[NYNY] Wheel of Morality…

The completed Vanabag.

I’d like to begin this summation with my all-time favorite fortune cookie message:

Now is the time to make circles with mints, do not haste any longer.

Aside from the fact that something was clearly lost in translation, the message is strangely applicable to this whole grand experiment. Don’t rush, keep things cool, but still move forward.

I had two goals originally for this project. First, to develop a magical and energetic toolkit for mundane manifestations, and b) sell/rent the old house. The second clearly didn’t happen, but the first. Yeah, that one came through with flying colors.

Between my neighborhood working group (I am so damned blessed to be living in a place where I can even say that!), the Strategic Sorcery course, the Ovate work, and my guides’ sometimes circuitous teachings, this aspect of my practice is absolutely flying along. Proof of this is the completion of the Vanabag (aka Druid Bugout Bag), which my guides told me to make to hold the various gifts/tools I had received from the 19 Tribes last year as I journeyed through their lands. I had started it in June of 2011, but had gotten stuck when it came to quilting the fabric. Suddenly, as I started putting attention to getting my magical life back in order, the contacts and physical space I needed to complete the project became available: it turns out one of my neighbors is a quilter, and FlyLady helped me get the house organized enough to leave space for creative projects.

The bag has literally become the physical manifestation of my work to take back and consolidate my power. Even my husband has said on multiple occasions the past few weeks how awesome it is to finally see me getting my “grrrr” back in so many areas of my life at once: my work, the house, my spirituality. Even though I only sought to affect one part of my life, the ripples of those changes have undeniably changed other parts as well.

So, what else was accomplished? My daily practice is flourishing again. This in itself is such a relief and a joy, if I had gotten nothing else out of this experiment I would be satisfied with this as an outcome. I also learned that sometimes I just really need to let a project just sit for a while, until I can work out the answers—and that this is ok. But it’s also ok to jettison something that hasn’t been working for years, and that likewise, I don’t need to feel guilt that I failed the project for not having completed it (potential pitfall of being an animist, I guess).

As to where I’m headed, I have some very clear answers, and some not-so-much-so. Working both the Ovate and Strategic Sorcery courses continues to be important, and playing one off the other seems to help me continue to make progress in both. The house…that unfinished goal…well, spring is coming, and we’ll see what a fresh realtor, shiny sink and new trim will accomplish.

It all comes down to the three P’s that Sifu has written on the walls of the kung-fu school: patience, practice, perseverance. Get the proportions right for you, and just about anything can happen.

—A.V.

[NYNY] Should to the Mother-lovin’ Wheel

Quern by Tim Green

I’ve been pushin’ this bloody wheel so hard I have Sisyphus standing over in the corner saying, “Damn, girl, and I thought I had problems.”

Upshot: I’ve had three or four individuals come up to me and say, “Wow, you look great! How come you’re so calm and centered?”

Because when you’re in the center of a maelstrom, you a) don’t need a blowdryer to have great hair, and b) really don’t have any other choice.

The progress on the concrete manifestation of making the old house turn a profit has been nil. However, the work I’ve been doing on consolidating my magickal oopmh has been paying off in spades. The past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on that, and been pleased with the progress:

*The community working group is up and running. We’ve had one meeting so far, and it was great to be able to stretch my energetic muscles in a beyond-101 setting. Even just that little bit of practice focusing on perceiving energy and tone have been immensely beneficial.

*The sink magick is spreading. We been able to have guests over several times now, and there’s been no mad cleaning dash, and no embarrassment. Both hubby and spawn are getting into things, keeping the sink cleaned out and putting away toys (yes, both of them are doing both things!).

*The Strategic Sorcery course is awesome. There are so many inspiring ideas and exercises, I’m like a kid in a freakin’ candy store.

*Daily practice has become daily again! Meditation happens while making tea. Offerings to the house wights happen while cooking. Banishing and cleansing happens before I sit down to work in the mornings. Our hearth is blessed and so are our lives.

*Finally finishing up my Druid Bug-Out Bag (aka Vanabag). I’m on schedule to complete it this weekend. The bag is the physical manifestation of taking back my power: it will hold my tools and touchstones, both from this world and beyond the veil.

So, yes, lots of progress on the magickal/empowerment front. Unfortunately, the rest of my life has been sounding a bit like a bad country music song. But more on that in the upcoming “Asking for Help” post.

—A.V.

More on the Vanic Soul Map

Casting cloth & soul map

This week, I’m going to talk a bit more on my casting cloth/soul map. I use this both for regular rune (and hopefully soon ogham!) castings, as well as for a more detailed soul-map reading. When casting runes, I’ll usually take a handful and toss them on the cloth, then interpret them in relation to whichever elemental quarter they occupy. If a rune happens to land smack in the center of one of the tribal circles, then I’ll pay extra attention to it, and consider it to be advice either coming from that Tribe, or pertaining to an area of life “ruled over” by said Tribe. So for example, finding othala in the Bull circle would indicate that there needs to be a focus on the hearth and home, also perhaps establishing boundaries or paying attention to right action in relation to family and/or community.

