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Totem Animals and Springfever

April 26, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about totem animals lately. The interesting thing is that in this case, as with all archetypal behavior, we mirror the animal we seek. The animal spirits who work with us on an day to day basis change over time, sometimes seasonally. We probably each have a primary Animal, we might even look like that animal, but there are others out there who come to serve us when we need those particular gifts: the acuity of Hawk, the guile of Fox, the fertility of the Hare. I was just speaking to my friend the writer and poet  Robert McDowell about the bear totem coming out of hibernation. It’s been such a long winter and he’s cranky and hungry and yet also weary and emotional. These emotions are just the way it is in spring for the bear, it doesn’t mean anything special, but it does, if we reflect ‘Bear’, show us how our own sense of things makes…well…sense! There’s nothing wrong, but there is a huge shift happening as the season changes and the whole world comes to life (in the northern hemisphere, that is). Our immune systems go into overdrive, and suddenly we’re just as exhausted as we were midwinter when the days were short and dark. I love Bear totem, but it is seasonal for me. Bear was my first ever totem, I was a small child when I got my first bear sculpture, and I have it still sitting at my bedside. This time of year when I walk by my bear fetishes I always want to stop and talk. It’s so hard, being tired and emotional at the same time. There are brief moments of energy and alertness, but mostly the awakening phase is still a bit of a fog. Still in the cave, right?

For others the bird totems are most active now, birds are nesting with their young. Predatory birds are active now, stealing baby birds, eggs, and new young rodents…it’s a feeding frenzy, making up for the winter of scant food. If this animal, the Hawk or Raven, is your totem now, how would that heightened sense translate? Serious motivation, aggressiveness, ability to spot opportunity, seize the moment. Spring cleaning, inside and out. Looking for a new job, cleaning out the closet of life. A time to expand, put on weight, winter has been thin and harsh, there is no time to lose. It’s an aggressive kick-ass time for Hawk. It’s also a time of new nests, rebuilding, renewal, clearing, vanquishing enemies.

Meanwhile, I will try to think about sweet things like berries and honey and move slowly out of my cave and back out into the world. There is so much activity now that those of us with the Bear at our side might feel overwhelmed, our immune systems taxed. We aren’t moving at the speed of Hawk. As we come toward the solar eclipse of the 29th and then the Beltane fires of May 1st, we each align ourselves with our animal guides and pattern our actions by looking at the animal himself, then we can’t go wrong. Allow the animal into your consciousness, it will be like a road map of springtime.



Calling Jaguar

June 20, 2013

I had a long Skype session with fellow shaman and friend, Jo Bowlby, yesterday. Ever since I have been thinking about the change of seasons and how one might activate shift within at this pivotal time in the calendar.

How, I want to know, can I cultivate Jaguar?

Jaguar is the Fearless one, the archetype of transition, yes, the bridger between the worlds, but never within a framework of fear or regret or lament. Jaguar knows no enemies. This isn’t the airy fairy glazed over look of someone just out of yoga class. Uh uh. This Jaguar is the Mother of Power, of determination. She knows Death comes like a screaming banshee and she’s just fine with that. Meanwhile, she knows how to live large. Jaguar tells us not to live behind the curtain of our fears, our little lives infected by the collective horrors of a media’s rantings. Jaguar wants us to live out of bounds of death’s hands.

Does this seem simple? It might have been, back in the day, but as decades pass and collect, as experience almost seems like a game of chance we sometimes win ­– and often lose, then the balance sheet, the scales of lives lived well becomes a haunting. If we live thoughtfully, can we also live fearlessly? When death touches you, do you have the option to strike back? In the blackness of the dark night, what can you see with your jaguar eyes?

If there were one God, she would be long, black, and furry. She would stalk you when the time came, irrevocable and resolute, she would ask you to surrender to the universal earth that is her mother’s sister, only a small thing in a cosmos of endless darkness and shattering light. As it is, she is a suggestion of a life lived with strength, skill, bravery, and the knowledge that the forest will accept each of us in turn, no sooner, no later than is required.



Writing, why bother?

May 29, 2013

Writing, why bother?


