Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Van Kedisi Cats

Lately I've been having lots of synchronicities around Turkey, which is strange, since I've never been there and have no plans to go.  But the best is to learn recently that my feline friends, Lulu and Lucy, are actually scions of an ancient line of cats from the great Turkish Lake Van. Van Kedisi cats are white, and very often have one gold eye and one sky blue, which legend has it is because they reflect the sun setting on the blue waters of the lake.   So valued are these cats in Turkey that they are not allowed to be taken out of the country , particulary if they have two colored eyes. Lucy and Lulu, the famous Van Cats!

Lucy meditating on ancient days when she was a goddess

The city of Van is situated  on the eastern bank of Lake Van. The largest lake in Turkey is an inner sea that covers 1,433 sq miles.  In the region, there is a  rare and ancient breed of cat called “ Turkish Van Cat ” (Van kedisi). All over the world the "Van cat" is recognized as a white cat with auburn patterns on the top of the head and a faintly ringed auburn tail - however, this is a breed that was created about 150 years ago from the original Van Kedisi stock.  In Turkey they breed  the real  " Van cat" which has a pure white coat. It can have both blue, both amber or one blue and the other amber eyes, but is especially famous for their mysterious two-colored eyes. This strong cat is beautiful, friendly, intelligent, faithful and lively. A surprising, and documented,  fact about these cats is that the Van Cat likes to swim in the lake, and is the only known cat that will willingly enter water.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Feast of Samhain

 We just celebrated "The Feast of  Samhain' ( a table of 12, with the 13th seat, the Guest of Honor, reserved for the Beloved Dead)....... candlelit night of sharing stories of those who have passed away but are in our hearts.

 And of course I remember always the Spiral Dance, which I participated in a number of times in San Francisco, and brought to Tucson in 2000 with the help of Macha NightMare. I've copied a video of the Spiral Dance below from UTube) .  When one has danced the Spiral Dance with 2,000 people, and come face to face with each of them in the course of the dance, you leave changed.  

This is the sacred origin and meaning of Hallowed Evening. Spirits, coming close to this world to join the feast, sometimes like to play tricks, hence, "trick or treat"'s not good, of course, to fail to leave a place at the table, and a little single malt,  for Uncle Angus on such a high holy day! And of course, the "Witch and her broom". The Broom is associated with many folk traditions of "sweeping away the old bad energies" - purification rituals for the home and Hearth (Heart). Traditionally this was the time to celebrate the "Witch's New Year", the last of three Celtic Harvest Festivals before going into the dark of Winter.   It is the closing of the old year,  a time to honor the ancestors, the harvest, and the gifts of the year past.  When I lay out the Feast, I always imagine ancient  communities laying out the last fresh apples, the treasured honey mead reserved only for special occasions, and toasts raised  to the invisible ones,  their plates heaped high as well. Inherent in this celebration was a profound respect for the Spiral wheel of the year,  cycling the natural cycles of death and re-birth.

Here is my gratitude to the year that is soon to pass away, and to all of those who have passed away from my life as well, people who have gifted me and created with me and loved me, and I them.  Blessed Be!

Sometimes we don't realize, because things manifest through time, the ways that our wishes have often been granted.  Thinking of the Spiral Dance, and Reclaiming, I remember another one of those stories of Grace and Magic, and want to tell it, although, as all true stories are, it's part of a much larger story that is woven into the fabric of my life, and lots of other lives.  I think when we tell  these stories we get a glimpse of how seamless "reality" really is.  And Magic is always afoot, although I don't believe it has anything to do with wands.  I think it's much more about Weaving and being Woven.

"Gaia" (1986)
When I was in graduate school, I began reading "The Spiral Dance" by Starhawk.  It was such a revelation, the way she spoke about the Goddess, and a theology of Immanence.  It became the central inspiration for one of my shows while in Grad school.  When I graduated I went to live in New York, and married, and then in 1997 got divorced.  My ex and I were very involved with the Pagan community on the East Coast, and when we divorced I felt like I lost my community.  With the bitterness that often accompanies a divorce, I decided I was done with the pagans, and spiritual things in general, and I also decided I would leave the East Coast and live somewhere else.  In those days I was doing Renaissance Faires, so I just packed up my van and became a nomad.

