The Simplicity of Joy

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The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it.

Henry Miller

...when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.
— Henry Miller

There's a natural tendency to think of joy as something loud and big. Something all-consuming and impossible to ignore. A takeover. A complete possession of ones being. And sometimes joy does in fact overcome us in this way. The birth of a child, a marriage proposal, a college acceptance letter. All bring joy in that larger than life, unmistakable way. But there is a subtler, more nuanced joy that we too easily overlook, confining as we are of its energy to the space of the exuberant and obvious. The Hummingbird appears to remind us of this more universal, ever-present joy.

If you've ever had a close encounter with a hummingbird you know how they quicken the heart, and how the body assumes an instinctual stillness in response to the distinctive hum of their wings. We want the encounter to last. We seek connection. There's that moment when our eyes meet, and we know, if only for a moment, that we are one with a universal and eternal magic.

I very recently finished listening to Byron Katie's One Thousand Names for Joy on Audible, wherein she freestyles on the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. It's a noteworthy listen for anyone looking to understand the true nature of joy, hidden as it is behind our thought-patterned veils of illusion. It's to be found everywhere if only we stop to question our thoughts and pull back the curtain of forgetfulness that separates us from our divinity. The Hummingbird's presence gifts us with this remembrance. It's distinctive hum–the universal OM–containing within it all the sounds, and vibrations of the Universe.

When in flight, this beautiful and intensely alive little creature has wings that move at speeds of 720 to 5400 times per minute and in a show of joyous synchronicity, trace the shape of the infinity symbol in their movement, gifting the viewer with a visual manifestation of all of life's connection to the eternal. This little messenger nourishes itself on the nectar of hundreds of flowers daily, sustaining itself on beauty and urging us to remember our own, always accessible internal reservoir of joy.

The Hummingbird is unique to the Western Hemisphere and is found in a variety of myths spanning the Aztecs to the Taino, both of whom saw the Hummingbird as a symbol of regeneration and rebirth. To the Hopi and Zuni Indians, the Hummingbird is a messenger to the Gods and aids in the bringing of rain. The Caribbeans believed the sprits of relatives who had passed resided in Hummingbirds, an idea that persists to this day and that has permeated modern spiritual beliefs. In all cases, Hummingbird's connection to divinity is implicit. It's as if this tiny little creature comes from a place just beyond our consciousness to whisper the truth of our nature with a whir of its wings.

If you are gifted with a visit from the Hummingbird you are being blessed with the lifting of a veil. Listen for the whisper in your ear reminding you that you are the energy that moves the flowers to open and the force that lures the Hummingbird to its nourishment. Listen closely to the hum of Hummingbird's wings and they will remind you the whole universe is a living breathing being, and that being is you.

On Diversion and Transmutation

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Trust your instinct to the end, though
you can render no reason.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I had to take a guess at what the least popular Totem of the series is, I'd go with the Opossum. If you've ever had a close encounter with one, it's an experience you're not likely to forget. They are fearsome little creatures and put on an impressive performance of aggression. I know my first instinct stumbling upon one in my backyard several years ago was to get the hell away from it, and fast. Few things convey "get the fuck away" quite like the aggressive display of the Opossum. Every story anyone has ever shared with me about an encounter with one follows a similar path. These little creatures tap into our primal fear instinct with the flash of a tooth, and their artful displays are nearly always successful in defending themselves against human encroachment.

While the outward display of aggression is a largely successful tactic, the Opossum has another trick up its sleeve. If the Opossum is unable to scare off a potential threat with its impressive display of aggression it will default to another, more cunning strategy. Playing dead. So convincing is its death act, the Opossum secretes a death musk at will and goes limp. Sometimes for up to 4 hours! Very often, this is enough for would-be predators to lose interest and move on. Then, once the Opossum discerns that it is out of harm's way, it gets up and moves along having again, successfully deterred a would-be threat.

