Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pushing through Zilch

Oh, the places I've been this month. Never in my life, have I visited so many different blogs and left so many comments nor have I received so many. I have also signed up for the Pagan Blog Challenge, a little late in the alphabet, as we are on "I" there but thankfully, our posts are once a month, not every day of the week, like the A to Z challenge. So stay tuned for that.

I love blogging but am a rebel and free thinker so I was not altogether happy about having to stick with a particular letter of the alphabet as my topic or concept. To be honest, I thought I would have given up on this A to Z challenge long ago--actually I first thought about quitting after "B" and then I thought for sure the end had come after "W" but here I am, still blogging, making it to this day's Z post.

I picked zilch for Z. I thought I had zilch left for you, and would take off Z day, enjoying taking some zzzz's of my own but I have a bit more left to say. This challenge has been a lesson in going beyond zero and pushing through when you start thinking you have zilch left to offer. It has been about tapping source, finding light, delving into inner wisdom and bringing it out and into the light, in my case through words and visual art, to share with others.

Though it has nothing much to do with having zilch, I wanted to share this piece about infinity and place, with you today to end the A to Z challenge:

This painting is about place and also as I said, it is about infinity. It is about going to the outer bounds and finding space and a special place in the unknown. I call it "Elcho Island" which is the place I centered my studies of Aboriginal Australian culture, during my Fulbright Senior Scholar award year. Like today, going to this place also known as Gali'winku, took me into unknown and unfamiliar territory that I never knew existed in my realm of being.

The painting, "Elcho Island" is unstretched, constructed canvas, with oil paint and mixed media over acrylic. It is stuffed, folded, distressed, glued and remolded. It is about 4 1/2' wide by 7 1/2' long, so it is quite large. I was influenced by the African American painter Sam Gilliam, who worked with unstretched canvas in an abstract manner for many years.

Like this painting, I have been stretched, distressed, and unstretched by blogging A to Z to what seemed to be my limits. I have persisted, pushing past the notion of giving zilch, to tap inner source and continue to blog. I want to thank all the new followers and visitors from the challenge. I will see you, visiting your blogs throughout the year, and though I never thought I'd say it, I look forward to the challenge next year.

Blessed Be we have reached Z.
Z is for Zilch in the A to Z Blogger's Challenge

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Saying No to Being a Yes Woman

Oh, how I loved the movie "Yes Man." Jim Carey is always hilarious as it is, and he was especially funny as "Yes Man." He decided not to really decide about things but to see where fate took him by saying "yes" and agreeing to everything put before him, in that film.

"Y" is quite a beautiful letter when you examine it closely and if you have good penmanship. It seems like the start of great things. I can think of many words to write about that start with Y but chose to write about being a Yes Woman.

I am reasonably well educated, and know the different between the words no and yes, even if I wasn't. The trouble is, when I mean and hear "no" in my head, knowing the particular thing is not right for me, the word yes comes flying out of my mouth.

This conundrum has come quite keenly to the fore in two arenas, with solicitors and in my job hunt. I know I can't afford to give my money away, however good the cause is but often end up agreeing, with a simple "yes," when in reality the answer should be:

This word confusion even came to play this morning. I had a phone interview last week, and the information I was being told about the potential job was not at all a good fit for me and yet, I agreed to the in-person interview. The interview should be going on right now. I knew full well that to take this job, if it was offered, would mean the end of my writing and art careers, at least for as long as I held the job. It was a huge commitment in body, mind and spirit, to working over a period of 6 days and 40 or more hours per week.

So, as the A to Z April Blogger's Challenge draws to a close, I am thinking ever more carefully about my word choices since I have been blogging so much. To this point in my life I have been considered a Yes Woman, going against my own grain in the process more often than not. I realize and will put into action in my life that yes means yes but yes does not mean no.

"Y" is for Yes Woman
A to Z Blogger's Challenge

Monday, April 28, 2014


                                     (Winter Poinsettia by Stephanie Rose Bird, oil on wood)

One of my Facebook friends does daily posts and shares called "I love Flowers." I love flowers too, in real life, in my garden, in paintings and as they are related to the gods and goddesses, in healing, as well as their use in folklore like Hoodoo. Not long ago I posted about Xochipelli (Sho-CHEE-pee-lee) prince of flowers and Xochiquetzal (Sho-CHEE-ket-zul) goddess of flowers in anticipation of April's blooming season. The Goddess and Prince of Flowers post is here.

Today, I want to focus in on the root word of their names and it's symbolism. This word is Xochitl (Show-CHEE-tul) in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. This word means flower.

                                           ( Frida Kahlo "Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser)

In many different belief systems there are nature gods and goddesses connected with flowers. Flowers possess symbolism, including sensuality, sexuality, fertility, the human anatomy (vulva) and potential, as in blossoming. In the case of Aphrodite, flowers are connected to all of these things, as well as to love.

Frida Kahlo's art echoes the Aztec adoration for the Xochitl. Often in her work, her hair is adorned with elaborate headdresses, including flowers, as pictured in the self-portrait above. Kahlo was savvy and very cognizant of Mexican folklore and ancestral beliefs. In Kahlo's secret love letters, her signature is simply Xochitl.

                                                    (Xochiquetzal from the Codex Borgia)

Flowers are also used in Earth-based Spirituality, Alternative Spirituality and Hoodoo. For example, the magnolia instills fertility and is placed in between the mattress in Hoodoo.

                                         (Martin Johnson Heade, "A Magnolia on Red Velvet")

Xochitl, (flowers) are also important healers. Bach's Flower Remedies help address numerous issues with personality that bring about unhappiness. These simple waters steeped with flowers are used sub-lingually, in drops placed under the tongue. My favorite, which is also safe for animals, is Bach's Rescue Remedy.

