Be The Change…

people

Mahatma Gandhi said that we should be the change we wish to see in the world.

With that sage advice in mind, I’ve decided that the change I wish to see in the world is less hatred, less closed-mindedness, and less bigotry in all its forms. I’ve been contemplating the chat that the current occupant of the White House had with Billy Bush a few years back – you know, the one in which he boasted about how happy he was to be able to sexually assault women with reckless impunity –  so I’ve been especially focused on misogyny as a toxic mindset (it’s just one of many that we humans employ, but I have to start somewhere…).

I’ve always been left feeling sort of embarrassed and squirmy whenever I encounter the old time-y convention of referring to our entire species as “man” or even “mankind.” It feels to me like a very outmoded and unhelpful way of reinforcing the notion that male humans are somehow inherently more important and valuable than all the other kinds of humans. And every time we adhere to this convention, we’re preserving and feeding that notion in some small but definite way.

I decided to use a Carl Jung title as an example here. And please don’t get me wrong: I love many of Jung’s ideas, and I feel that his work has had lasting importance. I’m a huge proponent of the benefits of looking at existence through a metaphysical lens, and Jung’s work is hugely influential throughout all of modern metaphysics. This was, after all, the man who gifted us with such worthy concepts as archetypes, synchronicity, individuation, the collective unconscious, the psychological “shadow,” the anima and animus…

But take a look at one of Jung’s well-known works, the last one to occupy him before his death in 1961. It’s called Man and His Symbols.

Man.

His symbols.

This is a highly misleading title. Symbols are undeniably a gigantic part of both our inner and outer worlds…but they’re hardly the sole province of the male. And men are hardly the sole component of humankind, or even the sole important component of it. Letting this convention persist in our culture is a backwards-looking move that feeds into the agendas of people who want to keep other people down, even if it seems to be doing that only in small and mostly innocuous ways. The problem is that repression is actually never small or innocuous…especially when you’re the one who’s being repressed…

So I’m suggesting that whenever possible, we try to repair our world by overturning this obsolete convention. I know we can’t retroactively change the title of Jung’s book (even if I did enjoy changing it for the accompanying image) or the million other such references already out there…but moving forward, we can do our best to not rack up any further usages of “man” and “mankind” when what we really mean to say is “humanity.” I guarantee that I’ll be doing my part in this, practicing what I preach.

This is how we shape the world, and how we can be the change we wish to see in it:

People

…and our symbols.

 

Astrology 101: Glyphs

Astrology is a bit like music, in that each of these fields combines elements of both logical, scientific left-brain thinking with artistic, intuitive right-brain functions: they're like forms of what we might call "ArtScience"...and wow, are they both crammed full of unique symbols!
Astrology is a bit like music, in that each of these fields combines elements of both logical, scientific left-brain thinking with artistic, intuitive right-brain functions: they’re like forms of what we might call “ArtScience”…and wow, are they both crammed with their own unique symbols!

Astrology is a fascinating field. A sort of alchemy all its own, Astrology is like a fusion of art and science…a melding of language and math…

When you first arrive through its front doorway, agog with wonder, and eager to learn, it’s very easy to be knocked immediately back out over the same threshold that you’d just crossed, after you first catch a glimpse of the apparent complexity that’s at work there. And Astrology is complex, no question about it…but it’s not as horrifyingly brain-fracturing as it might appear at initial glance…

Part of the early issue lies with all the symbols. Astrology loves its symbols, or “glyphs,” as they’re commonly called – so much so, in fact, that it can feel like you’re being asked to learn several new alphabets in several new tongues the second you arrive in the entryway. It’s therefore absolutely essential to have some familiarity with these glyphs before you can have any realistic hope of understanding the underlying concepts that they represent. Astrological charts are downright riddled with these glyphs, so if you want to learn Astrology, but you don’t want to end up a gibbering puddle on the floor while strange, arcane runes and sigils swim through your field of vision, you’ll need to take a deep breath, accept that you’re in for a bout of study, and then start memorizing the basic glyphs.

The following tables capture the first wave of the most important of these astrological symbols. These particular glyphs correspond to the Planets that are primarily used in modern Astrology, as well as to the 12 Signs (and please note that both Pluto and Capricorn have alternate glyphs that are fairly common, as well):

Planet

Glyph

Sun

Moon

Mercury

Venus

Mars

Jupiter

Saturn

Uranus

Neptune

Pluto

In Astrology, the Planets each symbolize a set of drives that we all possess...and each Planet is represented in text and graphics by its own unique symbol.  If you want to learn Astrology, start committing these symbols to memory sooner rather than later!
In Astrology, the Planets each symbolize a set of drives that we all possess…and each Planet is represented in text and graphics by its own unique symbol. If you want to learn Astrology, start committing these symbols to memory sooner rather than later!

The Planets represent drives that occur inside each of us. Everyone who ever lived came equipped with some version of the urges symbolized by, say, Venus, or Mars, or Neptune. These drives express themselves differently from one individual to the next, of course, and part of those differences flow from the fact that Planets are placed within Signs. Here are the glyphs that stand for each of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac:

Sign

Glyph

Aries

Taurus

Gemini

Cancer

Leo

Virgo

Libra

Scorpio

Sagittarius

Capricorn

Aquarius

Pisces

Let's say that this Rabbit's urge to hop -- i.e., to travel locally -- is governed by the Planet Mercury...  It's the Sign that Mercury occupies in the Rabbit's birth-chart that will then determine how the Rabbit tends to hop in general, be that quickly, slowly, or otherwise.  And just like the Planets, the 12 Signs also each have their own specific glyphs that you'll need to learn if you want to get all astrological...
Let’s say that this Rabbit’s urge to hop — i.e., to travel locally — is governed by the Planet Mercury… It’s the Sign that Mercury occupies in the Rabbit’s birth-chart that will then determine how the Rabbit tends to hop in general, be that quickly, slowly, or otherwise. And just like the Planets, the 12 Signs also each have their own specific glyphs that you’ll need to learn if you want to get all astrological…

This analogy may risk oversimplification, but you can arguably think of the Planets as verbs, and the Signs as adverbs that modify them. Everyone can presumably think, or love, or dream, right? But do you think angrily? Do you think peacefully? Do you think rapidly? Do you think simply? The way you think – in the conscious, rational, everyday sense – is a function largely represented in Astrology by the Planet Mercury…and the way in which you characteristically think will depend in great part upon which Sign Mercury occupies in your own personal birth-chart.

