Welcome to A Forest Door

•March 3, 2017 • Comments Off on Welcome to A Forest Door

This blog is on indefinite hiatus.

I have left a selection of my old posts active, but turned the comments off. If you’d like to read more of my work, check out my many books shown on the sidebar, especially Dwelling on the Threshold and Between the Worlds, which are both collections of essays originating here. I also have a list on the sidebar of links to my other projects, and pretty much everything I do can be found all together at Bird Spirit Land.

I will continue to make monthly posts here with my cartomancy schedule (sessions are generally every Wednesday with some exceptions). More information on cartomancy services can be found here.

I will also make occasional posts related to new books and other projects as they occur. So please feel free to subscribe if you’d like to keep track of what I’m doing.

It’s been wonderful writing here for the past 8 years or so, but it’s time for me to withdraw a little further from the world of people and spend more time with the spirits at the edge of the wilds.

You can contact me at dver at birdspiritland dot com, although I may be slow to respond.

Beyond Plant Names

•June 16, 2021 • 1 Comment

Hm, I’m feeling bloggier (is that a word?) than normal it seems lately, and particularly on the subject of plants. I guess it’s just that time of year, when I feel the green world most potently due to everything being in a state of growth and abundance, and the regular tending of my own small garden.

Anyway, the other day I was out on a walk, appreciating the lovely gardens in one neighborhood, and noticing that in the past 10 years or so I have really started to break down the undifferentiated-wall-of-green (as so many of us perceive the plant kingdom) and can now recognize many individual plants as I move through the world.

As part of this process, I have always tried to discover and remember plant names – both scientific and common – when I can. For one thing, I think it helps my brain classify and file away all the other information I learn about the plant. For another, I’ve always known that words, and especially names, hold power.

But with plants, the names we give them often say more about us, our priorities, our culture, than they do about the plant. At least, they are certainly not what the plant calls itself, if such a thing even exists. They may even, sometimes, distract from other ways of understanding it.

What struck me on that walk was how there was a different way of knowing a plant, being familiar with it, understanding it. Or perhaps, many different ways. All of which have nothing to do with the names humans have ever assigned to it – not the Latin binomial, not the everyday nickname, not even the indigenous name.

There were, I realized, many plants which I had not yet learned the names of, but which I immediately recognized and had some knowledge of. Oh yes, there’s that plant that always blooms around May Day. Or there’s the one with that amazing hue of purple, or that intoxicating scent, or the one that grows only in sidewalk cracks. There’s a little weed that’s surprisingly tasty. What’s that called again? It doesn’t really matter. Could the name really tell me anything more important than knowing how much sun it likes, which other plants it keeps company with, which animals savor its seeds? Understanding its physical characteristics, its role in its environment, and even just the feeling it gives me, all seem more relevant.

I had set aside these thoughts and decided not to bother posting them until today I was listening to a fascinating podcast episode on aniconism, where they were talking about reasons why people have, at different times, felt that images were an inappropriate, misleading or distracting way to engage with a subject. Names can similarly attempt to pin down something in the way an image can. And so one of the hosts quoted this bit from Eckhart Tolle that immediately reminded me of that moment of clarity:

When you look at [a stone, flower, or bird] or hold it and let it be, without imposing a word or mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you…”

Well I’m not one to ignore synchronicities so I figured I might as well post this. Just in case it strikes anyone else too.

Of course, I love names. I especially love evocative folk names relating to the natural world (I own a book entirely about traditional names for landscape features in Britain). And sometimes they actually do communicate important information, not just about our cultural context for a plant (foxglove, dragon’s blood, cuckoo’s pint) or its practical human uses (bedstraw, all-heal, wolfsbane), but about qualities of plant itself (lamb’s ears, bluebell, stinking iris).

I just think it can be a good practice to set aside names sometimes, or not go seeking them at all, and learn how to experience and interact with plants (and plant spirits) in other ways, from other perspectives. Without words, just using the senses. Or only one sense. Or only the intangible impressions of the spirit. Let its essence silent communicate itself to you.

(And yes, this also applies to other entities and the ways in which we limit and pigeonhole Them with our words and images and categorizations. Extrapolate as needed.)

Plant Hermeneutics

•June 14, 2021 • 2 Comments

In an attempt to search out actual in-depth content rather than the usual soundbite drivel of the internet (harder and harder to find since blogging started taking a backseat to social media), I’ve been mining various topics on Medium, looking for some gems. Stumbled upon this interesting fellow who went from stand-up comedian to psychonaut . . . not surprisingly I don’t agree with all of his perspectives but he does have some solid things to say about working with entheogenic plants. His article How To Interpret Messages From Plant Spirits has some very useful guidelines, many of which frankly apply to any messages one receives from the spirit world.