Flowers are steeped and served as tea or worked into healing salves by herbalists My favorite floral brews include lavender bud tea, calendula (marigold tea used for salves and hair dye), chamomile flower tea for relaxation and hops buds for going to sleep.

The Aztecs, folklorists, artists, Hoodoos and herbalists have it right--Xochitl, as it is said in the Nahuatl language, is worthy of celebration and exaltation this spring or anytime of the year.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Modern Day Witches

Witches have captured the popular imagination through television, films and books. People say:
Witches are ugly
Witches have warts
Witches sign pacts with the devil
Witches are sorcerers
And then, we all know,
Witches must be stupid because they fly on their brooms on Halloween, straight into trees.

In reality, the word witch stems from the Anglo Saxon language and means wise one or wisdom. In days of old, witches were considered founts of wisdom and were sought out for curing diseases of the mind, body and spirit. Often outcasts from the villages in which they lived, they were nevertheless brought into the fold in times of trial and tribulation.

Witches can be green witches, meaning they practice herbalism, possibly magickal herbalism and work on healing.
Witches are sometimes solitary. Solitary practitioners as it sounds, practice alone rather than with a group.
Witches can be a part of a larger community of practitioners and practice with a coven.
There are people involved with white witchcraft, which is considered benevolent and beneficial
Some witches are into the dark arts, which is pretty much as it sounds.

I have plenty of friends and professional associates, who are authors that are modern day witches. I have never seen one that looks remotely like this:

Or this:

Witches are not supernatural sorcerers though we engage with the supernatural. I have not met a witch that has made a pact with the devil or who has sold their soul to demons or the devil. Witches are human, though they work in a supernatural realm. We have human frailties, wants, desires and weaknesses. One thing for certain, witches are not the hideous figures seen in various forms of the media nor are they all evil, in fact I don’t know any evil witches.

You might or might not be able to shake off your stereotypes and preconceptions of witches but you should know what witches are and are not before judging. Most of us are deeply involved with all the cycles of nature and seek to preserve as well as conserve Mother Earth who many of us think of as Gaia. Often we believe in a feminine divinity, the pagan gods and goddesses. Our trinity is Maiden, Mother and Crone—the various stages of life. Our celebrations revolve around the Wheel of the Year and are called Sabbats and Esbats. We do like our brooms, which we call besoms but without fly agaric, we do not fly upon them. And that my friend, is one woman’s definition of a witch.

A to Z Challenge—W is for Witch

Friday, April 25, 2014

Speaking Your Truth

A little while back, a good friend gave me a book as a gift called “Giving Voice to Bear.” Bears are my power animal and totems. I shape shift into a bear. My first blog was in the voice of the bear. I wrote about what my inner bear was thinking and what she would have said if she could speak in our language.

                                 ("Shapeshifting to Bear" by Stephanie Rose Bird, chalk pastel)

I have a very vocal household of animals. Two parrots, one African Grey and one Nanday Conure both vocalize all day long. If you know anything about Nanday Conure’s you know that they have a very high pitched screech that they make when they are feeling joy or are upset. It takes time to learn to read which is which. Meanwhile yours ears are assaulted. They are beautiful birds however, very smart, playful and they talk. Ours says “who is it” when anyone comes to the front door and it sounds very sweet coming from his tiny vocal chords. The conure is also a watch bird, letting us know when someone is pulling up on the driveway or if they are at the front door. He vocalizes all of that in different, subtle ways. African Greys are noted for their speaking ability. Ours has an uncanny way of saying “hello” in either my distinct voice or my husband’s outside voice, right before the telephone rings. He mimics the cat perfectly, having learned the new kitten’s way of speaking, rather than expressing our old cat, who has passed away. He cajoles the dog, by asking if he is okay by name. Birds and their vocalizations are fascinating.

Quite a few of my recent posts in one way or another are about voice. For example, “Soul Singing and Sirens,” “Finding Peace in OM,” and “Pagans and Prayer.” Singing, chanting and prayer are all important and meaningful ways we use our voice.

When a friend or loved one dies, one of the most acute senses of loss comes through the absence of that person’s voice, expressed through laughter, shared as a whisper or through a welcomed phone call. Their voices become ephemeral memories for most of us, unless they have been preserved on film or tape. Still, their voices and the things they shared through their stories reverberate in our heads.

I like writing in different voices in the same book. I wrote in too many voices in my first novel. In my current book I am writing in first person but more than one person speaks to the reader from their unique perspective. My newest novel is all about voice. You get to imagine the enchanting voices of the muses and sirens alongside the sultry soul singing of the blues man. The main character gets possessed and the villain speaks through her. This main character has to struggle to regain her true voice. 

The first part of the story is told by the blues man’s daughter and the second part is in the siren’s voice. This gives me the opportunity to expand the reader’s view of various situations and the characters within the story.

Readers have said they like my voice as a writer. Voice is vital to every writer, as important as it is to a singer. I do have trouble voicing my inner most feelings. This has manifested in troubling dreams such as me reaching into my mouth with a long fork and stabbing the frog in my throat so I can speak. That dream is rich in metaphor. The art therapist I work with wants me to create a bell necklace. As it moves and makes it delicate little sound, it will remind me to vocalize my thoughts, clearly and precisely. I have not yet made the necklace but have found a new way to express my voice. That is through this blog and also through my books.

A to Z Challenge—“V” is for Voice

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Upcycling and the Spirit in Materiality

This piece looks so funny to me this small. In reality it is quite monumental, especially considering the materials from which it is made. It is about 4.5' x 6.5' and it is made from humble chicken wire, newspaper and wall paper paste. Yup, you guessed it, this painting is on a papier mache base.