Astrology’s great complexities then set in when you realize that you have 7 to 11 major Planets to keep track of in any given chart (depending on which Planets you personally feel are of critical importance), and this involves being able to interpret their placements in any of the 12 Signs and in any of the 12 Houses…plus, you’ll need to grasp what it means when two or more Planets land in such a way as to form certain mathematical/geometric relationships with each other in a chart (these relationships are called Aspects)…

But that can all come later. At the very start of your journey into this conceptual space that we call Astrology…allow yourself to just be responsible for getting familiar with the glyphs. Everything else will begin to emerge from out of that basic grounding in the unique language of the field. Live for a while with those tables up above. Keep them at hand while looking at some birth-charts – look up the charts of a few of your favorite artists or writers or great thinkers from history. Better yet, look at your own chart. Start to get familiar with the symbols…and true understanding can then follow…

How to do a Rune Reading — Part 7

In a most exciting development, today’s post sees us turning over the last of the subtle Runes in our ongoing Rune reading example!  Let’s clear up that last bit of mystery:

A big round of applause, please, for Ansuz, the
Rune-cast, pic 6: A big round of applause, please, for Ansuz, the “A”-Rune!

The final piece of our Runic puzzle this time around turns out to be the Rune called Ansuz.  While Ansuz doesn’t come first in the Runic alphabet, it is nonetheless the Rune that’s analogous to our own modern letter “A,” and it’s used to represent the same sounds that our A signifies for us.  Ansuz also literally means “Odin.”

For those of you not familiar with that word, Odin — like Tyr, who we discussed a bit when we turned over Tiwaz — is one of the Norse Deities.  He is, in fact, the undisputed monarch of the Norse Pantheon (and brave Tyr is actually one of Odin’s sons).  Odin is also one of the more complex Gods you’ll come across anywhere in World Mythology.  Among other attributes, Odin is a somewhat primordial figure, he’s a bit of a Creator (or at least a Re-Arranger of the Cosmos), he’s a Seeker of Wisdom, a Sorcerer, a War-God, a Sky-God, a Wanderer, a Shaman, a Death-God, a Father-Figure (often referred to as the All-Father), and a Language and Information God.  The Ansuz Rune, then, definitely refers to Odin in his fascinating entirety…but it also holds some special focus aimed squarely at those latter aspects of him…

You may recall that earlier in this series, I mentioned something about Odin having subjected himself to a grueling trial of sorts that led to the introduction of the Runes into the Universe…and I’m going to recap that again here, because it’s important to Rune-usage in general, and to the understanding of Ansuz in particular.  The very short version is that in Norse Mythology, there are Nine Worlds, and each of these Worlds hangs from a vast, cosmic Tree called Yggdrasil.

Magnificent Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds!  Glorious artwork used with the kind permission of its creator, Tina Solstrand...
Magnificent Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds! Glorious artwork used with the kind permission of its creator, Tina Solstrand (see more of her outstanding work at http://tinasol.tumblr.com )…

As part of his ongoing quest to amass all manner of wisdom, Odin at one point subjected himself to a rather brutal-sounding ordeal in which he gored himself with his enchanted spear, Gungnir, and then hung himself for nine days and nights upon Yggdrasil without food or water, a sacrifice made freely by himself, and dedicated to himself.  At the end of his period of suffering, the Runes — never before seen or even guessed at in the Nine Worlds — appeared on the ground below him, and he scooped them up, thus bringing written language and communication into existence.  And it’s this association with the Runes that Ansuz specifically invokes — as mentioned above, Odin is a Language God and an Information God, and these are the attributes to consider with some primary focus whenever Ansuz appears in a Rune-cast.  Consider all of the major concepts that fall under this overall definitional umbrella as you work up your interpretations: Ansuz can refer to words, language, sounds, meanings, incantations, wind, breath, lyrics and poetry, names, categorization, communication, messages, symbols, and even the very concept of definition itself.  There may also be a sort of metatextual or self-referential element about Ansuz, as it’s the Rune that conjures the image of the Runes being “born” into the Universe — that is, it’s the Rune that most seems to refer to the Runes.

Ansuz, the
Ansuz, the “A”-Rune: in this one very special case, A is actually for Odin…

How, then, do we incorporate this Rune’s presence into our growing tapestry of meanings within this specific Rune-cast…?

