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.

Sale on the Girls Underground Story Oracle

•September 1, 2020 • Leave a Comment

20% off through the month of September! More info here.

September 2020 Cartomancy Dates

•August 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Cartomancy sessions are resuming. Please read this if you haven’t requested a reading before. Dates are:

September 2
September 9
September 23

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.

Disorientation for ASC

•March 27, 2019 • 6 Comments

The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses. (Rimbaud)

There are many paths to altered states of consciousness. Rhythm, movement, fasting, entheogens, breath control, sensory deprivation and the opposite, sensory overload. But one I have not seen discussed much, but which is pretty fundamental to my personal practice, is disorientation. And I don’t mean in the sense of spinning around until you are dizzy, although that can work too of course. I am talking about practices which serve to change your sense of everyday reality in slow and sometimes subtle ways. I find these types of activities, while not always a direct or immediate entry into deep trance on their own, serve to thin the veil between the worlds and prime the mind for unusual experiences. When combined with other ASC methods this can lead into more focused ritual work in any specific instance, but also over time they can serve to loosen the mind in a broad and long-lasting way, making it easier to slip into that headspace on an ongoing basis. (The reason this might not be widely discussed, I realize, is that even most spirit-workers might not actually desire to experience this sort of constant alteration, but it is part of my path, so it seems likely there would be others out there, too.)

Some examples. If anyone else does anything like this, I’d love to hear some more.

  • sleeping in an unusual way – in a different room, at the foot of the bed, at odd hours, etc.
  • conversely, doing things (especially spiritual activities) in the middle of the night, between sessions of sleep
  • thinking in another language you aren’t fluent in (slows your mind down)
  • wearing a mask while doing everyday activities around the house
  • different lighting – colored lights, having only candlelight in a room usually lit with flourescents, blocking out all light in the middle of the day, etc.
  • lying down looking up at the ceiling and visually exploring the house in your mind as if the ceiling were the floor
  • watching a movie or observing people in reverse through a mirror
  • staying silent through an otherwise typical day, or speaking only in a whisper
  • when outside, taking a new route to a familiar location – especially through liminal spaces like alleys – until nearly lost (like this)
  • going through an entire day and night without looking at any clocks, erasing your usual sense of time passing
  • wearing a blindfold during normal (but safe) activities such as having a conversation with someone

A Pathwalking Technique

•January 17, 2017 • Comments Off on A Pathwalking Technique

Pathwalking is a type of trancework that straddles the worlds, where one moves about in physical reality while simultaneously experiencing another Place and engaging with a spiritual reality. Essentially, you are peeling back the veil that separates the worlds for an extended time, while staying fully aware of material existence. It is often said to be one of the more difficult practices, especially compared to travelling wholly on the astral plane (or “faring forth”). However, I personally find pathwalking easier, as I do not possess the mental visualization abilities to properly journey outside my physical form, and because my entire path is based on being in a position between the physical and spiritual worlds. But it still requires a lot of work to do well, and it is often challenging to initiate the transition from regular, everyday perception, especially because one does not have the luxury of blocking out sensory signals and messages the way one does in many other forms of trance.

One technique I have found useful is something I think of as “narrowed focus.” The simplest version can be done by paying attention only to your feet as you walk along. Narrow your field of vision until you can only see your feet and the surface on which you are walking – the sidewalk, the forest path, whatever it may be. It helps if you can also narrow your other senses, so that, for instance, you predominantly are hearing only your own footsteps rather than any distant noises that would alert you to what is happening in the larger area.

In this little bubble, you are still experiencing physical reality, but it is somewhat separated from the world that you know is around you. This helps you both to disconnect a little bit from the tyranny of your preconceived ideas (what you have come to expect about your surroundings), and to access other Places which might look very similar from that limited viewpoint. For instance, if you are walking down a city street and look only at the asphalt and concrete and grass around your feet, you could be almost anywhere – across the country, across the world, or even in another world entirely. You could be in the present day or in a moment that happened decades ago. You could be alone or surrounded by others. The familiar suddenly becomes the unknown, and that disorientation creates an opportunity for you to slip sideways a little, into a liminal state where both Here and There exist together.