Upcycling is a very interesting concept in terms of using materials that sounds new but really isn't. For hundreds of years artists have been taking simple materials like used paper and making it into fine art and crafts. If you are unfamiliar with the term upcycling, it means taking ordinary materials that could have been viewed as rubbish and making something unique and artistic with them. Some people use upcycling to make functional pieces for their home. It is a transformative process.

I find that working with upcycling, in the form of papier mache is a spiritual. I must gather my materials, sometimes huge craft paper flour bags from bakeries or grocers, and go to the hardware store for the wallpaper paste and chicken wire. Then I go through quite an extensive process to turn those materials into works of art. It can take weeks or even months to reach my goals. I tap into my imagination for my organic abstractions and do spiritual journeying as well.

This piece shown above contains devas, which are a type of nature spirit, land formations from shamanic journeying and the types of lifeforms you find in the middle and upper world of the shaman. There is great satisfaction in gathering more materials for free than spending money on buying them. There is also a magickal quality in using my imagination and spirituality to conjure a unique piece of art, through the process called upcycling.

A few years back, I was a member of a group based in New York called Art from Detritus. All of us were dedicated to making meaningful pieces of art out of throw-away materials or in other words, trash. While working as a part of that group I made this piece but it was too large to ship for our exhibition at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The piece called "Fairy Tale" that I shared on this blog a few days ago was also a part of that movement. It used kitchen rubbish for it's painting surface, such as the pulp cleaned out from my juicer, cleaned and fortified so that it could last for many years.

Upcycling is a way of re-imagining ourselves as artists. It is earth-friendly, sustainable, green and related to recycling, though there are subtle differences. The next time you are about to throw something away, re-think your decision and consider what it might become if you put your imagination to use.

A to Z Challenge--"U" is for Upcycling

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Today for the letter T, I am writing about my relationship to trees, as part of the A to Z Challenge, by sharing the Preface to my book "A Healing Grove: African Tree Remedies and Rituals for Body and Spirit."

Seeing the Forest for the Trees
I owe my early camaraderie with the woods to my patience, my willingness to search, and my love of mystery. The trees became my friends after my family moved from an urban suburb near New York to the desolate Pine Barrens of New Jersey. My father’s logic for moving from the city to the country seemed counter-intuitive. Most African Americans had begun the sojourn from the South and rural areas to cities in the early decades of the twentieth century, but in the late 1960's we moved to a rural community in the Delaware Valley. Whereas both sets of my ancestors had lived in Virginia, my father’s people having lived in the original shires of that state since the mid-1700's, our families left those rural communities to seek opportunities in the North.
Dad turned the clock back and chose to go against the flow. Believe you me, this move was not easy. Mom hated it for quite a while. On the playground my brother and I had a rude awakening, which replayed itself almost daily. We were still the same, yet somehow now belonged to a different category of humans, taunted in a scathing, hurtful tone with unfamiliar words: nigger this, nigger that, nigger, nigger, and nigger. Stung by my classmates' response to us, at the age of about seven I turned to nature for solace. As sparse as the Pine Barrens were, there were still more trees than there were racists.
I remember practicing my ballet turns outdoors, barefoot, my sole audience the trees. I picked a favorite tree for focus, using it for spotting to perfect my turns, then I’d spend hours climbing and chilling on a very old oak, relishing my new forest environment that, despite the townsfolk, led to my lifetime passions--art, writing, and dancing.
But this love of the woods does not resonate in us all. Some thought I was a bit touched in the head. And some of the folk who visited from our former urban home were afraid for the sun to set on them in the woods. I remember one uncle in particular, Uncle Jimmy. Quick witted and fast talking, he revealed gold fillings as he spoke. Uncle Jimmy was smartly dressed and originally came from coastal North Carolina. He was dead serious about the sun never setting on him in South Jersey . . . dead serious. Why? I didn’t get it at first. I later discovered a special street in town called Nigger Lane--a remnant from the past, I prayed--which was purportedly used for lynching. And I had a glimpse of a life that we as black people thought we’d moved well beyond.
I had thought the fears of my uncle and like-minded relatives were just those of the older generation, always an easy out for youth. Now that I’ve matured, I understand that these were black folk, relatives, whose elders in turn had heard of tree lynching; some were directly affected. My skin crawled as I heard recently of how entire families had been lynched in rural areas of my current state, Illinois. Those who stood their ground sometimes died violently upon it.
A noose hanging from a tree remains a powerful symbol and continues to be a tool of terror, never completely vanishing from schools and college campuses. The symbol was resurrected in 2008 during the highly publicized controversy around the noose hung on the only shade tree on the grounds of the high school in Jena, Louisiana.
This connection between blacks and trees in the New World is a grim story; it is shameful that slaveholders turned tree-loving people against the woods. But for many, that is just what happened. The city, with its inherent problems, was where my immediate family fled, like many others, and today the synonym--or shall I say code word?--for black is urban.
Still, plenty of us remained connected to the woods, and we thrived, not only down South but also in countrified pockets on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and elsewhere. I’m sure you have heard the idioms before: “hicks from the sticks,” “country bumpkin,” meaning people who hail from the forest. People from the Pine Barrens are called Pineys.

I never really felt shame about being associated with the forest; who would? Just as in a fairy tale where the wood holds mystery and magic that takes place nowhere else on earth, so too are the forest and my story of it--indeed, it is our story--a largely untold story of the sacred wood: how to live in it, learn from it, and utilize its precious healing gifts. This is a story that, for our people, has remained silent far too long.

A to Z Challenge "T" is for Trees

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Soul, Singing and Sirens

At the very heart of soul, is the activity or shall I say art form, of singing. I never was much of a singer, though much of my youth was spent in choirs. I was lucky they let me into them, to tell you the truth. Every now and then I could actual reach up and stay in the first soprano range but that was ever so fleeting. The nice thing about choirs is there is a community and communal atmosphere that is welcoming and forgiving.

