November 2009
Walking Between the Worlds Together
(A Shamanic Journey of Keeping the Soul)

Dear Friends,

The October newsletter focused on the Seven Sacred Rites White Buffalo Woman brought to the people. I noted that the "Keeping of the Soul" was the first Rite and that this related to the perception that grief over loss was the singular human emotion that had the potential for isolation of a human from the rest of his or her community. Over time such isolation could be devastating for both the community and the individual until the very Spirit Thread binding us one to another was severed.

Two days after sending this Newsletter, I received a phone call from my dear friend Pirkko - a Soul Sister with whom I've been walking the shamanic path for almost twenty years now. She called to tell me that her nephew, Karl, had killed himself and his body had been found within a tent in Northwest wilderness country. Subsequent events related to the Keeping of his Soul have been a major focus of my attention over this last month. In the course of seeking to tend both my friend and the Soul of the one who died traumatically, we experienced many moments when it was clear to us that Spirit truly guides this process. At the moment of death, it is as though a DrawBridge is created - one part dropping to Earth while the other lifts to Heaven - creating a seeming Rainbow anchored to Above and Below. Our Call is to do whatever is necessary to support the Soul's movement from Here to There --- releasing any attachments that might impede the Soul's movement along this Rainbow.

rainbowThere are two purposes in writing these newsletters: one is to reflect on issues related to the practice of shamanism; the second is to bear witness to those times when the 'issues' are embedded in some particular experience.

Such times often illustrate shamanic issues more clearly than do words of explanation or description. The synchronicity involved in sending October's newsletter and receiving this phone call indicated this is one of those newsletters to be written for the purpose of bearing witness to the presence of Spirit in our lives.

At some time, each of us will be Keeping the Soul of some Being we love; and at some point, others will be involved in Keeping our Soul. Whatever wisdom or clarity we can develop about this process will serve us well at those appointed times.

I found it very important to note synchronicities as they occurred. They  became a source of comfort as they indicated some larger Process and Spirit was guiding events long before we were explicitly involved. Our task was to support this process - doing those activities required from the humans involved.

One early example of a Process unfolding: Pirkko had already bought plane tickets for Santa Cruz with plans to spend ten days with us and then we would be going to our annual ElderBear retreat. The plans had been made almost a year ago. This meant, among other things, that Pirkko would be receiving the support of her friends during a time when such is so urgently desired and needed.
Early in our conversations about Karl, Pirkko conveyed that he had left specific instructions regarding what to do with his body.  He had already set up legal provisions so that Pirkko would be the one responsible for his requests being followed. He chose for his ashes to be Scattered to the Ocean Waters for he had grown up and lived in Florida where surfing the waters was a primary pleasure for him. He had traveled to the Northwest to commit suicide because he didn't want his death to appear in the local Florida newspapers. In retrospect, it was obvious that Karl had carefully planned the circumstances and the method of his own death. On the other hand, there was also this Compassionate Presence that was involved in the whole process --- as though to say: "You have made this decision yet I shall not forsake you and shall bring together others who can assist the movement of your Soul from the Earth Plane within which you experienced so much loss, hurt, and grief."

Karl's instructions extended to his stuffed Bear that had been his constant companion in the last 10 to 15 years. Without describing just what to do with his Bear, he made clear that he didn't want him tossed away like a piece of trash.

And, with Pirkko having clear instructions from Karl, I was reminded how  important it can be for each of us to make our wishes known so that the one (s) who will be tending our soul's journey knows what to do. In a way, when we make clear how we wish to be honored in our death and dying, we have more freedom to do our living here.

Transition from There to Here - first Leg of the Journey

After that first phone conversation with Pirkko, I was thankful I had been reflecting on this issue of The Keeping of the Soul. It was as though Spirit was preparing me to walk consciously with my  Sister as she sought to follow Karl's wishes and to be with her own grief over his suicide. I knew we were walking a trail laid strong and lovingly by our Ancestors for thousands of years.

Pirkko called later and asked if she could have Karl's ashes mailed to us with the understanding that she would scatter the ashes down at the ocean beach area where she and Bob walk when she is here.  They had been sent to her but she did not want to carry them on the plane.