Once you feel that altered perception taking hold, you can slowly raise your head and start to shift your attention to the rest of the world around you, seeing it all with new eyes. You may literally see the otherworld superimposed on this one, if you have that gift, or you may experience the dual realities in other ways – for instance, encountering unusual objects or people that are clearly being influenced by spiritual forces, hearing strange music or a voice just out of sight, feeling compelled to take a certain route that leads you to a significant location or event, etc.

Of course, there is some practical danger in this technique, especially when done in an urban environment. Taking your eyes off your surroundings, even for a few minutes, puts you at risk in a number of ways, so it must only be done in certain situations. But if done carefully, it can be a very powerful tool. (Having another person walk with you might seem like a sensible precaution, but in fact will probably hinder you more than help, as their unaltered, everyday perception of your mutual environment may serve to drag you back into consensus reality.)

Obviously, if you are trying to access a specific otherworldly Place, it’s best to choose a material landscape that’s at least close in appearance. Or, you can just let yourself slip behind the veil a bit and see what’s going on in the spiritual realm that is closest to where you are at the moment; this is especially effective if you’re trying to meet the local spirits. Remember, also, that just as that world and its denizens become clearer and more present to you, so do you become more noticeable to Them, so it’s best to always do this kind of work armed with offerings, protective talismans, and anything else you might need in a variety of spiritual encounters.

A final note – in my experience, movement is fairly crucial to this technique. You should be actively walking (or even riding in a vehicle of some sort – anything that causes you to traverse the material world to some degree) as you narrow your focus and then slowly begin to widen it again. It may be due to a simple psychological reason; perhaps our brains expect that we must be moving in order to change locations, at least when interacting with physical reality (as opposed to dreams and even astral travel, where we can easily transition from one place to another just by intention rather than an actual process of movement). There may also be some magical or spiritual reason, even just the common guideline of “as above, so below.” Whatever the case, just like in the Amber books by Roger Zelazny, walking between the worlds seems to require actual walking in this world.

Gods Beyond Functions

•November 8, 2016 • Comments Off on Gods Beyond Functions

I was listening to an interview about polytheism with Galina Krasskova and Edward Butler (found here, and very much worth listening/watching), when a question was posed about the idea of each god being limited to a certain function or sphere – like people tend to think of there being, in any tradition, a “god of love” and a “god of the ocean” and a “god of vegetation,” etc. Oddly, I had just been talking with my (Heathen) partner about this, and how it’s not a particularly useful or accurate concept when describing real, living polytheism, either in the past or present. Edward had this to say in response, which I transcribed because it was so great I thought it needed to be preserved:

“I would say this is a typically modern misunderstanding of polytheism. For someone who is the particular devotee of a certain deity, that deity is – at least potentially – all things to them. For someone who is only peripherally concerned with a particular deity, that deity may be concerned with some narrow function, that they only need recourse to in a particular circumstance of their life, for instance.

It’s one of the artifacts of our modern perspective these days – one of the misleading artifacts of that perspective – that we tend to look at all the deities from this peripheral perspective, and see them as having these narrowly circumscribed functions, and that again is partly because of an excessive reliance on the poets. It’s also because of other intellectual and conceptual confusions and distortions that have arisen over time.”

This is one of those things that, while I understand it and even exemplify it in my personal practice, I still find myself mistakenly slipping back into that erroneously simplistic conception especially when thinking of pantheons and gods I’m not familiar with. Which perhaps makes sense, as those would be deities who I would only be, at best, peripherally involved with, and therefore I see Them through the lens of those limited functions. But it’s good to keep in mind that every god is so much more than the “god of X” and can and will fulfill many roles in the life of Their devotee.