I just figured something out and now it seems so obvious that I should be embarrassed to write it down, but I’m going to anyway. You know the phrase “write what you know?” That’s not it, not it at all. It should be “Write what ONLY YOU know.” I was sitting with a cup of tea and a huge stack of books and wondering what, exactly I thought I was doing, and as I mulled over the three or four storylines that are in one way or another the beginnings of new novels, and then the one or two non-fiction concepts…not to mention the nagging feeling that I should only be writing poetry because when I do write poetry it’s so….well….easy….And I thought, ‘Who needs another novel?” “Is it possible to write a great novel now, with so many writers in the world writing in so many forms and levels, what exactly is a great novel anyway?” This last question came to mind with a vengeance last year when I reread Hemingway’s The Moveable Feast. Seriously, would he even be able to get his book published if it came out today? I don’t think so. Too much passive voice, homophobic weirdness, an ego the size of a house…We don’t have time for that these days. Maybe back in the early 20th c. we needed a Man to lead the way into an American literary style, but today? Not so much. Somehow, in fact, I think we need to push away the suffocating blanket of the idea that only men can write, or be poets. Where on earth did that idea come from in the first place? Men, of course. Women are not only challenged in themselves to be the best writer they can be, but they are automatically given second chair to authors who happen to be men. I confess, I can’t get over this. Are Jane and Emily and Virginia aberrations? If a man writes in a woman’s voice and pulls it off, he gets lauded as a wielding a golden pen. If a woman does it, it’s a soap opera. And don’t get me started about youth versus age. The Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford claims to be ageless in its application (something I’ve always lusted after so I’ve read it many times), and yet in the description of the program it clearly talks about the cadre of ‘young writers’. So which is it?

            Sorry, I’ve got off the track here. Back to my point. What to write? Write what only you know. I mean it. Which book, story, poem, blog is the one that you are uniquely qualified to write? Put all the rest aside for later or never. The world needs to read what you know as truth.


            I know the truth — give up all other truths!

            No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle.

            Look — it is evening, look, it is nearly night:

            what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?

            The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,

            the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.

            And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we

            who never never let each other sleep above it.

Marina Tsvetaeva ” I Know the Truth”

Blood of the Earth

May 24, 2013

Blood of the Earth: The Longing for Place


We have a gift we have been trying to give you…We want to fill up your emptiness with meaning…

While the words above were spoken in an Australian court of law by an indigenous aboriginal Australian, the exact same sentiment is effected every day by the Q’ero of Peru when they impart their spiritual traditions to any and all ‘foreigners’ who come seeking. What is it that is at the core of this restlessness we feel? With all that western prosperity has allowed us, why are we bereft? Again in the company of the Australian wisdom keepers we are pitied for our lack of spiritual grounding, true grounding, the knowledge of who we are in terms of where we belong, a literal mapping of our place in the geography. Knowing where we belong is more than birth right, more than some happiness quotient, more than where we gave birth to our children, more than where we bury our parents. The place of our belonging is that, but it is also the place of our becoming, the earth where our best self rises up to meet us, it is the place from which we will source a lineage of power, of Being, of Dreaming. To not know this place, this geographic location of our right to exist on this earth, in this universe, is to lay waste to our best purpose.

And so I ask you. Where do you belong?

In the innocence of childhood we store up memories, smells, tastes, sensations that can trigger a sense of comfort in a moment’s attention– the smell of newly mowed grass, the first warm sun of spring, the silence of snowfall, the rocking of a boat tied loosely to a dock, water cascading over pebbles on a shoreline, thunder–these are some of my childhood triggers. But where we belong is more than where we were as innocent children. It is a place, a real feature of earth’s geography, a particular evocation of all that innocence coupled with the potential of a universe of possibility. Indigenous people who maintain their rituals and spiritual paths know of these places. They set out to find them in ritual ceremony. What, then, do we do if we are not indigenous to the country in which we, and probably many generations of our ancestors, are born? The poet David Whyte once said that we Celts are the indigenous peoples of the British Isles. And of course, he’s right. It turns out that most people in the British Isles who are Indo-European, descend not from the Roman invasion, but from the ancient tribes who lived there before. (And you can very likely identify which tribes by DNA testing). While I don’t think it is wrong to follow a Native American path to belonging if you aren’t actually Native American, I think you are missing an opportunity to flourish in the blood of your true lineage by co-opting another path. It’s not wrong to honor the Australian indigenous wisdom when you and your ancestors have lived on that land for many generations, but fill that cup of care, that essence of belonging to the top with a blending of what is in your blood and where your feet now put you. Not understanding where you belong can stifle your life, undermine your sense of self, as if you are just off balance enough never to quite reach your goals.