I had a booth in the fall of that year at the Maryland Renaissance Faire, and I happened to hear of a holistic health practitioner who also did shamanic work and "soul retrievals" in the area.  I figured it couldn't hurt, so I made an appointment.  We lay down on the floor, he "journeyed" for me, and "blew my soul pieces" back into my chest.  I didn't know what to think, but as he described his impressions, among them he told me that there were two things that would show me that the struggles of my divorce, and my old life, were over.  One was a magenta flower, a Cosmos.  The other was a little terra cotta female figure, like an angel or something.

In November I packed up and went to Arizona to spend the winter in my trailer at the Renaissance Faire there.  By March I was really wondering where to go next.  I had recently discovered the Internet, so I looked up just about everything I was interested in - Goddess, ritual, mask theatre, transpersonal psychology, etc.  Every single time it came up Berkeley, Marin Country, or San Francisco!   The clincher was when I was looking for the email for something called the Center for Symbolic Studies near New Paltz, New York.  I knew Stephen and Robin Larsen, and wanted to get a recommendation from them. Up came the Center for Symbolic Studies in Berkeley, California!  And the Center was the creation of a Jungian psychologist named Robert H. Hopcke  who had just written a book called There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives!

Well, that was enough for me, so I packed up the van when the show ended, cat in the back, and headed west to California, back to the Berkeley I remembered so well but hadn't seen in over 20 years.  I decided I would sleep in my van if I had to, until I could find a place to stay (and fortunately for me, I had no idea of how hard it can be to find a place to stay in Berkeley now.....)

Arriving finally, I looked around for a familiar landmark, and found the Cafe Mediterranean.  I didn't know anyone anymore in Berkeley, but for old times sake I parked the van nearby and went in for my first Cappachino since the 70's.  As I stood in line, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said "Are you Lauren Raine?"  It was my old friend Joji!  I couldn't believe it.  He bought me a cup of coffee, asked me where I was staying, I told him I had just arrived and planned on moving back to Berkeley, and he invited to stay at his house where he had an extra room. Voila - I didn't have to sleep in my car for even one night!
Judy Foster

And when I went to his house that evening, in his living room was a big, framed close-up photograph of a magenta Cosmos.

When, two months later, I found a room to rent with Judy Foster, the first thing I encountered when I walked into her house was an altar with a terra cotta angel.  And as it turned out, Judy was one of the founders of Reclaiming and the Spiral Dance, and a close friend of Starhawk.   The universe put me exactly where I needed to go.   Thank you are missed.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Here's a Shaman mask I made from my friend Arjuna's face.

 Well, it is almost Halloween, and I've been doing some life review.  I've been making masks for 30 years, and I think it's about time I honor the "Spirit of the Mask" for blessing me, a lot of people who've worked for me over the years (or copied me)  and now have businesses of their own, and all the people who've used the masks, their dances that I never saw, the energy of the masks going on beyond me.  THANK YOU!  BLESSED BE!

Of course, the "Greenman" has been my most enduring!
Back in the early 90's, when I first began to make masks,  I belonged to a women's group, and a member of the group did something called "Re-Birthing".  We lay down on the floor, and with eyes closed did rapid breathing while she coached us.  The result was a visionary experience for most participants, and for myself, I had a vivid vision of myself looking at a kind of fissure in the earth from which emerged a mask (I remember it was red and pinkish, very elaborate).  As I "watched" the mask rapidly turned into another mask, and another, and after another, constantly changing into brilliantly colored masks!

When we gathered in a circle to discuss our journeys, I told everyone that I had just met the "Mask Deva".  And all these years later, I think I did, and perhaps I've been able to "uncover" a few of those masks that were revealed to me.  What a blessing!  So I felt like sharing a few along the way here.......................
Here's an early Samhain ritual mask, the Crone aspect of  three.
Crow Man and the Bone Goddess, two personal mythic figures that kept emerging in my dreams around the time of my divorce.  I think, in retrospect, they were guides, helping me to deal with the difficulties of that time.

 "Gaia" from a wonderful Solstice Residency at I Park in Connecticut, and the Goat Mask for Tragos, a film by the brilliant Antero Alli.

I never showed this mask of Kilahua giving birth to new lands, erupting into the future..........

A Butterfly Woman, one of my favorites and not so fierce as some.

