Nature and writing, the prep

On the full moon in August I did a tarot reading to shine some light on my nature and writing project. The eight of pentacles came up which, astrologically, corresponds to the sun in Virgo. Which just happens to be about the time I was planning on diving in. It feels like a nice reassurance that I am following my path.

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I also selected a crystal I was drawn to to help me hold my intention around this project. I’ve talked before about this (although I can’t find the post) but essentially by doing this, the crystal (in this case rose quartz) acts as a reminder, a touchstone, an inspiration and something to turn to if I need help.

I also recently got a message from the lovely Crystal Cornwall UK saying they were having a summer sale and was instantly drawn to labradorite and ended up buying three stones as well as some other lovely crystals.  They have amazing names, are fascinating to look at and are a beautiful part of geology. Different parts of the world are home to different gemstones. For example, Whitby is well known for its jet.

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Other preparations I’m making include writing up a month by month vague curriculum as well as creating a poetry jar as words call to me.  It’s a great way to warm up if you’re going to write but also little gems come straight from the jar without too much polishing.

Winter magic
twists sun beams
to night

In terms of my plans (which are entirely flexible and reactive to both my health and what I find along the journey), I am currently thinking of the following:

  • September
    • Starting the Future Learn: William Wordsworth – Poetry, People and Place course.
    • Starting the Future Learn: Learn about weather course
    • Hopefully a day trip
    • Focus on: What is nature writing?  Why do we read and write it? How has it changed? And what makes good nature writing?  Looking at all genres.
  • October
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – rights and values in ecosystem services course
    • Local one day course – From Ovid to Oz: A Brief Cultural History of Werewolves
    • Marking Samhain, or Halloween, 31st October
    • Focus on animals in (human) society – their roles in our lives, our roles in their lives, how we interact, how we complement each other and how we see animals?  And then honing in on animals (living, extinct or supernatural) as scapegoats.
  • November
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – human impact in the natural environment
    • Local one day course on the human history of York
    • Focus more on plants and/or geology this month.  It may be winter and cold and dark and it may feel like everything is closing up and going into hibernation but what are plants up to and which plants are in the spotlight?
  • December
    • Local seasonal traditions
    • Mark the winter solstice
    • Focus on weather
  • January
    • Poetry focus – reading, analysing, looking for themes, writing it…
  • February
    • Focus on rewilding.  It keeps crossing my path so I’m gathering reading and links and videos as they find me.

As always, I’d love to get to links and references and suggestions and opinions and ideas!

Pangolin

Pangolins are apparently the world’s most hunted animal and the most trafficked wild mammal.  This in itself is reason enough for me to want to write this post.  The pangolin had been on my list of animals to write about and then a couple of days ago an article popped up on my twitter feed and reminded me about their plight.

The Telegraph says that “with its armoured shell and peculiar gait, the humble pangolin looks more like an anteater prepped for medieval battle than an animal under threat.”  And this feels like a good description.  There is something naive and comical about the pangolin and they make me smile.

They are similar to the hedgehog and the echidna in how they react to danger but unlike these spiky creatures, the pangolin’s own defences are being used against them.  When threatened, they curl up into a ball and their scales protect them.  This scaly armour is too hard for even a lion to bite through.  But when it comes to human predators, we just use their helpful rolled up position to pick them up.

We exploit their very defences.  We utilise their armour for our own means.  And on the whole we don’t need to attack the pangolin.  Whilst they are sometimes eaten as a necessary source of food, they are considered a delicacy in Asia.  They are also hunted for use in traditional chinese medicine.  Their scales are dried and roasted then used to stimulate lactation, cure cancer, help asthma and more.  The scales sell on the black market for over $3000 a kilo.  In addition to food and medicine, the pangolin is also used in rituals, art and magic and their scales have even been used to make a coat…  This is wanton, wasteful killing.  This is not hunting for survival.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, half of the pangolins which are killed are juveniles.  They are slow breeders who give birth to one pup every one or two years.  This means that over exploitation of the species is significantly more likely to result in extinction.  This is a critical time for the pangolin.

On top of hunting, pangolins are also suffering because deforestation is getting rid of their habitats.  All species of pangolin are considered vulnerable or critical on the list of endangered species.

I’m finding this a tough post to write.  We all know about dolphins in trouble and the threats to elephants but because they are iconic, wellknown species, they get a lot of attention and a lot of work is being done to help them.  I don’t know how long the plight of the pangolin has been known but I do know that a lot of people don’t even know what one is, let alone the trouble they are in.

