the wood, as well as the size, shape and colour of each piece.

In ancient times attention was paid to the formation and patterns of pieces or wood found in a persons path, these were then interpreted by seers and soothsayers.

Later on the practice evolved so that pieces of naturally fallen wood were stripped of half of their bark and then scattered on the ground. The formations of those pieces which fell stripped side uppermost were then interpreted by those able to do so.

Another form of Xylomancy is to interpret the appearance of wood when it is burning.

Like all forms of divination, the secret it seems is to be able to interpret what is being shown to you.

Pagan Blog Project – Omens

imageLooking omens up on line or in a dictionary gives us the information that omens are portents or presage, phenomena believe to tell a good or evil event in the future. They are prophetic signs as it were. Here we also find that the word omen is most often used in the foreboding sense.

In my world I have a completely different understanding of omens, what they are and what they do and think of them in connection with signs. They are part of my every day life, a great source of information and insight for me and in no way foreboding.

As a shamanic healer and someone who believes that everything that exists is interconnected, I look for omens and signs to bring me messages and insights as I move through my day. If I have a problem or need to make a decision I will consciously ask for omens or signs from the world around me, not to foretell the future but to bring me guidance.

Making a conscious decision to watch out for omens and signs is a good way of being aware of how the web of life ‘speaks’ to us, supports us and helps us. These omens and signs may come in the form of something in nature that catches our attention, perhaps an animal we would not usually see for example, or a song on the radio, someone we meet, a book that falls open before us, an overheard conversation, the list is endless. Our difficulty as with so many things is how to interpret what we are being shown if course.

The best way to explain how omens and signs work for me perhaps, is to give an example.

In 2013, following an operation I had to walk. I knew it was for my own good but found myself resenting every minute of it, there was no joy or pleasure in it at all. A week into my enforced exercise routine I decided I needed to change how I felt about it all if I was to make it through. This got me thinking about how when I walk by choice I wander, being aware of what is around me, connecting with the energies that abound wherever I am walking, listening and watching out for any messages that are there for me. In other words enjoying being in nature. At this time I was doing none of these things but was totally focused on the mechanics of walking and of the length of time I had to walk for.

The following day before I went out I made the decision to do it differently, to walk with consciousness and awareness, so as I left the house I held the intention to look for omens and signs as I walked.

The first thing I became aware of was that I was walking more slowly and having slowed down was looking around me and listening to the sounds of water running in the stream by the road and rustling in the hedgerow. I then heard the caw, caw of crows and looking up noticed two of them sitting on an overhead wire some way ahead of me. Crow for me is an important spirit helper and one to which I always pay attention so as I walked towards them I waited to see what message they might bring. As I reached them they flew off still calling as if asking me to follow them and so I did.

At that point the road turned and the winter sun shone directly in my face effectively blinding me. I now had to trust that my feet and ears would guide me and so focused only on the sound of my footsteps. After a short time I lost this sound and instead heard only the swish, swish of my coat as I walked which lulled me into an almost meditative state. For the first time walking, there I was in each and every moment, not thinking of anything else and certainly not focused on how much further I had to go or for how long.

I reached a point where the road changed direction again and the sun now shifted behind me meaning I could see once more. As I looked down I saw how the slate at the edge of the road had formed in layers and marvelled at how wonderful nature is. This brought my focus to the earth beneath my feet and allowed me to breathe in the energy and as I walked I asked Mother Earth to feed and nourish my leg to help it heal, something I had completely been forgetting I could do.

My gaze then settled on a small yellow flower peeking out of the grass in all its glory. Stopping to look I realised it was a buttercup and the sight of the bright colour on this wintery day brought a smile to my face. I then wondered at the resistance and determination of this tiny flower still there defiant after the recent snap of cold weather and overnight frosts. If it could survive that and still be there head held high then I could surely survive walking which was nothing in comparison. As I walked on I was attracted to the greenery at the side of the road and noticed prickly brambles intertwined with soft ferns, both growing happily side by side. This reminded me that even those who do not seem to be natural bedfellows can make things work if they choose to.

Two good message for me at this time from the buttercup, brambles and ferns. I am not an enthusiastic walker, I don’t enjoy walking for walking’s sake nor for exercise, but by making my walk work for me, by working with the energies, looking for omens and signs and then being aware I could not only survive this but find a way that walking and I could coexist.
(Excerpt from my Shaman Corner Blog Post for Moon Books 2013)

So if you wish to be aware of the omens and signs around you
1. Set an intention or hold a question
2. Be aware of what you hear, see and who you meet for the rest of the day
3. Make a mental note of any ‘coincidences’ for example if you hear a story about an elephant on the news, read about an elephant in the paper, pick up a book and see a picture of an elephant then it is a good idea to explore what elephant means to you, what thoughts you hold about them, how they behave and so on to decipher what messages elephant might be trying to give you.
4. Be aware that if something comes to you three times it is a message trying to get through.
5. Take your own meaning from the omens and signs you discover for your meaning is the only one that makes sense and is of any value.

Pagan Blog Project – Nurturing Energy

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When I think about nurturing energy the first thing that comes in to my mind is the Earth. Earth energy is the energy that nourishes and nurtures our physical bodies.

It is the energy that feeds the chakras that are sometimes spoken of as our physical chakras, those of the root/base, sacral and solar plexus. It is these chakras which are fed when we consciously ground ourselves and breathe in the energy from the earth, when we take off our shoes and walk barefoot on the soil or sand, or when we stand and draw the energy into our bodies through our feet at the start of Tai Chi or Chi Kung for example. Without this energy feeding and nourishing us we can become unbalanced and sometimes even unwell.

Sadly though it is this energy that often gets overlooked or forgotten, especially when people first behind to connect to the Universal Energy in a desire to open up on a spiritual level or when they first learn to work with energy.

Universal or Universal Life Force Energy is what we draw down into ourselves when we connect through our crown or the soul star chakra above our crown. This is the energy that feeds and nourishes our higher chakras, those of the crown, third eye and throat. This energy nourishes us on a spiritual, mental and emotional level and it feeds us in a completely different way to the energy we breathe in from the Earth.

To be whole, to be healthy, to be nourished on all levels we need both energies. Our heart chakra is the crossover point where the two energies meet, mix and pass each other by. Our heart needs both just like the rest of us does. Too much of either is not giving ourselves the nourishment we need. All of one or the other can cause problems.

So what do you do to connect with either nurturing energy? How do you feel? Do you need more of one or the other in your life to be healthy? Only you can know the answer to this either by taking a good look at what you do or by connecting with yourself to learn how you feel.