Singing has always been relaxing, whether my notes were correct or not. It brings you into another realm. You can enter a realm were your troubles temporarily melt away and you feel free. Singing is most definitely spiritual.

                                                                     (Billy Holiday)

I have always admired the old fashioned prison songs and work chants. They bring to mind Negro Spirituals which we sung on the road to freedom and then again, they paved our way through the tumultuous Civil Rights Movement. I like:

Oh, freedom
Oh, freedom
Oh, freedom over me
And before I be a slave
I be buried in my grave
And go home to my lord
And be free...

This particular song rings out in my mind during difficult times. That spiritual is actually etched in my mind and has existed there sense childhood. It has been with me maybe even further back than childhood because it is a freedom song of my ancestors.

                                                               (Muddy Waters)

Now, as a writer of a new novel, singing is once again at the forefront of my creativity and imagination. In my story, an ancient siren decides that she can be even more powerful by hooking herself to a southern blues man. In my new novel, the power of singing must ring out in its most powerful way but the challenge is doing it through the written word.

                                                                       (Ella Fitzgerald)

As long as my experiences in traveling choirs continue to resonate and the soul of my people speaks out and through me, I think I can carry this story out and onto the pages of a fully realized book. Stay tuned...

A to Z Challenge--S is for Soul Singing and Sirens

Monday, April 21, 2014

Some Notes on Realism

As a painter I was never overly interested in realism. I liked a few realist artist’s works and was always sure to include them in my slide lectures, in case students in my class had a preference for working that way. My first love was impressionism, followed by post-impressionism and then the fauves and abstract expressionists. I prefer contemporary surrealism, where elements of the fantastic are allowed into the picture or even classical surrealism, such as the work of Magritte.

                                                 (Magritte, Oil on Canvas - The Donor)

As a writer my fiction novels have never been urban realism or any other type of straight forward narrative set in our world, as people generally understand it. I remember first being moved by the work of Carlos Castaneda in art school. He was a controversial figure, particularly prolific in the 70’s and 80’s, who wrote about his experiences with shamanism. His stories changed my world view, twisting, bending and melting it, in the way he says his life was changed through Toltec Shamanism.

My novels, like my paintings, exist in the world of Magical Realism. They have elements of the mundane, overlaid with elements of the fantastic, hopefully in a believable or realistic fashion. Within Magical Realism, there is a great deal of room for the inclusion of mythology, folklore, legends and fables. There is latitude to express yourself that I find other genres to lack.

                                         (Stephanie Rose Bird - Handmade Paper - Fairy tale)

Magical Realism sometimes juts up against Horror or contains supernatural elements. I love those genres as well as paranormal fiction. These areas are rich and fertile with great potential for my continued experimentation with the themes of transformation, healing, growth and intriguing developments in the lives and stories of my characters.

It is somewhat uncommon to bring African American characters into the realm of western mythology but that is what I am doing in my newest work. We have a rich heritage of storytelling that involves folklore and mythology in Africa and America. I am pulling all that richness together, hopeful to produce one heck of a Magical Realist’s story.

A to Z April Blogger's Challenge, R is for Realism

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Yesterday one of my email accounts was hacked and the hackers attempted to send out viruses in my name as an attachment. That account is not connected to my blog, so you don't have to worry about communicating with me here. I never had that happen to me before. It feels like digital rape. Hacking is an intrusive, vile invasion of ones privacy. I am so ashamed and sorry to the people that I communicate with, in integrity, that this has happened. I don't know if this has happened to you before but it is truly an invasive and violating experience. If it has happened to you, please send your comments below. Sharing information on this activity is a way to overcome it but if we keep it to ourselves they win. When I first discovered that it had happened, it temporarily took all the air out of my body.

My blog is a respite. It is a virtual studio of creativity and spirituality, where I share almost daily inspirations. Hackers, I will not let you disturb the positive vibration I am putting out into the world. I am not going to dwell on negativity in this space--not now--or ever. Suffice it to say, I have taken numerous steps to remedy the situation and to make sure it does not happen again.

With a heart filled with forgiveness towards the devious hackers, and apologies to my friends and family, so mote it be and Blessed Be!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Query Burn Out

Last year I finished the manuscript for my first novel. Through the process of writing it  I had several readers and hired an editor. Things didn't work out with the editor so I trudged onward on my own. I also workshopped the book several times in professional writer's groups.
I read the manuscript and re-read it, editing all the while. Finally, I was ready to send out queries. I had read that if you don't query at least 100 places, whether that is agents or publishers that allow queries from authors, that you haven't really tried hard enough. So, query and query some more, is what I did.
I had highs and lows. I had a very prestigious literary agent in New York immediately request to see the whole manuscript, after receiving the first chapter. I had several niche small publishers ask to read the whole manuscript. Two of which, took months to reply back after receiving it, raising my hopes.
I got some nice rejections from that effort. Saying they loved the book; thought it was well-written and a good story but they had no idea how to publish such a book. I inserted in my mind, the word strange, so what they said would read, "I don't know how to publish such a strange book." In reality who knows what they really meant. What it meant to me, is that I did not have a home for my book.
Then, I started grasping for straws. I had my top agent candidates and my top publisher's list at first. Then I went mid-level. Toward the end of my four month process, I started submitting anywhere that seemed remotely open to what I was doing.
I have a lot of books on publishing and have read many blog posts and online articles on publishers and agents. I have successfully had published 5 nonfiction books and have a 6th under contract. I knew nothing was wrong with my query letter because it got bites of interest but I revised it anyway, when my inner critic said so. I tried submitting the beginning of the book, the middle and the end, when I had a choice of which part to query with. All this to no avail. Bites but no one really on the hook, committed enough to publish the novel. I tried breaking it down into short stories and submitted those to literary journals--still, no go.
I never thought I'd give up on one of my manuscripts but that is what happened. I shelved it reluctantly and started a brand new novel. The new novel gave me hope and it has been exciting to develop a fresh, new story. I am in a course called Novel in a Year. Every month we need to write at least 30 pages and so far I have stuck to that. It is a bit of a lighter story, involving Greek mythology and African American culture, set back in the post-war era in rural Alabama.
As for the first novel--I still wonder about it. Was it the subject matter itself that people couldn't stomach? It is about a young African American girl who is a witch and shape-shifter who gets molested by an aunt, and physically abused by her father, while being psychologically abused by her mother and bullied at school. She has an uncle who is also involved with magical traditions, who takes her off to Australia. There she finds healing through a group of Aboriginal women healers. She returns home a more whole person and she has been empowered by her experiences down under. Her parents had an explosive and violent event while she was away from home, leaving the father dead and the mother in prison, so that she gets resettled in a more functional household with her grandfather, who was one of her heroes in the story,and her cousin who she adores--so there was a happy ending after much grief and suffering.
I thought I was completely burnt out on querying for this book to be published. Recently though, I saw a small publishing house that once again seemed the perfect fit, so I reluctantly queried again, restarting a process that will hopefully, like my novel, have a happy ending.