As if the Oscar worthy performances of Opossum were not enough, it also has some alchemical magic in its bag of tricks to serve up when confronted with one of its primary adversaries. Perhaps the most mysterious and powerful capability of Opossum is its ability to transmute poisons. Opossum is immune to nearly all venomous snakes. And not just venomous snakes in its immediate geographic location, but all venomous snakes, everywhere! Also, because of Opossum's low body temperature and robust immune system, it is virtually incapable of carrying or transmitting rabies. An interesting fact to those of us who have had what, by all accounts, would appear a "rabid" face-to-face encounter with one.

When I painted the Opossum Totem I don't think I could have laid down a more appropriate image for what was going on with me internally at the time. There's a saying... I think it comes from AA. "Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there." If I could fine tune that saying to more accurately align with my own path, I'd replace "Spirituality" with "Magic". A subtle difference to be sure, but one that has some personal heft. Magic doesn't shy away from or deny the dark its rightful place. The magical path respects the dark as much as the light and instead of choosing one over the other, seeks to integrate the two, thereby making the Magician whole and wholeness is the place of infinite possibility.

The Opossum and I—being creatures with an affinity for solitude—aligned at a time of deep transmutation in my life. The poison was coursing through my veins. I was deep in the underworld and feeling my way through the darkness with only aggression and the death mask to protect me along the way. If I was putting out any kind of message to people and the world around me, it was "Stay away!" This journey into the underworld was one that could only be taken alone. One isn't permitted the comfort of companionship on the decent into Hades, but rather taken by force and with equal force, made to confront the darkness found there.

As one might expect, many of the people around me reacted much the same as one would to encountering an Opossum unexpectedly. And while I wasn't fully conscious of it the time, that was exactly what was needed. I repelled and diverted energies and people that needed to be repelled and diverted and eventually, I egressed cleansed; poisons transmuted. As I embraced the darkness within I came to find the light again. Emerging, like Persephone in the Spring.

The Opossum Totem is not for the faint of heart. It is the Totem of the cunning and the clever. Of those whose mind is their primary weapon and of those who stand fearlessly at the edge of the abyss, trusting in the transmutation of the poison of fear into power.

Paradoxically, the Opossum is a gentle creature at heart with a simple and relatable wish to live in peace. Without much in the way of physical defense, it has devised other ways to divert its enemies or those who would look to tread a little too close for comfort. Opossum's medicine is that of the strategists', and of those who place an unshakable trust in their instincts. There's never been a time when confronted with an obstacle, challenge or threat that I didn't know in my gut what the right action was. I've only ever been led astray when I've chosen not to listen to it. Opossum reminds us to use our intellect in harmony with our intuition and transmute our poisons into healing.

In darkness and light,
Christina

A Magical Coming Out Party

Hello, and welcome to the debut Totem Project blog post!

I began the Totem Project two years ago with my first painting of the series, the Ram. I didn't fully understand where this journey would take me then, being hidden as it was in the swirling mists of the unconscious. I only knew the Ram was asking me to breathe life into him. And so my first Totem was born.

Not long after that first painting came to life I discovered I was pregnant. It was a very uncertain time and my footing was anything but sure. I was between jobs, nurturing a family member through addiction recovery and into health, and just gaining ground with my husband's small business. I felt completely cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty. I was full of fear and doubt, and out of the fog of confusion came the Ram. Strong, determined and with a stubborn refusal to do anything but persevere.

And persevere I would, landing a full-time job supportive of my pregnancy, seeing my family member recover and successfully build a new life, and growing a prosperous small business with my husband. Ram stepped in when I needed him most. Fiery, determined, and with surefooted confidence we fixed our vision on the top of the mountain and arrived there!

It would be some time before I painted my next Totem, the Hare. And that time would come after the loss of my son, 8 months into my pregnancy. If I had been cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty before, I was now in a place of complete annihilation. Everything I knew about who I was had shattered and fell at my feet. I was broken into a million pieces, each day trying to pick them up off the floor and piece them together into something that might resemble myself. But I couldn't get anything to fit. My whole world, my whole sense of being had been completely decimated. I had to find my way back.

