Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Spirit of the Wolf

I do not remember exactly where this notification came from, Twitter perhaps, but I recently saw this story from the amusingly titled Who Forted blog. As anyone who has been reading for a while knows, I have a soft spot for stories of werewolves and Black Dogs and the recurrent reports of manwolves throughout the US (and now, per Linda Godfrey, the world) make my ears perk up, so to speak.

As manwolf stories go, this one is pretty typical. A night shift worker has not one, but two, encounters with creatures that appeared to be bipedal and wolf-like. Interestingly, both times, the beings seemed to be moving in groups and the witness did note several color variations. The author of the blog post, Ken Summers, also noted that Linda Godfrey had reported a manwolf incident in the same area in her book Real Wolfmen. Mr. Summers goes on to note a possible mountain lion sighting in the area – unusual since mountain lions are supposed to have been killed off in this region.

Wolf

Mr. Summers closes out his article with these words which really got me thinking:

Silver Creek is a tributary for the aptly named Wolf Creek. Long ago, Timber Wolves were common across Ohio, though as farming developed among early settlers, these furry canines became less of an accepted part of the wilderness and more of a nuisance as the animals hunted and killed many sheep. Thousands of Ohio wolves were hunted, trapped, and poisoned in an effort to eradicate them from the area. 1842 marked the final killing of a wolf in Ohio and the end of the wolf’s presence here. While wolves have been driven from Ohio, perhaps something far more frightening has replaced them.

Silver Creek is in Ohio, home of a number of mounds left behind by early indigenous peoples. I’ve theorized, in past blogs, that the manwolf might, in some cases, be a sort of materialized guardian left in place by the medicine people of those early tribes to protect the mounds and burial sites of their people. Reading Mr. Summers’ piece, though, another thought occurred to me.

Anyone who has taken even a cursory look at the new shamanism, as proposed by people like Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman, will be familiar with the concept of a power animal – a spirit, in animal form, that serves as your guide during shamanic journeys in particular areas. Some people confuse the power animal with a totem animal – a spirit, sometimes in animal form, that has allied itself to a particular group of people. The totem ranges across all of human culture from the varying societies with animal totems in the Native American traditions (the Cherokee and Iroquois had clans that were aligned to various animals) to the wolf and bear warriors of the ancient Norse who actually took on the traits of their totem in battle.

A totem animal is a powerful spirit in its own right and, with the attention and offerings of a group of people, it only becomes more powerful. As with any relationship with spirit, one has to approach an animal totem with respect in order to avoid any negative repercussions and one would never harm the totem’s representative animal unless given specific permission from the spirit to do so (as in those Native and Norse folk who wore the skins of their totem for certain occasions).

Harming of the totem’s representative animal can result in harm to the person who causes that injury and, in extreme cases, even death, if one violates a taboo laid by or about the totem. I am minded of the Celtic warrior Cuchulain (the hound of Chulain) who was forbidden to eat dog meat as a part of the relationship with his totem. Cuchulain was killed in battle after being tricked into eating the flesh of a dog by an enemy.

So, what has this to do with our manwolves? Simply, the wolf is a common totem amongst Native people. It is admired for its hunting ability and for its structured, efficient and loving pack life. We know that the European settlers regarded the wolf with fear and loathing. Once they had driven the Native people from Ohio, settling them in out of the way places or killing them, they turned their hand immediately to what they knew best – farming and livestock husbandry. Wolves and other apex predators went from being respected representatives of their totems to wicked slayers of sheep and other livestock, good only when they were dead.

As the article notes, by 1842, the settlers had managed to wipe out the wolf population in Ohio. I doubt that the wolf totem, the powerful spirit of the wolf, simply skulked off to hide on the reservations or disappeared into what woodland was left. Mr. Summers says, “While wolves have been driven from Ohio, perhaps something far more frightening has replaced them.”

I admit that my thinking is pure conjecture. I’ve not done any journey work to test this theory. It simply makes intuitive sense to me that the spirit of the wolf might want to periodically remind the ancestors of those rapacious settlers that they are not the apex predators that they think they are. The manwolves could be something like a tulpa created by the spirit of the wolf or they could be the spirits of those who walked with wolf skins on when they were alive and who have become a part of the spirit of the wolf in death.

