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.

Coins for Hermes

•October 10, 2021 • 5 Comments

Today is the 4th of the lunar month, and the date of a festival for Hermes that I’ve been keeping for many years, and so it’s the right time to announce a secret project I’ve recently completed.

Hermes has been particularly good to me this year. He has seen me through some precarious situations and kept luck flowing my way. When thinking on how I could express my gratitude (in addition to quite a bit of liquor that has soaked the ground in His name), I decided a couple months ago to finally embark on a public project I’ve wanted to do for awhile – to design and commission a coin in His honor. Obviously as god of merchants (and thieves), coins are particularly sacred to Hermes.

For the obverse, I adapted an image from a 6th century BCE krater, showing Hermes Psychopompos overseeing Hypnos and Thanatos on the battlefield. I searched through images for a long time, wanting to choose an ancient depiction that featured the god bearded, and with at least His cap and kerykeion as attributes. This one felt right to me.

For the reverse, I placed a ram’s head over a stylized crossroads, with an ancient epithet in Greek in each corner. Transliterated and translated they are:
ERIOUNES – luck-bringer
DOLIOS – wily one
ENODIOS – of the road
PULAIOS – at the gate

After weeks of working out the design with the company that manufactures these, and then more weeks waiting anxiously to find out how it would really look, I am quite pleased with the results:

The first one out of the box, of course, went directly onto Hermes’ shrine by my front door. In addition to simply placing this on a shrine, it could function as a mini travel shrine on its own, or as talisman or divination method – all very appropriate for the god.

I’m placing the bulk of this batch of coins for sale in my Etsy shop. If there’s a lot of demand, I can order another batch using the same mold.

However, as an offering I am also setting aside a number of them to be given completely free of charge to anyone who genuinely wants to use the coin devotionally, but does not have the money to spare at this time. If you are in this position, please email me at dver at birdspiritland dot com and let me know, and I will distribute these until I run out. (I’ll cover shipping too in the US). I’ll cross out this paragraph when they’re gone.


P.S. Since I’m sending people over to my shop, I decided to put a few things on sale right now, including the Girls Underground Story Oracle, so you might check that out too. I have also released the third and final batch of Odin books, for anyone who didn’t snag one the first two times.

October 2021 Cartomancy dates

•October 9, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Wow I really dropped the ball on this, as I thought I’d already posted this month. My normally poor grasp on the flow of time gets even worse around this time of year, when my spirit-work intensifies.

Next dates are:

October 13
October 20
October 27

A reminder to check my Cartomancy page for rates and procedures if you haven’t done this before.

Formulating questions for a diviner

•September 3, 2021 • 2 Comments

A cartomancy client recently asked me the following question, and I thought it was a great one, and worth sharing my answer more widely (with their permission), as many people have inquired to me over the years about various aspects of how to properly phrase a question for a diviner. Of course every diviner will likely have their own beliefs and preferences on the matter, and I am only speaking from my own experience here.

“I was wondering whether it’s possible to ask a question in a poetic manner, or whether that would lead to non-productive answers.”

Good question! I think there’s a tricky balancing act here, especially when formulating a question for an outside reader (rather than doing your own divination). Because on the one hand, I prefer people to ask simple, not too detailed questions, just enough to pinpoint the general gist of the matter, so that I do not have any opportunity to cloud the reading with my own thoughts on the matter. One way to do this is to phrase things poetically. Certainly sometimes the responses come through in a poetic manner, full of symbolism and allusion rather than direct statements – as was common in antiquity.

But, on the other hand, it can be potentially problematic if you phrase it so vaguely that it becomes hard to interpret the response, or the response you get doesn’t quite address what you really wanted to know. On top of that, there are certain entities (fairies being the prime example, historically) where you want to be really careful about how you say anything, because they may take advantage of ambiguity to mislead or confuse. In those cases, you want to be as careful and precise in your language as possible.

That all being said, my general belief is that the gods know what you need, and will give you the answer that best serves you. Sometimes, that even means that they answer a question you didn’t really ask, because you didn’t ask the right thing – that’s happened a number of times. So I would advise, generally speaking, to be clear on your intent, and on the problem at hand, in your mind, but feel free to be a bit more obscure or poetic in your phrasing when conveying that to me for a reading.

Gods don’t really have faces

•July 31, 2021 • 9 Comments

Was just reading this great guest post on Numen Arts discussing anthropomorphic artistic depictions of the gods vs more stylized, symbolic or even abstract representations. Quote:

Sib is not a young blonde woman. She is frith, hospitality, the joy and responsibility of welcoming guests to your table. She is the sacred duty of making peace between rivals. She is the bounty and strength and potential of the freshly-tilled soil. She is the truth that we all rely on agriculture and the harvest and the earth for our lives. She is the eternal beauty of the golden hour before sunset.