A to Z Challenge--"Q" is for Query

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pagans and Prayer

A lot of people don’t understand who Pagans are or what we do in terms of prayer. As part of the A to Z blogger’s challenge, I decided to blog about Pagan Prayer for the letter P.

Pagans believe in many gods and goddesses. Many Pagans pay tribute and invoke deities connected to their ethnicity and heritage. Others like myself, who consider themselves eclectics, work with deities both connected to their ethnicity and their identity.

We are spiritual, and pay homage to spirits as well as deities. These spirits are generally of the earth but may also be creation beings who helped form the universe. I am particularly fond of the Australian Aboriginal creation beings of the dreamtime, for example. These creation ancestors are timeless. They were here in the beginning of time and continue to work their wonders to this day. Many different types of traditional indigenous people pay tribute to spirits. Some religions, such as Vodou and Shintoism, also pay homage to various spirits that help our lives and to those spirits that exist in nature.

                                                    (Stephanie Rose Bird - Pastel on Paper)

As a Pagan, I do pray. I do a combination of goddess/god prayers and invocations to an eclectic collection of deities. I also make earth prayers. I am partial to this Navaho Chant:

O you who dwell in the house made of the dawn,
In the house made of the evening twilight . . .
Where the dark mist curtains the doorway,
The path to which is on the rainbow . . .
I have made your sacrifice.
I have prepared a smoke for you.

My feet restore for me.
My limbs restore for me.
My body restore for me.
My mind restore for me.
My voice restore for me.

Today, take away your spell from me.
Away from me you have taken it.
Far Off from me you have taken it.

Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool.
Happily my eyes regain their power.
Happily my head becomes cool.
Happily my limbs regain their power.
Happily I hear again.
Happily for me the spell is taken off.

Happily I walk.
Impervious to pain, I walk.
Feeling light within, I walk . . .
In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk.

It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty

-Navaho Chant

We are in Christian Holy Week but for Pagans our big observance for this season of renewal and the rising of the sun, was Ostara. Now Beltane is quickly approaching and there will be more merriment, prayers of various kinds, and celebration of the earth’s gifts, spring, and her promising yield, yet to come, of summer, and then fall’s maturing crops.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Using the "N" word

Over the years, we have been called by so many different names. I find it interesting the phrase, “I won’t call you outside of your name,” that I hear people saying to one another. I always wonder what they mean exactly. There are many names you can call a person, and that’s just being proper. The other sorts of names…well, we won’t go there.

 What’s in a name? Is it power or is it simply identification?

                You know the worse name for us. The “N” word. I heard it as a child, directed at me and my brother, when we first moved to a predominately White area. I hear it now in rap songs and on the Boondocks cartoon. It is still jarring. It still gets my attention. Inside…it still hurts. We should have never empowered that “N” word.

                We have been Negroes too, for quite a long time. Where did the Negroes go off to? Was it too close to the “N” word? I am unsure. I have returned to the days of the Negro in my new novel. Set in 1947, in rural Alabama. In that space and time, that is what we were called. That is what we were.

                My grandfather lived for a very long time. He was born in the late 1800’s. He was at first a Negro, then he was colored, then Black. I think he was just becoming an African American when he passed away. He used all of those names quite freely to talk about different people but I think inside he may have been stuck on being colored.

                I am not sure why my book had to be set in 1947 but it did. I don't know why we have to be Negroes in my book. Why it is still very possible that the “N” word will be hurled at my characters, as the worse type of insult. It is a very intriguing territory to live in and write in and when you write it you live it. Only time will tell the significance.

A to Z April Challenge N is for the "N" word
*These paintings are from the Harlem Renaissance by various artists.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mixed Media for the Soul

When I was in art school my main stay as an artist was oil on canvas. As I have matured as an artist, I have found myself gravitating towards mixed media. I find it fulfilling in many ways. It allows for experimentation and it is always full of surprises. This piece was created using kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps from the juicer to make handmade paper. Materials were added to make it able to achieve archival quality and to be permanent. Then twigs were added in and found paper scraps. I call this "Ghost in the Frame."

This next piece was created in much the same way as the one above it but it does not have the prominent element of assemblage through twigs, instead it is more of a painted collage. It combines the same type of handmade paper and found paper with water-based paints like gouache and plaka with natural inks. It is an abstraction with landscape elements and its title is "Mixed media Landscape."

