There are many times we might feel called to pick up a stone, feather, shell, or stick while walking in nature. These little friends might catch our eye or even seem to "call out" to us. We might feel a pull or even seem to audibly hear them. This is especially the case during meditation walks when seeking items for certain ceremonial working such as creating a spirit arrow or staff, when in need of a particular energetic or elemental medicine, gathering for a devotional offering practice, re-stocking Burlá Ghuí/Despacho kits, when creating medicine pouches, or simply wildcrafting herbal medicines, but we may also feel this urge spontaneously. Some of us may even develop a habit of collecting a particular item, heart shaped rocks or feathers are a common favourite.
There are a few important aspects to consider when gathering from Nature to ensure that we are doing so in a good way.
How to cultivate a relationship with plant, stone, or crystal medicine - article full of easy methods
Stone Spirit Medicine - online course for those drawn to stones in personal healing and spiritual practice
There are many ways to “be of service” to our communities that don’t involve extensive training, one-to-one healing sessions, or even a full-time dedicated practice, that are incredibly powerful and very supportive. One of these methods is by tending to a Community Altar. This way of holding space for others on their healing journey is easily integrated into even the busiest lifestyles and from what I have experienced, can become a highly requested form of support.
7 Steps to building a Community Altar practice:
1.) Consider where your Altar will be and the length of time it will remain active. Helpful questions might be; Will your Altar be indoors or outside? Are you ready for a permanent feature in your home or will it be created only for a short gathering? An Altar is created with careful energetic intention on a designated surface - so choose a location that is easy to access and encouraging for you to tend to. Perhaps more than one person will actively tend to the Altar on behalf of the community - you get to cultivate this practice to suit your needs as well as those seeking to be included!
2.) Ponder the essential quality the Altar will be designed to represent and radiate. One might choose to support people’s hearts, invoke the sense of being held in the hands of divinity, promote their safety, clear ancestral wounds, encourage physical health, or tend to a need the community that you identify and relate to from your lived experience.
3.) Every item that makes up the Altar will be carefully selected and geared to contribute to the chosen energy and purpose. Consider them as energetic or spiritual ‘power houses’ such as specific crystals, images of deities or photos of deceased relatives, stones from significant and relevant places, plant medicines or dried herbs, all of which carry or support the chosen intention. An Altar brings together the individual energies of the objects with your aim to create a unified energy source that “works for you” once set.
4.) Decide how you will represent people who want to be included. You might light a candle on their behalf and speak their name for long distance support or if they will be physically present you might ask them to bring a stone, photo, or personal item that resonates with their personal energy.
5.) When you have spent some time becoming familiar with the energy of the Altar, are clear on its intention and comfortable with tending to it; extend the invitation to your community to be included. One might offer to individuals already asking for support, post a general invitation on social media, or verbally encourage participants at a gathering you are offering.
6.) Be sure to hold the work your Altar is doing with utmost respect. Do not allow others to put random objects on it, keep it clean and organized, spend time in quiet reverence there, and perhaps move things around or change up the items to keep the energy fresh. You might sing devotional songs, make offerings, or speak invocations and prayers while tending.
7.) It is important to remember that as a working energy source, there are also times of rest needed. We can provide this rest by periodically laying a cloth over it and by dismantling it when no longer active. Blessing and cleansing the items with sacred smoke is also something to be mindful to do when the energy begins to feel “stale”. If out-of-doors in a public area, be sure to thank and close the Altar by removing personal items after each time of tending.
Tips to remember:
An example of a simple yet powerful Altar as an inspiration for your own might be to dedicate to the Fairies, and include a central rose quartz sphere representing your love for them. Perhaps with a few “fairy quartz” points radiating outward and interlaced with small images of Fairies that are particularly attractive to you. You might decide to work with this creative energy space by reciting a daily invocation stating your desire to connect with the Fae on a deeper level. Visitors to your home who would like the same could be welcome to leave shiny coins or chocolate as gifts.
Another example is an altar for our Grandmothers created on a piece of lace at a Samhain gathering. Adorning with an inherited favourite tea cup, some black and white photos, and a broach your Great Great Grandmother wore establishes the connection to matriarchal lines and brings in their energy. If the intention is to heal a history of abuse for our Ancestors, including crystals that transmute dense energy, repair heartache, and impart strength safely surrounding the Grandmothers creates a powerful healing purpose. Guests could then bring their own photos, heirlooms, and written prayers for healing their lineages.