That’s not to say that They are all the same or interchangeable, or that They don’t each have areas of specialty. I may go to Dionysos for help with a problem totally outside His usual realms because we are close, but He’s still going to be the most helpful and most responsive with issues that are near and dear to Him. Still, He’s much more complex than just “the god of intoxication” or even “the god of liberation.” And plenty of other gods are involved in those things too, in Their own ways.

It’s true that we have been unduly influenced by the poets and storytellers, because (as Edward also pointed out) it’s not as if we can directly experience the living cultus that existed for our gods when it was thriving, and see how it might have differed from the myths that came down to us – we can reconstruct with the evidence we have, but we’re missing something crucial that I think will best be restored simply by practicing the living cultus today. It’s going to take time to recapture that mindset.

It’s important, though, to take note of these mistakes in thinking, especially because in some ways they can perpetuate harmful underlying concepts, even just subconsciously. For instance, the interviewer went on to ask, if the gods overlap in Their abilities and areas so much, what is the point in having more than one god at all? And see, that is a common response that reveals a critical assumption (again, even subconsciously): that gods are ultimately an invention of the human mind or culture, that people made up these gods of various aspects of life, and therefore one can question the point of having them overlap. Because it’s true, if it were just an invented system, it doesn’t always make sense or seem very elegant. But Galina’s wonderful response was that the point is, They exist. They exist and we are privileged to engage with Them. So you see, if you get too caught up in the mythology-book idea of the gods fitting into neat little boxes and each fulfilling a human need, you are subtly relegating Them to the position of human inventions, as sure as any anthropologist or psychologist might. The real gods are messy and complex and multi-faceted.

This more encompassing view of Them also kind of dismantles the reasoning behind thinking of gods as equivalent to other gods of similar functions. Hermes and Odin might both be gods of travellers and magic, but if you’ve gotten to know both of Them beyond Their functions, you’ll see how They are individuals with many non-intersecting areas of interest, strength, influence, etc. (This isn’t to say there can’t be useful syncretic practice, when done thoughtfully and carefully, but that doesn’t make those two gods the same, it just focuses on the places They overlap and intersect.)

Like Edward said, in antiquity people would have approached many if not most gods on a relatively simplistic level when they had occasional need of Them, seeing Them mostly through the filter of Their most well-known functions, and that’s fine – it is unnecessary and impossible to delve more deeply into all the gods, even just within one pantheon. But it’s good to remember that those depths exist, with all of Them.

Some thoughts on UPG

•October 18, 2016 • Comments Off on Some thoughts on UPG

I remember, back in the day, the various Recon-type polytheisms would have lots of arguments about UPG – whether it was even a real thing, whether it should be considered a valid part of a religion, etc. This was back when the mystic side of things tended to be looked at askance by the more conservative folks. I know there are still some polytheists who don’t believe the gods speak to us (at least, not anymore), and who rely entirely on centuries-old lore (while ignoring the fact that anything we know at all about the gods by definition must have originally come from a person’s actual experience with Them), but fortunately we seem to have progressed a little and now UPG is spoken of often, openly and generally regarded as a regular part of a religious practice.

But as so often happens, the pendulum may be swinging too far in the opposite direction. Because lately I’ve noticed that people ascribe pretty much anything to UPG.

Let’s go back to the basics: the acronym stands for Unusual (or Unverified) Personal Gnosis. It’s unusual if it isn’t corroborated by the collective past experiences of others. It’s personal if it is revealed to one person alone during the course of their active worship of the gods. But gnosis – I think we need to remember that gnosis does not mean simply an idea or thought or piece of information, it’s a (mystical, spiritual) insight, the kind that typically comes as a revelation (often after prolonged study and practice).