Well, if we continue on with this theory that the four subtle Runes in the scatter are describing traits that we need to embody when working with the Runes, then the message seems to be the notion that every Rune-cast should involve a deep reverence for the power of symbols and language, the realization that connecting certain sounds with certain meanings is a form of actual “magic,” and the idea that words and definitions literally affect our reality.  Put another way, in very vital fashion, Runes (as letters, symbols, and words) can be seen as the building blocks of our lives!  This is pretty heavy stuff, but not exactly an unwarranted approach for the practicing vitki (= user of Runes) to be cultivating.  This is a Rune-centric way of saying “Knowledge is Power.”  The Runes are sacred tools, is the concept here, and they need to be treated as such…

And we can close this installment of the series by noting that once again, another subtle Rune is revealed, and it can be seen to align very well with all of the others in terms of which way it seems to be oriented.  Imagine a current of water or wind flowing from the lower left corner of the scatter toward the upper right, and you can see that with a few very slight deviations in rotation, the Runes are all pretty much lying in agreeable positions that might naturally arise from such a flow manifesting itself.  I usually take this kind of orientational consistency to mean that the subject matter of the Rune-cast is one that should show evidence of a very natural and powerful internal harmony.  In this case, that means that the more obvious thrust of the Runes that appeared for us here — as symbolized by Nauthiz (“Need”), the one Rune that landed face-up — as well as the more subtle undercurrents (discussed in the last few posts as we looked at Tiwaz, Ehwaz, Gebo, and now Ansuz), are all working together without much in the way of contradiction or of any of the Runes working at cross-purposes.  Their messages are essentially unified, and supportive of each other.  Again, the four subtle Runes do in fact seem to be illustrating the primary qualities that a talented Rune-reader will be bringing into each reading…

Next time, we’ll start getting into some wrap-up steps I like to employ at the back end of a Rune reading!

Intrigued by the Runes?  Purchase a Rune reading with me here!

Destination: Communication!

I have this practice of kicking off my mornings by drawing a single Rune so as to give me some idea as to what the day ahead might hold for me.  That’s the general concept, anyway — some people use other systems for this kind of daily prognostication instead, such as Tarot or the I Ching.  For me, it’s endlessly fascinating, and it also makes for fantastic reinforcement if you’re trying to learn all of the symbols that make up an overall system.

Anyway, today, I drew the Rune called Ansuz:

Ansuz: this Rune corresponds to our own letter "A," and numbers among its meanings, the concept of "communication."
Ansuz: this Rune corresponds to our own letter “A,” and numbers among its meanings, the concept of “communication.”

Ansuz is the Elder Futhark Rune that corresponds to our own letter “A.”  Like all the Runes, it covers a fairly broad range of meanings, most of them arguably related to each other.  Probably the most widely held such meaning would be the notion that Ansuz represents the Norse God, Odin, and by extension, Odin’s attributes.  One primary, Odin-esque meaning of Ansuz, then, would be representation of the concept of “communication.”  This starts to make sense when you consider the fact that among his many fabled exploits, Odin was the one who originally obtained the Runes, thus bringing the means for writing into existence; he risked much to drink the Mead of Poetry, enabling him to add new layers of beauty to the basic functionality of the communication process; and he even willingly sacrificed one of his own eyes as the price to be paid for drinking from Mimir’s Well of Wisdom…wisdom being a quality we might all ideally hope would inform our various communications.

So as I was staring at my own wooden chip carved with the Ansuz Rune this morning, it occurred to me that each major system of Divination that I enjoy devotes a very significant part — or even multiple parts — of itself to embodying the concept of communication, as well…

For example, the field of Astrology is comprised of three major subsets of symbols: Planets, Signs, and Houses.  Well, among the Planets, Mercury is almost universally held to signify the realm of communication.  Among the Signs, while the element of Air is generally viewed as being symbolic of communication, the Sign of Gemini is probably even more specifically on point in this context.  And in terms of the Houses, the Third House is where our communications reside, and the House itself is even referred to with some frequency as the “House of Communication.”  In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find summaries of Mercury, Gemini, and/or the Third House that don’t feature the word “communication” in their details.

Mercury...Gemini...The Third House...they all seem to say, "Communication!"
Mercury…Gemini…The Third House…they all seem to say, “Communication!”

Over in Tarot, you have the Suit of Swords, which is the realm of the mental, of thought, of writing and speech, of language and symbols, of ideas, of…communication.  Swords equate to the Element of Air (as used in both Tarot and Astrology).  A card such as the Major Arcana’s Magician Card also would seem to capture the essence of communication, as well, as it touches on the process of transforming will into manifested phenomena — that is, naming things, or putting them into words, is often the basis for actual magic in the eyes of the occultist (the Magician, by the way, is also associated very commonly with the Planet Mercury, and also the Roman God, Mercury, the equivalent to the Greek’s Olympian Deity, Hermes…who shares a whole lot of attributes and patronage with our good friend, the aforementioned Odin!).

The Magician, courtesy of Tarot of the Sephiroth -- note the glyph of Mercury, front and center!  Among other things, the Magician communicates!
The Magician, courtesy of Tarot of the Sephiroth — note the glyph of Mercury, front and center! Among other things, the Magician communicates!

The overall point is this: communication is one of the essential underpinnings of our collective being.  It’s probably no wonder that so many Occult systems make use of it as such a vital, core concept in describing our world.  Communication has been a building block of our existence ever since life cast itself into seemingly separate incarnations, probably even as far back as when we became a community of single-celled organisms, and surely since cells began throwing their lots in together to build themselves up into the multi-celled assemblages we know ourselves and our surrounding flora and fauna as today.  One of the greatest innovations in my own lifetime that’s served to visibly evolve our civilization, and even the planet upon which we live, is the internet…which is all about communication.  Our various failures, from the individual scale to the societal, often come about due to some breakdown in the communication process, and one of the traits we most prize and reward is the ability to communicate in ways that are effective, beautiful, or both at the same time.

Communication.