I wondered to myself just how we were going to scatter the ashes because in a Circle ceremony several years ago, we had made Prayer Boats and launched them out to the waters - intending for these Prayer Boats to travel far, to be received by some one in a different geographical area who would then discover that some 'folk in Santa Cruz, California' had made prayers for their health and peace. We walked into the ocean waters and launched them only to have them IMMEDIATELY be turned by the currents and return to our feet!! Clearly we didn't understand about currents and how to have some item travel beyond the very first waves! At that time we were amused but the scattering of Karl's ashes was quite another matter and I just wasn't sure how to do this with Pirkko.

Meanwhile the next morning, Bob is taking one of his regular beach walks with his friend Henry. Henry spots a brochure by a restaurant at the Wharf, hands it to Bob who then brings it home to me. It is a brochure advertising the Scattering of Ashes through a local family charter!

birdsI called Lighthall Yacht Charters that morning to find out what was involved in renting a boat for this purpose and was delighted to learn that the cost was very reasonable. I called Pirkko to inform her of this option (and my concern about doing this at the ocean's edge) and we agreed to book this service.

Calling to make the arrangements, I discovered they have one day of that week available---it was a day when Pirkko would have been here long enough to get over jet lag yet soon enough so that she was able to scatter Karl's ashes, honor his request, and then have a few days before our ElderBear retreat.

When all was finally arranged, we both discovered that the Day for this Ceremony at Sea would be exactly one month since Karl died. We were delighted because, in different journeys with Circle members, individuals were told that in 'one month' from the date of his suicide, Transformation would begin.

We had no idea what this Transformation entailed but the fact that three members saw the one-month alerted us to pay attention. And as was revealed, it was the ONLY day that week that space was available for four of us to do the Scattering of the Ashes Ceremony.

Here are My Ashes - Handle with Care

Karl's Ashes arrived to our home on Rabbits Run Rd and holding this package,  I remembered holding the box of my youngest brother's ashes. We scattered his ashes at the foot of a large redwood that used to stand above our house - that is hallowed ground for us as it holds the ashes, too, of our first dog together and other Beings with whom we've shared this Land.

imgI'm glad Pirkko received instructions from Karl as to his ashes. I remember keeping my first dog's ashes - carrying them in various moves I made - never quite sure where to scatter them until six years later, I knew that she wanted to be 're-membered' in Cambridge, Mass where the two of us had fine, fine years together. She never felt really comfortable in Santa Cruz for the University where I worked had an enforced "no dogs" policy that was implemented three years after we moved here. So one weekend I took a flight to Boston and scattered her ashes on a slope near the Charles River where we'd had years of wonderful walks. 

Hearing the detailed instructions that Karl left for Pirkko reminded me to update my own wishes/instructions and to be sure I know those of my husband and any close friends who might wish support from me. Sometimes we are shy about discussing such matters yet when such instructions are left, it can allow a certain grace during a time of grief and those carrying out such wishes are allowed to feel they have kept covenant with the particular individual and done the 'bodily' work that allows the Soul to move to Elsewhere. Were we living in the times of our shamanic ancestors, we would be participating in Ceremonies understood and supported by our Village. Now we are in a time of trying to find the appropriate ways for 'keeping trust' with those who die and we are often bereft of necessary support.

The second day after Pirkko had arrived she decided to open the box containing Karl's ashes. It was so tightly wrapped that she had a challenging time unwrapping. She sat on the couch in my cottage - I was in a lounge chair across from her. I gave her various implements with which to try and carefully open the box. Leaning forward she was using her fingers to try and undo the last bit of tape when suddenly the ashes started spilling forth - onto her chest, her lap, her legs, and down to the floor. We were both startled and for a moment there I felt the epiphany of "being covered in the ashes of our ancestors." The moment Karl's death preceded Pirkko's, he became an Ancestor and here was the Ancestor spilling forth! Something in that moment will be forever with me---as in reality we were being covered with Ancestor ashes and there were many ways in which one could experience and understand this.

And immediately there was something humorous about it too: clearly Karl's Spirit was breaking out of the box in a deep yearning to be FREED...how much more clearly could he speak to us!