The idea that the path of the Celtic shaman is unknown, a dead lineage, is untrue. As long as there are people called to the path who have what we call Celtic tribal origins, the lineage lives. And we may find its traditions in plain sight, in the geography and archeology of the land. The Incan shaman would tell us to find our mountain, the one majestic and most powerful place in the world for us, and from there source all knowledge of what will come. For them, the geographic feature must be a mountain, it would, of course, since they live in the high Andes surrounded by mountains in full power. For us, our ‘mountain’ may be an ocean, a lake, a river, an ancient forest. You will know it when you find it. As with the mountain of your beginning, your place of birth, this mountain of your becoming completes a circle of empowerment. Don’t give up until you find it. What is the mountain of your Dreaming?

note: This essay is part of the introduction to a book I am writing about the Celtic shamanic lineage called The Painted People.

I’m posting this as we come up to another lunar eclipse overnight, a perfect time for ‘illumination’ of your Dreaming. Please post your experiences in finding the place where you Belong. Slainté, Jane.








loch in Scotland photo by Jane Galer 2012. 

The Shamanic Images of Julie Higgins

April 27, 2013

I want to take a moment and introduce you to the amazing paintings by Julie Higgins, one of which you see at the end of my previous post below. I have been inspired by Julie’s art and her dedication to her work for ten years and am so grateful to count her as a friend and collaborator. You can see all of Julie’s work on her website


April 26, 2013

Kindling the Great Beltane Fires


If you’re paying attention at all you by now will have noticed that about every six – eight weeks, roughly dividing the year into eighths, we are asked to clean house, mentally and physically. In the context of the indigenous Bronze or Iron Age dweller this was logic manifest by necessity as surely things were getting a bit ripe around the hut after weeks of hucking bones and fish guts out the doorway, not to mention the ‘necessary’ elimination process. Inside the ashes would be piling up creating a bit of a fire hazard. What better way to convince the more slovenly among us to keep up with our housekeeping but to make it into a religious event?


And so we find what we like to call the cross-quarter days, the mid period events between the solstices and equinox markers which have important and specific rituals attached to them. Samhain (Halloween) is dedicated to honoring the dead, while its flip-side, Beltane is about the fire of life. After a long winter of seclusion and meager food stores, the last great fire of the season is lit, not inside the hut, but out on the highest hillside proclaiming life with a capital L. There may be a ritual union of the maiden and the Green Man signifying the fertility of the season when lambs are born, plants are pushing up through the earth, chickens are laying again, while migrating birds are beginning to return to their summer quarters, unions are forged and pledges made. Taking the fire outside is sort of like cleaning out the fireplace and cleaning up the BBQ. In the old ways, fire cleanses. The serious side of warming by the fire, sinking deeply into the stories of winter gives way to the camaraderie of the camp fire, the seasonal trek, meeting new people, reviving friendships.


The message of Beltane is ‘Come out and play’– be on and of the Earth. Get up early on May morning and lie in the grass soaking up the dew. Dig in the garden, squish your feet in freshly turned soil, turn your face to the sun and thank him for inventing fire. With the house in order, open your door and step out into the world in the way of The Fool, the tarot card of the innocent and playful, the risk taker who knows nothing of risk. The Fool is always pictured with a companion dog at his heels, walking the edge of Life. Where is your edge now? Who will you take with you on your journey to the Summer Isles?


(photo courtesy of Julie Higgins)


April 21, 2013

It’s that time of year, the north wind blows, mother nature’s lazy ass way of dispersing seeds and pollen means the wind is a visible yellow burst. We have our own seeds to plant now. The dreams we have for the future come closer, often adopting some physical reality, perhaps not exactly as we had imagined at first, but the point now is to adapt. As Beltane approaches we clear space for new ideas, discard the ashes of hurts and longings best forgotten, find new earth, new direction. In anticipation of the great fire of Beltane next week, it’s time to finish spring cleaning. The last of the great winter fires gives way to the warmth of the summer to come. The ideas we have incubated over the winter have winnowed down to one or perhaps two great notions for your life now. On Thursday, April 25 we have the first of the next series of eclipses, this one a lunar eclipse. It will be your choice: culmination or confrontation, celebration or despair? Be on and of the Earth.