This mask was the result of an  encounter in the summer of 2005 with a Luna Moth.  When I make these masks, there is always the hope that they won't only end up on someone's wall, but will be "activated", someone will find their own story for the could anything as amazing as a Luna Moth not have a story that needs telling?
"La Mariposa", a rather ferocious Butterfly Woman. 
 As Clarissa Pinkola Estes said, to be a pollinator, one must have "los ovarios".
  It's not a job for sissies.
 I used to tell people, "Give me a story and I'll make you a mask for it", but in this cynical world, most people didn't believe me.  Yet stories, and the collective stories that are called Myths,  are what fueled my imagination.  Give me a story and perhaps we can find its Face.............

 One of many "Heyoka" masks.  You can't do ritual theatre without the Liminal Heyoka circling, reminding us of the chaos and humor at the borders of "reality".  And have you ever noticed that there are some people who are just born for the job?

Another "Spider Woman" mask.  I was inspired by a science fiction story I read (alas, I don't know by who) in which the author described a person with eyes that were full of stars.

 I love this mask, which was inspired by a creation of another mask artist I saw. 
 It's "The Deva of the Rose".
Two "Shields" I did with my former husband, artist Duncan Eagleson. 

One of many Gaia masks.

A recent Goddess mask.........."Oya", African Goddess of storms.

People have suggested that I put eyes in the masks so they are more sculptural, can be "hung on the wall".  But I'm always telling people that that's not really what they're for............they are in their very essence collaborative, and metaphorical of human multiplicity of being as well.  I like having the open eye holes, because they invite exactly that, collaboration with others.  The Artform is open, the eyes are open, and the mask always has the possibility of someone else putting it on, telling a new story, dancing a new dance.

 And the open eye holes suggest the mystery and eternally changing formlessness behind the face we see, or think we see, the face that is ever changing...........

In one of my Renfair booths.  I don't know what's next, to be honest..........the "Numina" masks bubble and perk in my imagination, unformed as yet, and await those who will give them life and story.  Sometimes I have to wait for the story to turn up.  But for now there's a lot to be grateful for.

World, give us a new story, a Good Story..............and let's find out what its face looks like.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"You Don't Own Me!"

If you're an American woman, and plan on voting, this is something you should see!
Pass it on!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ghost Stories

Orbs on Halloween in Tucson, 2009 (photo by Ginny Moss)

Towards the end of her life, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the author of  "On Death And Dying", believed there was no death, only transformation from the physical to other states of being.  As a member of IANDS (International Association of Near Death Studies)**, and having heard quite a few speakers discuss their experiences, I have come to agree.  That, and the many personal experiences I've had (not an NDE, however).

This is a time to remember those we've lost, and times that have passed, and this is a journal, so I felt like telling a "ghost story" of my own.  It's sad that the people who  most need to hear  are  closed to it.
Orbs in night sky at my house (2011)

In 2008 my brother, Glenn, had a massive brain stem stroke.  He is brain dead, and because he left no living will, he is sustained entirely by life support - a machine breathes for him, another one drips nutrients.  He's not there.  But because my mother and other brother will not allow it,  I am unable to remove life support and allow him to die with dignity. And so it continues, and they visit him, continually grieving, and of course, any discussion about my "metaphysical ideas" is out of the question.  So I've had to accept the situation, and I have also consulted a medium, whose reading seemed both accurate and comforting in that she said he had "crossed over" and was at peace.

So here's my story.  Last year I renovated my mother's house, because I needed to rent rooms, as my mother is now in assisted living.  My brother's room had a closet where he kept his gun collection, and I didn't have a key for it because my other brother, David, who lives in California, insisted on keeping them in the house for sentimental reasons.  To me, Glenn's guns represented the unhappiness and fearfulness he lived with the last years of his life, and getting rid of them seemed like a way to transform that negativity for his spirit.   I didn't have the key (but I tried the lock numerous times) - so I figured I'd put off the issue for the time being.  But I did renovate his room, replacing the floor, and purposefully painting it sky blue, which symbolized spiritual freedom and expansion.

As I was painting sky blue around the closet door it very gently opened!  I stood there with my mouth open as well, and then I took out the guns in the closet, went to a local gun shop, sold them, and sent the money to several charities for children, as well as sponsoring a little girl in Nepal with PLAN International for my brother, transforming all that sad energy into helping children.  Which I think he knew I would do, and I am certain that's why the closet opened............his way of letting me know it was fine.  And I believe he is fine too.  Not his body, but his spirit.

