Shapeshifters and Magical Animals is a three week course led by Kris Hughes. We will be looking at stories and poems from Scotland, Ireland and Wales concerning the themes of transformation, wisdom, immortality, and time.
It starts on 10th April, 2021. Information and registration at this link.
"Seals on the Rocks Farallon Islands" Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902)
Around the coast of Ireland and Britain there are countless stories of seal people. Often called selkies, they are usually said to be able to cast off their skins on land to take the appearance of humans. In many versions of these stories, a human falls in love with one of these beings, and although the feelings are returned, the human never quite plays fair. In order to keep their new love on land, they take the seal skin and hide it away, so that their lover is also their prisoner. These stories have an inevitable ending which I'm sure you can guess. Yes, one day the skin is found, and the selkie returns to the sea.
Other selkie tales may concern seals who help humans who are in some kind of trouble (perhaps the human has spared a selkie's life in the past) or they may be about selkies who approach humans for help. One of my favourite of these stories tells of the adventure of a seal fisherman among the selkies, and is told by Tom Muir in this video.
I spent many years among "horse whisperers". The things I learned certainly deepened my thinking, and not just about horses. Bridging the horse/human divide - mentally, emotionally or spiritually is an immense challenge, and it's interesting how attracted we humans are to that challenge - whether it's horses or house pets, or even selkies. The man who many people consider to be the father of the natural horsemanship movement, was a fellow called Tom Dorrance. In one sense, you might call him a wise old cowboy, but his Zen-like approach to horses went a long way beyond spit and sawdust. It was an approach that he was known for extending to his human associates and students, too. Stories of how he simply set people up to see a lesson in something, then left them to figure it out, are legendary. I'll let you get a feel for Tom with a couple of quotes.
Tom's words are not easy to fathom. That's probably why he didn't write books. Most of the people who learned from Tom did it by watching, by doing, and most of all by some mysterious art of feeling what Tom was about. It was really only when some of these people, with a little more charisma, with more interest in words, began to take the message to the masses that the study of natural horsemanship became something people intentionally undertook.
The horse's need for self-preservation is deeply basic. It is fear of predators (and humans are innately predators, like it or not) which causes them to do all those inconvenient things like run away with their riders, shy in traffic or buck people off. Tom Dorrance, however, peeled away a layer that is still ignored by too many - the horse's need for mental self preservation and for spiritual self preservation, and that being herd animals, if we are to work with them under those terms, this includes a need to be together with us. Many people in the natural horsemanship movement believe that this brand of thinking could save humanity, and I'm not sure that they are overstating their case.
What the lesson of the selkie and the horse whisperer both teach us is the need for feeling togetherness, and that togetherness needs to be perceived as fair by both parties. Ultimately, it's not enough for me to say "I hid your seal skin because we loved each other" or "I trained you by a consistent set of rules, which were fair rules". If the other party doesn't feel fairness, it wasn't really togetherness. Anytime we are trying to initiate a relationship we need to meet the other party a lot more than halfway. We need to go most of the way. If that doesn't make sense, maybe the following little exercise I learned from a student of Tom's will.
Most people are looking to feel comfortable. Perceived common ground is what gives them comfort. Especially common ground of spirit, and of energy. Go somewhere where you can shake hands with a bunch of people. Some of them will crush your rings into useless scrap metal, some will have a touch like a wet paper towel, others will hold onto your hand just a bit too long for decency. Don't meet them halfway. Meet them all the way, if you can. Feel your way into what they are offering, and return it, and they will feel that you are together for that moment. You will be much more likely to have their trust, their interest, whatever.
Of course, you may recognise this exercise from an Aikido class or a workshop on sales techniques - it gets around. It may spark your interest, or it may spark in you a feeling that you would be giving up your authenticity if you shook hands in any way but your way, but consider this: if you can feel together with another being for a moment, you will be enriched. That, in itself, should be reason enough to do it, but there's more, because by feeling together you also create the opportunity to lead them to a better place -- perhaps toward that middle ground where you will feel safer, too. Just be aware - they may have places they want to take you, too.