So I believe that maybe today’s draw of Ansuz was meant simply to highlight the importance of that realm.  We might all do well to take stock of our current crops of ongoing communication, to see where we might be slipping, where we’re succeeding, and to try to lever ourselves up onto that next higher plateau of beneficial communication.  It’s not always easy, and it’s not always fun, but it’s virtually always essential, and when approached with positivity, communication can bring about untold examples of growth and joy…so maybe get a bit Ansuz with your weekends out there, as I communicate the sentiment of “Happy Friday!” to you all!!

Goddess of Wisdom

My attendance at the local courthouse has been excused for the day, so while the trial at which I’m serving as juror will continue on Monday, I’m free until then…which means I can post something today!  What, then to post about…?  Well, to be honest, all signs have been pointing loudly and repeatedly at…Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom!

Athena, the Olympian Goddess of Wisdom...
Athena, the Olympian Goddess of Wisdom…

And wisdom is not actually the only province over which Athena holds sway: among her areas of governance, Athena presides over such things as courage, justice, the law and civilization, mathematics, inspiration, skill, and various arts and crafts (most notably weaving).  Some scholars hold that while Athena’s brother, Ares, is pretty much unanimously characterized as the Olympian God of War, it might be more accurate to view him as the more Yang aspect of war: that is, Ares is predominant when it comes to things like bloodshed, violence, savagery, berserker-ism, pain, injury, rage, conquest, and bloodlust.  Athena, on the other hand, is more like the Yin aspect of war, overseeing such things as military strategy and tactics, battle-planning, cool-headedness in conflict, fighting for just causes (as opposed to fighting just for love of violence), she’s often accorded some credit as being involved with the conception and forging of metal weaponry and armor (although the bulk of such work would most likely fall under the scope of another brother of hers: Hephaestus, the Smith-God), and Athena is also cited as being the creator of the chariot.

She’s a Deity-Figure rich in individual symbolism, too, and you’ve likely seen depictions of her, even if you didn’t know that’s who you were looking at.  The Goddess of Wisdom will very often be rendered wearing a plumed helmet and an aegis (= “breastplate”), she will generally be shown carrying a very long and imposing spear, she similarly bears a large round shield, and she will very regularly be accompanied in imagery by an owl; by the winged Goddess of Victory, Nike; or by both.  Many, many artists will also incorporate an image of the slain serpent-haired Gorgon, Medusa, into Athena’s shield and/or aegis, as well, as the Goddess was involved in Medusa’s tale (more on that below…).

No Nike in this sculpture of Athena, but all the other major symbols are there: the plumed helmet, the aegis, the spear, the owl, the shield with Medusa's grim visage glaring out from it...
No Nike in this sculpture of Athena, but all the other major symbols are there: the plumed helmet, the aegis, the spear, the owl, the shield with Medusa’s grim visage glaring out from it…

And Athena’s not just a terrific figure for symbol-analysis — she also features in quite a bountiful collection of myths…starting with her rather unique birth…

Athena’s father is Zeus, the undisputed monarch of the Olympian Pantheon.  Upon overthrowing his own father, Cronus, and toppling Cronus’ regime, Zeus chose as his first wife Metis, the Titan Goddess of Prudence and Cunning.  This was tricky business, as it had been prophesied by Gaia — Mother Earth herself — that if Metis gave birth to a son, this male offspring would rise up to conquer his father, even as Zeus had conquered Cronus (who had in turn defeated and cast down his own father, Uranus…)…  Zeus didn’t want to lose Metis, or her sage counsel, but having only just dealt with Cronus and assumed rulership of the Cosmos, he was also in no hurry to prolong this odd family tradition of a father suffering a terminal beat-down at the hands of his own son.  He then hit upon a plan: he proposed a game of shape-changing with Metis, each shuttling through a kaleidoscopic variety of animal forms, seeing if the other could keep pace.  When Metis transformed herself into a fly…Zeus swallowed her.  Being immortal, this wouldn’t kill, or even truly harm, Metis, but she was now imprisoned within Zeus, and he believed this would enable him to go on receiving her advice, while closing off the possibility that she might give birth to some unbeatable, upstart son.  What Zeus hadn’t planned on, though, was the possibility that…Metis was already with child when he swallowed her…

Metis was actually a fantastic sport about the whole “being swallowed alive” thing, and made her way to the inside of Zeus’ head, agreeably continuing to dispense her keen thoughts to him from there.  She was also, however, feeling the full blush of proud, impending motherhood, and she began hammering out a helmet, breastplate, spear, and shield for her blossoming child.  Given that all this hammering and pounding and crashing was going on right inside Zeus’ melon, this caused him no small amount of distress.  The rest of the Olympians came running at the sounds of Zeus’ agony, and his son, the aforementioned Smith-God, Hephaestus, took his tools and split open his own father’s skull so as to directly address the problem.  When he did so, the new Goddess, Athena, sprang fully-formed, armed and armored, from her father’s head…

Poseidon, great Olympian God of the Sea, looks on as his nephew, Hephaestus, splits open the head of Zeus, thus welcoming the already formed Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, into the world...
Poseidon, great Olympian God of the Sea, looks on as his nephew, Hephaestus, splits open the head of Zeus, thus welcoming the already formed Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, into the world…

Maybe in part because he’d in some way “given birth” to this one out of all his many children, Athena became Zeus’ very favorite.  Known far and wide as the gray-eyed, white-armed Embodiment of Wisdom, Athena became an extremely popular Deity.  She even became the Patroness of arguably the single greatest city-state the Greeks ever founded: Athens, which shared much of its name with the Goddess.  She was actually chosen by the people of Athens in a sort of competition held with her uncle, Poseidon, the great Ocean God, who also favored Athens.  Each Deity was to give the city a gift, and the giver of whichever gift the people judged most beneficial, would be adopted as the city’s primary Patron-Figure.  Poseidon struck the nearest hillside with his mighty trident, and a new spring welled up…but while the people marveled at the God’s power, the water of the spring itself was salty, like the sea, and didn’t yield much in the way of drinking or bathing facility.  Athena then granted the city the olive tree, thus ensuring that the people would always have food, oil, shade, and lumber.  The Athenians judged her gift the greater, and Athena became their official Patroness, and the olive and the olive tree have since also become additional symbols associated with the Goddess.