Their struggle has been made harder because they are a secretive, elusive species, making them hard to study.  They are also solitary creatures, most of which are active at night.

They are equipped with defences, but they are not cut out for the world they find themselves in today.  Whilst they have their armour to protect from wildlife, they are not very ferocious and don’t even have teeth.  If their scales aren’t enough then they have to turn to their tail which has sharp scales.  They also have sharp claws and can emit a nasty smell but if it wasn’t for humans, they wouldn’t need to use these.  The claws are for breaking into ant hills and termite mounds, not fighting humans.  Everything about this creature, screams protection – in addition to their chain mail style suit, they have thick eye lids and ears and noses which can close up to stop ants getting in.  This is an animal which is all about boundaries and personal integrity.

Other aspects to note about this creature include poor vision which means they use their sense of smell to find their food.  They also have a long long tongue which can be longer than the pangolin and is used to collect lots of insects quickly.  This epic muscle is attached near its pelvis, deep in the chest cavity.  It is sticky and powerful with spikes leaning into the stomach.  Presumably this is to keep the ants and termites from escaping or falling out.  Once eaten, the food gets ground up in the pangolin’s tummy by stones and more spines.  This is a bit like a reverse hedgehog really!

These mysterious animals don’t do well in captivity either, humankind really is not aligned with the pangolin’s needs.  In zoos they tend to get ill and die very quickly…  Unfortunately this means that once captured, a pangolin’s prognosis is very poor, even if they don’t get killed for food and medicine…  And if we treated them well, they could continue to serve an important ecological function.  The vast number of insects they eat means they are great for pest control.

To sum it up, the pangolin is vulnerable, precarious and it’s defences are being used against it.  Watch out for similarities in your own life if you are drawn to this creature.  And please, please do not consume pangolin.

International Tarot Day

Whoop!  I can’t believe I have only been into tarot for eighteen months or so.  It feels so much longer (in a good way).  As I’ve talked about before, I find them such a useful tool for self reflection and getting to know myself and hear myself.

I saw a post somewhere recently about why having a question in mind is important when you go for a reading.  For me, this is such a useful thing in itself.  It helps me clear my head, focus on and whittle down what it is that’s going on and in part, this is a helpful tool in itself.  To ask a question, you have to have a vague idea about what you’re feeling or thinking after all!

 

Ways I’ve been enhancing my understanding of tarot and deepening my readings have included guided visualisations, using oracle cards alongside them and looking at the astrological symbolism.

Each card has an astrological link and I’ve found these a helpful way to see further into the card.  There’s a lot of in depth info over on Virgo Vault (which goes way beyond my basic astrology knowledge but is still clear enough that if all you want is the sign, or sign and planet of a card, you can).  Labyrinthos has some nicely portrayed info about the Major Arcana.

I also use my tarot cards to do readings for, and to help me understand, my house of helens on a group and individual level.  And I have used them to kickstart story ideas.

A few posts on tarot you might want to check out, in no particular order:

The Chariot

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Please see the intro post first!  You may also be interested in my post about how I work with my house of helens.  If this is something you’d like to know more about, the approach I have developed is similar to psychosynthesis.

Whilst this post is a deeply personal reflection on my inner chariot, I am sharing it as some of this will be useful for tarot readers and for those of you who aren’t, it might provide some thinking points for reflecting on your own inner warrior.

“I know building a relationship with my inner warrior is important for me to work on. She is confident and surefooted. I feel I can trust her judgement and that it will be clear”
– Me, 2016

“Warrior of the heart, deeply rooted in love and fiery passion for life. She is aligned with truth; she fiercely rips away your masks and pretences; that which is not in service to love is exposed and brought into question. She is wide awake, totally alive and brings fire medicine, through our bodies, to awaken us to the present moment and the authentic action needed to realign us with our own truth and spirit. She has been demonised by the patriarchy which lives inside us all and so, to some, she may induce fear and loathing: if we are not safe with our own power then her power threatens us. There is truth in her demonisation because to suppress any energy so totally will only cause it to become distorted, like a ‘demon’ who wants attention and healing to be restored into balance. We might get burnt a few times while we tame our dragons but, if we lock them in a cage, they might just burn the whole house down.”
– Tabitha Chambers

The Chariot is associated with Cancer, the crab, and as such carries with her some of the traits of that sign.  In particular, and important to me, is the dual aspect of her.  She has a hard, tough shell which she shows the world but inside that she is vulnerable and loving and emotional.  She is a fighter, appearing emotionless and fierce. She is gentle and her heart overflows with feelings and yet these are pushed down so she can fight on and on until she burns out. She is intense and courageous and protective. The walls she puts up to go to battle can become permanent if she is not careful.  Remember to put down the shield from time to time, you cannot fight well if your arms are tired.