For instance, I like where he’s talking about how sometimes the messages received at the beginning of working with a plant spirit are the most potent, whereas if one keeps simply asking and asking for more it gets muddied. As he says, “How many messages could I collect without doing anything about them?” This is so crucial and often ignored. With divine communication of any kind – divination, trance, etc. – it’s not just about asking, you also have to DO something with the answers!

Or noting how the messages might be relevant only to your current circumstances, and that – especially if you implement the advice – you may change enough for them to no longer apply. I also appreciated the warning to consider the practical applications (or lack thereof) of any message – I think a lot of people get derailed by these sort of cosmic revelations that (a) don’t really mean anything for their actual lives and (b) sound like total wacko nonsense to anyone else if they insist on sharing it.

And also widely applicable and important: You don’t have to do something just because a spirit (plant or otherwise) told you to, and don’t forget that ultimately these messages are coming from an alien perspective with its own ideas and priorities. Spirits can see further than us, They are often wiser, but that does not mean They don’t have their own agendas – even those we are allied with. Doubly so for something which has a physical presence in the material world to also consider.

Anyway, he covered most of the points I would have so I encourage you to check it out.

Falconry & Devotion

•June 9, 2021 • 2 Comments

I’m in the middle of reading Birdology by naturalist Sy Montgomery, an engrossing book which devotes each chapter to a different type of bird and the fundamental avian quality it demonstrates. The chapter on hawks and falconry particularly emphasized how alien birds are from our perspective, how different their experience of the world, their reactions and priorities.

It also reminded me a lot of the gods.

One falconer tells the author: “They may show you a certain companionship. They can become comfortable with you….It’s a beautiful partnership. But if you break their laws, you’ll pay….If you want love out of this, you’re too needy. Don’t be a falconer.”

This is something I’ve encountered in polytheism – people seeking out gods and hoping, even expecting, to receive an all-encompassing, unconditional love from Them (perhaps confusing our gods with the more familiar one of their childhood, Jesus). That might be something a few gods offer but it’s not an inherent part of the deal for most, and may not be possible at all with some – if birds are so radically different from mammals, how much more so entities that are not even embodied or mortal!

Nor is it, generally, a good position from which to approach the gods, in regards to either building a successful and meaningful relationship with Them, or for our own personal development. As Montgomery writes, “For a human to love without expecting love in return is hugely liberating. To leave the self out of love is like escaping the grip of gravity. It is to grow wings. It opens up the sky.”

There are some gods I love – have loved for decades, even – and have never had a single personal, direct experience with. I don’t know if I’m on Their radar at all. I don’t need to be. It’s enough just to know Them even a little bit, and to honor Them. I don’t ask Them for anything, typically. Maybe I just keep an image of Them somewhere, make an offering now and then, read Their stories, and appreciate Their existence. That’s all it needs to be.

Even with the gods I do have more developed reciprocal relationships with, who might even, in Their own way (and I will never truly understand the ways of gods, or how They see us or what They get out of it), love me, I still strive to feel and express my love for Them without strings, without ego. Not only because it is, to me, the right way to engage with the divine (again from the book: “They don’t serve us. We serve them….You train a hawk to accept you as her servant.”). But also because there is a beautiful freedom in giving love to something just because it is, in your eyes, worthy. It is a small antidote to the “me me me” focus built in to our culture. No demand for validation, or even being noticed. Just devotion, for the sake of the beloved Other.

Guest Post about Glamourbombing

•May 29, 2021 • 4 Comments

Just want to direct you all over to the Numen Arts blog where I have a piece up exploring the practice of glamourbombing in the context of art, spirituality and magic. This has become a relatively significant part of my life over the past decade or so and it seemed like something worth discussing. I also pull a lot of quotes from various other folks doing this work. I would love to see more polytheists and animists take this up and see what can be done with it.

June 2021 Cartomancy Dates

•May 28, 2021 • Leave a Comment

A reminder to check my Cartomancy page for newly revised rates and procedures.

Cartomancy dates for this month are:

June 2
June 9
June 16
June 23

Plant Spirit Interactions

•May 16, 2021 • 2 Comments

Just some thoughts I was having today as I sat stringing leaves of a sacred plant for drying.

Personally, and contrary to some conventional wisdom I have seen in pagan circles, I have noticed that there is not necessarily a correlation between being strongly drawn to the folkloric and/or symbolic aspects of a plant – often leading one to successfully use it, or a representation of it, in magic – and having a strong relationship to the physical plant itself if encountered, either in terms of growing it, or ingesting it (especially in cases of entheogenic plants).

Those are different ways to approach a sacred plant, and they can augment each other but they can also exist independently. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that you have to deal with the living plant in order to have an authentic and reciprocal relationship with the overall spirit of the species (what are often termed grandmother/grandfather plant spirits), it’s just going to have a different flavor and different purposes. There are respectful ways to interact with a plant solely because of its traditional cultural associations, it’s just going to be a different dynamic than when one primarily knows the plant by its smell, its preferred location, its vitality – or by its interactions with the human consciousness. Sometimes a plant becomes part of the symbolic language of a ritual, and sometimes it is a direct participant. Both are important and powerful roles to play.