About Orbs (above) - if they are just "dust motes" on the camera, how do you explain the way the orbs in the top picture recede into the distance?  To see more of the amazing Orb Photos (and art) of Ginny Rothwell visit this link.

Blue Orb, taken by Charles Spillar, at my house, 2011.
 Charlie asked for "a colored orb" before he took the picture.  It seems they obliged him.
 **IANDS has been investigating NDE's for over 30 years, and have an annual conference - I applaud them for their dedication and the help they've brought to many.  I do have to make a comment here, in that I've heard a number of speakers talk about "meeting Jesus" and "finding Heaven", which, upon returning to their normal lives, they have interpreted as evangelical Christianity.  But I also know that people who are from other parts of the world meet Mohammed, or Buddha, or Tara, or Krishna.......I think that the Beings of Light we encounter manifest in ways that are familiar and comprehensible to the dying.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

It's that time again!  Día de los Muertos  approaches with celebrations beginning on November 1, (Día de Muertos Chiquitos--The Day of the Little Dead) ( also All Saints Day) and continuing on November 2, (All Souls Day). It is a joyous occasion when the memory of ancestors and the continuity of life is celebrated, and a beloved holiday in Mexico and South America.  It's celebrated in Tucson with a famous parade and festivities that go on late into the night.

Like the Celtic traditions of Samhain, which were also associated with the end of the year and the last harvest festival, it was believed that at this time of the year the souls of the departed can return to visit the living (the "veils are thin"). It is not a time of mourning since, as the Latin saying goes, "the path back to the living world must not be made slippery by tears".

Celebrations for the dead originated in indigenous Mexico before the Spanish conquest. Following the Spanish conquest of Mexico during the 16th century there was a blending of indigenous customs with the new Catholic religion. All Saints' Day and All Hallows Eve (Halloween) roughly coincided with the preexisting Día de Los Muertos resulting in the present day event. Although the skeleton is a strong symbol for both contemporary Halloween and los Días de Los Muertos, the meaning is very different. For Días de Los Muertos the skeleton is not a scary or macabre symbol at all, but rather represents the dead playfully mimicking the living.

Very often, a large community altar may include many small personal shrines, such as the one below that includes Frieda Kahlo.

Or here are some personal shrines made by artists:

Preparation begins weeks in advance when statues, candies, breads and other items to please the departed are sold in markets. A sweet bread, pan de muerto, with decorations representing bones is very popular, as are sugar skulls made from casts. All sorts of art objects and toys are created. This gives the economy a boost in much the same way as our Christmas season does. Alters ofrecetas (offerings) are set up in the home with offerings of sweets and fruits, corn and vegetables, as well as the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. It's not unusual to see a good cigar and whiskey bottle beside a photograph of a loved one. These offerings may later be given away or consumed by the living after their "essence", and the loving remembrance, has been enjoyed by the dead. Marigolds are the traditional decorative flower.

The particulars of the celebration vary widely. On November 1, Día de Muertos Chiquitos, the departed children are remembered. The evening is sometimes called la Noche de Duelo, The Night of Mourning, marked by a candlelight procession to the cemetery. On November 2, Día de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead return. Entire families visit the graves of their ancestors, bringing favorite foods and alcoholic beverages as offerings to the deceased as well as a picnic lunch for themselves. Traditionally there is a feast in the early morning hours of November 2nd although many now celebrate with an evening meal.

There are sugar skulls and toys for the children, emphasizing early on that death is a part of the life cycle, and the importance of remembering those who have passed on to another kind of life.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Descanso: Shrine for Extinct and Endangered Species

 Dia de los Muertos:  "Reliquary for the 6th Extinction"

Xerces Blue Butterfly, indigenous to Northern California.  Became extinct in 1945.

"We have been raised to think that our body ended here, with this bag of skin, or with our possessions or education or house.  Now we begin to realize that our body is the world."
Joanna Macy 

Bonobo, Africa, critically endangered
Ivory Billed Woodpecker, native to Southeaster U.S., last seen in 1944
Red Crowned Crane, indigenous to southeast Asia, critically endangered

African Elephant, critically endangered

Cheetah, Africa, critically endangered

Staghorn coral, Caribbean and Bahamas coral reef, critically endangered

Only in this hoarded span will love  persevere.   
Whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you
bend down my strange face to yours 

Anne Sexton, "all my pretty ones"