While I have heard of no serious injuries in manwolf reports, the creatures certainly scare the life out of most who see them and many witnesses report the strong feeling that the creatures would and could do them harm. Maybe, just maybe, the physical wolves are gone and have been replaced by representatives from Wolf itself.


More On The Ancestors

As sometimes happens when I write a blog, I opened a spiritual can of worms with my last post. In that post, I noted the presence of the ancestors of spirit as I work my way more deeply into a martial arts practice. Writing that post promptly got the Ancestors ‘on my case’ to do some research and to speak more about them.

I know that I am straying a bit from the discussion of the paranormal and cryptozoological but this topic really does relate tangentially to our main topic of discussion. Ancestors used to be physical people and, as such, they truly can get their feelings hurt. Imagine what might happen if some intrepid spiritual explorer went through an “ancestor phase” and then moved on to other things, promptly forgetting the attention and perhaps even service that he or she paid to the Ancestors for a time. Might not the Ancestors decide to get that person’s attention in a paranormal way?

Ask any practitioner of shamanism, Vodou or other practices that deal with the Ancestors what those spirits are capable of and you will hear stories of mischief and miracles. One of the things I would look at, in any haunting case and especially one with poltergeist occurrences, is the spiritual practices of the clients as well as previous owners of the haunted area.

cemetery

The paranormal aspect aside though, work with Ancestors is one of the basic spiritual practices in a number of faiths, ranging across the world, from Haitian Vodou to Japanese Shinto and into Chinese religious Taoism. I truly believe that a disconnect from our Ancestors is one of the leading causes of the spiritual disconnect so prevalent in our culture and that beginning to work with the Ancestors is a large first step toward beginning a healing process which will put people back in contact with the spiritual world and help them find their place in that world (my definition of spirituality).

In her excellent book, Serving the Spirits, Patricia Scheu (Mambo Vye Zo Komande LaMenfo), the Mambo (priestess) of a Haitian Vodou sosyete in Philadelphia, makes the point that “Vodou begins with your Ancestors”. She points out that:

Your ancestors wait with infinite patience for you to find your way to them. Didn’t like old wierd Uncle Al? That is ok. Where was Uncle Al from? Italy, Romania, China? Those are your Ancestors. Study their history, figure out what they ate, what music they listened to and what kind of clothes they wore. Then craft your Ancestor altar to that culture. Have family from Ireland? Then play Irish music, make an altar cloth with Celtic knots, bake some scones and serve them Irish Breakfast tea, and sit. And wait. Be patent. It is not a race, it is a marathon. Do this monthly and see if your Ancestors don’t come calling . . . Begin to do Vodou by learning about yourself, learning about your family and you can’t go wrong. That is because the Ancestors know what is needed . . . Your Ancestors are the living parts of your family tree who were strong enough to survive the plagues, infections and dangers of their time. They were healthy enough to have children, and wise enough to to learn how to raise them in an ever changing world. They have the tools you need to live your life here and now. So find time to talk to them. They just might surprise you . . .

While veneration and work with the Ancestors can certainly be made into an elaborate ritual like the Bon festivals of Japan, contact with those who have gone before you need not be complicated. My own Ancestor altar includes a white candle, a vessel for water, a holder for incense and a Tibetan singing bowl. In addition, I have included some items that remind me of the cultures in my “Heinz 57” make up. I would like to say that I commune with my Ancestors daily but that would be a fib. I try to stop in for a visit 3 or 4 times a week though.

When I do approach the altar, I make sure the water is refreshed and then I light the candle and incense. I take a few moments to settle myself and then take up the striker for the Tibetan bowl. On the first bell ring, I open the way for the Ancestors and let them know that I am offering cool clear water and sweet smells. On the second ring, I pray for the Ancestors, from that part of me that is Divine, that they may have all that they need in the Otherworld. On the third ring, I simply tell them that I honor them and thank them for their presence and guidance in my life while asking for their continued protection and guidance as I go about my day. If I have time, I sit quietly for a few minutes and see if they have anything they wish to share and then I close out the session and return to my regularly scheduled life.

See! Simple! Nothing earth shattering there but, as I have developed this practice and worked with it over the weeks and months since it was impressed on me that I needed to do this work, I have been increasingly aware of the presence of those spirits in my life. While much of what “Mambo Pat” says above seems to apply strictly to those members of your bloodline, I can assure you that, should you choose to begin to work with the Ancestors, you will have Ancestors of blood and spirit coming to work with you and your life will literally never be the same.