As Pirkko made a comment about picking up the ashes and started moving to get the vacuum cleaner, I said forcefully; "don't you dare vacuum those up...leave them there for now." I didn't know why but it seemed to me that the Ashes themselves still had messages for us and we needed to track them.

Pirkko clearly understood and then she moved towards the door so that she could shake them from her clothes onto the Earth. Unknown to her was the fact that she was leaving a small, miniscule trail of ashes from the couch through the doorway. She stopped at the first place on the Earth outdoors which just happened to be right under the Bird Feeders near my cottage. As she is shaking her clothing, birds come from all around thinking that she is scattering bird food for indeed she is in the very spot where I scatter seed to them once or twice a day. I am watching this scene and suddenly see a female St. Francis feeding the birds, making sure they have whatever remnants of food are left----it is early afternoon, the light is golden, and for an instant, I am in some eternal scene of pure Holiness and know we are blessed here in this Now......life recycling itself moment after moment...the ashes of one the food for the other even if it be food only Earth Mother Herself can use due to its content.

We realize later that in the shipping process the plastic had split at that end of the box yet even knowing that, we still also knew that this was Karl's Soul seeking to move Elsewhere --- just as in the manner of his death, his pursuit to be freed of Earthly troubles was fierce and determined.

And equally true was the loving care with which his Aunt Pirkko held him both in living and dying...and beyond. Someone else might have wanted to brush those ashes off themselves because of repulsion or because some people see ashes as dirty, as debris. Watching Pirkko, I knew she both understood these were 'ashes' (which one usually sweeps up or cleans out - as in a woodstove) and that these ashes were also the 'remains' of Karl so to be handled carefully...and she did.

The Waters Receive - the Waters Give - Power of the Waters

Early that Friday morning I went to a local Flower stand because in my journey, I had seen flower petals cast upon the waters along with the ashes. In choosing the flowers, I was drawn to Sun (Son) Flowers, some Pink Roses, and two purple English Irises. I was simply selecting the colors that called to me and the flower shapes that spoke to me. Returning home, Pirkko exclaims on seeing the flowers:

 "That purple flower, the Iris, is my mother and her mother's color. My mother loved these flowers.  And the SunFlowers are like Karl's strong spirit in the good times."  

It seemed the Roses spoke to all of us of the sweetness of life itself. 

Earlier Pirkko had found an old glass vase in my garage that she had thoroughly cleaned and into which she had placed Karl's ashes. Now with this Vase of Ashes and the Flowers, we had two bouquets to offer the Waters. 

Around mid-morning that Friday, Pirkko, Bob, Cheryl and I went down to the Santa Cruz Wharf to meet the Charter Owners and do our Ceremony. As it turned out, the owners are a couple in Santa Cruz who view the scattering of ashes as a service. Their main income is made from taking folks out for whale or large fish watching - not from Ash Scattering. 

Pirkko with great joy exclaims how pristine clean is the boat. She knows how hard it is to keep boats in such excellent shape for she and Ron have a boat that they maintain themselves.


Pirkko thought this was a motored boat because the Captain had to run the motor while moving away from the Wharf and out to Sea. Soon as we are on the Ocean waters, however, up and open come the Sails and Pirkko is ecstatic. She 'sees' the White Swan of her Finnish ancestors---the Great Bird who took the Dead to Elsewhere...and the Great Bird that took King Arthur to the Island of Avalon to die.

"We are riding on the back of the Great White Swan,"
she says with a beatific expression. All of us are held in some powerful Trance of Awareness while the Day itself is gloriously painted by the Sun and the waves glisten as though made of Stars and Crystals. We simply could not have requested a more beautiful day for releasing Karl's ashes.

And we could not have asked for lovelier Singers at our Backs in the form of the Boat Crew; the respect they paid to us and to the ceremony itself created a context of Holiness on the Waters. 

After we go the proper distance from the shore, the captain turned the boat into the wind and stopped.

He explained how we could scatter the ashes from the backside or we could use the steps to go down so that our hands could actually touch the waters while casting. Then they stepped aside and we began our Prayers. Each of us chose to step down to the Waters, and Speaking Prayer, offered Karl's Ashes to the Sea with a trail of Petals accompanying them. As Pirkko approached the steps, she noted that somehow one petal from the Purple Iris had mysteriously fallen into the Vase containing the Ashes - a signal from her Mother and Grandmother that they, too, were here and would be welcoming Karl upon his Arrival to Home.

