Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Weaving Spirituality: Santería and the Northern Tradition

Ellen, from Greylady's Hearth, asked me some time ago to write about the ways in which I incorporate both Santería and the Northern Tradition into my spiritual/religious practice. It is at once a rather simple and complex topic; I don't necessarily combine them, but I do honor Norse/Germanic history and mythology as a part of ancestor veneration. And as I've pondered it over the past couple of weeks some salient areas of relationship between the two have risen up into my thoughts:
1) Both Santería and the Northern Tradition feature a variety of gods and goddesses/Orichas whom we learn about through our personal relationships with them, as well as through sacred stories or myths. In these stories they interact amongst themselves as well as with others, oftentimes showing quite human characteristics that serve to teach us about the world (and in fact some were human at one point or another). In Norse history these are the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, as well as the Sagas to some extent. In Santería these are the patakís. A principal divergence here is that while the "pantheon" in Santería includes the presence of a primary creator God, Olodumare, no such equivalent exists in the Northern Tradition. (Santería is a monotheistic faith, whereas the Northern Tradition is considered polytheistic. The Orichas are somewhat similar to saints, which lent themselves to being syncretized with Catholicism during slave times in the New World).

2) Both Santería and the Northern Tradition feature a divination style unique to the history of each. In Santería divination is most typically done via the caracoles (Merindilogún, cowrie shells - usually those of Elegua) by Santeros, or using the epuele or Opon Ifá (Table of Ifá) by Babalawos, priests of Orula (I'm sidestepping obi divination since it is essentially a yes/no system that, while extremely helpful and useful, lacks the complexity of the previous two). The heart of both the caracoles and Ifá lies in the Odu (which is too complex a subject to detail here). In the Northern Tradition the wisdom of the runes was granted to Odin after he sacrificed himself (to himself, as it were) for 9 days hanging upside down from the branches of Yggdrasil.
3) Both Santería and the Northern Tradition place heavy emphasis on ancestor veneration. In Santería, our family members who have passed on, previous generations we may never have had a chance to know, even spiritual ancestors (such as those of our god family) form our egun, those without whom we may not exist, those whose own life experiences may have sent vibrations down through our family's energetic ties that could well be influencing us today in ways we may not even be aware of. Our egun, our ancestors, are honored, recognized, petitioned for support and guidance. We offer them water, coffee, flowers, plates of food. We talk with them. We welcome them, invite them to be present for us in any way that they are able.

I honor my egun at my bóveda - my altar. Learning about the Northern Traditions (a term I most commonly use to refer to the Norse/Viking/Germanic pre-Christian spiritual beliefs and tales) is one way that I honor aspects of my biological lineage. While my physical ancestors are diverse (British Isles, southern Italy, Northern Africa, the Middle East, Northern Europe and Scandinavia, even South America) I have always been drawn to Viking history. Thus, it has become an aspect of personal study, it contributes to an extent to my spiritual ideology, and serves as an element of ancestor veneration, even within the context of Santeria.


I fondly recall listening to my aunt proudly discuss our North Frisian and Danish "Viking" history when I was a young adolescent. She and my uncle named their boat "Norddorf" after the town of my great-grandfather's birth on the island of Amrum in the North Sea. Amrum is one of the North Frisian islands located off the coast of Germany, near Denmark. He, along with his Danish wife, my great-grandmother Emilie, form the first generation of U.S. immigrants on my father's side.

As I started to learn more about ancient Norse mythology I was drawn even more deeply into the fold. I was born on a Wednesday, Odin's Day, and I was born near Yule, a time associated with the Wild Hunt. I found Odin fascinating - a shaman, a warrior, a seeker, a leader, a wanderer, a diviner, in some ways a loner.  Those were attributes that called to me. A couple of years ago I finally began to study the Elder Futhark runic system with more diligence and focus. On my husband's many jaunts to Sweden he has brought me back treasures such as a silver mjölnir pendant which I wear along with my elekes (sacred necklaces of the Orichas which are granted as part of one of the first initiations in the religion). In fact, in a sort of intercultural yin-yang, my husband also wears a mjölnir!