She is a warrior, a campaigner, an advocate, a world changer.  She is a powerful, potent, empowered creature who owns her sexuality.  She is wild, courageous and wilful.  She pushes against injustice and uses her strength to help others.

She needs to remind us over and over: Do not lose yourself in your passion for helping others.  And be cautious about over helping or over nurturing.  She means well but the Chariot is prone to stiffling, she feels it is easier to do the work herself, she wants to help but in doing the work for others, she robs them of the chance to develop those skills.  Empower but don’t takeover.  Run like the wild horse you are, but don’t drag others along with you.  They will journey if they decide it is right for them, and if they do, it has to be in their own time.  Take time to understand whether you run from something or toward something.  Whilst you are filled with forward focused momentum there is still time to pause.

She is determined and single minded and this can lead to a blinkered view of things.  Her intense focus on the task at hand can cause her to lose touch of the other things she values.  This can include neglecting her personal relationships which she doesn’t intend to do but her drive overpowers her and her cause is all she can think of.  This is another reason she is vulnerable to burning out.

She knows she must understand herself and explore herself before she can know and explore the world.  Until she has done this self development, she cannot be her most powerful when it comes to changing the world.  And she thrives on these focuses, self and world.  Without this direction, her overflowing power becomes something that controls her rather than her controlling it.  Without a project, she loses her sense of self, her empowered nature and becomes impatient and frustrated and lashes out at those around her.

She goes into battle for her chosen causes so that she can bring love to others.  She is a war goddess and she is a goddess of love.  She holds both, intertwined.  If you look at the Rider Waite Smith tarot card, you see the charioteer is steering two horses, perhaps one is war and the other love?  Other explanations have suggested one is the inner self and one the outer self which ties in neatly with the cancer metaphor.  Similarly for the conscious and subconscious minds.

“This is not a warrior of the fearless kind but rather a deeper feminine warrior who feels fear and can meet it. She is able to experience all emotions in their purest form, bringing them through her heart in service to love, no matter how difficult. Fire burns in her psyche, aiding courage and bringing clarity to her thoughts, actions and words – she knows when to say yes or no, defining and protecting her boundaries, creating a safe structure to support the phases to come. Warrior woman is responsible, she keeps her commitments, she creates life for us based on freedom of choice, she stops us from taking and enduring other people’s nonsense, she gives voice to our truths and she connects us to the earth through her pure wild nature.”
– She Who Knows

If we look at her in context, she follows the lovers card.  Where the lovers are pulled by their emotions, their lusts and their desires like adolescents in the midst of hormones, the chariot controls her emotions.  Controls instead of being controlled by.  But after the Chariot comes the strength card.  Strength is neither controlling nor controlled by its emotions.  He is in harmony with them.  He feels them and releases them. He is the mature figure in emotional development.  We must remember that controlling our emotions is not the final stage of our journey.

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Many of the traits of my imaginary chariot are akin to those found in the wild unknown animal spirit horse card.  A card which closely resembles the chariot card.  Like the horse, my chariot cannot be tamed.  She cannot be controlled.  She will help me and she will work with me but she will not work for me.

My house of Helens

This post came out of the desire to write another post.  I was trying to combine them but it was getting rather epic and unfocused.  This post will also, hopefully, help me to talk about my helens with people which is something I find hugely helpful.

I think I’ve mentioned my imaginary Helens on here before but I can’t find the post and I don’t think I went into much detail.  Essentially, whilst I was in therapy, I “found” a younger version of myself and we worked with her around some stuff.  Then along came a big sister character followed by a maternal, matriarchal figure, Mana.  Then my inner warrior, who was incredibly burnt out, made herself aware to me but didn’t want to see me because I had overused her.  This was the chariot.  After therapy, I also found an older younger version called Hennie and she has a cat called Charlie.

I’ve been doing a lot of work with them on a one to one basis recently and I feel I have a lot stronger sense of Little Helen, Big Sister and Hennie.  But the Chariot and Mana still feel a bit distanced.  As I said, the chariot burnt out in terms of fighting.  This was the result of a long time of trying to get a house, trying to get a wheelchair, trying to get mental health support, trying to get work to become accessible and so on.