On the SwanBoat, at that moment, there was nothing else in the world but pure Spirit and Soul greeting Soul upon the Waters...Ashes on the surface texturing blue Waters with cloudlike colors, while a path of color-full Flower Petals floated like Diamonds in the wake of the Ashes. 

I knew during those moments that, if possible, this is how I wanted to be sent to Elsewhere.....the Ocean Waters speak so profoundly simple of the Eternal Waters, of the Womb Waters, of the emergence of Life to Land and then Return to the Waters.

I learned, too, that one need not be cremated to be buried at Sea but the whole body can be taken which is how I would like to be sent off....let whatever remains of me be feed for the fish and the plants in the Worlds below the Waters.

Ashes scattered and Flowers released, a wonderful Silence filled our World. At some point, the Boat Captain quietly asked Pirkko if she would like for him to ring the Boat Bell with the peal of the Mariner's Farewell. Nodding her head, he rings the Bell --- Eight times does the Bell echo across the Waters. I shivered hearing that pealing for the rhythm is exactly that of the Ancestor's Beat known among shamanic peoples in the Northern Hemisphere. As we head back to shore, I am thinking
        "so complete, so complete, so completely blessed this is...."
and I could not imagine, in that moment, any more blessed feeling.

While leaving the Wharf, I inquired about other Boating activities this couple offered. They told us about the boat trips for viewing dolphins, whales, sharks, and other large ocean mammals. They cautioned that such excursions were limited due to a severe diminishment in the waters here of the 'large ones'...as far as they knew, no such boat trips had been made in several weeks due to lack of activity; their boating colleagues saw this diminishment as another effect of global warming.

Imagine then our surprise and delight when two days later a front page article appears in our local paper describing the "local excitement felt by boaters seeing the surfacing of a Great White Shark" and the location given was in the area where our boat had paused for ceremony!! "With mighty force the Great White had surfaced, then submerged and was seen no more nor were any others of its species seen." Being shamanic folk, we knew immediately that the Great Ones of the Waters had surfaced for Karl or us or that some marvelous ShapeShifting had occurred and it was Karl surfacing to say thank you and goodbye.

I don't expect some folks here would see this Great White that way but if you see from the Eye of the Shaman, then you see differently...and so we did and do.  And we know all is possible from the Holy Waters and by the Hand of Spirit.

Honoring the Soul of our Companion Objects
Throughout the conversations with Pirkko, she would intermittently talk about this 'stuffed bear' that had been Karl's constant companion for so many years. Karl made clear he wasn't to be thrown out like trash but just what was Pirkko to do with this stuffed Bear? 

imgFor me, this is where things can get very, very interesting when it comes to the issue of Spirit and seemingly inanimate objects. We can consider that we imbue them with Power and Life or we can assume they arrive to us with their own Power and Life - and that the Dance between us is this engagement between our own vitality and theirs. Certainly most of us have had - or known - shamanic objects that we consider to be imbued with Power. Whether that be Drum, Rattle, Totem, Stone, Feather, Crystal or some other object, we sense and attribute to them Power that is theirs alone and with which we work from time to time. Some of us believe that their vitality can be diminished or expanded depending on the quality of our attention to them.  Pirkko is among those that believe such objects carry spiritual import and, in her own life, have their own Power and Spirit. She wasn't clear as to the spiritual significance of this Bear but she did want to honor Karl's wishes. 

She called me one day and wanted to know if it was okay for a former girlfriend of Karl's - who lived in Florida, was the last person to see Karl, and with whom he left Bear - could this friend send Bear to me and would I hold this Bear until Pirkko arrived? And furthermore, maybe Bear should be cremated at our forthcoming retreat and his ashes given to the Earth there?

I don't know why my first response was: "Yes, of course, you can send Bear here but I don't think he's to be cremated...something else to be done..but we'll find out when you are here." Upon later reflection, I could see here, too, the Hand of Spirit guiding our discussions and our acts.  At the moment I wasn't aware of this-I thought I was just speaking my mind.

