30 April, 2015

Baltimore on Fire: Healing the Urban Spirit of the Land

It's been a rough few days.
The media shows a Baltimore on fire, full of rioters and looters. Of course, that's not even close to an accurate representation of what's really happening in the city. Many others have written objective and somewhat accurate articles regarding recent events (see here, here, here, here, and here). For this post, I am writing about Baltimore's magic.

In Paganism, and Druidry in particular, there is great emphasis on working with the Spirits of the Land. In my own personal magical philosophy, as both a Druid and a Urban Mystic (native New Yorker here), I believe in working not only with the Land, but with the Egregore created by communities of group minds. For example, Baltimore City has a different "energy & spirit" than New York City, but both have similar Urban Nature Spirits within them that work under the direction and protection of the City Itself.

When I first moved here back in 2011, I ritually "plugged in" to these Urban Nature Spirits (such as the Beggar Man, who watches over the homeless; the Pigeons, who are the Eyes of Baltimore City, the Spirits of the Watersheds, who give fresh water and help protect the land from flooding during hurricanes, etc.). The offerings that I give to my Helping Spirits include Baltimore and its own overarching Nature Spirit; they help to keep my apartment protected from burglars, my car safe on the roads, the electricity/water running as long as possible during heavy storms, and my person safe when taking long walks through new neighborhoods.

Because of this ritual joining during the House Blessing for my apartment, I felt the increased pain and unrest in Baltimore before I understood what was going on (and before I read first-hand accounts online).

I love Baltimore, and I especially love her people, with whom I have directly worked these past four years. Over forty percent of my shamanic clients are within 25 miles of me, and I have compassionate working relationships with hundreds more in the public mental health centers/hospitals in both the city and county of Baltimore. I am deeply moved by the prayers for healing from the protesters, and want to contribute my time and energy, too.

However, prayers in a shamanic context are fundamentally different from other religious prayers. Shamans directly intercede with Spirits, on behalf of the client(s), and so their words and intent are directly tied to the healing work. This means that the ethics of shamanic prayers are more stringent than other religious prayers, as it has a direct effect on the outcome and energy of an issue.

What should I pray for? Should I ask for energy be sent to the protestors? What about praying that the rioters "all go home instead of rioting?"  Should I pray for the National Guard to leave, or for more cops to join those already flooding the city? What is the effect of my prayers for "no more violence?"  Will that affect the outcome of the social change? How can I know what is needed for true healing and witnessing to occur?

I am a limited human being, with a very small understanding of cause and effect on a grand, city-wide scale. I may want to pray for a quick, safe end to the activities, but what if that short-circuits the very real pressure needed to fix what's broken?

As I am teasing out the complexities of my decision, the local ADF Druid grove, Cedar Light Grove, announces the beginning of a nightly Vigil, to provide a supportive and spiritual place for those in need.

I immediately pack a bag of offerings, grab my drum, and tear out a map of Baltimore from my hiking book. I've decided that the best way I can send energy, prayers, and offerings in support of Baltimore is to send it to the Spirit of Baltimore itself. The Spirit can decided where the energy needs to go, and I will not be so immediately and directly linked to its cause-and-effect, especially as I don't know what's needed for the City and its People.

(c) Lonely Coyote, 2015
The Vigil started at 7pm, and brought in people who wanted to do something, but weren't quite sure what to do (at first). Offerings of alcohol and cornmeal were poured onto the ground, and dedicated to Baltimore City. Energy was raised with drumming, vocalizing, and movement. A crystal grid helped to direct it throughout the whole city (see here for a write-up with pictures). Many of us carved sacred words and prayers into candles, and lit them as the Sun set.
(c) Lonely Coyote, 2015
The greatest offering for Baltimore came from the attendees. Community was created during that Vigil, and there was laughter, stories, compassion, frank talk about racism & fear, and support of neighbors and strangers. It was a true reflection of the Spirit of Baltimore as a whole, and I believe the Egregore was strengthened by all the energies in that Vigil.

I will continue to send healing energy to the Spirit of Baltimore, for each evening that there is rioting and the restrictive curfew. I don't know what will happen to this city, and I don't know if we can maintain the Total Death Count at Only One (R.I.P. Freddie Gray). I have no control over any of this; I only have control over myself.

I choose to learn all that I can about all sides of this conflict, and to bear witness to the treatment of black city residents and the poor.

And I choose to drum.

What will you choose to do?
(c) Lonely Coyote, 2015

17 April, 2015

Trillium Gathering, an ADF Druid Festival

I am excitedly preparing for the first outdoor festival of the season, Trillium Gathering.

(c) ADF
I've only been to Trillium one other time, over 3 years ago. This festival has a reputation for its amazing hospitality, Warrior Games, thought-provoking workshops, Brewing Competition, and it is the first major gathering of Druids and pagans in the "festival year" that extends from April to September.

I will be presenting on "Differentiating between mental illness and spiritual experiences" on Saturday afternoon. I've given this lecture numerous times over the past ~4 years, and it gets streamlined and refined with each presentation. At Sacred Space/Between the Worlds 2015, I was given the amazing feedback to flesh out my lecture into a book/screening tool. Stay tuned for that!

I will be heading out to Cross Junction, Virginia in a few short hours, and I'm greatly looking forward to reconnecting with fellow Druids. Although I am no longer a formal member of the ADF organization, it served as home for over 10 years, and the core spirituality continues to fill me in such a complete way (and I feel a real ancestor connection to it, too).

Hope to see quite a few of you there!

(Interested in attending another Druid Festival? Please check out Pan Druid Retreat in May!)

10 April, 2015

Another lesson in Salt Healing: The Salt Sanctuary of Maryland

A few weeks ago, I had the great joy to participate in a Yoga Nidra Meditation at the Salt Sanctuary, a new alternative healing location in Elkridge, MD.

I've written about the amazing healing properties of Salt (NaCl) in a previous post. The Universe always provides funny little synchronicities, and the grand opening of a new Salt Room only 30 minutes from my apartment was a wonderful surprise!

My dear friend, Gina Sager, MD, organized the event on a Saturday afternoon. The store front was a little hard to find via GPS, as it's not quite in Google Maps yet, but once I made it to the shopping center, it was easier to locate (and ample parking, too).

Ellen, the owner of the Salt Sanctuary, was there to greet us (and make sure we made it okay). She answered all of our questions as to the physical healing properties of salt, and gave us a quick synopsis of a typical salt session. After she finished her mini-presentation, we were directed to place our belongings in the provided lockers (especially our shoes) and make our way to the large room at the back of the office.

A set of French doors opened into another world! Sea salt covered the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and was even pumped into the air via a specialized halogenerator. Each participant was given special booties to cover the feet, and as we made our way to the zero-gravity chairs for the meditation, we crunched across the salt floor. With the strange acoustics (due to the salt-encrusted walls), it felt like we were walking on the Moon!

The Yoga Nidra session lasted a little over an hour, and many of us found that both the zero-gravity chairs and the Salt Room supported a deeper meditative state, and clearer visions during the pathworking. The stresses of life quickly melted away in the salt atmosphere, and participants remarked on how quickly they were able to "drop their consciousness down into the body" (a process that usually takes 15-25 minutes). All of us were able to breathe deeply from the belly, and any participants with coughs found them lessened or gone by the end of the session.

Spiritually, I found that almost all participants released blockages around the energetic bodies (i.e., stress, emotional imprints, memories, past attachments, anxieties, etc.). The salt quickly neutralized them, returning everything to an "energetic zero" which prevented anyone's "stuff" from attaching to anyone else. It also destabilized negative "thought forms" which helped participants to feel more empowered in their own body. Gina's wonderful words flowed perfectly with this process!

I greatly enjoyed my time there, and am looking forward to my next session. I also feel like a drumming/chanting session would be extremely powerful in that environment (stay tuned while I figure out details!). I encourage anyone who is interested in alternative forms of healing (i.e., Reiki, acupuncture, essential oils, shamanic healing) to check it out, and to bring a friend!

Have you ever spent time in a Salt Room? What was your experience?

01 April, 2015

The Most Sacred of Holy Days...

Crazy Eye Coyote! (c) 2015
Happy wonderful tricksy April Fool's Day!

After Halloween, this is my favorite holiday. The desire to help people to laugh at themselves (and at me!) can be overwhelming sometimes, and this day makes mirth and silliness the norm.

For me, this holy day has never been about playing hurtful, painful, or embarrassing jokes on others. That type of trickery is too close to bullying, and leaves a bad taste all around.

I prefer to play tricks on myself, and see the response in others. As an example, I have enjoyed pretending that I am my own "evil twin" since dying my blonde hair brunette. It shakes up every day perceptions, and many people giggle when they realize they can't recognize me for a while!

Another good example is how I play tricks at work for mental health clients.

This day is about joyful revelry and flipping the status quo. Spiritually, it helps us to live in the present, break up worries and anxieties, and look at the same things in our environment in a different way.

Many cultures teach the importance of the "Beginners Mind" and the imagery and symbolism of the Fool from Tarot is a perfect example of this. In Lakota culture, the fool is known as Heyoka, and he or she acts contrary to the social norm, in order to illustrate lessons, ask difficult questions, and test boundaries (to see if they are still needed or too stiff). This is also why the Jester was such an important person at Court-- he or she needed to test every avenue of a King's or Queen's decree, to help find loopholes and to test for internal validity.

On this sacred day of silliness, I plan on engaging in all sorts of wacky fun! I shall leave you with these words from a previous post:

"Why do you always want to look like a fool in front of the clients?"

And I responded with, "It's not always about looking like a fool. It's about taking that chance to do something silly and fun, and not caring what you look like. I'm trying to role-model an appropriate response to the emotions of anxiety, embarrassment, and social isolation. Because our clients will have to learn how to laugh at themselves in a way that makes them feel safe and secure."

If you think about it, it's not just those receiving mental health services that need to learn this social skill. Everyone does. How much stress is generated from worrying about how someone perceives you? Or ruminating over an embarrassing situation? How much uncomfortable energy is generated trying to control things that no one can control?

Laughter completely changes the energy of a situation, and can even flip the perspective of the person dealing with these emotions.

Laughing at one's self for situations out of one's control is a great skill, and not everyone learns how to do it right away. That's why it's important for Coyote's energy to work in this manner, to allow a safe place, a middle ground, so that laughter can be shared without the fear of hurting someone's feelings.

 Happy April Fool's Day!