Each helen has a tarot card I associate with her and this has been helpful in terms of getting to know them and letting them speak through tarot.  The main reason for this post is just to give some background before I post about the chariot.  I tried writing it just for me and her as a way of getting to know her better but I do write more cohesively and coherently if it’s going on my blog…

Whilst my post will be deeply personal, it will also touch on elements of the relevant card and archetypes which I hope will be relatable to most people.  Even if you don’t have an imaginary helen in your head, you probably have a vague sense of an inner warrior or an inner child etc.

I know this is a very specific way of approaching personal development, self care etc but it really works for me.  I’d be very interested to know if anyone else does anything similar.  It all revealed itself very organically and in a really empowering way.  And continues to do so.  Like any relationship, it is necessary for me to slowly get to know them, to let them reveal what they are ready to share when they are ready.

Nothing I do with my helens is fully conscious.  For example, Hennie was struggling a lot to identify her needs, let alone try and get help meeting them.  Then one day I checked in with my house of helens and charlie cat had wandered into her life.  This is proving to be a really good way of helping her understand that it is ok to get your needs met, helping her identify charlie cat’s needs and hence her own and helping her learn how to ask for help.  If I had consciously sat down and tried to plan that, it wouldn’t have worked.  The same goes for the initial concept.  Had someone, a month before, told me I’d be working with imaginary helens as part of my therapy, I wouldn’t have taken them seriously…  I was really lucky that my excellent therapist went along on the journey with me, not pushing me into it and not pulling me away from it.

It’s Okay When Things Don’t Go To Plan

The lovely Meg from That Hummingbird Life sends out wonderful Sunday emails which include 3 questions.  Her email yesterday was like she was talking just to me.  She was discussing when things don’t go to plan, such as when illness gets in the way of plans and how we react to that.  It hit such a chord that I wanted to give the questions some serious consideration and felt that tarot was the way to go.

Whilst some of the messages I got are specific to me, it felt like a very transferable reading so I wanted to share my answers and invite you to share your own.

Wild Unknown Tarot Cards: The Empress, The World, 7 of Cups

What’s one thing you can do to be kinder to yourself this week?

The Empress: The Empress is a nurturing, mother nature type of card.  She is about creation and self care, unconditional love and nourishment.  She asks us to notice the beauty around and within us.  Through looking after ourselves we feed the ideas and the potential which incubates inside us.  We may not know what we are birthing but unless we nurture ourselves, our ideas will not be able to grow.

For me, the empress asks that I spend time in nature, that I notice the little everyday things and appreciate them, that I gaze on the moon and I open all my senses to her wonders.

How can you plan time for rest this week?

World: The world reminds me I am whole exactly as I am.  And if I am whole as I am then doing x,y or z will not make me more whole.  Thus, I can let go of the “I must do…” list more easily.

“Wholeness does not mean perfection.  It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life”
– Parker Palmer

The world card also shows me that the nature of life means cycles, turning seasons, ebs and flows.  This means that I too cycle through periods of rest and activity and this is entirely natural and my life will be easier if I go with the flow of this.

Finally, the world card is about the connectedness, the interconnectedness of everything.  I am part of the universe and as a daughter of the stars, I owe it to myself and to everything and everyone else to look after myself.  To take care of myself as I would take care of others.

How can you start to take the pressure off yourself?

7 of Cups: Get your head out of the clouds.  Dreams and wishes are great but don’t try and convince yourself that you can do everything.  Having ideas can be exciting but also overwhelming.  Ground them in reality.  We can use our dreams to hide from our current feelings and also to berate ourselves with.  If you try and push through and do things when you are ill or otherwise not up to it, you will only end up having to redo or repair things later.  You think you are progressing but really you’re tying yourself up in knots.  Instead of fighting it, let go. Take care of yourself.

I like numbers and I find it interesting that we have 3,7 and 21 here.  The empress,3, and the 7 of cups multiply together to give us the world, 21.  Combine kindness with taking the pressure off and you can rest.

The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck: The Bear

“…Ask now the Beasts
And they shall teach thee;
And the Fowls of the air,
And they shall teach thee;
Or speak to the Earth,
And it shall teach thee”

-Job 12: 7-8

I recently got the beautiful Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Deck from an amazing friend (which makes it even more special in my books).  One of the wonderful things about the deck is that you can add a lot of your own personal meaning based on your experience with the animals you draw and also by learning more about them.