This is what I was getting at in this old post of mine. We are seriously limiting our understanding of the nature of the gods and our experience of Them if we are stuck in the habit of anthropomorphizing Them (and even more so if our depictions are limited to whatever we personally find attractive). Frankly, I think this may be behind some of the problem of pagans mistaking an attractive character from pop culture (or worse, the actor playing them) for the face of a god. It may seem harmless to think, well if Dionysos came in human form, He might look like [insert popular famous person here]. Certainly, the ancients sometimes thought of their gods as human-looking, with certain hair color or other attributes. But we live in such a spiritually-bankrupt, superficial, image-obsessed culture, one that has no interest in or understanding of the gods. How can we be surprised then that it’s a short step to always thinking of that person’s face when thinking of Dionysos, to subconsciously merging their personalities, to the insidious impiety of treating the god like just another celebrity crush.

These are the holy Powers who shaped the world and move our lives. How can we bear to reduce Them to mere pretty faces? And how limited the faces we allow Them, too – not just predominantly human, but whatever the current ideal of a human is. Do we really think that, should Dionysos choose a face from the ancient gallery, He would always choose one that delights us? That a god of excess and drunkenness would always be lean and muscular? That a god of the Other would always match our expectation of race, gender, or anything else? No, I think we get much closer to the heart of what a god is if we seek something beyond familiar illusions and fantasies, something beyond the human entirely.

As far as I can tell, divine entities taking human form is simply a convenient short-hand that conveys This Is A Person to our stupid brains. It can help us to recognize and engage with these overwhelmingly HUGE beings on a level we can manage. It gives us a focal point for our entreaties and gratitude and adoration. But we should not mistake the mask for what’s behind it.

I think it would be a good practice for all polytheists to try going for a time without any anthropomorphic images of the gods at all. They are, in many ways, a crutch. See if you can connect to the gods on a different level. You might discover entire new ways of knowing Them. Dionysos as a new spring leaf unfurling. Dionysos as the warm tingle of wine in your belly. Dionysos as the exhilarating vertigo of finally letting go of your fear.

Hermes in relief

•July 30, 2021 • 5 Comments

I just stumbled upon something kind of odd and I figured it would be worth sharing here in case (a) any of my readers versed in Classical iconography have any information or theories and (b) other Hermes’ devotees find this interesting at least.

Many years ago, I took this photo of a relief in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It depicts Hermes in a very striking and particular pose – left hand on hip, right hand holding a kerukeion pinched between index finger and thumb. His angry expression also caught my eye.

I had no idea what to make of it, but figured it was an anomaly perhaps attributable to the individual artist.

Then yesterday, while doing some research on something else Hermes-related, I came across a page featuring a ton of ancient images of the god, and found these among them:

Now, I note that these are all so closely similar, down to hairstyle, clothing, etc. (though He doesn’t seem as angry in the others), that I suspect perhaps they were all copied from an original source. At the very least, there was some kind of stylized symbolism going on here.

But what does it mean? Is there significance to the way He’s holding that kerukeion? Does it possibly reflect cult ritual in any way? I just don’t know.

Any ideas?

ETA: I looked up the location and dates of these reliefs in case that would shed any light. From top to bottom, they are: (1) 27 B.C.-A.D. 68 Roman; (2) Piraeus, Attica (no date); (3) Roman Imperial period, 2nd century AD; (4) Second half of the 2nd century – early 1st century BC, Delos. So, most if not all are relatively late period, but scattered between Rome and Greece.

I will also add that at least the bottom three are apparently part of larger scenes depicting Hermes leading a procession of Apollon, Artemis and sometimes Athene.

The Old Man of the Woods

•July 7, 2021 • 6 Comments

My latest devotional art project has been a long time in the making for such a small thing. Two years ago, I was exploring some particularly numinous woods with a friend when I started to be reminded of the area around my childhood home in New England, and particularly of the dreams I’d had back then, of an old hermit who lived in a small house crammed with books located somewhere in the murky trees across the street from my house – dreams I had later come to identify as my first contact with Odin. I then found a piece of bark on the ground that looked just like a one-eyed mask (which now sits on His shrine), and felt His presence very strongly. I was suddenly overcome with a feeling that I needed to reconnect with that face of the god, and delve deeper into what had been going on during those dreams, and in later ones that happened just as I took up the vocation of spirit-worker. Since the magic inherent in language was a major theme running throughout these experiences, it occurred to me that I might work through it via some kind of story or poetry.