Further myths abound.  One involves Athena in her Weaver-Aspect…  A Greek woman named Arachne caught the attention of the Goddess with her unparalleled skill at the loom…but like many figures in Greek Mythology, Arachne committed the grave error of daring to compare herself to one of the Olympians, here claiming she was a better weaver than even Athena herself.  The Goddess, unhappy with such prideful and disrespectful words, engaged Arachne in a weaving contest.  Athena herself — adherent of the concept of fairness that she was — admitted outright that Arachne’s resulting tapestry was just as expertly done as her own…but whereas Athena’s work depicted the Olympians as noble figures, Arachne had chosen to create a piece that ridiculed Zeus and his many wives and concubines as he chased after them.  Outraged by Arachne’s grossly inappropriate choice of content, Athena destroyed her tapestry, and struck the girl with her shuttle, transforming Arachne into a spider, dooming her to now weave picture-less works forever…

Oh, Arachne -- never compare yourself to Deities, and *never* make fun of them!  They don't like it, and it won't turn out well for you (illustration by Gustav Dore, 1861)...
Oh, Arachne — never compare yourself to Deities, and *never* make fun of them! They don’t like it, and it won’t turn out well for you (illustration by Gustav Dore, 1861)…

Other myths involve Athena in her role as an Aider and Protectress of heroes, most notably those on the grandest of quests or possessed of special shrewdness.  Among the recipients of her Divine Intervention here are numbered such mythic greats as Odysseus, Heracles, Jason, and Perseus.  It was the latter who, with help from not only Athena, but also from her brother Hermes and from Zeus himself, slew the monster known as the Gorgon, Medusa.  Like Arachne, Medusa had once been a human woman who offended the Olympians, and was transformed into a monster.  She had fangs, and scales, and snakes instead of hair, and her naked gaze would turn any observer to stone.  Athena loaned Perseus her own shield, polished so brightly that it served as a mirror, and he was able to look into it to track Medusa’s position when he confronted her, instead of trying to operate blind or hazarding a direct glance at her that would have turned him into a statue.  After making use of Medusa’s severed head to complete his own quest, Perseus then gave the horrible thing to Athena, who, depending on which account you prefer, affixed it to either her breastplate or her shield, thereby greatly increasing her own already considerable power.

Those stories, plus even a few others, comprise the “what” of Athena: who she is, what she did in her mythology, what she represents to us today.  But what about the “why” — why am I talking about her, specifically, here and now…?

Several reasons:

For one, WordPress keeps statistics for us bloggers, and it’s become evident to me that the one search term that’s lately been driving people to this site has been…”Athena.”  Apparently, the Goddess is on people’s minds of late.

For another thing, as I’ve been attending these trial proceedings this past week+, every morning as I enter the courthouse, I’m confronted with a huge rendering of the Great Seal of the State of California in the courthouse lobby.  The Seal looks like this:

California very officially recognizes the essential greatness of Athena!
California very officially recognizes the essential greatness of Athena!

The Goddess herself would in fact hold sway over things like the courtroom affair that’s been eating up my days, and there she is gracing our own state’s Seal!  I’ve come to feel like Athena has been taking a personal interest in having me get all legal, and being a part of the judiciary process…

And a final thing…  Some of you may remember my post of some weeks back about an exceptionally vivid dream I had in which an owl flew down and landed on my hand…?  Well, part of the “why” of this particular post being written now, deals with a similar occurrence — two connected occurrences, actually…

I’ve also mentioned that last month, I moved to a new home.  I now have a stone patio outside the uppermost level of the house, and from that patio, there’s a ladder I can, and do, climb to the roof, so that I can look out across the western part of the city.  I generally like doing this in the evenings, because that’s probably my favorite part of the day in general, and also because the planet Venus has been glowing brightly in that segment of the sky at that time ever since I moved here, and quite frankly, I like looking at her.  So a couple of nights ago, I was just standing there at the top of the ladder, contemplating Venus, and even musing on Athena, as luck would have it…when a very large owl appeared from above and behind the trees that overlook the house here, soaring in utter silence (this even despite actively flapping its wings from not very far away from me — I heard nothing!) across my field of vision, disappearing into the twilight gloom to the north.  The sun was already down, but the light wasn’t completely gone yet from the sky, and I had a very clear view of the airborne creature, and I tell you without the slightest shred of uncertainty and with the full benefits of vision last gauged at 20/15 that it was an owl I saw, not a more common kind of bird, not a bat, not an insect flying really close to me and tricking my eyes.  It was an owl, and a really impressive one at that.  Does this mean it was Athena’s owl, sent by the Goddess of Wisdom herself…?  Hey, it’s not for me to tell you what to think…

But I can tell you this: I climbed the ladder the very next night, at roughly the same time — it was maybe a bit later than I’d ascended to the roof the night before, but no more than maybe 20 minutes later.  And guess what?

It happened again.