I sometimes do readings for people about their relationships with their animal friends, and it's interesting that they always seem to end up being about meeting the animal on it's own ground, where true togetherness is gained. Next time you are trying to create some rapport with another being, why not give this approach a try?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Wild Child, another piece I wrote linking horses and water from a different angle.
Pain and comfort
Much of this article is taken from an email reading I did for a client. As there is no reference to their identity or personal circumstances, I'm sure they won't mind me sharing it here. As it happens, this client shares my interest in herbal healing, and so I talk about the uses of Nettles in herbal medicine, with some thoughts on how and why that relates to the Nettle card in my Go Deeper oracle deck.
Watercolour of Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Caterpillar and Chrysalis (Aglais urticae) and Nettle (Urtica dioica) by Katherine Plymley (1758 - 1929). Definition of the Nettle card from the Go Deeper oracle deck.
There are several varieties of nettle. This card refers to the common stinging nettle - Urtica dioica. People who aren't into herbal medicine are often surprised to hear that Nettles have so many good uses. After all, they are pretty unpleasant to come in contact with, and no wonder. They contain formic acid - the same stuff that is in ant bites!
One of the oddest uses I have ever heard for Nettles, though, is this: In some places, people used to take bunches of Nettles and beat them against painful rheumatic joints. It's said that they got relief from this. Perhaps just a case of "if it doesn't kill you it might cure you!" but this picture has always stuck with me (I read about it back in the 1970s) and I think that knowing about it, I am less fearful of the Nettles' sting, and perhaps even find it less painful than many people do. I can only suppose that at least one reason this flogging helped was an effect known as counter-irritatation - which is how stuff like Deep Heat Rub works, as well. These things provide more than just a distraction from the original pain. It seems that by creating inflammation on the surface tissue, the inflammation in deeper layers is relieved somewhat. So as well as a maybe pleasant hot/cold sensation, a good counter irritant increases blood flow, removal of toxins and lots of other good stuff. I know that things like Tiger Balm and certain essential oils work for me, although I haven't tried the Nettle remedy yet!
Perhaps the question in a reading is - For what is all this a metaphor? How could creating a little discomfort in the short term, bring relief in the long term? Is there some way in which all this irritation is actually helping you get through a difficult time? Somewhere to focus your anger? A distraction? Even helping you to "clean out" emotionally?
Nettles, of course, can also be used as a food. I'm sure that you've come across things like Nettle soup, steamed Nettles as an early spring side dish or even Nettles in pesto. Nettles have lots of good things in them, including chlorophyll and many of the available minerals we need for cell development. I remember once I was having bad nosebleeds. I figured I needed something like vitamin E, or that maybe I could shove some Aloe Vera up my nose. I finally went to a herbalist who told me that when people have problems with skin/tissue, the thing they're often lacking is minerals with which to build tissue. Hmmmm.... A few days on a tea made from Nettles and other high-mineral herbs totally cured me!
So again, what's going on here that relates to your life? Is there something you need to nourish you, but the source seems too ugly, unfriendly or improbable to consider? I believe this to be one of the more obvious meanings of this card.
I have talked quite a bit about herbal medicine here. While I definitely don't consider drawing a card to be a herbal prescription, I never completely discount the possibility, either. If something resonates strongly with you on a physical level, you can always follow it up by either talking to a trained herbalist, or reading up and deciding whether self treatment with Nettles is for you. With that in mind, I am going to attach a link to an article about the vibrational uses of Nettle. More and more I'm coming to believe that often we don't need to be ingesting big hunks of a plant to get its benefits. I use Bach Remedies a lot and this is one thing that has really shown me the way with this. I'm not necessarily recommending the company whose website the article is on - I don't know anything about them - I just think that looking at things from the vibrational perspective might be useful, and this is a great article.
Another thing I find about Nettles is a strong dualism - pain and healing, male and female, toxins and nourishment. Maybe that's also something for you to think about. I remember once reading something along the following lines. When you have the flu - you can be sure that it won't last forever. And when you don't have the flu, you can be pretty sure that one day, you will have it again. The same goes for feeling low or depressed. The pain that feels so all pervasive when we're in the midst of it is likely to abate eventually, but likewise, times will come again when life will feel uncomfortable. This is another important aspect of the card - simply reminding us that pain is natural, just as relief from pain is also natural. As humans, both will come to us, in their turn.