I am an eclectic in my pagan, earth-based spirituality and also in the types of materials I use, as well as the application of those materials in my visual art. This is another handmade paper piece made from vegetable and fruit pulp with found objects such as coins and cowrie shells added. Called "Mixed Media with Cowrie Shells" this painting brings together my interests in Traditional African Religions, Hoodoo, folklore and fine art, in one piece.

I plan to continue this series once it is warmer outdoors. (Yesterday it snowed here!) I typically like to create these pieces, with all the water they require, on tables outside. It also helps them dry faster. I find the combination of being outdoors, warm weather conditions, the marriage of materials with mixed media and the inclusion of my literary and spiritual interests, to be meditative and relaxing to my soul.

A to Z Challenge--M is for Mixed Media

Monday, April 14, 2014

When Lucid Dreams Turn Dark

Lucid Dreaming is when you are aware that you are dreaming. In this lucid state, you can control your dreams. Knowing the state you are in, enables you to play with reality within the dream structure and do otherwise impossible things. Usually it is a pleasant experience but sometimes, if your mind is so inclined, it can be a dark and frightening experience.

I don't know for sure why I had a series of lucid dreaming experiences last night from 1 a.m. until 5 a.m. I am unsure if it is a result of my post yesterday, "Dreaming the Dreamer's Dream." It could well be.

I have done some fantastic things as a lucid dreamer, including flying and shape-shifting which I mentioned yesterday. As I said, usually it is pleasant, though implausible, though I do believe in the flying and shape-shifting dreams.

If you are a lucid dreamer I'd love to hear about your experiences. If you have not done it but want to lucid dream, look for sign posts in the dream that tell you that it is not reality but a dream. Then, it is up to you how you manipulate those objects, happenings, activities or situations. Lucid dreaming is a great tool for artists and writers because it can lead you into becoming a visionary during waking hours. It can also lead to OBE's (out of body experiences), though that is a subject of controversy. Some people have to work at becoming a lucid dreamer, whereas for people like me, it has come naturally over the years.

Getting back to this morning, I was put into a horrible situation that seemed impossible to get out of. I think I returned to the dream again and again over the period of 4 hours because I wanted to overcome and triumph over the awful situation that I was in. It never happened. I was left this morning filling unfulfilled and uneasy, so I thought I would get it out by blogging about it. Hopefully, I won't return to that twisted world, which unfortunately, is an all to real situation for some, for it was a series of dreams about being plunged into the dark world of modern day slavery.

L is for Lucid Dreaming--A to Z April Blogger's Challenge

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dreaming the Dreamer's Dream

I enjoy waking up and writing. Either I work on my books or I blog before anyone else is awake. I like the clean quality of this writing. It is untroubled or mussed from the day's activities. It comes from a fresh place. The art journaling and artmaking comes later in the day. I find that being sharper is more helpful to those endeavors.

When I was a girl, dreams were big business. My grandmother was a prophetic dreamer and used her dreams in numerology to try to hit the numbers and often she did.

Back then, people had dream books and there were number runners. Numbers were played in the streets not in stores or gas stations. People would match up the theme or prominent feature of their dream with particular numbers in the dream book and then play these in what were called The Numbers but what is now the organized Lottery. My grandmother was psychic and did really well with dreams and numbers. My mother and father, well...sometimes they got lucky and that luck fueled many more efforts to win. So many in fact, that winning was futile because of the new amount of money that was spent, trying to win again.

As a child, I found all this interesting but never really wanted to participate. I liked my dreams fairly well and found that I could fly and shape-shift within them. A sustaining ability, even to this day.

This morning though, I awakened irritated by the ongoing bothersome dreams. I couldn't make anything work out the way I wanted it to. It was long...I had to work even longer hours volunteering as a nurse (something I admire but have no personal interest in pursuing) and trying unsuccessful to make friends at school. I woke up feeling tired, achy and icky from the series of dreams. Now I am trying to shake it off.

The other night, I dreamed someone was putting a check in my hand in exactly the amount of a writer's grant to which I had recently applied. This made me wonder, had I become a prophetic dreamer? Will this actually come true? It remains to be seen. I'm not going to comment, one way or another.

Prophetic dreams are when your dreams successfully show you what will happen in the future. As you can imagine, this type of ability can be a blessing and a curse. Like with the dream books, some look at the actual dream as a sign, filled with symbolism that has to be read to make sense. There are all sort of books on dreaming and dream interpretation for you to check out if you are interested.

A couple of years ago I joined a dreaming women's group. We recorded our dreams in a dream journal and made art from them every month. I did have a prophetic dream during that time. The dream came true, it was about a job but then that true dream turned into a nightmare in real life. Needless to say, my ambivalence towards such dreams has returned.

At the moment I have a greater preference for my awake and awakening daydreams than the sleeping ones. This to, will be continued.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Mysterious Kokopelli

Popular culture has a way of finding an image, watering it down to the components it finds useful and then marketing it. It saddens me to see that happen to Kokopelli, one of our ancient American spirits. Perhaps because he is such a mystery, relatively undefined in a sharply delineated way, some have thought they could do with him what they desire.

I am quite partial however to this artistic, site specific, earth art depicting Kokopelli, shown above. Here he is honored as the primordial, primal, earthy, evasive though playful spirit that is fitting.

I doubt that you are unfamiliar with the image of Kokopelli. You see him on decals, souvenirs, pottery and as jewelry supposedly representing the Southwest. Far beyond being a marketing tool, the spirit or deity, however you chose to think of him, has much more to offer.

Clearly he is a trickster. We can't quite make out his original iconography in his earliest renditions which are petroglyphs. Does he carry a bag or sack on his back; is he hunched over or possibly humpbacked? It is difficult to decide. One thing that is very clear, he is joyful and he is visually excited in a sexual manner. Because of that, many of us take him as a fertility god, ready to rain down his blessings upon the earth.