When you’re just pondering the ways of the gods and you have an idea about something new – maybe you think, for instance, that a god might like a certain offering not attested to in the sources, or you see a connection between one myth and another that you never noticed before and haven’t seen discussed – that idea might be entirely valid and true and interesting, but it is not really the same thing as when the gods Themselves reveal something to you during ritual, or when in a deep state of devotional mind you have a sudden and profound insight into Their natures.

For instance – several people I know have come to think of crows as being associated with Hermes, even though that is not an ancient Greek belief. It makes sense – crows are clever, they are liminal scavengers of the dead, they populate many of the environments connected to Hermes, they can even talk. Those are all perfectly good reasons for honoring crows as friends of Hermes. Had I thought of those things first, I would have been totally justified in altering my devotional practice a little to encompass that idea. But I didn’t think of those things until after I had a dream, many years ago, where Hermes very clearly and undeniably appeared to me in crow form. That was a UPG. After that dream, I began to piece together the many intellectual reasons it worked, and found that others had also come to those conclusions, and maybe even some of them also had UPG experiences about it, so at this point we may be in PCPG (peer-corroborated personal gnosis) territory. But it was the revelation that was the gnosis, not the subsequent reasoning.

A real UPG changes something fundamental in the way you understand and relate to the gods. It strikes you in your heart. It can happen to anyone, not just mystics – but it doesn’t happen everyday, even to mystics.

While this might seem like splitting hairs, and I’m sure other people will disagree with my definition of gnosis, I think it’s still important to discuss and think about this topic as it influences how we parse our own spiritual experiences. Call everything a UPG, and we reduce the term to meaninglessness, for ourselves and for our religions. It discourages us from trying to distinguish between a true moment of revelation and the ideas coming from our own heads – and that is dangerous territory, when it’s already hard enough to have spiritual discernment.

I am glad that we now accept and even celebrate UPG in many polytheist communities, and I’m also glad that people are making strictly intellectual leaps when it comes to their practice and understanding of the gods – I am a strong proponent of a living, evolving religion. But I think it is also important that we recognize the difference between the ideas that come directly from the gods and those that are a product of our thoughts, and craft different ways to respond to both types.

Saying Yes

•August 6, 2016 • Comments Off on Saying Yes

You all probably know that I don’t play the self-deprecating game, so popular these days, of saying “it’s not like I’m a special snowflake” every time I talk about what I do and am capable of. I am special, but that shouldn’t be threatening – it doesn’t preclude anyone else being special too, in their own unique way. That’s what makes humans interesting (to me, it’s pretty much all that makes them interesting) – the potential to be special, to do something special.

Today I was thinking – what was it about me, that made me special in the way that attracted my spirits to me? And you know what, it wasn’t anything all that glamorous. I’m smart, but not that smart. I’m artistic, but actually I only came into my own with that under the direct influence and assistance of my spirits. When I was 13 – when They first approached me – I certainly hadn’t done much with my life yet, of course. Sure, I probably had some innate facility with trance states and a sort of natural animistic worldview that helped. I had potential. But what it really comes down to, is that I said “Yes.” I said yes and yes and yes again. Was that smart? Probably not, all things considered. But when the opportunity came, I threw myself into it with wild abandon, and each time the stakes were raised, I said yes again, I went deeper into the labyrinth.

And then – and this is crucial, this I think is why I was not used up and discarded by the spirits long ago, as so many are when they jump in like that – I did the Work. I put in the blood, sweat and tears (all rather literally) to make myself into the most useful tool for Them that I could be. Which is an ongoing process, never done. There is always a next level, always further to go.

I have been asked, more than once, how I do what I do. Usually I answer (and this is true) that I have nothing in my life that is not the Work now, that I have no social life, no hobbies, etc. But also, the answer is that I keep saying yes, to things most people would (smartly) run away from. And I keep putting in the Work. That’s all my special gift really is, in the end. I’m not all that talented, compared to some. But I do not turn away.

I don’t think we should be afraid to identify what is special about us, and to embrace it, and even to intensify it. We should strive to catch and keep the attention of the gods and spirits. And “how can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”