I thought about the “big four” nightshades used for Western occult purposes (basically the witch ointment stuff) – belladonna, datura, mandrake and henbane. They all have varying degrees of dangerous poison and/or entheogenic potential. I have been slowly developing a relationship with these plants for years now, and while it started as strictly symbolic, exploring the metaphor of poisoning as a sort of shamanic ordeal, I have at this point grown each of these as living plants in my garden, as well as experimented with (safely) ingesting them. I’ve also been using them as sympathetic magic ingredients for workings such as repelling unwelcome influences.

And yet, my connection to each of them in each of these contexts is totally different, with varying intensities. When I only knew them as elements of folklore and history, I was most drawn to mandrake, but had no associations whatsoever with henbane. When I started growing them, however, I could immediately sense the henbane’s spirit, whereas I never really clicked with mandrake; though datura actually attracted me the most. Yet I only consume a tiny hint of datura sometimes, while smoking henbane has become a powerful ally; I won’t let belladonna inside me at all. But making ink with belladonna berries has become a valuable magical tool.

I think it just shows how complex all of this spirit interaction really is, how many ways there are to communicate, or to create a bond, and how familiarity has so many levels and types. And how you can’t go in with assumptions or expectations but really have to be present with what actually is happening, and how the relationships naturally develop.

New edition of my spirit-work art book

•April 25, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Some of you may remember that four years ago, I published a special, hand-embellished limited edition art book called Gentlemen, Madmen, Things That Are Not Men. This was the culmination of over a year of photographing liminal places and objects, and collecting antique portraits, followed by what I can only describe as an inspired download of poetry (as it came through me seemingly out of nowhere in the space of a couple weeks when I most needed it, and in a form I had never worked with before), all in an attempt to capture and express some of the feeling of a life spent in the company of my spirits.

After the original 13 copies were gone (all except the first, which of course sits on Their shrine), I experimented with a simpler and more affordable paperback edition but was not fully satisfied with the results. I was finally able to find a compromise in a new matte casewrap hardcover edition, which is similar in quality to the original, but with a price point somewhere between that and the paperback. Due to high printing costs, none of these make a profit and in fact overall I have spent far more than I could ever make on this project, but in this case the goal is just to get them out into the world. This is the next step in that process. Please help me spread the word if you can!

If you are attracted to the darker side of the otherworlds, if you know that the fae are perilous as well as beautiful, if you seek out magical doors hidden in the least expected places, this book may be for you.

You can find it in my Etsy shop – the new hardcover as well as the last remaining copies of the paperback version – just in time for Walpurgisnacht.

P.S. If you purchase either version, write the word POLAROID in the notes to seller during checkout and I will throw in an original Polaroid photograph I have taken (randomly selected from the many I have shot in the years since the book came out).

Kundalini Rising with Dionysos

•March 23, 2021 • 5 Comments

I finally decided it was time to share a practice I’ve been doing with Dionysos, in case it appeals to anyone else. I first had the seeds of this idea many years ago, started playing with it sporadically, and finally settled into a consistent practice in the past year or so. I start almost every day with this just after waking, before doing some yoga stretches and other exercise. Basically, I move kundalini energy up my body through the chakras while intoning epithets of Dionysos.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I realize I probably have a flawed and/or incomplete understanding of kundalini, chakras, and the entire system they come from. I find these to be convenient and generally familiar terms to describe concepts that I feel are deeper than any one cultural tradition. You could also speak of chi, or energy in general, or power centers of the body, or whatever. While there are some connections for sure between Dionysos and India, I’m not claiming this is in any way connected to authentic Hinduism or Tantra. Just my UPG related to my own energy work and relationship with Dionysos.]

In a seated position, I center my awareness on the coiled serpent of kundalini and slowly draw it up from root to crown, pulling it up with each breath, and intoning one of the names of Dionysos at each chakra, with the pitch of the notes rising in concert with the energy. I have chosen these epithets to match certain properties or concepts associated with each chakra, and according to my personal experience and also just what felt right after some experimentation. (Of course YMMV and other epithets could be used.) Most of my choices are probably self-explanatory but can give further detail if anyone is curious. What I use is:

Root: Khthonios (of the earth; subterranean)
Sacral: Auxites (giver of growth; increase)
Solar Plexus: Purigenes (born in fire)
Heart: Omadios (the raw one; eater of raw flesh)
Throat: Iakkhos (a ritual cry)
Third Eye: Kruphios (hidden, secret)
Crown: Lusios (deliverer; giver of release)

I usually end it with the line “Bakkhios himself has freed me” – this is adapted from the Orphic tablets. The phrasing and notes were taught to me by a fellow Dionysian as a repetitive one-line mantra – I use it along with a mala of sorts where I chant it 81 times, something that connects me deeply to Dionysos as well as putting me in a trance state every time. So using it once here is just touching on that briefly, and tying this brief morning energy work with the more intense but less frequent mantra practice.