Also, I had to smile at this request because one area of my cottage is home to four orphaned Bears, given to me for 'keeping' by various friends who had found them thus: on a city sidewalk, near a park dumpster, on their front steps or left at an office. Certainly Karl's Bear would have some company for all these Bears huddle with each other. And I wondered just what this growing collection of orphaned Bears was all about - especially because I am in a stage of my life where I am seeking to clear my closets and my home of those objects that at one time were important to me but now represent ways in which I can give my attention to things that simultaneously take my attention away from  paths I wish to pursue.

When stuffed Bear arrived it was in one of those Fed-Ex paper envelopes and I never imagined this was the Bear to which Pirkko had been referring. Once the envelope was opened, I was quite surprised to find this stuffed animal that had been so shmushed that it seem to have no 'stuffing.' The head was completely devoid of inner matter while the legs and lower abdomen retained just a little. 

"Poor guy", I thought, "we've got to give you some breathing room."
So I tried to create space on my bookshelf altar where we could look at one another, prop up his head so that it didn't fold over completely, and give him some back support. It dawned on me that I was trying to arrange him in a manner that matched the 'spirit' of the Stuffed Being Pirkko had been describing. He had grown large and powerful in me through our conversations but this fellow before me was a very sad, limp sack. From the outset, however, I didn't have to worry about his Eyes - there were, and are, full of life, knowing, and constantly communicating. I wondered, given his limpness of being if he was actually meant to accompany Karl and that my attempts to give him space in which to live were inappropriate to his own journey. Was he analogous to objects of my Ancestors that were buried with them or burned with their tipi when they died? What were we to do with him?

The second morning after giving him his own space, I went into my cottage and was walking towards my computer when his eyes caught me and I heard quite clearly:
"Just because Karl left early doesn't mean I have to go."

I found myself acknowledging his comment and then engaged in conversation with him. At one point while rattling him, I discovered that he was most responsive when I called him "K-Bear" so that has become his name: K-Bear.
Once Pirkko arrived, we set K-Bear and the box containing Karl's ashes in a soft chair in my cottage. The following morning when we returned to the cottage, we discovered that sometime during the night K-Bear had moved his arms and the box containing the ashes had split open more! We could only but wonder at what conversations and movements had occurred during the night hours but the effect was to free the ashes even more. This was one of several times that we recognized K-Bear clearly moved with - and - under some Power unknown to us.It was later that morning that Pirkko then moved the ashes into the glass vase.

Shadow Catchers - K-Bear
From the time K-Bear arrived until Pirkko flew out here, I would share with her whatever messages I had received from K-Bear during the intervening days. I came to realize his life here was still full of vigor and that just as I kept watch over him, he was keeping watch over me. 

It is K-Bear who started me reflecting on the Shadows we cast and the significance of these Shadows after the departure of both Body and Soul to our eternal home. I have long understood that our material bodies cast Shadows and that from one perspective, life is a River of Shadow Casting...and that to understand someone, walk in the Shadow they cast. But I had not appreciated that the Shadow could live on for some undefined time after the material Body has left.  The word Shadow is often used to refer to the 'darkness' cast by some Person or some object - an unwanted darkness but that is not my experience with Shadows.

Shadows are made of the Dance between Light and Dark, between Sun and Earth and all beings within their orbiting. If I can learn to touch, see, and smell Shadows, then this becomes another sensing way - sensing Shadow. I've yet to fully appreciate what this means because I am talking in more than metaphor though metaphor is the best language to employ when conversing of shamanic realities. And since Shadows are constantly shifting, becoming a Shadow Catcher involves a certain agility - one that I'm seeking to learn and use for shamanic healing. Sometimes we use representatives or effigies of someone by which to do remote healing and have confidence that the one seeking help - regardless of distance, experiences this healing.

I think Shadows function the same way and that K-Bear carries Karl's Shadow from various moments and times in Karl's life. Perhaps K-Bear's life is not complete until he has passed on the wisdom held in the Shadows cast by Karl?  This is that point in shamanic exploration where I have learned it is unwise to try and force a teaching to reveal itself - I must be willing to dwell by the River until such teaching wishes to surface, to leap upward and forward into my consciousness, or to come downstream and attach to the line of my outstretched hand.....we shall see.... here by River and with K-Bear.