You might be surprised how many people ask to be included and share with you a real, felt sense of being supported. The simple act of someone caring is a profound sentiment let alone the supportive medicines included with, and invoked by, your Altar practice. Its free, takes little time, creates a strong feeling of community, and isn’t impeded by distance. I invite you to begin and have fun!
If you would like more in-depth wisdom to explore about Altars & Shrines, the differences between the two, their purpose, nuances, and best practices, it is a topic we cover during the first month of the year-long Shamanic Living Immersion program.
Registration opens each June and we begin each October.
Do you have Altars ALL over the house? Here is something to consider that is often overlooked.
I don't make new year resolutions anymore, but I do take my cues from the natural world and plant the most viable seeds of intentions during January's journey circle. We will be doing this again this year and working with the "garden" of our medicine pouches over the months ahead - tending to the sprouts, weeding out what needs to compost, and feeding those projects, dreams, and ways of being in life - just as the seasons show us. This month's Deepen Your Practice article is support for those who are unable to join us but wish they could.
I invite you to co-create what you want to harvest this year. People often say to me, "wow you manifested x,y,z!" No. No I didn't. I couldn't possibly take all the credit for such things. But I do try work in alignment with nature, I aim to make space for Spirit to intervene, I do the leg-work of walking through the doors of opportunity that open, and of course am surrounded by an incredible clan of people. This process here of planting seeds is a major aspect to this <3
Many women are really working with the different energetic aspects of each phase of their menstrual cycle, and many men are being invited into this world as well - to do so brings enormous clarity, efficient use of these qualities, an unfolding instead of struggling against, and deepens our connection with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Reclaiming this women's medicine may be considered as vital for whole-being health that inherently impacts the societies we live in and world around us. August's Deepen Your Practice column introduces readers to bringing our moontime cycle to our medicine wheel as another layer of wisdom to guide and orient us.
July's Luminous Wisdom article gives us a simple practice to balance our nervous system, write new neural pathways and bring emotional healing - just by doodling. Yep! For real.
I felt it as a student, I see it with colleagues, and I hold it as a teacher - there is a new aspect to the modern teacher/student dynamic that was unheard of in times of yesteryear.
The traditional way of a medicine person, shaman, bean feasa, etc etc was to study with one teacher for a number of years, become an apprentice, endure their and Spirit's sometimes harsh teachings, wait your turn, and integrate the medicines learned over time. Always showing utmost respect, learning as ready to, and mastering one's craft after much diligence.
Today those who seek to dive deeper into their spiritual practice have wave upon wave of seductive workshops, a plethora of fantastic books, online focus groups and videos abound. We live in an excellent time of sharing and availability. It's accessible. Great event coordination can happen. One can pick and choose who we like best, and who to give our precious time to. If we don't like what we hear, well, there is a book at the local occult shop we might like better.
The trouble is this, this sense of urgency. With so much in our western modern world being instant gratification and with great selection, we can easily lose respect for a Teacher and hurry our learning along - because frankly, most of us are starving for something deep, soulful, purposeful and personal. And then we want to share it and "become" useful.
This is how it seems to look...
In traditional settings, an apprentice would never think to go to the next village over and ask a different medicine person if they didn't like their teacher's answer. To do so would end the student/teacher relationship and potentially kibosh any future relationships with other teachers. There was a trust in right timing, that things weren't withheld as a power play but for safety.
As a teacher, there may be many reasons why a question is not directly answered, or skipping ahead would be discouraged.
Yep, I could have asked another teacher what they thought about it and searched for confirmations. I could have trusted the book instead. I could have trusted what my guides were showing me at the time - and likely would have had a rockier road to getting where I am today. This path is not known for its "smooth sailing" after all.
As a teacher, these situations call for delicacy as well as trust. Trust in our work, in the student, trust in right-timing and the ability of both participants. Trust that our ego isn't driving the boat in deciding what should or should not be for another. Trust in the student as a creative, resourceful and whole person. Trust in the balance between holding and guiding a being of free will, or being too controlling or nonchalant about it. And the delicacy to be able to sometimes say No without tearing away at that trust.