I can’t swear that it was the same owl, but it could have been.  Maybe it has a nest nearby, and maybe it takes off to go hunting at around the same time every evening.  Or maybe Athena really is out there, even in our modern, “rational” world, and she was sending a message to me, specifically.  Either way, what are the odds of seeing a large owl at dusk, up close and personal, even once…much less twice??  So yes, Athena has been very much on my mind, and I knew all week long that as soon as I had time in which to post, she needed to be the subject of a blog article.  I apologize for the long-windedness, but even weighing in at a beefier word-count than usual, I fear I skimped a bit in lavishing some rhetoric upon one of my most admired Deities out of myth.  I feel I’m being reassured that my experience as a juror is highly significant in whatever fashion, and so while I do miss posting as regularly here as I generally like to do now, it seems that my absence from this site is somehow serving some highly worthy cause.

So I enter the weekend wishing you all much Wisdom…and maybe an owl-sighting of your own!  Happy Friday!

Correspondence Course

One of the things I like about Occultism is that it comes in many flavors.  Some people like to specialize, but I tend to prefer sampling lots of different things.  I love a buffet…

If I can sample from among a bunch of different options (instead of just having a big plate full of only one dish), I'm usually pretty happy!
If I can sample from among a bunch of different options (instead of just having a big plate full of only one dish), I’m usually pretty happy!

Occultism offers just that kind of buffet, too: if I’m permitted to lump fields under the “Occult” umbrella fairly freely, then we’re talking about disciplines such as Tarot, Astrology, Runes, the I Ching, the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, Crystal studies, Chakra studies, Color theory, the Ouija Board, and a whole gigantic slew of other forms of Divination and other sets of symbols.  These are all like different lenses through which one can choose to view Reality, and each has its own specific details, and its own pros and cons as a system for such viewing.

One tricky bit of business that pops up with some regularity, though, when you happen to study two or more of these disciplines, is the correspondence.  That is, people will often ask — or tell you — which specific symbol or element from one field corresponds to which specific symbol or element from another.  “Which Zodiac Sign does this Crystal correspond to?” and “Which I Ching Hexagram corresponds to which Tree of Life sphere?” are examples of the millions of variations of correspondence-themed questions you can land on once you start getting into multiple Occult fields.

The Equivalency symbol -- which Occult elements are equivalent to each other...which ones correspond to each other??
The Equivalency symbol — which Occult elements are equivalent to each other…which ones correspond to each other??

Now, on the one hand, setting up valid correspondences is a great sort of mnemonic aid that can really be of tremendous help when you’re trying to get your head around different sets of symbols — if you have a great handle on Tarot cards, for example, then sure, why not help yourself out in learning the I Ching Hexagrams by relating the still unfamiliar latter to the more familiar former?  On the other hand, though, there are a couple of possible pitfalls to going this route that I wanted to flag here…

First of all, relying too heavily on correspondences may shortchange a given symbol, and rob it of its uniqueness and individuality.  It’s pretty widely accepted, for instance, that the Strength Card in Tarot corresponds to the Zodiac Sign of Leo in Astrology, and using this correspondence to jog your memory as you’re learning one system or the other can be a useful tactic…but it would be a mistake to go no further than that, and to just think of the two symbols as synonyms for each other.  They do correspond, and they do share some similarities…but they’re not identical, and they’re not interchangeable.  Yes, both have to do with attributes represented for humanity by the Lion, and they’re arguably each the other’s closest counterpart within their respective systems…but they’re not the same exact thing just showing up in two slightly different contexts.  The Strength Card does deal with those qualities summed up by the Lion as a creature and as a symbol — raw power, potential ferocity, appetites, baser urges and impulses, prowess, a certain regal fearsomeness — but the Strength Card will virtually always also feature a Maiden, as well, and she’s a crucial counterbalancing force to the Lion, a sort of Yin to the Lion’s Yang that together make up a full system of their own (with the Maiden representing attributes such as civility, grace, self-control, compassion, altruism — things the Lion doesn’t possess but might benefit from, even as the Maiden lacks the Lion’s traits, but can gain from their presence when the two beings work together).  The Sign of Leo doesn’t involve any Maiden, though — it’s just the Lion.  And Leo involves other core characteristics that seem to always come up when discussing Leo in Astrology — traits such as self-expression, a need to perform, extroversion, generosity — but which rarely factor into the first few paragraphs (or pages, even) written about the Strength Card.  There’s definitely some overlap between the Strength Card and the Sign of Leo…but they’re not identical all the way down the line, and it can only help the budding occultist to grasp that, and to get on top of the differences as well as the similarities…

The classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck's Strength Card -- it depicts a Lion, yes, but it's not Leo the Lion from the Astrological Zodiac (and in fact, a lot of modern deck artists even use animals or creatures other than a lion in this card now)...
The classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck’s Strength Card — it depicts a Lion, yes, but it’s not Leo the Lion from the Astrological Zodiac (and in fact, a lot of modern deck artists even use animals or creatures other than a lion in this card now)…

The second major potential issue with relying too heavily on correspondences is that they involve a very heavy undercurrent of subjectivity to them.  That is, if you’re a newcomer to an Occult field, you might be inclined to swallow whole whatever a more learned author or teacher tells you…but in your eagerness to learn, you may not realize that what the author or teacher in question is saying stems greatly or entirely from their own individual and subjective take on things, and isn’t necessarily shared by other practitioners in the field the whole world over.  What if, hypothetically, you’re learning Tarot from someone who’s found over the course of 20 years of practice that the Strength Card almost always seems to pop up in questions about relationships that end in a break-up…so that teacher comes to associate the Strength Card with break-ups.  And maybe that generally does hold true for that teacher, too, and everyone she/he reads for over the years does suffer break-ups in relationships marked by the Strength Card in that teacher’s readings.  If you came to this teacher as a total neophyte, and just swallowed whole a statement that “Strength = break-up,” however, you’d just be adopting that one person’s unique take on the card, without understanding the greater Tarot community’s views on it, and probably even more importantly, without ever developing your own interpretation about it.  What if you then try to read for people by applying that “Strength = break-up” principle, but that principle doesn’t actually hold true for you?  Never mind that it likely doesn’t hold true for most people out there, either (which you might not realize if you never question the thing in the first place) — you may start receiving consistent feedback that this take isn’t working out whenever you try to apply it…and you may then get discouraged, and assume you lack some necessary connection with the cards or some such, and if you’ve also taken on even more such personalized interpretations that belong really only to your teacher, as well, then you may even get disgruntled enough to walk away from Tarot entirely…