Santería is my religion, the set of traditions into which I am initiated through my god family. It is my heart; in important ways it forms the foundation from which I approach my life, and provides a framework within which I may come to understand (as much as any of us are truly able) my place in the universe. Honoring and learning about the Northern Tradition is one way in which I recognize my biological ancestry, and thus coexists harmoniously with my overall spiritual practice.
Interestingly, as I was writing this post I took a break, and as I was making some tea my husband came home and handed me a surprise package: a carved candle in the form of an elderly man, and a white and tan egg, also a candle. He said that the carved man reminded him of someone who could be my grandfather, and indeed when I saw it I thought of a European mariner. And the egg is connected to my Ángel de la Guarda, Obatalá. Beautiful synchronicities ;-)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cosmos Tarot: A Reading

Yesterday I facilitated my first important meeting in my new position, after spending a couple of weeks preparing for it. Over the course of my various career paths, I've led a lot of meetings, and as a teacher and presenter I'm accustomed to speaking before groups, however this felt like a whole new ball game (so to speak). I was going to be presenting on various critical aspects of my program and requesting feedback from our department's advisory council, and I wanted to make sure that my data was accurate, clearly presented, and well-organized. Needless to say, I was slightly anxious!

Yesterday I decided to pull some cards from the Cosmos Tarot to provide some advice for how to approach this meeting:
1. Do this: 3 of Fire (Tucana)
2. Don't do this: 3 of Air (Hercules)
3. What to be aware of: Judgement (Capricornus)

As I was shuffling the cards, Strength (Puppis) leapt out at me. This was comforting for many reasons, but one of the connections I made was that when I had read on my ability to do this job (during the interview process) I pulled Strength, and found its message of calm confidence and compassion very stabilizing and encouraging. So I saw this as a reminder that the same skills or traits that brought me to this place would sustain me throughout this experience.
In the image on this card we see a ship moving forward between two towering cliffs. Surely the channel is narrow and harrowing to navigate, but the shades of deep purple give a sense of being calm, cool, and collected, and the golden hue in the sky foreshadows success. There are oars in the water - someone is navigating. However the greatest force propelling this ship onward comes from the many beings under the water. Bulls, fish, birds, people.... they are like spirits offering their support and guidance, even in quiet ways.

As advice about where to focus, and what to do, the 3 of Fire encouraged me to focus on goal setting, plans for moving forward with what's been developed thus far. It would be best to have a clear list of proposed focal points to discuss. And the keywords on this particular card read: expression, confidence, communication. Being clear and concise with my words would be important, and then, there again is the theme of confidence...in myself, in my ability, in the ideas I would be sharing.
As advice about where not to focus, and what not to do, the 3 of Air (Hercules) suggested that to focus on the challenge of this meeting would not serve me at all. The keywords here are: great effort, trial. I was feeling somewhat anxious about the meeting, however worrying, focusing on the potential difficulty of the task at hand, would only shake my calm and wear down my confidence. It was important to stop thinking about this meeting as a hardship, or hurdle to be jumped, and start focusing on the benefits of idea sharing and goal setting highlighted by Tucana.
Finally, Judgement, Capricornus, appeared as "what to be aware of." It actually appeared inverted, which told me quite a lot - similar to the message of "confidence" in Strength and the 3 of Fire, this card told me to toss any self-doubt out the window. I had this. I would be fine. Yes, I should review the development of the past year with this council. I should talk about what wasn't working, and how we might take steps to improve those areas. But I should do so with the understanding that I am perfectly prepared to describe and address the pertinent and salient issues, and likewise I am capable, along with the support and diverse perspectives of the advisory team, of directing our "ship" forward into clearer waters (which again conjures that image from Strength). The keywords here are: setting priorities, efficiency, practicality. This would be my focus. Furthermore, I am a Capricorn, and the connection to my sun sign felt important. Last week I met with the dean (my boss) and when she realized that my birthday was coming up soon she said, "Oh, you're a Capricorn! Well no wonder managing the faculty schedules is a breeze for you!" We had a little laugh about that (she also happens to be a Reiki master, which I love, but I digress...)

The story over all told me that I didn't need to worry - that in fact to worry would detract from the experience. All I needed to do was spend a little additional time ensuring that the agenda and discussion items were organized, clear, concise, and geared toward progress. If I could manage that, and preserve my own self-confidence, the meeting would go just fine.

In the end, it did just that!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cosmos Tarot: A Short Interview

Back in mid-November I ordered a new deck (or rather, decks) - the Cosmos Tarot and Oracle - from the Light Grey Art Lab, based in Minneapolis, MN. This is the same group that produced the collaborative deck, the Light Grey Tarot, and the Cosmos similarly features the work of 100 artists. These sorts of decks can be challenging to work with due to the varying styles of imagery, however as I was perusing the Cosmos online I found that while not all of the art was immediately attractive to me, a lot of it was very much so, and as a group I found it compelling.

