Hamrammr: Lessons in Shapeshifting

In this betwixt and between time (November 1st to about January 1st), I have been thinking a great deal about transitions of all sorts, including changing shape. It is one of my favorite witch’s crafts. There are many reasons one might shape shift: to obtain information using another being’s perception abilities, to enter or leave places in the astral that one may not because to access otherwise, to commune with the creature’s spirit and gain insight into its nature, to go unnoticed/unrecognized, or insert your reason here. Whatever possible purpose you select, as a witch and spirit worker, it is a useful skill to develop.

I thought that I’d share a few reflections for those who are interested in training in this craft. Mind you, I am not an expert or even just a seasoned shapeshifter from way back. I am just a witch who has been half dragged and half seduced into acquiring this particular ability, and it is still a young one for me. I just wanted to reflect on a few things thus far in my process.

With regard to physical preparation, I have found that I benefit from wearing comfortable, loose fitting clothing. I prefer to work at night or at twilight times like dawn/dusk. It is essential that I find a relaxing position in which I do not feel constricted. For me, that means feet on the floor and arms at rest at my side or on my lap. Depending on the animal form I am assuming, I may have my eyes closed or leave them open. I relax my jaw and loosen my other muscles as well if they feel tight. In short I try to be as “free” of my human form as possible and working at a time as aligned with the Otherworld as possible.

At the mental level, I hone in on sensory information. What do I see? What do I hear? Taste? Smell? I spend a good bit of time attuning to my environment. I find that this level of awareness, if I stay in it long enough and really attend to what I perceive, my animal brain kicks in and my senses are heightened. At this point, I reaffirm my intention and I reach out to Coyote, Crow, Serpent, or Barn Owl. (I haven’t really entertained the idea of doing this work with an animal or animal-shaped spirit with whom I have no relationship.) I ask for their protection and blessings, in addition having my own personal shields and wards in place. Then I deepen the connection. I get up close and personal with the energy of the animal. I let it consume me…enough to shift my astral form/energy pattern but not so completely that I cannot access my humanity when it’s time to come back.

Barn Owl was the first. He showed me how to take his form. Coyote came next, in the space between asleep and awake sometime ago. I was stuffed into Serpent’s skin by Dionysos in The Wood Between The Worlds not too long ago. And Odin gifted me with Corvid’s hamr very recently in The Place Where The Worlds Meet. The work that I’ve done with Barn Owl and Coyote was shapeshifting to my mind, but according to the lore, its possible that only my work with Serpent and Crow qualifies. You can learn more about shapeshifting as it manifests in Norse/Icelandic lore here.

At the level of spirit, preparation has involved a great deal of travel between the worlds in my own form over the last six years – the between worlds meet and greet with key beings and powers wearing no animal skin or similar “cover”. Just me. At the level between the mental and the spiritual, shadow work has also played into my preparation quite heavily. I value psychotransformative/shadow work highly. I find that it both empowers and wards me in the magic and spirit work that I am learning. In shapeshifting, a portion of one’s consciousness is open and connected to a particular animal’s might. Without rootedness in my own psyche and awareness of shadow, becoming lost in the animal hamr is not an unreasonable concern. The animals (and animal-shaped spirits) that I work with can dredge up stuff if you don’t have a firm handle on your shadows and related baggage. At least that’s what I’ve observed in my own work. Really it makes a lot of sense. Our Psyche is the stage on which a percentage of our Otherworldly experiences play out. If the Psyche is in disarray then all manner of Otherworldly thing can sweep through and raze the theater, and not necessarily intentionally. Shit happens.

Shapeshifting work hit a peak for me when I stepped through my most recent psychotransformative door, and I have no doubt there will be more. These things are spiral after all; the work is never done as sure as we grow and change. Now that I see a few more things clearly and even more things differently, the skins slip on faster and fit more comfortably. I look forward to more adventures in the Otherworlds in animal form.

As you do your own shapeshifting work, I am interested to hear about your experiences. Feel free to comment here and/or provide a link to your own blog posts about this topic.  look forward to connecting!

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Omens

Over the last few months, various creatures have crossed my path. A shift has been on the wind since August, the feeling that the subtle energies of the universe have transitioned into something and the slower heavier energies of the world just need to catch up. Big change seems like to order of the day.

In August it was butterflies, crossing my path from left to right, sometimes across green grass and most times across doors and thresholds. Perhaps my road is changing, maybe I am changing, or both. Whatever the case the butterflies are heralds of a sneaking metamorphosis and perhaps a move into something new. In early September it was a garden snake to my right slithering into the grass from the pavement. He hissed of transitions to come and the need to free my mind. All the snake lacked was a pair of fancy sunglasses and two colored pills a la Morpheus in The Matrix. This month, it was a bat flying overhead from left to right at dusk on a Sunday. A related message of rebirth – from darkness to light – seemed to be written on his wings.