So it’s vitally important to question correspondences that you come across.  If they’re being laid down by some source that you trust, then sure, you can try presuming them valid until proven otherwise…but the more I’ve learned about various Occult disciplines, the more I feel that lists of correspondences very often strike me as almost arbitrary, with no basis I can perceive beyond what the individual putting them forth may have established for herself/himself over time in their own private experiences…experiences that I wasn’t privy to (and you probably weren’t, either).

This guy may well be as Occult as his get-up would imply, and his notions may be totally valid, objectively, and applicable to everything, always...or they might only be relevant in his own little corner of the Universe, and won't help you at all...
This guy may well be as Occult as his get-up would imply, and his notions may be totally valid, objectively, and applicable to everything, always…or they might only be relevant in his own little corner of the Universe, and won’t help you at all…

I bring this up because I was recently reminded of how this very issue threatened to trip me up in a very large way as I began studying the Elder Futhark Runes.  As I’ve mentioned here before, the Runes comprise an actual alphabet that was, in fact, used for communication purposes by the Germanic tribes that wandered Northern Europe a few centuries ago…but they also fit hand in glove with Norse Mythology, and were/are used for things like Divination and Magic.  One of the resources that I picked up early on in my quest to learn the Runes, was a workbook designed to give a newcomer some hands-on exercises to work through.  I usually respond really well to this kind of learning method, so I was excited to jump in.  The workbook, though, contained not just some basic info about each Rune and some exercises; the author also listed a bunch of correspondences for each Rune.  These included not just figures from Norse Mythology that each supposedly corresponded to, but also gemstones, plants, animals, Astrological symbols, and Tarot cards.  I was already pretty well-versed in Tarot at this point, but the correspondences given there just baffled and confounded me.  I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that the author’s proposed correspondences seemed to miss the mark by a very wide margin far more often than they came close to striking it.  I was going into this assuming that the author’s work was The Runic Gospel, though, and so I began to despair that I’d never be able to understand the Runes.  I even started to wonder if my grasp on Tarot was as solid as I’d felt it had become by then…

Only after it suddenly occurred to me that Hey, wait — this author’s correspondences may belong only to this author, and I’m not obligated to adopt them!, did I find myself able to start relaxing.  Only then did I really start to learn the Runes (and it helped that I also put the workbook down, and moved on to other sources of learning).

So anyway, the point is that if you’re just starting to learn an Occult field, always try to remember that you’re picking up things for which a subjective interpretive component will always be at play — you’re not just memorizing scientific constants that will never vary, such as the boiling point of water or the speed of light.  There will usually be a large patch of conceptual territory that most people will agree on for a given symbol in any Occult field…but then there will also be a possibly even larger stretch of turf that others don’t generally recognize in connection with that symbol, but which can be equally valid for you as an individual practitioner.  The most helpful correspondences you’ll ever find are the ones that you ponder and verify for yourself…

“A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud…”

Here’s the full quote from which I drew the title of this post:

I believe cats to be spirits come to Earth.  A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.”

Jules Verne said that — the gentleman who wrote such classics of literature as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Mysterious Island, among others.  Pretty keen observation on cats, and one I’m inclined to agree with, actually.  Cats seem to polarize: some people adore them (to the point that we now even have a collective stereotype of “The Crazy Old Cat Lady” who spends her declining years surrounded by, and obsessing over, her ever growing menagerie of house-cats), and some absolutely detest them, but I personally can’t say I’ve seen them inspire much in the way of bored indifference (or to put it another way, cats don’t seem to inspire cat-like responses in people all that often…).  But me, I actually kind of love them…

A beautiful little cat named Lilith, exhibiting the kind of grace, poise, and balance that we humans can only barely scratch if we've devoted our lives to things like dance, gymnastics, or martial arts...and even then, we'll generally fall well short of this...
A beautiful little cat named Lilith, exhibiting the kind of grace, poise, and balance that we humans can only barely scratch if we’ve devoted our lives to things like dance, gymnastics, or martial arts…and even then, we’ll generally fall well short of this…

My only problem with cats is that I’m cataclysmically allergic to them.  Proximity to cats for me brings on itching (in my eyes, and inside my throat, my nasal passages, and my ear tubes, as well as sometimes on my skin where I touch them), sneezing, and eventually outright wheezing and headaches if I linger too long in their cool presence.  So in this life, while I would have a cat as a pet/companion if I could, it seems that’s to remain off-limits for me.  What can you do?  I have this theory that in a past life, I actually was a cat, or a cat-person, maybe, like something you’d find in a pulp novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs or some such, and that in that life, I somehow transgressed against my own kind…and so as punishment and penance, I was doomed to spend this lifetime excommunicated from the society of cats, banned and exiled, unable to bond with them or relate in any meaningful way.  Like Tantalus seeking even one cool sip of water from the pool in which he’s been installed in the Greek Underworld of Tartarus, I can see cats all around me…but I’m to be ever denied any real and lasting contact with them…

I suspect I was like this in a past life, but I committed some unpardonable sin against my own kind, and now I wander the Earth, expelled from the realm of the cat...
I suspect I was like this in a past life, but I committed some unpardonable sin against my own kind, and now I wander the Earth, expelled from the realm of the cat…

But anyway — why all the ruminations on cats today…?