For a more detailed reading, I use a modified version of Kaldera’s soul map system, focusing on how the Vanic Tribes can manifest their influences on the body-soul complex.*  I’ve expanded a couple of groupings since I use 19 tribes (whereas Kaldera has 17 positions), as well as rearranged some other associations. So far, though, it’s been working out nicely, and still serves as a good diagnostic tool despite the change in flavor.

The map can be divided into five regions, four elemental, and one central axis. The Core gives an overall look at the health of an individual; the Elemental regions provide details on four major areas of a person’s being. These are as follows:

Vertical Axis—The Core
Cat: the astral body
Bull: the physical body & well being, health.
Boar: the higher self, connection to the divine

Earth Tribes—Blood & Bone
Serpent: chi/energy flow; the unconscious, possible unhealed wounds which may affect the situation
Frog: vitality, ability to self-heal, adaptability
Goose: lineage, effects your ancestors may have upon the present situation
Hare: creativity, sexuality, lust for life

Water Tribes—The Dreaming Sea
Salmon: wyrd & fate, not limited to ancestral
Swan: ability to achieve mystical union
Seal: the emotions, empathic ability
Otter: balance

Air Tribes—The Wind-Honed Blade
Eagle: the intellect, mind
Crane: the will, discipline
Owl: woo, innate psychic ability
Raven: memory

Fire Tribes—Hearth & Embers
Deer: guiding spirits
Ram: honor, reputation
Horse: what sort of path you’ve made for yourself and how fast you’re riding down it
Bee: luck

As to the stones used to diagnose each aspect of the map, my numbers are basically the same, but I thought I would dowse for them independently just to check (since this was the method Kaldera originally used to determine how many he should use). The only changes are one more normal stone, and two more wyrd ones. That leaves us with 19 normal stones, 5 weak, 6 exceptional, 6 blocked, 7 wyrd,** and 1 missing or void.

The procedure for a reading is much the same: a person draws a stone for each Tribal position to diagnose the level of health in that area. If there are areas which are blocked or wyrd (or otherwise require further explanation), a rune or card is then drawn to try to clarify the situation.

I’ve only used the soul map a handful of times now, but I find it much more intuitive for my wiring than the original version (which is hardly surprising, I suppose). For other who have asked about running with this idea, I found Juniper’s writings on how she went about creating her casting collection to be most helpful when it comes to creating divination systems—it gave me the impetus to take a great idea that I loved but couldn’t quite mesh with, and make the changes necessary to let it work with my wiring, my worldview.

I hope other folks will be inspired to make their own systems, whether based on Kaldera’s, Juniper’s, or completely from their own bag. I love seeing what works for different people and I’m glad I’ve finally come to the point in my own studies where I’ve been able to branch out (sorry, druid pun!) and do the same.

—A.V.

*Disclaimer: it should be noted that this is not channeled material (i.e. not THE ONE TRUE PATH!), but a creative work in progress—take that for what you will.

**While I basically agree with Kaldera’s definitions for the stone categories, I am a big believer in wyrd not being a fixed and inevitable track—even if gods or wights are involved, there is always a choice. So I see the wyrd stones as being indicators of divine influence or proddings, rather than an inescapable fate.

A Quiet Druid…

…is a busy Druid.

I realize that it’s been nearly a month since I last posted, but the good news is that all sorts of interesting projects have been coming to fruition while I’ve been off-line. Among other things, the pig bones are fully cleaned and bleached, I’ve begun finishing my stang, and I’ve finally taken pictures of my Waincraft soul map, inspired by Raven Kaldera’s version of the same. The soul map is going to get its own post in a few days, but I figured I throw up a preview now, because three pics are preferable to two.

—A.V.

Pig Parts

Stang-in-Progress

Rabbit Skin Casting Cloth and Soul Map

What Happens When You Win the Carcass Lottery?

The lid to my maceration bucket.

You end up with the neighborhood dogs sniffing around your maceration bucket each morning. Weighing it down with a sledgehammer was a good idea, after all.

Before I get into all the gory details, though, this post would not have been possible without the following people: Ms. Graveyard Dirt and Sarah Lawless, for their inspiring and detailed descriptions of working with bones; and Seillean of Howling at the Crossroads, who was kind enough to share his own experiences and give me that little extra bolst of courage to try this.

But to begin at the beginning, on September 4th, I won the carcass lottery.

See, it all started because a friend of mine was holding a pig roast—she’s one of those crazy chefs who likes to try everything once. She and her partner had been wanting to try spitting a whole pig for quite some time. Naturally, two people are not going to be able to get rid of an entire pig (one definition of eternity is “two people and a ham,” after all), so they invited a bunch of us over to help out with that oh-so-onerous task.

Just as I was leaving, I asked my friend what she was planning to do with the pig head. She said that she had no idea and asked if I wanted it. I jumped at the chance, since I had spent a goodly portion of the afternoon trying to figure out how to get my hands on it. So per partner double-bagged it for me and I hauled it home. I mean, how often are you going to be gifted with a pig head that came from a community feast?

Preparation

I wasn’t able to work on the thing until September 8th, but it kept in the fridge since it had already been cooked. I decided to try boiling the flesh a bit further in 20 minute increments to loosen it up so that I would be less likely to nick the bone by carving it off. I was really thankful that it didn’t stink up the house since I don’t have an outdoor burner—actually, it smelled rather good. Must have been all that garlic my friend stuffed it with while I was roasting.

Most of the butchering went without a hitch. I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t a bit squeamish about getting the brains out—this was my first carcass after all. But as it tuned out, the brains weren’t so bad.

The eyeballs? Those were bad. And peeling off the roof of the mouth. Yeah, that got to me.

Anyway, I de-fleshed the piggy as best I could. I must say, it was a big advantage having a chiropractor in the house to help out with the preliminary butchering. I was having trouble getting the skull apart from the spine, but my sweetie gave me a very helpful anatomical description, and I was able to separate the atlas from the occiput with little trouble, and only some minor damage to the occipital condile (or at least that’s what I’m told it’s called). This made it much easier to fit in the maceration bucket as well.

There’s a certain intimacy that you have with the meat and bones as you begin to separate them. I did discover that it was a fairly young animal, as its last set of molars was just coming in. (This brought more than a few tears to my eyes as I though about my own son’s molars beginning to poke through his gums.) I actually learned a ton about anatomy from carving the pig apart, and now I looking at other animals and imagine the muscular structure underneath the skin. It’s an interesting perspective, but kinda weird.

Speaking of weird, I drew dancing skeletons on the maceration bucket (a good sturdy one from Lowes). Yeah, I’m a dork. And I desperately wanted to give some levity to a critter that had such a short life—I wanted something that would make me smile as I tended to him. I wrapped the skull in cheesecloth to keep any teeth that fell out, and sang to him as I placed both head and neck into the water.

The Maceration Process

Honestly, I really found this to be fascinating. Again, it wasn’t nearly as smelly as I expected—more like a really bad case of halitosis than anything else (although I do have some, shall we say, olfactory issues as well). But I was being pretty conscientious about replacing the water every few days, and it wasn’t high summer, so those two factors may have had a bit of an impact on the odor.

A month of pouring out rotten water passed, yet there was still a good bit of flesh on the bones. In fact, the spine was still intact. After a bit more research, I figured out that it was probably getting too cold at night for the bacteria to continue their work. The vertebrae finally separated October 20th, but I ended up leaving everything in the bucket until November 1st. In addition to this being a significant time to work with bones, we’ve also been getting down into the 30’s at night, and I wasn’t sure what effect being in freezing water would have. As I didn’t have a place indoors in which to continue macerating, I decided to dump everything and see what I could do by hand.

Unfortunately, there were still some stubborn bits of flesh hanging on. This meant I had to scrape the last of the cartilage off the vertebral bones by hand; happily, the skull was in really good shape. A good rinse removed the last of the brain matter and the remains of the septum. The bones themselves were mottled red and grey, so I really wasn’t sure how white I would be able to get things.

Bleaching the Bones

I submerged everything in a clean bucket with hydrogen peroxide (dollar stores are awesome for getting large quantities of this). I ended up leaving it until the 3rd because I was away on business, but it didn’t seem to hurt anything. The peroxide actually helped loosen some of the last of the gunk that I had missed. Everything looks even better than I had hoped—brilliant, shining white. Even the delicate, curling cartilage formations in the nose were preserved. Some of the vertebrae split, probably because this was a young piggy, but they should be pretty easy to piece back together. All that remains is to glue the loose teeth back in place, and it will be ready for reddening.

Wait, You Did What?

So why did I decide to so this? Part of the reason is that I’ve always wanted to try cold water maceration. Just chalk it up to being an archaeology major (or too many episodes of Bones, take your pick). Part of the reason is because it’s the closest thing I’ll probably find to a boar skull for my stang, and it carries extra “juice” because it came from a communal meal. But I also did this because on some level I was repulsed and afraid to work with the bones. I was worried that I might throw up, or that I wouldn’t be able to finish the job. So it was a challenge to myself, to prove that I can deal with the dead, even through it’s far from being my strongest talent. Some of the hardest work still lies ahead, but I think I’ve set a good foundation for my continued relationship with these bones.

—A.V.