Click here to book an oracle reading by email.
The Stag as Creator
The stag seems to be following me of late. I see him as a friendly entity. You might know him as Cernunnos, Herne or a form of the Wild Man of the Wood. In natural history, the Red Stag (or Bull Elk to North Americans) is a powerful figure, bent on procreation above all else. Metaphysically, or metaphorically, I see him as representing fatherhood and therefore a deep creative impulse. A primal urge to make something, to bring forth a representation of ones deepest being as a gift to the future.
The Red Stag came up in a reading I did recently. Here is part of what I wrote about him in that reading -
Celtic languages speak of imbas or of awen. Words that might be explained, if not exactly translated, by other words such as breath, inspiration, muse, impulse, enlightenment and so on. Where does this come from? Although I have no firm answers, I think it's an important question. The answers may lie in each person's belief system. God ... some particular god or goddess ... the soul ... the psyche ... ancestral memory. This inspiration, literally a breath blowing into us, and giving us life, is asking us to operate on a higher plane - to bring that which is beautiful to light, to be shared.
I've noticed that many people are worried about opening the door to awen in the form of meditation, or something like a card reading. Yet it is only a chance for a deeper version of a familiar experience. The experience of being moved by nature or art, the experience of creating something meaningful or of knowing something greater than ourselves. While you have probably experienced all these things in a very pleasurable way, you may have also experienced them as challenging at times. They may allow us to feel or release deep emotions, make us aware of our mortality, cause us to question our beliefs or simply to expend effort. However, we call the shots. We can walk out of the theatre if the movie is too graphic, or stay in our own garden rather than have an extreme wilderness experience, we can enjoy the creativity of raising kids, rather than painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
When we meditate, we try in some way to de-clutter our thoughts. Whether we strive for an "empty" mind or a focused one, we are surely opening ourselves to imbas, as well as simply de-stressing. Fifteen minutes on the meditation cushion is unlikely to bring either nirvana nor terror, however, it could be the start of something good. It could be the start of enlightenment. It could become a chance for a regular visit to an island of peace, and a chance to begin to carry a little more peace within.
When I do a reading for someone, we are both opening ourselves to a high level of inspiration. How deep this experience goes depends partly on my skill and intention in delivering a reading. Once it is placed in your hands, though, it becomes your responsibility. You get to call the shots. You can take it lightly, with a grain of salt, if it doesn't suit you, or you can over think it to such a degree that it drives you a little nuts. (I hope you don't do that, of course!) I hope that it becomes a little piece of awen that moves through me to you. I hope that it inspires your life in some great ways, but you have to take it, and make it yours and work with it for this to happen. I do believe that this is another reason that you have nothing to fear from a reading. You deal with the material in your own time, on your own terms.
Go Deeper Reading
In depth reading by email.
More information about my readings at this link.
Sometimes it's hard to know whether we're on the right track - with our careers, with our long term plans, with our choice of projects, and with our relationships with others. I wish I could tell you that there are easy answers but you already know that this isn't the case. Do we "follow our hearts" or "do our duty"? Should we choose the safe options or take a leap into the unknown?
photo: Martin Vorel
Life is complex and unpredictable. Yes, I do card readings but I don't deal in predictions, and here's why: Life can be unpredictable, but mostly it isn't! It's so predictable that you really don't need me to tell you what's going to happen. If you keep doing what you always do, yeah, that's right -- you're probably going to keep on getting more of what you're already getting.
Oracle readings: they're about perspective.
Sometimes, it's the complexity of life which keeps us stuck in doing what we always do and getting what we always get. We can't see the forest for the trees. What does that really mean? It's about perspective, about angle, and this is where I believe a reading, and a little help from me to interpret that reading, if you like, can really help. I believe that what the cards do best, at least in my hands, is to give us a fresh angle on things, and when we have that, sometimes it's much easier to break down the walls of fear, or stuckness, or whatever.
If we can get a bird's eye view of the forest, then we can see whether it's a mere two hour hike to get out of there, or whether it's a major journey. We can get a better idea of whether our little forest is the best place for us in our current landscape, or whether the grass really is greener. Likewise, we get a better understanding of our internal landscape. The cards encourage us to look at ourselves in new ways. Like the trees that may obscure our view of the forest as a whole, the labels we put on ourselves, such as "poor", "too old", or "tied down" can get in the way of seeing who we really are.