It started with a dream I had last night in which I beheld a black panther.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  In a post from about two months or so back, I went on in some detail about a more vivid dream I’d had in which I encountered a flying panther with great, black wings.  It was a pretty fantastic dream, even if nothing much beyond the simple encounter itself took place.  Last night’s dream was much less coherent, and it had no real “plot” to speak of.  I can’t even say that I carried very much of it at all with me into the waking world when I climbed up out of it — I just knew I’d seen a rather large black panther specimen up close and personal.  There was no element of fear or danger in it, and I was under no threat from the awe-inspiring beast…we were just very near to one another, and as I would in real life, I looked upon the panther with deep, deep appreciation.  And that’s about it for the dream…

I decided, though, to write a little bit about what a cat, or even more specifically, a panther, might mean in dreams, because to be honest, that post I wrote about the dream of the winged panther remains by far one of the most enduringly popular posts I’ve yet done, judging by the statistics that the good people at WordPress furnish us users with as the days roll by, and the hits keep on coming.  People, it seems, very much like the following: cats, panthers, winged panthers (who would have thought??), dreams, dream analysis, dream interpretation, cats in dreams, panthers in dreams, discussions about spirit animals (which may appear in dreams), and discussions about Shamanism in general (with both animals and dream experiences factoring solidly into this realm)…  So last night’s dream, brief though it may have been, seemed like perfect fodder for a post.

This is pretty close to what I encountered in my dream last night...
This is pretty close to what I encountered in my dream last night…

With all that preamble thus laid down…what, then does a cat, or more specifically a panther, signify in a dream…?

As always, I stress that a huge chunk of a successful interpretation of any dream has to be drawn from the individual dreamer’s own personal inner lexicon of symbols and their meanings.  What a cat or a panther might mean to me, will possibly differ pretty greatly from what a cat or a panther might mean to you…and what they mean to the next person…and so on.

Setting some of that aside for now, though, I felt it might be helpful to at least jot down some very general meanings that dream interpreters and dream dictionaries will often ascribe to cats, and to panthers.

Interestingly, a few attributes will appear in virtually any source for dream interpretation that you consult when it comes to our feline friends: cats, it’s said, symbolize the feminine/Yin principle…they embody such concepts as grace and dexterity…and they often represent such concepts as magic/sorcery, mysticism, and spirituality.  A dream of a specific type of cat adds an overlay of meaning atop those just listed — a black panther can present extra focus on mystery, sensuality, nighttime traits, and possibly a bit of the hunter/predator air that comes with any of the big cats.  And none of this clashes with anything surrounding me of late: I’ve moved to a new home in part so that I can better focus on exactly the kinds of realms the cat and the black panther portend (i.e., the mystical and the magical, the Occult and the metaphysical), and specifically, I’ve been very aware that tonight we enter the latest iteration of a Full Moon, which is very feminine and mystical right there, and affords any practicing witchery types with a terrific opportunity to enact rituals and work various forms of mojo, so this has all been on my mind.  And should you dream of a cat, or of a black panther, some or all of this may hold true for you as well.

But here’s the bow that wraps up this edition of Arrow In Flight…  See, there’s this little cat that prowls around here, I’ve learned.  She/he (I can’t tell) initially appeared in my presence on my very first night here — I had climbed the ladder up to the roof, and was watching the sun set into the Pacific out to the west of me, when I turned and spied this little cat — blue-gray and white, with bright blue eyes — perched atop the wall behind me, just sitting there and watching me, as I was watching the sunset.  A gulf of at least several long meters separated us, with nothing but unyielding concrete down below.  I’d never attempt that kind of leap unless I was being pursued across the rooftop by a chainsaw-wielding maniac, or some other stimulus of similar magnitude, but the little cat didn’t seem to trust that, and even the slight shift of my weight and position as I turned to regard it had it tensing for flight.  I whispered a few reassuring words to it, then turned back to watch the end of the sunset.  When I made to climb back down the ladder about ten minutes later, the little cat was gone…

The cat in my 'hood looks vaguely like this, but with different coloring (photo by Chantal Laine)...
The cat in my ‘hood looks vaguely like this, but with different coloring (photo by Chantal Laine)…

Since then, I’ve seen the same little cat several times — it seems to use the corridor separating this house from the next one over as a little thoroughfare of sorts, so I catch glimpses of it through the windows in that particular wall every so often.  I believe it to be a wild cat, too, due to its skittish demeanor, and the fact that it has no tags and no collar.

But anyway, as I surfaced from my dream of the black panther, I made my way downstairs in search of morning coffee…and with my mind still on thoughts of felines, the moment I stepped into the kitchen, that same little cat popped into view in the kitchen window as if shooed onto stage by an assistant director so as to time the cat’s entrance to be perfectly in synch with my own.  The cat gave me its customary little look of fright, then bolted out of view in a flash.  But brief though this encounter may have been, it was very much as if my dream-image of a great feline (the black panther) had followed me into the waking world in a shape more suited to this stricter realm (the little local cat), but nevertheless reinforcing the idea that maybe for me, this Full Moon period is carrying with it some extra helpings of magic in the air!

And that’s it for my latest dreams and happenings with panthers and cats…I may not be permitted to commune with them in this life, but I do believe that the cats still bring me messages, and this message in part is about enjoying the Full Moon to its fullest!  Here’s hoping you do, as well…