Ancestors R Us

I mentioned, in my last post, that I was spending a lot of time doing martial arts and that my New Year resolution revolved around regular practice of those arts. The week of New Year was quite daunting.

ba gua

On New Year’s day, when others were simply trying to glue their heads back together after too much celebration, I spent an hour working the footwork for the Japanese sword art of Shinkendo. My group is about to test for our first level and we are being prepared, in the inimical Japanese style, for a grueling test of our skills. On the 2nd, I spent two hours training with my kung fu school, aligned to the Ching Yi Kung Fu Association, focused on praying mantis for the first hour or so and then moving into Hsing I and then Ba Gua in the second hour. On the 3rd, I had my long (2 hour) Shinkendo workout followed, on the 4th, with another 2 hour kung fu class (the Friday class had been a make up for a class missed the previous Sunday).

Now, physically, this much martial arts training is more than a stretch for me but I found that, in the midst of getting my butt kicked on a daily basis, something more was coming forth. There was a spiritual aspect of this regimen.

Now, I am not about to go “all Zen” on you and tell you that I attained some sort of enlightened awareness. As a matter of fact, because I had been sick and was still on antibiotics for most of this course, I had times where I was hanging on simply to avoid being sick on the floor. I can not claim that this 4 day martial arts marathon was pleasant in any way, other than the feeling of having made it through another class. The odd, spiritual side effect that I noticed, came in the evenings, after practice, when I was nursing my well worked body for the next day. I became acutely aware of what I call the ancestors of spirit.

We are all, to some extent, familiar with the ancestors of blood. These are the genetic ancestors who contributed some part of their physical make up to the person who is you, the ancestors who belong to your bloodline. In many traditions, these ancestors are highly revered for the simple reason that, without them, we literally would not be here and it is part of our job, in taking this form, to work within that bloodline to strengthen and purify the line that we pass on to future generations. That work, the work of spiritual development and attunement, is something that is ongoing in our lives; it is not a job that is ever really complete.

As each of us walks through our lives, however, we come into contact with many others and some of those others are people that we choose to work with on one aspect of our development or another. Some of the groups that we work with or even join, have traditions and this is where the ancestors of spirit come in. In my case, the Japanese and Chinese martial arts that I am practicing have a long tradition of masters and students. As I worked through my practice in that week, I became very aware of a feeling that I recognized from the many Shinto temples and other sacred spaces that I visited in Japan, during my summer visit there.

I could feel the gathering of spirits around me and I could feel their approval for the middle aged white fellow practicing their arts and trying his best to put his feet in the right place. This not so subtle spiritual presence helped keep me motivated and I believe that, if I hang in there and persevere in these arts, the ancestors of spirit will start to assist me in getting those arts right. In many ways, it is as if the ancestors of spirit are gathering around to uphold me and encourage me during this very steep learning curve.

We see the same thing happen in the magical arts with people who come into a tradition that has some weight to it (i.e. it was not developed last Tuesday by some fellow who figured he might as well write a book). Those who have been initiated into higher levels of certain magical lodges can tell you of the experience of having their ancestors of spirit show up in the lodge. I know of one such experiencer who swore that, as he took his initiation, the room got larger and larger and filled with more and more people. Most of those people were not in the flesh, of course. I have heard similar stories from people initiated into certain traditions of Wicca as well as those who have worked with indigenous medicine people. The ancestors of spirit can be every bit as present as the ancestors of blood and, since they have a vested interest in the tradition, we who follow traditions of all kinds would do well to honor them and keep them in our thoughts, even if we do not choose to work with them directly.

Honoring your ancestors of blood and/or of spirit is not difficult to do. At a Shinto shrine, it is as easy as doing a simple purification with water and then offering incense to the Kami (spiritual beings of all sorts, including ancestors). When I was in Japan, I made offerings at the graves of each of the 47 Loyal Samurai of Ako. I found it to be a deep and profoundly moving experience and wonder if those ancestors of spirit did not have a lot to do with my re-union with Shinkendo after an absence of over twenty years.