Kim Krans, the illustrator, explains that, out of all the many many animals, she focused on wild animals and has split the deck into earth, air, fire, water and spirit.

To get to know the cards better, I am hoping to work my way through them all, adding my own knowledge, my understanding of the animal and what I feel like they are telling me.  I will not be regurgitating the accompanying book, buy that yourself, it’s great!  Some of the animals I’m familiar with, some less so and in another animal spirit deck (also from a great friend) there are animals I’ve never even heard of!  It’s the Animal Dreaming Oracle Card deck by Scott Alexander King and I’m planning on doing a similar thing with that deck as well.

These are the earth cards, how beautiful are they?! I love them!

Bear

I like bears, quite possibly stemming from my love of teddy bears which I do realise are very different to the wild kind!

As I approach these cards, I think about what springs to mind when I think of the animal.  When it comes to the bear, hibernation is a big part of that mental construct I have.  I also bring to mind the dichotomies of the bear; on the one hand you have creature which eats mostly vegetation and nurtures her* cubs for a couple of years; on the other hand you have an animal which is fierce and aggressive (mostly when she or her cubs are being threatened it must be said).

In terms of the card, one of the most powerful messages I got was that you can have two seemingly opposing energies or forces or feelings within you and still be one.  I know that sounds obvious to a lot of people but it has taken, and is still taking, a lot for me to be able to reconcile feeling moments of joy against a backdrop of pain.  I am only just reaching a point where I can hold this polarity of feelings without one invalidating the other.  We are all made up of a range of emotions and the way we express that is also diverse but often the root of our actions comes from the same place – our values.  In the case of the mother bear, she nurtures and loves her cubs and is compassionate and gentle and it is that love which drives her to aggression when her beloved children are threatened.  She is gentle and she is strong.

Physical qualities

Bears have a strong presence – they are tall, they are well built and I imagine if you see them in the wild you’re probably going to be rather intimidated!  For me, the bear spirit animal is about stepping into your power, standing tall and standing your ground.

Other than mothers with their cubs, bears live alone.  Is this card a reminder that you need to retreat (into your cave for hibernation) and spend some time on your own?  Literally going within, taking space for introspection within your own cave or den which brings us back to…

Hibernation

Given that this is the first card in the earth “suit”, I think it’s important to think about the cycle of hibernation.  The bear spends spring to autumn in her active phase eating a lot of food, wandering the woods, mating and generally doing what bears do.  She’s out there living her life.

Next comes hyperphagia – lots and lots of eating and drinking and preparing the den.  This is followed by a transition period in which their bodies start to prepare for hibernation; metabolisms fall, heart rates fall and the bear becomes much more lethargic.

Then comes hibernation when the bear is in a dormant state, using her stores of fat as energy.  Changes from the transition period become more extreme with heart rates as low as 8 beats a minute (as opposed to 80-100 during the active phase).  The waste created through the “feeding” process, such as urea, is reused rather than being expelled.  It is during the hibernation period that eggs are fertilised (they are kept away from sperm until the bear knows she will have enough fat stores to ensure a successful pregnancy) and cubs are born in late January/early February.  It is probably this period of sleep and retreat that has resulted in bears being associated with the subconscious.  They do after all spend up to 100 days wandering the land of dreams.

There is a final phase, the bear does not just wake up one day and move into her active period.  This phase has been referred to as a waking hibernation and is when the transition activity is reversed.  Mother bears tend to be the last of the bears to venture back out.

It is this phase in the cycle, almost a rebirth, that I feel is particularly relevant to this card.  As the first card in the suit, the bear is emerging, starting her journey, and a natural place to start is the coming out of hibernation.  Perhaps at different times and different situations, I will relate this card more with another phase, listen and feel what is right for you, now.

Terri Windling has written about the bear, following her seasons of inward and outward, activity and rest, introversion and extroversion.  This idea of dualities has helped me think differently about my own periods of activity and rest.  All things have their time, to flow with this is much easier than to struggle against it:

“There is a perfect time for everything.  If the tulip surfaces in heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.” – Rebecca Campbell

Note: apparently, according to the wisdom of the internet, bears do not truly hibernate as there are specific conditions which are required for this however there is agreement that they do have a long winter sleep!


*For me, this card feels like it has a feminine energy and the messages I am taking are all related to the mummy bear.  Perhaps looking at the different sexes would give interesting depth to readings.