Believe me when I say that insight into the present is of more value than a prediction of the future. Believe me when I say that understanding yourself is absolutely the best place to begin when trying to change your circumstances. There is no other place to begin. Ultimately, we mostly create our own reality.
Go Deeper Reading
In depth reading by email.
More information about my readings at this link.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this video about nature and the Celtic worldview, which uses images from my oracle deck.
Manannán mac Lir - a great master of illusion has much to teach us!
Yesterday evening I listened to an amazing recording by the poet, musician and story teller Robin Williamson. His telling of The Voyage of Bran. (His rendering of the poetry is better than Meyer's which I have quoted below, since it's in the public domain.) Within this tale is an extraordinary passage illustrating aspects of illusion and perceived reality, as only poetry can. Bran and his men are crossing the sea in their coracle (a light boat) when they encounter Manannán mac Lir (God of the Sea) driving toward them over the water in his chariot. He describes to Bran their surroundings, which, although they are looking on one another and conversing, is entirely different than the view which Bran and his men see from their boat.
Bran deems it a marvellous beauty
In his coracle across the clear sea:
While to me in my chariot from afar
It is a flowery plain on which he rides about.
Sea-horses glisten in summer
As far as Bran has stretched his glance:
Rivers pour forth a stream of honey
In the land of Manannán mac Lir.
Speckled salmon leap from the womb
Of the white sea, on which thou lookest:
They are calves, they are coloured lambs
With friendliness, without harm for the other.
Along the top of a wood has swum
Thy coracle across ridges,
There is a wood of beautiful fruit
Under the prow of thy little skiff.
The Voyage of Bran from a tapestry by Terry Dunne
I found this passage very exciting. Imagine these two "realities" coexisting in the same time and place! Where one individual sails on water, the other drives his chariot across a beautiful landscape. So how is this possible? Which is the true reality? Neither or both. Reality is perceived. Does this make it illusion? Perhaps, but if so, illusion is strong enough to support a boat full of men. Strong enough to support a horse and chariot. As I listened to Robin Williamson describe this illusion-reality riddle I found myself laughing. Filled with joy and wonder.
How frightened we are to loose our grip on our perceived reality! How fearful of finding our coracle aground, or of drowning ourselves in our chariot. So careful are we to hold fast to the mundane, repetitive din and jostle we call reality, that we rarely glimpse the other realities that lie amongst it. The other realities we may also touch, and know - in silence, in nature, in simple awareness, in moments of thoughtless being. Some would argue that most of us are asleep when we believe we are awake and "living". We are sleepwalking through a reality made up of digital images, shopping, competition, empty talk and short term gratification; when all the while another reality of nature, oneness, and quiet knowing also surrounds us.
For me, moments of glimpsing the riddle of illusion and reality are often the most illuminating and also the most fun. I am always refreshed when I am plunged into that which lies beyond the mundane. When I am reminded that the grinding "reality" that describes my current struggle is only as fluid or as solid as belief makes it.
This is part of why I find joy in using my cards. As I stand in my boat and ponder the image before me, I am always delighted to see things differently. How easily I am shown that
"There is a wood of beautiful fruit
Under the prow of my little skiff."
where I thought there was only water. This is the joy of the riddle, of the illusion and the moment of insight. Words like "meditation", "divination" and "enlightenment" sound so heavy and serious. Like hard work, or something slightly perilous from which we might not find the way back. More often they are the best parts of life. Burdens are lifted from us and we become light and happy.
Manannán mac Lir offered the purest of gifts to Bran that day on the sea. The playful joy of the riddle of reality and illusion. Is this just a metaphysical plaything? A glittering but useless toy? Well, as things worked out for Bran, he was not going to be able to safely land his coracle on Erin again. In some versions of the story, he meets his end after doing so, but in the oldest versions, we are told that it is one of Bran's men, Nechtán, who is "overcome with homesickness" and upon stepping from the coracle onto the shore, crumbles to ash (for in what seemed a few months journeying, they had been away for many hundreds of years). So it seems to me that the insights given to Bran by Manannán mac Lir will have strengthened him against both homesickness and helped him to see that the sea which might now be his permanent home was also a land of fruit, forests and green pastures. Something he would not otherwise have guessed.