One of the things I like about the Cosmos Tarot (I'll discuss the oracle deck in another post) is that each card features a constellation and its associated mythology. One of the more difficult-to-swallow characteristics of the deck is that the elemental and astrological associations have largely been changed from the traditional, and in fact many of the card meanings are non-standard as well. For example, the 5 of Earth, a card normally associated with isolation and economic struggle, carries the keywords: "new projects, craftsmanship, hard work." Instead of the Chariot, Cancer is now connected with the Lovers, and Temperance is now governed by Air rather than Fire. The Sun and Star Trump numberings are exchanged. All of this (and there are many more changes than what I've listed here) makes the Cosmos Tarot feel more like a second oracle deck, despite its Tarot organization.

Still, I like a good challenge, and there's a special "something" about this deck that reels me in. I decided to do something I have never done before: conduct a short "deck interview" with the Cosmos:

1) What is the Cosmos Tarot's strength? Devil (Andromeda) - This is a great deck for challenging myself to move past self-imposed limitations.

2) What it can teach me? Moon (Pisces) - The Cosmos Tarot will help me to delve into my shadow landscape, to read more intuitively, to not shy away from the Great Unknown and the riches it offers.

3) How can I best approach working with it? Emperor (Leo) rx - In order to get the most out of my work with this deck, I need to be open to doing things differently, to seeing what good may come from alterations in structure. I need to relinquish the desire for control, for following known formats.

I'd say the message was quite concise and very appropriate given the aforementioned traits of the deck. And three Majors! Hmmm.... I suppose the best is yet to come.

Monday, December 14, 2015

La Loba Spread: Air and Fire

Vickie from Eternal Athena Tarot (IG: eternal.athena.tarot) created a very interesting spread called "La Loba" that was inspired by her reading of "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The spread is as follows:
Image: Victoria Wilson
This spread is based on the myth of La Loba, a half-wolf, half-human crone who searches the desert landscape for bones that she reassembles and eventually sings back to life. The myth is about reclaiming our power as women, those aspects of ourselves that we lock down tightly, the harder edges that we soften to be more pleasing to society, the parts of our essential selves that we lose along the way.

I actually pulled these cards nearly two weeks ago and have been sitting with them, letting them simmer, come together, letting the flavors blend, so to speak. Here they are:
Fountain Tarot
Who is the wild woman within? Knight of Swords
Where do I gather my bones? King of Wands
How do I express her? 7 of Swords

I've been doing a lot of work with the Knight of Swords over the past month or two, unintentionally, really. This card has come up quite a bit for me of late, particularly in the days prior to my interview in November (which ultimately landed me my new position). I was initially resistant to it because I just don't see myself in this Knight at all - or rather, I didn't. Sharp edges?? I am the master of earth and water, subtle, calm energies, soft edges. But as I sat with it I realized that there are many aspects of the Knight of Swords that I do see reflected in myself: problem solving, quick thinking, perception, the ability to see to the core of a matter, being clever, and having the ability to be very clear and precise in communication. However I still didn't see my Self as the Knight of Swords - embracing some qualities, perhaps, but not truly living in that skin.

And then... I pulled these cards, and my wild woman within is none other than the Knight of Swords!

And yet it all makes sense. I care a lot about other people, and always seek a way to meet others where they're at, no matter where they are coming from. I am very careful with my use of words because I know how easy it can be to be misunderstood, and to misunderstand, too. However in many ways I've hidden aspects of myself in order to be easier to swallow. As Marianne Williamson wrote about in her famous quote, I often "played small" in order to reduce the potential insecurity of others. However in the process I diminished my own voice, and my own sense of personal power.

I remember listening to my sociolinguistics professor speak about "hedging" - a behavior more often employed by women than by men in an attempt to minimize the impact of their ideas or thoughts by allowing space for doubt, ambiguity, or lack of authority. For example: "Trump seems to have challenging perspectives, but I don't really know much about politics."

I never thought I "hedged" but I have come to realize that I do it far more than I realized. I may not always hedge in terms of word choice (though I certainly do that, too); I also hedge with body language, via the use of smiles or certain gestures, or even via tone of voice. However I am rarely unsure about what I think or want. Sure, sometimes I need to do some investigating, or perhaps sit with a concept for some time before I can wrap myself around it, but during that period I am simply quiet and contemplative. In general, I am often very clear about what needs to be done, what I want or don't want, but I often hedge as a way of diminishing any potential abrasive impact that comes from simply stating what you mean, from being very clear and sure of yourself, and for being unapologetic about that clarity.

