As I have mentioned previously, a wise wild woman suggested that the great grey owls I encountered this summer were angry. I considered her interpretation of the events, and decided to follow her suggestion of performing a ceremony to let the owls know of my good intentions.
I have long been interested in sacred ceremony and ritual, and first learned the pagan method of working with the four directions. Interestingly, the four directions, which often correspond to the four elements of water, earth, air, and fire, are used in many cultures the world over. The pagan rituals I learned had their roots in Celtic traditions. When I studied to become a vision fast guide, the same four elements were assigned in the same order around the wheel, but a quarter turn further along! This usage arose out of the ways of the Native American traditions of the Lakota people. However, the roots for the Lakota medicine wheel are said to arise from the ceremonies of the ancient Mayan people. It can become very confusing and perhaps impossible to determine which traditions originated where.
But what is clear is that earth-based peoples the world over have identified the usefulness of a nature-based psychology and ceremony that uses the four directions, orienting by the path of the sun across the sky from east to west and the north and south poles of the earth. Similarly, different cultures have selected similar elements as being significant to work with, including the four I’ve named. Other cultures sometimes incorporate additional elements too. For example, in both Buddhist ceremony and pagan ritual the element of ether or space is sometimes used. The Dagara people of West Central Africa use the elements of earth, water, fire, mineral, and nature (green growing things).
I’d like to tell you about a way of beginning a ceremony that I learned at the School of Lost Borders. This ceremony is used by many different Native American and First Nations peoples. It involves calling in the spirits of the seven directions (earth, sky, and centre are the other three) with the use of the smoke of the sacred sage plant.
I put an egg-sized amount of dried sage leaves into a seashell bowl, and lit different spots with a wooden match. I blew on the embers to help the leaves burn. When the sage was smoking nicely, there in my kitchen, I began by greeting the spirits of the east and asking them to be with me in the ceremony. I named a few of the qualities of the east direction, and offered the smoke of the sacred sage to the spirits. Then I repeated this for the other six directions. This act is called “calling in the directions” and it is often performed at the beginning of nature ceremony.
The second step is to smudge oneself with the smoke, for purification, and also to help shift consciousness into a ceremonial openness. If there is a group, the smudge bowl is usually passed clockwise around the circle, and each person smudges the parts of their body they feel moved to cleanse. I smudged my whole body from head to toe, using an eagle feather to brush the smoke over the front and back of my body.
Now I was ready to greet the owls. My plan was to drive to the North Shore, and run through the woods until I came to the place where the owls lived. Since I would be running, I didn’t want to bring all the gear to do the smudging in the woods. But I will tell you, this is the first time I’ve done a ceremony in stages like this. Which is a teaching about ceremony: it is creative, flexible, and responsive to circumstances! Before I left the house, I did tuck a few items for the ceremony into the pockets of my running jacket. Plus of course grabbed my driver’s license and cell phone in case of emergency! I had another ceremonial object waiting in the car, which I would carry while I ran…
I drove over to the North Shore, taking the route up Lynn Valley Road rather than Lillooet Road because I knew I wouldn’t be finished before the gates at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve were locked. It was getting near dusk already. I parked near the trail that crossed Lynn Creek, and ran through the woods until I reached the place where I had the two owl encounters. I had noted well the tall dead tree that the owls had perched on during both encounters, beside a small creek at a bend in the path. I’ve been on this trail hundreds of times, so it was easy to find the spot again. From their behaviour, I believe this tree marked the edge of the great grey owls’ territory.
I have to tell you, I felt somewhat fearful that the owls would appear during the ceremony, and perhaps attack my poor head again. I even wore my glasses while running (something I never do) so that I would be able to see them better if they appeared. So I was on the alert for their presence, and performed the ceremony rather more quickly than I might have otherwise.
I carefully climbed down the steep bank in the semi-darkness to a very wide root that was at the base of the owl-tree. Following my wise guide’s suggestion, I had brought a bouquet of flowers for the owls, which I tucked behind the root so they stood up nicely. Then I took out a small pyrex bowl and placed it on the wide root. I filled the bowl with a mixture of sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds. I blessed the spot with my hands using Reiki. Then I climbed back up onto the path.
Whew! No sign of the owls yet. But I was sure that they were aware of my presence. I faced downhill, into their territory, and addressed the owls quite loudly. I figured it was unlikely anyone would come along the path since it was almost dark, and the creek was bubbling away at high volume, so my voice was drowned out anyway. But I trusted that the owls would hear what I had to say.
First I thanked them for the blessing of the encounters I had with them, and told them that I had meant no harm. I expressed my appreciation for the learning I have received, and told them I heard their message that they and the other wild creatures need wild places to live in. That people are encroaching too much, and not leaving them the room they need to thrive. I expressed my intention to help protect the wild creatures and wild places. I also explained about the offerings I had brought; the red and yellow of the tulips represented the red strength of the owls and my golden joy at meeting them, combined together into a single flower. The seeds I confessed I didn’t think they would eat, although some birds do eat seeds. But perhaps their favourite prey, the vole, would eat the seeds. Thus my hope was to nourish the creatures that would feed them. I wasn’t about to bring some voles or mice as an offering! (But I didn’t say that.)
After I had said everything I could think of to the owls, I blessed the land and all the creatures who live there, again using Reiki. I bowed, rose, and then turned and headed back up the path. An interesting thing happened as I was driving home. It was now dark, and all the tail lights, head lights, and traffic lights appeared as bursts of colour. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that my pupils were very dilated, like the eyes of the owl! It just so happened that I had an eye exam earlier that day, and my pupils were dilated from the drops the optometrist gave me. But it seemed fitting that I was now seeing through the eyes of the owl!
The final step of the ceremony was to close it where I had opened it, in the kitchen. I held the eagle feather up, faced east, and thanked all the spirits for being with me in the ceremony. Then I scattered the ashes of the sage on the wind.
I performed this ceremony on Wednesday. Saturday morning, an email from the Green Party arrived in my inbox. It was a call for volunteers to fill three roles in the party leadership, including Publications Chair. Wow! A role I am completely qualified to perform, right now, with my existing skills and life experiences. I went to the Green Party website to have a look at their policies and documentation, and my heart sang as I reviewed their 10 Core Principles. They include sustainability, ecological wisdom, social justice, respect for diversity, non-violence, and participatory democracy! My prayer for the right work I can do to help protect the wild ones has been answered! And I don’t even have to go to law school for three years! 🙂 I think this is strong medicine. Maybe it’s owl medicine.
Photo Credit: Image Copyright Christopher Dodds, used with kind permission. All Rights Reserved. See other examples of Chris’s beautiful work at Chris Dodds Photo.