I find myself thinking of Kokopelli every spring when I consider fertility of the earth the most. That is because Kokopelli is celebratory, he is very much alive--a lively figure that appears to be dancing while playing the flute. He fits with the pagan ideas of this season being centered on fertility, promise and potential. We too, usher in this season with lively dancing, music and general merriment. Planting seeds in the earth and looking forward to their yield.

Kokopelli is connected with the mysterious Anasazi culture. Today he is revered within Hopi culture, moreover, with his playful and highly sexual disposition he continues to capture the popular imagination, titillating all accepted into his realm.

A to Z April Blogger's Challenge K is for Kokopelli

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Art of Journaling

Journaling can take many forms. I find it to be relaxing. It also feels safe. Some other art forms can seem formidable. There is the huge expanse of a freshly gessoed stark white stretched canvas or even a large sheet of 24" x 36" of paper. However, within the small book-like, intimacy of a journal,the confined spaces make artmaking more approachable. Shown above this text, is a cover of an altered book I did that incorporates sewing, collage, handmade paper, paint, papyrus and found objects such as screening. This piece is quite fragile. the fragility is part of it's visual statement.

This is the other side of the same altered book. I re-purposed and upcycled an old book cover, book pages, jeans, paper scraps and then added the sewing and collage pieces. The aging is from natural inks, such as walnut ink with some tea staining as well.

Then a few years ago, inspired by one of my students at the School of the Art Institute, I decided to fill an entire hardbound sketchbook with small scaled paintings and collage. To the right is an illustration of Persephone and there are other collage elements of people and things interesting to me. This is the inside of the back cover of the small art journal.

This is an earlier rendition of the same inside cover. This is a work-in-progress with about 55 pieces (drawings, paintings and collages) inside of it.

I took it with me to an Expressive Arts class called Art for the Soul and created this tiny painting with gouache, watercolor and charcoal. This has the map type of quality of my paintings I showed in the post "In a New Jersey State of Mind." It is roughly 3" x 4".

This little painting is on the opposite page from the previous piece. It is also about place. I take this journal with me on vacations and work on it there too.

Not only was this particular art journal inspired by a student I had years and years ago but it was also a part of a challenge that I did not complete in time. Still, it remains a safe place for me to go, play, generate ideas, explore, experiment and be myself. As time goes on, I will share more of the paintings and collages from inside my art journal. Meanwhile, I encourage you to try it. It is an enticing way to see what secrets and visions you hold inside, without using words--a refreshing activity for a writer.

J is for Journaling (A to Z April Blogger's Challenge)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Trust your Guts

Not long ago I was diagnosed with one of the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) called Ulcerative Colitis. Ulcerative Colitis is a painful disorder that has to be watched pretty carefully. It causes acute pains in the stomach and other alarming symptoms because your intestines are ulcerated.

For several years I was in and out of the doctors offices, seeing a gastroenterologist and other specialists. I had to undergo painful diagnostic tests as well. I missed work days. It caused a fuss. I accepted the diagnosis. It made sense because one of my cousins has Crohn's Disease which is an IBD. Some of her nieces and nephews (my second cousins) suffer from IBD's as well, and it is known as being inherited or familial. This particular cousin did let me know that over the years doctors have not been able to quite decide on a definitive diagnosis for her. I empathized with her but thought it was a quirk that she had run in to. Her treatments however, were much more aggressive and intrusive than mine, and she has had surgeries.

Last year, the group of doctor specialists that diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis did a series of new tests. Then, they decided to throw out the old diagnosis. I was free of an IBD--cause for celebration, and a bit of anger, after all, I had been taking gigantic horse pills to treat the supposed disease. They said I simply have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), something most of you are probably more familiar with. I shouldn't use the word simply however, as this is also a vexing problem that is challenging in many ways.

Remarkably, I saw a Functional Medicine Doctor at a healing center off-shoot of a regular hospital. He just accepted the diagnosis I previously had and treated me with herbs and minerals for the indicated IBD. My primary care physician did much the same thing. Leaving me wondering, is there a real doctor in the house?

Now, I am in a space where I don't know what to really believe. I am flabbergasted to have been misdiagnosed and to have to have taken so much unnecessary medicine. Only time will tell what effects it will have on my overall system. It is really annoying and leaves me irritated.

I accept that I have IBS for the moment. My cousin's journey may not be hers alone. It seems as though medicine of the belly is anything but an exact science. It is in a constant state of flux. Until it is all sorted out, I will trust my gut and stick with probiotics and freshly grated ginger tea, avoiding raw and high fiber foods when the problem raises its ugly head.

A to Z April Blogging Challenge--I is for IBS, IBD and feeling irritable!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Healer's Journey

Well, obviously, I'm not taking my own medicine, at least not as diligently as I should be. I have continued to blog and work on my novel, though I have the flu. Healers are ornery--many are their own worse patients. Be that what it may, I woke up this morning thinking about the A to Z April Blogger's Challenge and knew that for the letter "H" I wanted to write about health, healing and happiness.

I thought about my journey. How did I get here and what inspired me to take on healing? I recognize that the most outstanding inspiration was my environment, where I grew up, immersed in nature. It was also the people around me--relatives and family friends who were self-determined, doing things for themselves, and by hand. As a teenager we lived very close to the land. My Dad hunted and fished, my mother, aunts and us kids gardened, harvested, canned and then cooked those home grown foods all winter, taking them out little by little from the deep freezer. Then too, there were the times. The late 70's were interesting times. Many of us took on vegetarianism (which I still stand by), decided to work herbs into our lives, had henna parties, and even made our own yogurt. Fun times to be sure but also sad because as I recall, the epidemic of HIV/AIDS swept into many black communities and families swiftly in the 80's, with devastating impact.