It's interesting that the Hare presented himself to me at this time. The surface level energy of the Hare speaks to fear and I was certainly full of that when he came to me. But something in me, perhaps the residual energy of the Ram, was not willing to give in to it. And so I dug deeper and revisited a story from my youth that made a lifelong impression upon me. Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It's a story of survival, life, and death complete with its own creation myth and God. There's a beautiful quote at the beginning of the story by Frith, God of the Hares.

"All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed."

When I look at my painting of the Hare I see a wounded animal. "All the world will be your enemy..." That's definitely where I was coming from when I painted him. But there's a power in the wounded animal and a willingness to do whatever it takes for survival. "Be cunning and full of tricks..." And THAT was what I needed. Fortunately, I knew exactly where I needed to go and interestingly, it was backwards.

When I was younger, in my 20s, I'd fallen deeply in love with all things occult. Now before I go a sentence further let's all just get on the same page about what that is. Or more importantly, what it isn't. What it isn't is some kind of hooded robe wearing, meet under the cover of darkness, human sacrificing devil cult. What it is—and this is a tiny little sentence attempting to embody an enormous subject—is a philosophical and psychological exploration of all that is hidden. Particularly, in the dark, shadowy places of our unconscious. If you choose to follow me on this journey I'll go deeper into this as it's impossible to sum up in a paragraph... but please know this: one does not need to identify as an occultist (or anything for that matter) to profit from the wisdom offered through Totem medicine. A devotee of Jesus is just as welcome to it as a devotee of Odin. This is divine wisdom that transcends any one spiritual teaching and yet, permeates them all.

Now that we have that out of the way I'll get on with the story.

In my younger days I never shied away from defining myself as a witch and went about creating all the magical possibilities I could with unbridled enthusiasm. I dove headlong into Wicca and witchcraft, joining rituals, building altars, casting spells... I was imbued with a delicious youthful confidence and damn if I did not get shit done! Magical shit! I set my sights on the things I wanted and I got them. Every single time. And often in the face of incredible adversity. I was powerful and strong and I had complete faith in all of my magical workings. It was an amazing time in my life and I look back on it with fondness and adoration of my fearless spirit.

I'm not sure how or why, but there was a slow and quiet moving away from all things magical as I got older. I can barely call it conscious. There was just a sort of "growing up" that pushed it aside. Though I never forgot what it had done for me. The strength and confidence. The power. I remember often telling people "should I ever find myself in a place of weakness with nowhere to turn, I will return wholeheartedly to the occult." I said that often, whenever someone teased me about being a kooky Wiccan or joked with me about my Pagan nerd years. I'd laugh along with the jokes but I never dismissed the core magical teachings. Those could never be discarded. You can't discard the truth. Try as we may.

And suddenly here I was, so many years later, completely void of any magical practice, the mother of a dead child in a place of profound and all-consuming weakness with nowhere to turn.

So what did I do? I did exactly what I always said I would. I found the closest occult bookstore I could and went in to stock up on whatever spoke to me in that moment. And I found the Medicine Cards deck by Jamie Sams and David Carson. And the journey that began with the Ram, Aries, first sign of the zodiac, symbolic of fiery new beginnings, took root.

27 Totems later, countless hours immersed in the myths and medicine of indigenous people, classical mythology, hermetic magic, Jungian psychology, alchemy, the healing powers of the natural world, and an ongoing journey of delicious witchy self-discovery, I have arrived here at my magical coming out party.

The healing wisdom and power discovered on this path is more felt than described and while I offer the energy and medicine for each Totem as they are given life, the biggest gains are intuitive. The more one meditates on any given Totem, the deeper and more personal the message becomes. We exist within them and they exist within us. With this medicine I hope to guide myself and others to a healing reconnection with the truth of our nature and our oneness with all of the natural world.

Welcome to the magic party.
Christina