Again, this is part of the riddle of reading cards, or gaining wisdom from nature, myth or any other well of wisdom. An insight here, a reassurance there and sometimes a moment of joy and wonder that changes everything.
To arrange a reading, click here
Quotes based on the Kuno Meyer translation of 1895 which is available at this link - http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/vob/vob02.htm
Tonight is the full Hunter's Moon. With it's close proximity to Samhuinn this year I would say it is a perfect time to make use of the thinning veil between the worlds. Send your ancestors some extra love and gratitude!
In my work with ancestors I am aware of three groups, which are not really separated, but by thinking of each group, the work feels more rounded and inclusive. There are ancestors of place. We may not be related to these ancestors by blood or by culture, but they walked the same patch of earth we now walk, maybe even lived in the same houses and had the same sacred places, depending on how far back we go. Often they understood better than we do how to live in harmony with the environment they found themselves in. They have much wisdom to offer us about how we fit into our immediate ecosystems and about how to live in harmony with the land spiritually and physically, if we will listen.
I use the word kin, rather than blood, to describe family ancestors. Adoptions, fosterings, marriages and remarriages create important kinship ties - and this isn't a new phenomenon, it has always been so. If we have a deep sense of someone being in the family, then they are our kin. Conversely, it is also entirely possible that blood ancestors we never knew in this world may take an interest in us. So be open when working with this group - where so much love is shared.
Ancestors of our heritage or culture is more difficult to define. Increasingly in the modern world people may feel that they have lost track of their cultural heritage, or may feel drawn to align themselves with a particular culture and exclude others. We each have to find our own way with this, and strike a balance between honouring the past and present cultures of our region, or our bloodlines or those to which we feel drawn, while remaining true to who we are. The first two groups of ancestors can offer us much wisdom on these things, if we listen.
I am offering readings on ancestral wisdom over the coming week, so message me if this interests you. However, there is much you can do, yourself, to honour these groups and be open to their messages.
I did a lot of thinking and preparation in trying to understand whether offering special readings for Samhuinn was the right thing. Dealing with my most recent ancestors was just part of it.
As Samhuinn approaches (that's the Scottish Gaelic spelling) we are encouraged to think about our departed loved ones, and our ancestors - and I do. I think about them often, anyway. However, I've never been a visitor of graves. My strong belief is that this is probably the last place I am going to find my departed loved ones. I've lived about five miles from my parents graves for the past few years, but I never went there - until yesterday.
I suddenly took a notion. I showered and put on clean clothes. I gathered up some bread I'd baked, some spring water, some fruit juice and a poem I'd written, got in the truck and went. Finding the cemetery was easy but I had no idea where to find the grave. I remembered my father saying more than once that he didn't want to be buried on this dry, lonely and desolate hill. My cousin said there was a "simple stone, nothing fancy". Fortunately, it's a small place. I thought I would find it by instinct, but that didn't work, so I started methodically up and down the rows. I grew up in this tiny town. There were a lot of names I knew, quite a lot of people I knew as a child, too. I'd stop and try to picture them in my mind. The place was a bit overgrown and I was a little anxious about missing the stone. My socks got full of prickly tumbleweed thorns. I walked and walked, up and down the rows of the dead. Not another living soul was about, which suited me fine.
Some of the graves were well tended, some less so. A few were quirky. Some were overgrown and others were absolute shrines to what seemed like a prideful grief. I pondered on the question of whether a well-tended grave honoured the dead or merely served as a statement of propriety by the living. If the dead live on, I believe it is in telling their stories to future generations or in making use of the legacy of wisdom, love and material possessions they leave us.
Finally, I turned a corner and there it was. Now what? I had planned a simple ritual in my mind. I said an informal hello and chatted briefly. I read my poem. There was no applause. I took out the bread, broke some off and put it near the stone - which turned out to be fairly substantial and "fancy" by my standards. I poured some juice into the quaich I'd brought with me, splashed some out, drank some, and again with the water. I ate some bread, too, and cast some to the four directions. I asked to be given more wisdom. I tried to think suitable thoughts. One stone, one grave, for the two of them. How did I feel about that? They didn't really get along too well, but they stayed together - so why not?