A most important cue for both sides - is a sense of urgency. When either participant is acting on feelings of urgency, that is a big cue to step back.
Whether a student or teacher, I wish you blessings on your slow cooked processes.
I was surprised and blessed to be asked by Sibella Publications to write a column for 1 year in their new magazine, Luminous Wisdom: Sophia. Deepen Your Personal Practice is where I share methods to engage and enliven your spiritual practice in interactive ways. Here is the first of the series...
Very often I am asked what do I mean when I ask folks to bring an "eco-friendly offering" to the land or to Spirit when attending my journey circles or medicine gatherings. Making offerings of love & gratitude is an important part of my practice. I make them during every walk in nature, during times of duress, when I feel helpless against the atrocities of the world or when I am full up with appreciation for the blessings of life. Here is a wee time with me at the Squamish River, talking about and making offerings. I hope this can help answer questions and I invite you to join the many of us who are loving up the world.
Enjoy this beautiful day!
Ahhh yes! Working with an altar can become a juicy, tangible way of working in our personal spiritual practice. They bring us a physical place to tend to. It works with the powerful subtlety of symbols directly speaking to our subconscious. On a left-brained, scientific side of things, an altar brings together electromagnetic frequencies of items and the energetics of thought, intention and emotion - to generate a specific vibration - which in turn affects the world around us and our physical, emotional and etheric bodies.
Let's look at a couple things before we consider how many altars we might want:
It is a beautiful way of working, one that our human tribe has been inspired by for longer than anyone can truly tell. Often I hear people mention having many altars around their homes, or the jubilant desire to create many. To me, this signals a caution to look at - it can end up feeling like a bit like a home with every single light on, with a whole lot of energy beaming out from many points around the house. If we go further and imagine each light bulb has a different intense colour; like each altar might have a different intention, the effect could be rather overwhelming, confusing, or even conflicting. It can become a lot to mindfully tend to on a practical level. A lot to feel. A lot of energy coursing through the night while you sleep.
In many traditions an altar or shrine to one's ancestors is tended to for our beloved deceased. Some ancestral altars or shrines are actually kept in a cupboard, special box, or are only created during certain times of the year, due to the added feel of "company" or a sense of more personalities within one's home that may stem from such altar work. For myself, I have an altar for my personal work, or work on behalf of a friend, client, or family member, and we have a shrine for our Ancestors. To me, this is plenty to work with. My altar changes and refreshes as I do, as my practice does, and is definitely something I feel sensitive about when I have company over, especially because it is in our main living space. With energetic work like this the fields of those present may be affected and can contribute or interfere too (lets face it, lovely energy and beautiful objects are attractive to touch!) My preference is to lay it to rest and keep it covered when guests are over. It is a place of personal work, not a conversation piece.
Just these two power centers within our house create plenty for me to tend to, work with, and live in the energy of. Other people may have a different threshold - but it is interesting to me to consider the call to have many altars all over one's home as instead a call to work more deeply with just one. Consider too if you are one called to have many altars, what is your nervous system is experiencing - would more energy sources around a hyper-vigilant, excitable person create a harmonious feel or overwhelm? If you struggle with learning to rest, pause, think things through, would more power sources help or hinder? Do you tend to have lots of fantastic ideas but burn out before seeing them to completion? Does the dedicated time spent with each fit practically into your day-to-day? Would many shrines, places to honour, to experience gratitude at, and leave offerings with, fit the bill instead of more altar work? Having altars ALL over the house is really something to consider!