I started taking books and notebooks out into the woods to read and write and think and process, and sketched out the beginnings of an idea. Slowly, so slowly, it began to take shape, and eventually became a poem with lines of nine syllables each, and a structured rhyme scheme (which is not generally my forte). Over many months, I would return to work on it, painstakingly crafting it into what it needed to be, deliberating over every word, trying to fit so many important elements into such a tight form with only nine stanzas. And I started envisioning the final form – a small, handmade book, of course, because the Odin I had visited in those dreams was saturated with the power of books.

The poem was still only about half completed when something finally clicked, sparked by my finding what apparently was the right offering to Him of a wooden image to represent this aspect. The day it arrived at my door, the rest of the poem fell into place. And the book quickly followed. Especially once I realized that I was coming up on the 20 year anniversary of the last important dream that is woven into this (I finished the books on that date, a few days ago). I even managed to create some simple pen-and-ink illustrations – again, not my forte, but my artistic life for the past couple decades seems to be a continuing process of learning techniques and muddling through as best I can for what is required of me by inspiration to make things for the gods and spirits.

I have made a very limited initial run of only nine of these, because the process of making them (like the process of writing the poem itself) was rather excruciating for various reasons (it seemed fitting, really, that something meant for Odin would exact a certain price). Obviously the first one is His, but the rest are for sale. (Update: the first run and a second run on 8/31 both sold out; there will be one final batch of nine released at the end of September.)

While this is obviously an intensely personal perspective on Odin, especially as it is intimately tied to the land I grew up on, I do hope it will resonate with others and perhaps open some doors.

And so I present, The Old Man of the Woods.

The problem with the new animism

•July 1, 2021 • 13 Comments

“The Victorian anthropologist E.B. Tylor defined animism in terms of a ‘belief in souls or spirits,’ interpreted as a theoretical construct designed to elucidate the difference between life and death, the appearance of dream figures, and the apparently conscious actions of natural phenomena. New Animism proposes a radically different relational and ecological understanding drawn from post-colonial ethnography and dialogue with indigenous traditions, the hallmark of which is a this-worldly focus on respectful social and ecological relationship. As Graham Harvey puts it: ‘animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.’ Whilst welcoming this development for the ethical focus it contributes, I have been concerned that ‘new’ animism may, once again, be marginalising extra-ordinary experience and ways of knowing, and in the process conceding vital ground to Tylorian scientism.”

– Brian Taylor, “Taking Soul Birds Seriously: A Post-Secular Animist Perspective on Extra-Ordinary Communications” in Greening the Paranormal

I have been having this exact same thought lately when listening to the discourse on animism within non-pagan (or at least not explicitly pagan) circles – for instance among environmentalists – and was very glad to see someone else finally mention it in the book quoted above.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with viewing our co-existence in this world with all manner of other physical, living entities (and even some complex ecological systems such as rivers and mountains) as one of interrelationship with autonomous, conscious-in-some-way, tangible persons. That’s certainly one important aspect of animism within pre-Christian and indigenous cultures, and one I’d be happy to see more people adopt even without any overtly spiritual component. But historically, animism is not only about what can be seen or heard or touched. I don’t know of any traditional animistic religion that doesn’t incorporate some type of understanding of discarnate, invisible (except in certain circumstances), independent spirits. Whether that be ancestors, fairies, nymphs (tied to a natural feature but not identical with it), or the most powerful and wide-ranging ones we call gods.

Sometimes I get the sense that these folks embracing and describing the New Animism, while comfortable with some level of vaguely spiritual response to nature, and ready to cede anthropocentrism to a more balanced, interdependent approach that treats the other denizens of our planet with respect and gratitude, are still mired in the aggressively materialist perspective of our culture in some ways – and worse, some of them seem to think that’s what all those other nature-worshipping types were really doing, too. As if all the talk of spirits was just a metaphor, or an unfortunate mistranslation, and they were really just acknowledging and responding to the animate (but still solid) world around them, without any messy, woo-woo, embarrassing notion of invisible beings with magical powers.

It’s bad enough being erased from most cultural conversations about religion in general, as if religion=monotheism, but it’s particularly frustrating to feel like you’re being erased from conversations about your actual specific form of religion, by people who theoretically mean well and share many of your values but just can’t get past their secular bias. I hope to see more practicing animists speak out and resist this uninformed and perhaps unconscious attempt to redefine the most fundamental, extremely ancient, one might even say innate spiritual condition of the human race.

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.)

Falconry & Devotion

•June 9, 2021 • 3 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.