I hung around for awhile. The view was magnificent, in spite of my father's remarks. I knew that he would have preferred to have been buried next to his kin, back in the green, rolling hills of eastern Kansas. Would it have mattered? I had a little twinge of longing to go to that place and see it. I imagined the road trip that would be! Well, time to go. To be honest, I hadn't felt much. Maybe a little pompous at my own ritual. My family. It was what it was, and I've learned to appreciate it for the good and understand the not-so-good as best I can.
It was only as I was getting back near my car that I felt a bit emotional. Walking away was hard. Then I realised - walking away from a grave is nothing, when the person lives on in your thoughts.
Yes, I read for animals, too!
I just finished creating a meditation card based on a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
"We ask for long life, but 'tis deep life, or noble moments that signify. Let the measure of time be spiritual, not mechanical."
In the meditation we are invited to review our day and think about the moments which felt most noble and deep to us. There is no right or wrong in deciding which are the noble moments in life, and which are mechanical. Many activities could fall into either category, depending on the spirit we bring to them in the moment. I know that for me, most of my deep and noble moments involve either nature, spiritual practice or relationships.
"The Sun Had Closed the Winter's Day" by Joseph Farquharson
A noble moment, surely, for both shepherd and sheep - and the dog!
Among the relationships I really value in life are my relationships with animals. I have horses, cats and a dog - and while I'm not the kind of person who says "I prefer animals to people", I suppose I put humans and animals I'm close to on a pretty equal footing. Of course, relationships of any kind can be hard work. They require a good deal of partnership, mutual respect and compromise if they are to be a true joy to both parties. From the human viewpoint, we need to understand that just as with human relationships, love alone isn't always enough (or love and food!).
In human relationships, we understand that each individual is unique, with their own dreams and their own particular needs. That's true with animals, too, but what humans often miss is the importance of the needs of different species. We can understand pretty easily that Prince is frightened of strangers, that Fluffy is argumentative or that Blackie is kind of lazy. What we as humans fail to make sense of is that cats, ponies and parrots are each hard wired by thousands of years of genetics to respond to their fear of strangers in a way unique to their species, or to have an argument for entirely different reasons!
I love reading books on how wild animals live, and books by those animal training gurus who understand that the key to unlocking the minds of our domestic pets often lies in knowing what motivates their wild counterparts. I would encourage everyone who is around animals to delve into this stuff. There is a lot to learn. However, it isn't always easy. The experts rarely agree on the best way to house train cats or teach mice to do tricks, or what motivates wild wolves to accept a new pack leader. Even if they did, as humans we find it difficult to step outside our human perception of our animals as human children. We are seriously challenged when we try to think and behave more like a wise mustang or an Alpha wolf.
We can gain so much wisdom from nature that it's always worth trying to understand how our animal friends need to be treated through that filter, but sometimes the things animals do - or won't do - can be very perplexing, frustrating and even downright dangerous. If you've bothered to read this far, I'm pretty sure that sometime in your life you've lost sleep over animal behaviour, or struggled to progress in your relationships with certain animals. So maybe this is where I can help you.
My oracle readings are all about going to a deeper level of things. Going beneath the mechanical layers to insight, to feelings or spiritual promptings, to intuition. It works for understanding situations where words fail. It's helpful when we need to see things from a different angle in order to see them at all. Perfect for human-animal relationships. So this summer I decided to experiment, and did a number of free readings for people and their animal friends. Based on the feedback, I'd say it was a success - but verbal feedback is of little use when working with animals.
However, I can tell you that -
- one German Shepherd is now enjoying dog agility with a lady who hadn't seen that coming!
- another lady discovered that her beloved cat wasn't aloof, just meditating on the wonder of their lives together.
- and a young mare is finally being happily ridden out by her owner into the beautiful wide world.
To arrange a reading, or ask a question, you can send me a message here.
If you enjoyed this note you might also like Wild Child?
Kris Hughes - writer, hedge teacher, pony lover, cartomancer,
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