I find this to be a powerful way to start each day, but also extremely simple and quick which means it’s easy to implement and stick with. It helps get my spiritual energy moving before I do anything else, opens everything up, centers me in my body, as well as making sure that the first words from my lips are honoring my god.

(There are also a lot of interesting connections that could be explored here…. the kundalini serpent and Dionysos’ snake symbolism, the spinning wheel of the chakras and trochos, one of the Toys of Dionysos, the seven energy centers and the seven turns of a unicursal labyrinth….)

I’ve created a little video with a recording of me singing the epithets, to better illustrate the practice, in case any fellow Dionysians would like to adopt or adapt it for themselves. (Note: I just recorded this on my laptop and the sound quality is not great, it kind of sounds like I’m dropping the “s” off the end of many of the names but it’s there if you listen closely.)


The spirits in your neighborhood

•April 2, 2020 • 5 Comments

We here in Oregon, like much of the country and the world, are on a short leash nowadays. It is even more true for those of us, like me, who do not have cars. As public transit has been severely reduced and is still a danger zone for coming too close to other people, I am now in the position of only being able to visit those places I can walk to.

And so I am very glad that I have spent these past years here building up solid and meaningful relationships with the spirits of place in my local environment. In fact, as some of you may remember, I have often spoke of being called to explore the super-local, starting with my own backyard, and expanding only as far as I can walk in, say, 30 minutes. Fortunately, I am well located in this small city, and that radius includes an old cemetery, a wooded hillside park with many numinous spots, a protected meadow that is home to a stunning twisted willow tree, an oak grove, and most importantly, the ash wood and creek just down the street from me.

The latter area, though small (the wood is maybe 12 acres total, and the section of paths I use regularly is only about a mile long loop), has been the site of countless offerings, rituals, and explorations over the years… I have left elaborate glamourbombs in the trees, crawled into large cement pipes to meet chthonic gods, sacrificed poppets to the waters… I found the entire skeleton of a deer there once, and made a fetish from its skull to connect me back to the place; in fact I have made several art/ritual objects in response to the spirits there… I have led mumming processions down its paths… I have honored almost all of my gods there at one time or another, and met several distinct spirits within its boundaries…. it is a sacred place to me on so many levels.

So now, although I cannot go far, I am still able to visit places of intense power for me, places with layers of memory of past experiences overlaid upon them. Even if I am just out for a “normal” walk, just to get some exercise to replace my previous daily walk to work, I am doing so in a landscape rich with meaning, full of spirits who recognize me, who have been fed by me. I usually bring at least some small offering even on those walks, a coin for the creek or some hazelnuts for the wights in the wood. And I’ve been spending more focused time there, too, more than I did before all this happened – as well as time in many of the other aforementioned areas.

It’s very much brought home for me in a new way how crucial these local, even super-local spiritual relationships are. We can communicate globally, but when the shit hits the fan, we must focus our attention locally. I might have to distance myself physically from other people (not really that hard for an antisocial introvert like me), but I can touch the trees and the dirt and the water all I want. They are what will sustain me through this.

I’m also glad that I had come to a knowledge of my house’s spirit recently, something I had not been able to connect with most of my adult life as I went from apartment to apartment, though I tried. Finally a couple years ago it clicked for me, perhaps partly because I had stayed in one place long enough, and partly because I stopped looking for the brownie or nisse type figure that I was expecting and realized I was beginning to tune in to the spirit of the house itself, right down to the foundation and the earth it is set in. Considering how much time I must now spend inside these walls, I am grateful to have that relationship and sense of presence as well, and for its care and shelter of me.

These are the kinds of animistic experiences we must fall back on when the world beyond becomes unsafe or off limits. These are the spiritual relationships we must not only maintain but deepen during these times of confinement and uncertainty.

The thirty-first of August

•September 4, 2019 • 2 Comments

In the liminal wood,
as the gloaming becomes true night,
I assemble a circular feast
atop dry grass and sticks,
its centerpiece a heap of cold, raw lamb.
Ribbons the color of lapis lazuli
– the color of the deepening sky –
are strung between the ash trees
in this grove within a grove.
A nest of glittering gifts is nestled
amidst lichen covered branches
at a height designed to catch a bird’s quick eye.
With the wind crackling through the leaves
and tugging gently at the feathers in my crown,
I raise the wooden mouthpiece to my lips
and call the crows,
call them to their feast.
The rough notes leave behind an eerie silence
in the wood. From far off, a premonition
of black wings and sharp beaks.