Shamanic living is more than a practice. More than something one "does". Definitely more than attending interesting workshops or a periodic ceremony. In this time and place, where our urbanized and generally spiritually neglected lifestyle creates a sense of disconnect, and "nature deficit" has become a condition - the draw to a deeper life is strong - yet sometimes we fall into thinking our spirituality is something "to do" instead of a way of living. Around the world entire cultures, ways of being and daily life tasks were intrinsically infused with our relationship to Spirit. There was no separation between collecting a hen's eggs and our prayers, no distinction between grinding corn and divination, dreams were important, living by the phases of moon and sun was normal, souls were tended to after trauma, blessings were sewn into clothes and always offerings to ancestors and nature deities were a first thought - not something to "remember to do" but naturally arising from day-to-day activities. Living life as a million little ceremonies and sensitivity to unseen aspects. Here is an article I wrote for elephant journal on 10 ways to turn ordinary moments into sacred ones. Early in one's practice yes, these may be things "to do", but for those of us who feel shamanism & spiritual living is more a remembering of forgotten wisdom or a path of clarity through the distractions of our day - we can come to a place of constant spiritual awareness and dialogue while we move through the mundane. But lets be clear - we aren't at the whim of guides, not half checked out in the land of non-ordinary reality, and certainly not being drawn off into journeys or possession by spirit all willy-nilly. When one is noticing omens, listening for insights, allowing spirit to give us nudges throughout our day, we must also be fiercely present, grounded and firmly in our human plane. This is where discipline and discernment play an integral piece.
It is also where a human teacher can be a wealth of support. Spirit has sooo much wisdom to share - but spirit also doesn't live as a modern day human. Some of our guides may have lived in times where cursing and warfare were normal parts of community living and advise us accordingly. Spirit also may give us intense lessons without certain sanity saving tips and supports. And to be honest - not all spiritual entities have our best interests at heart. Having an integral human teacher to notice your blindspots, alert you to potential hazards and bring you wisdom on healthy shamanic technique, energetic management while navigating current day-to-day living and importantly - to support healing during challenging times. Its one thing to grow through a spiritual crisis - its a whole other ball game to go through it alone. It is often said we are Spiritual beings living a Human experience. So while some struggle to bring a spiritual side into their lives, others struggle to keep humanity in balance. Does anyone come to mind when you think of someone living more in the ethers than seems to serve them well? Someone who appears to crash through life, burning up friendships or always choosing complicated circumstances saying "Spirit told me to" ? A friend? A 'healer' in town? You?
Shamanic living is both a spiritual practice and ordinary life walking side by side every step of the way. Its living fully, with a rich knowing of self. Diving into the deepest, hardest personal work to better revel in the beauty of the world. Its aligning our hearts with our actions - bringing internal healing out into the mundane world. Consulting spirit during hard decisions and using our intellect to implement a plan. Its going to a job every day and finding ways to be a harmonizing agent in the world - no matter what we are doing. Knowing what is our sh*t is and what has been projected onto us or what we are picking up on from another. Its feeling when things are out of balance between the mundane world and the spiritual realm, and having the wisdom to look within and to our guides before acting. Its buying less packaging not to be "environmental" but because we actually treasure our relationship with mother earth. Its thanking the land for its blessings and allowing safe passage before a road trip. Listening to the nudge to take the next bus but being wise enough to discern if it is a passing whim or actual guidance. It's a strong relationship with spirit while having both feet firmly on the ground. Doing our work, bringing balance and holding the light while we go about our ordinary lives. Walking the walk and knowing our practice is something to live - not do. This is shamanic living.
If these words tug on your heart strings, if you hear the call but can't see the first step, my suggestion is to find your tribe, connect with a mentor, keep company that raises you up and "speaks your language". You are more than welcome to visit www.ShamanicLiving.ca for inspiration and if you would like to join us, please do. The world needs wise hearts, compassionate intellects, and sensitive warriors as change makers. I truly believe by repairing our relationship to the natural world and tending to our own healing, we are having a huge overall impact. In my opinion, tending to our personal healing is just what needs doing when we feel helpless in the face of atrocities. Plus... it's science! We have all sorts of scientific demonstrations - everything from Russian experiments linking the electric impulses in DNA samples with the owner's emotional states over distance to Dr. Emoto's work with water. From Sandra Ingerman's Transfiguration healing work measured with GVD cameras (I was a lucky participant in some of this!) to the famous Rice Experiment (Here is my home study with photos) I am reminded of Spider wisdom - if you witness a spider building a web, first they put their support lines firmly in place. Then they begin in the center, tending to the small things. The work then grows out from there into something bigger and far reaching. It's balanced and beautiful. Sometimes it shines in the light, and other times hidden from view. We can do the same with our spiritual and ordinary lives.
A bean feasa of Celtic lineage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.