Condolence Ceremony for Soul Keeper and Shadow Catcher
imgFive days after Scattering the Ashes upon the Waters, K-Bear went to a shamanic retreat with Pirkko and me. It was a gathering of ElderBear Sisters. He had made quite clear that he wished to sit in Circle with us. We made him a chair with an arrangement that would support his now-expanding physical form. We noted over the days the intermittent communications through his eyes or through some shifting in his posture. 

Our time together included doing the Condolence Ceremony for one another - the Ceremony of Lifting the Grief that I described in my last newsletter. During one of my journeys, I sought to know if there was anything we needed to do with K-Bear or anything else for Karl. Again K-Bear indicated he was not finished with his work in this reality but told me that Karl was okay (more than okay - he was moving to Home).

This retreat gave opportunity for the one Keeping the Soul (Pirkko) to be tended too as she made her Beaded Condolence Necklace and allowed for some Lifting of her Grief.  Later she placed her Beaded Condolence Necklace around K-Bear and so too is his grief lifting while his body continues to expand.

This last week, our Santa Cruz Drum Circle met. At the last minute I decided to bring K-Bear because I was stymied about just where and how to place K-Bear in our home or in my cottage. The prior arrangement for him did not seem right - he had changed, had been transformed but here I was trying to fit him back into the same space and place in my cottage. Everyone in the Circle journeyed on what to do with K-Bear and I received very helpful information from these journeys. Clearly he will be teaching me from time to time over the Winter and if there are teachings or messages that may be useful beyond me, I will share them in the newsletters as "Messages from K-Bear".....all of you will know to whom I am referring and thus may he have his life in our Web Circle too....

Bear Hibernates while Buffalo Standstill
The teaching from this week's journey with K-Bear concerns the difference between hibernating and Standstill.
As was communicated:

"Bears go hibernate while Buffalo Standstill"....
That is, unlike Bear, we humans cannot participate for four to six months in the active state of hibernation
although we can learn from Bear
how to withdraw into solitude,
give birth in the womb of our Souls,
close out external demands other than those
that feed Winter's fruits so that we rise up in Spring
filled with vigor for living out the birth
emerged from Winter's Dream.

Yet we are invited to Buffalo ourselves through Winter
to Standstill...Standstill is a verb here
not a noun or an adjective or an adverb
but a Verb...
so often we hear Standstill as a noun or adverb or adjective
and miss the injunction to move in defined ways
While always we seem to hear hibernate as a Verb.

"Go hibernate" we say and have visions of a Bear
or a human or some other animal
crawling into a Cave or
down into the trunk roots of Tree or
into Ice in the Far North..
and with the command to "Go hibernate"
we can imagine heart rate slowing down
blood vessels thinner in the extremities with all
neurological vigilance going to the brain
while digestive functions and juices support an embryo forming..
Yes, indeed, hibernating is a Bear-hive of activity...


StandStill takes us to Buffalo
StandingStill perks up the hair on our necks
StandingStill plants our feet firmly on and into Earth below
    Whether it be the cold of snow, sleet, rain
    Or warmth of desert grains....
StandStill is being alert, eyes open and wide and exquisitely watchful
    While peering often through snow..
Not pushing the boundaries but leaning into them
Bracing the cold winds but not seeking to refuge underground

This was the wisdom K-Bear was sending to me on his first day
    Home from our shamanic retreat
 and in his new Space and Place....

We shall see what the days, weeks, and months ahead he brings..
Imparting to us while shaping himself into
Bearing Buffalo in his eyes while
Bearing himself in his somewhat slumping slumbering Body...being all he can be for whatever time given unto him.

And on this note, I wish for each and all of us fine disappearing Autumn Days while making preparations too
for Winter's Approaching...
Knowing whatever the day, whatever the Season we are blessed indeed to be living on this Glorious Planet called our Earth Home.

Love and blessings,

More Information

  • Carol's Workshop Calendar for 2010 will be posted Dec. 15, 2009. 
  • For more of Carol's writings, and to view her 2010 Workshop Calendar  you can visit her website www.shamanicvisions.com




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