The Knight of Swords is my wild woman within. I gather bones from all of the ways in which I can embody the King of Wands - the fiery passion, the great visionary sight that draws people in like moths to a flame, that brings minds together around an idea in order to manifest it. These are things I am capable of, but rarely recognize or live out. The 7 of Swords is how I express her. Through clarity (and strategy, at times) in the written and spoken word. Though recognizing, and being honest with myself, about my underlying swords-nature. By not hiding or apologizing for my ideas. By knowing the difference between diplomacy and presenting a false-face. A sword is a tool, not something to be afraid of.  When wielded well, with strength, honor, and truth, even the 7 of Swords can be a powerful force for positive growth and development.

New Year's Reading Special

From now until January 15th I am offering a special $39 New Year's spread to explore the predominant energies in your life throughout the course of 2016. The spread is one I have worked on since last year, and I've found it to be quite to-the-point and helpful, especially if you review it as you move through the year.

There are nine positions in this New Year's Spread:

1: You
2: Relationships
3: Family
4: Home
5: Work
6: Money
7: Spirituality
8: Strength
9: Advice

Depending on your personal circumstances or preferences, you may choose to replace a position with another that is important or relevant to you for 2016, or specify the nature of a position (for example, if you want "relationships" to focus on a friendship, a romantic relationship, or even your love prospects in general) - just let me know!

If you are interested in requesting this reading either for yourself, or for a family member or friend, please click here.

If you are a fellow reader, please feel free to use this layout for yourself!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Making Space

This morning I pulled the 2 of Swords from the Fountain Tarot (a new acquisition that I am enjoying quite a bit - perhaps I'll do a review soon!). When I see this card I usually think of "impossible decisions." This is a card that, when it features a keyword, is often connected to the concept of peace, or "inner peace." In general I find that whatever peace this card affords, it is only temporary, and it tends to stem from avoidance rather than true ease.

However at times this card is less about avoidance, and more about the benefit of intentionally blocking out external "noise" in order to make space to breathe.

I once pulled this card when I was on Christmas vacation in a cabin in the far north. It was perfect because vacations can serve as a momentary escape from the tumult of everyday life and responsibilities (we can see the 4 of Swords here as well). In a similar way, I have been struggling to make space for things that are important to me: spending time tending to my altar, letting myself absorb self-readings, explore them, write about them, posting blog entries. In a way, I have been so busy lately that it's even been a challenge to spend quality time with my kids.

The 2 of Swords is often symbolic of an incompatibility between the heart and mind. In this case, my heart yearns for space to do these things, but my mind is filled with the many tasks and responsibilities that I am faced with in my new position at work. I don't like how that feels, however I won't be gifted that space simply by waiting to see what happens.... I have to claim it. And that means that I can't ignore these needs I have for quiet, for time, for writing and reading, for my egun (ancestors) and my family. I have to find a balance between what I must do, and create order within these priorities. Doing that requires attention.

Thus I have pushed off everything I "must do" this morning - just for a moment - to allow myself space to write this post, and to think these thoughts. That is nourishment all on its own!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Golden Glow of Quiet

Life has been so busy lately that at times I find myself longing for a moment of quiet peace, a short measure of silence with my bóveda, a breath of communion. This morning was no different. I woke up, and after finally gathering the energy to move my body out of bed, my first feeling was one of, "I need space." I need space to sit and, rather than think, to let my mind be still.

As the coffee was brewing, I shuffled my Raven's Prophecy deck and pulled: Hermit.
I looked at it for a moment and just thought: Yes! Yes, to the Hermit in general.... but this depiction is so welcoming and precise in its reflection of what I hunger for: the golden glow of quiet. A lantern burns within the heart of an ancient tree, providing a secluded place, a protective and natural embrace.

This image reminds me of a book I cherished as a child, My Side of the Mountain, about a young boy who escapes into the hills and lives off the land on his own. He has a hawk companion, he learns to tan his own hides using the natural tannins in fallen oak trees, and he lives inside of a massive, hollowed-out tree. This is the kind of experience I always wanted to have as a kid, and I would lose myself in that story.

Now I am blessed with some new and wonderful opportunities in my life that also bring a higher level of "involvement" and attention and "noise." I don't have the choice to ignore it - it is my job to face it all head-on. And so it becomes even more important to intentionally carve out a space in my own proverbial sacred tree to steal away to from time to time, to recharge, release, and recenter.