Growing up, my parents were many things as they are to all of us. One of the striking features for me, was their illnesses--both suffered from serious ills. There were frequent trips to doctors, the ER and hospitals. It was frightening as a child. It left me, as the oldest child, feeling both powerless and eager to find a way to help. My first serious interest in herbs developed in the 70's when I began to investigate Native American cures for my father's illness. Then, when HIV struck some relatives and friends, I continued to try to figure out natural remedies that could help with that formidable illness. When I found that at the very least, herbs were comforting, offering hope, when there didn't seem to be any elsewhere, I was hooked.

There is a joy that comes from working with herbs. Many people across cultures use them, and they have been used since the earliest of times. Just gazing at the lavender fields and the sage shown above, renews my spirit, making me feel, if only temporarily, better.

Herbalism is something that you can study on your own, as I did, or in a certified program. When the herbs call, listen. They have much to teach us, regarding health, healing and overall happiness. They often have quiet voices. It is best to listen well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gran Bwa

Gran Bwa is a lwa that helps you connect to ancestral roots or the spiritual home of Vodou. A friend of mine, who is an expert on Haitian Vodou, who has spent a lot of time in Haiti with the artists there, told me I had painted Gran Bwa when I made this spontaneous work out of walnut ink and sumi-ink on handmade paper. I had considered this painting a self-portrait. She now holds this piece in her private collection:

Quite a few people are afraid of Vodou but it is an awe-inspiring tradition of bringing together plant energy with divinity, spiritual and personal energy. My friend who is very involved with Vodou, especially the art that surrounds it, is from European ancestry. She is light in spirit and bubbly, with a close relationship to nature and her garden.  Vodou affirms the relationships between cycles of life, trees of knowledge and spirit.  The Vodou vision of lwa, understands them as the intelligence of energy present in humans, nature and thoughts. 
Mysteries can be understood through spirits like Gran Bwa, known in this religion as lwaLwa are intermediaries between Bondye, a very remote, omnipotent God, and humans.  The lwa were once mortals, and share some human characteristics, for better or worse, including strength, vision, ego, capriciousness and fickle emotions; they can be demanding, and sometimes tricky. 

      Offerings of basins of water, leaves, roots, branches or flowers are welcomed by Gran Bwa.  A drawing of trees, the forest or a study of a branch, as well as, exploring the “tree of life” motif is a good conduit to Gran Bwa.  A tree sapling can be planted on Gran Bwa’s behalf when it is the right time of the year for where you live.  Gran Bwa energy exists at each magical point of every tree. This is a very important lwa to the magickal herbalist. 

A to Z April Blogger's Challenge--G is for Gran Bwa

Monday, April 7, 2014

For the Love of Food

Ever since I was in art school, in my junior and senior year, when I had my own studio at Tyler, I have been fascinated with still life. That fascination carried on when I went to graduate school at UCSD and ended up being the topic of my thesis. Implicit in the depiction of still life is food.

                                    (Edouard Manet, 1866, "Still Life with Melon and Peaches)

Shown above is a reproduction of one of Edouard Manet's still life paintings. Manet is one of my favorite painters to this day. He imbues his food with such a luscious quality through his brush strokes and the oil-laden paint he uses, that you literally want to reach out and into the painting to eat the food within them. His facility with paint and the love that he seemingly has for his subject matter is a continual source of awe and inspiration.

                                                      (Henri Fantin-Latour, 1866, "Still Life")

Another of my favorites is Henri Fantin-Latour. The oil painting shown above was painted in 1866, like Manet's work above it, and is simply called "Still Life." I don't use the word simply lightly. This painting is a study in elegant simplicity, representing the good life--wholesome fresh food, beautiful and fragrant flowers, a cup of tea and a book to elevate the thoughts.

Recently, I have begun to watch the Cooking Channel and Food Network. Watching the chefs conceive and create wonderful dishes was another source of creative inspiration. The ironic part is that I also watch and listen to programs on the radio about slimming, being fit and healthy, which shakes me out of my realm of food fascination.

I still love to gaze at the paintings in this genre but am finding that I am weaning myself off the television programs. Often the foods are impossible for me to even imagine cooking and serving to my family. Like Manet's oil-laden brushes, the dishes I often see made by the chefs are rich with oil. Besides that there are the meaty plates that I won't eat, and gluten, which I also avoid. Don't even let me get started on the sugary desserts.

Painting continues to fill my senses and it is in a noncaloric sort of soulful way. Recently, I started a body of work built around the idea of food deserts. After doing a single pastel painting of Frito's, something you might find trying to pass for food in such a place, I had to abandon the project. I just didn't want to be exposed to that kind of toxic substance masquerading as food.

As I move forward, I will continue my exploration of contemporary still life but will focus on the many wholesome, fresh foods that currently fill and sustain my life. When I have developed this new body of work, I will post examples here.

As part of the A to Z blogger's challenge F is for Food.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Let the Healing Begin

I find that I am out of commission. I have contracted the flu. It is fairly bad. I will be taking off some time from blogging for rest and healing, and will be taking in plenty of this:

made from these dried hibiscus flowers:

...and then, when I can tolerate more of it, I will have quite a lot of this herb. The allicin within it does make you feel better, at least for a while. I believe in the Old Wise Women ways from the Days of Old. Taking two large cloves minced and raw per day. I am convinced this will lessen my time being sick:

By opening my palms and turning them up to Father Sky, I am saying that I am open to good health and healing from the Great Mother and the Universe:

While healing, I'll be making some time for working on these:

I will be back to blogging soon! Meanwhile, I'm off to make a cup of rooibos tea:

If you find yourself with a really bad cold or the flu, try some of these herbal medicines shown. They have remarkable healing properties! Henna too.