If you are truly interested in working with the ancestors, both of spirit and blood, you could do far worse then exploring the Afro-Caribbean traditions. Voudou and its many relatives, understands how to treat the ancestors and how to make them an integral part of your life.

As for me, I am going to keep training and making my offerings several times a week and see what unfolds.


New Year Thoughts

New Year

First of all, I hope that all my readers had an excellent holiday season filled with laughter, friends, family and all your favorite food and drink (in moderation, of course). Welcome to 2015 and the beginning of the third year for Monsters and Magic. My own holiday season proved to be a trying one – I came down with the flu on the Monday before Christmas and spent that holiday wrapped in a blanket with fever, chills and upper respiratory goodies that made me wish for a wonder cure.

I survived, however, and am back for this third year which, for me, will be packed with martial arts. I have, through most of my adult years, been involved in one martial persuasion or the other but I have hit the perfect storm since coming to Atlanta, finding both a Japanese sword school and an excellent Chinese kung fu school that specializes in the internal arts as well as one of the praying mantis forms. I am training a lot between the two of them and have even dropped some weight (the flu helped) so my New Year’s resolution this year will be a simple one – develop and maintain a regular course of practice. Both of these arts fold neatly into the magical arts since they require intense concentration.

Before I became ill, I had the chance to participate in a Yule rite. The setting was a cabin up in the mountains north of the city and the rite, part of which I had written, turned out to be a very powerful one in which we invoked Woden and the Wild Hunt (no lala Christmas stuff for me!). The Christian mythos around the Hunt holds it as a thing of terror, an opportunity for “Old Nick” to scoop up the unwary and carry them off to foreign places, either here on earth or “elsewhere”. In actuality though, the Wild Hunt, which moves through the world from Samhain and through into the New Year, depending on what sources you read, serves a very important spiritual function: the Hunt is one of the mechanisms by which all the dross and disharmonic energies in the world are cleaned up and transmuted into more neutral forms. In addition, the Hunt aids in the transition of those spirits who might need a little help to cross over into the Otherworld.

I am not, for a moment, suggesting that experiencing the Hunt is not an awe inspiring and somewhat frightening event. Woden and his Huntsman, their horses and hounds, are not out and about for fun. Our group treated them with utmost respect and made offerings of food and drink that the Hunt might be refreshed as they went about their business. We asked, as they stripped away and ‘recycled’ energies around the world that they take certain energies from our lives and left tokens outdoors, charged with those energies and obstructions, that they might be swept away. A good night’s work and I am looking forward to seeing the results of the Hunt’s work in my life over the next little while.

While I do not recommend the summoning of the Wild Hunt for most occasions, it is common practice, at this time of the year, for people to make resolutions. It is also common practice to have abandoned those resolutions by the beginning of spring. Sometimes, this abandonment is caused by unrealistic or unworkable resolutions. Sometimes, the falling away comes from a realization that one really did not want to bring such a change into one’s life. Other times, the resolution simply gets swept away in the tide of busyness that descends on us once the holidays are done. And, of course, once one resolution is broken, it is easy to remain in that cycle, year after year.

I realized, some time back, that such a cycle is unacceptable. As a practitioner of the magical arts, my word has to mean something or I am compromising my ability to relate to people in this world and the Other. Suddenly, the taking of a New Year’s resolution became a much more serious matter to me and there were years when I simply did not resolve to do anything. What I have found, though, is that the liminal time of the New Year is a great time to put an intention into the ether and really focus my attention on bringing something to pass. Last year, I really wanted to get in better shape and, lo, and behold, despite some bumps in the road (like another major move), I am about 25 pounds lighter and working out four times a week.

So, my word to you, in this New Year, is to allow this time between the years to work for you. Come up with one goal you would like to reach. Make it a bit of a stretch but do not make it so lofty that you have little hope of attaining it. Remember, if you have never run a step without being chased, it is unlikely that you will be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the end of the year. Look at where you are now, think about where you would like to be and make your resolution a good stepping stone toward that ultimate goal. Then make a plan for how you will bring that resolution to pass, step by step, micro-goal by micro-goal. Plan for the resolution like you might plan for a trip to another country or for a business project. This year, I encourage you to make your word really mean something and, by doing so, to improve your life, even if just a little.

Happy New Year to you all and off I go to find new things to talk about in 2015.