Hail the heralds and messengers! May they be blessed this season!

Not So Subtle Differences?: Fylgja, Hamingja, and Animal Guides

In my spirit work, I encounter a host of entities. That host includes animal spirits as well as beings that are not animals but rather take animal form. The fylgja and hamingja are two strong examples of this from Norse/Scandinavian lore. The fylgja and hamingja are parts of the human soul with connections to luck and wyrd. At times, these soul parts can and do take human form. I have been struggling to understand whether or not the fylgja and hamingja are soul parts that merely masquerade as animals (i.e. are “humanoid” shapeshifting into animal forms) or if those soul parts actually share something of the essence of the animal (i.e. are “animal” shapeshifting into human form).

If the fylgja and hamingja are merely wearing masks then to what degree am I really guided by animal spirits? Are Barn Owl and Coyote truly spirits that walk with me or are my fylgja and hamingja simply playing at Barn Owlness and Coyoteness? Am I making any sense here?

Ok, in my cursory thinking about things, animal spirits are the spiritual essence of physical animals on this planet. Animal spirits possess metaphysical/spiritual abilities, some of which are tied to physical qualities (e.g., really great hearing might equal clairaudience) and others that are not (e.g., not many physical qualities scream spirit contact or mediumship, but nonetheless those are spiritual/metaphysical abilities possessed by Barn Owl). In the case of the fylgja and hamingja, do they share in/are they a part of that animal spirit or are they something else entirely with their own metaphysical/spiritual abilities? Thus far in my experience if my fylgja and hamingja have no connection to the animal spirits themselves, then they could have fooled me! They don’t seem to be wearing a mask or playing at anything. It seems to me that at least a piece of them (probably a significant piece) is animal/linked to/a part of/have their origins in the earthly animal spirits.

Alright, I am going to stop talking now because I am starting to feel…out there. Honestly, I am not even sure how much these questions matter on a practical level. It may be more philosophical than anything. Then again, I could see a few elements of my practice shifting depending on how I  answer these questions. For example, I would make a concerted effort to appeal to and build a relationship with the Barn Owl Animal Spirit in addition to (but as an entity distinct from) my work with my Barn Owl “soul part”. Same with Coyote. It could also have implications for how I communicate with and what I offer to my fylgja and hamingja.

I have so many questions and I think the answers have important implications, at least for me.

Barn Owl: Animal Spirit Guide

Barn Owls are amazing animal spirit guides. They bring a host of gifts to those with whom they choose to work. Ted Andrews writes at length about attributes of the Barn Owl in Animal Speak. He characterizes Barn Owl as a teacher of many mysteries, including stealth, clairvoyance, clairaudience, spirit contact, and mediumship. Andrews adds that Barn Owl can also help those with whom he works to establish a strong link between the heart and the mind. RavenDreamer also speaks at length about Barn Owl’s attributes, stating that those who have the Barn Owl as a guide are likely to have a polarizing effect on people, stimulating either interpersonal attraction or discord. RavenDreamer adds that Barn Owl people may have very different ways of doing things. Ravenari augments the conversation by commenting that Barn Owl folks tend to hear the truth across the worlds and also tell the truth, but like RavenDreamer, Ravenari asserts that people with Barn Owl as a guide can sometimes evoke social discord, either through their actions or simply how they are perceived by others.

In my experience with Barn Owl, Ted Andrews’ description rings the most true. In my work with Barn Owl, my heart-mind link has strengthened and he has been an incredible help in my attempts to make spirit contact, with both human (the dead) and non-human (e.g., alfar, wights, deities, etc) entities. With regard to the polarizing effect noted by RavenDreamer and Ravenari (at least to a degree), I have not seen polarization often but I would be lying if I said I have not seen it at all. Given my Libra tendencies, I do not enjoy having a polarizing effect; we tend to like harmony. The good news is that it does not happen often, but the two times in my life that it has manifested in a profound way, I can say that it has been highly transformative and I would not trade those experiences!

I have a lot more Work to do and I suspect that Barn Owl is in for a pound at this point (since he has already put in the penny). I look forward to the path ahead and learning more about Barn Owl as a guide and teacher who is similar to but also distinct from other Owl spirits.

Animal Guides: Two by Two

A few days back I had a fit of fancy and started thinking about the ways that the animal spirits with whom I work are similar to one another. During this thought project, I was amused to discover that they pair up rather than having any one trait common to all three of them, with a few exceptions, most of which are metaphysical. Here’s what I came up with: