Belated Solstice Confession
I had been looking forward to my three days of writing time between remodeling at home and trips to LA. At last, I was going to dive into the book I'm working on. I had a stack of research and a vague sense of next steps, but in spite of my sincere effort, the days lurched and drifted by without a stick of progress. In a moment of desperation I realized a divination was required to explore the nature of the logjam. My go-to is the I Ching, Karcher translation, which tilts toward the original mythic/shamanic roots of this oracle. And so, on Saturday, December 22, 2018, I asked:
How & where to open (as in point of entry) the book I am writing so that it meets the fullness of its potential for healing?
Hexagram 8 - Grouping/Calling & Gathering the Spirits
The phrases and ideas that leapt from the page were these: spirit kinship; mutual support; King Yu kills the demons and posts them at the edges of the land; he stabilized the swamp by making a great terrace for the spirits from the North and East, bringing them into the group; finally, the Ghost River flowed peacefully and became an ever-flowing source. The old character shows 2 people walking together or back to back – they look backward to see the future; pay attention to what supports you from below; connect your ideals and goals to an underlying support.
changing to: Hexagram 45 - Gathering Them/Great Works
The phrases and ideas that leapt from the page were: ancestor sacrifices; Source Beings who connect the living and the dead to do great things; making a great offering to the spirits of our time generates meaning and good fortune; the old figure shows 2 bundles of grass or grain, the sign for soldier or servant who presents them; by contemplating the place where people come together, you can look at the motives of Heaven Earth and the Myriad Beings
It's awkward at best to enter into a system of divination from another culture, let alone from another time. One has to trust one's intuition without making assumptions. If the question is clear and the mind open, that's bedrock to stand on in working with the story that appears. I have found that making offerings is a way to be in dialogue with the unseen world. I have found that offerings are a way to communicate, to test a hypothesis, to ask for guidance, to show gratitude, and to ritually uphold a commitment.
On Sunday the 23rd, I remembered that I had been clearly instructed to make an offering. I told myself that, since it was raining, I’d do it the day after. But I was leaving to drive down to LA, so I told myself I’d make the offering when I returned. That whole day I felt like hell, like I was being blocked or messed with, but didn't connect the obvious dots. On Monday morning I started my drive south via Highway 128, a uniquely beautiful country road that connects the Mendocino coast with Highway 101. The sun was shining, and it was a glorious day. I was in a patch of open fields between curves, going too fast, and I knew it. As I was thinking this, a handful of joyful birds came flitting across the road, and I hit the brakes a second too late. One of the birds hit the windshield, and I saw it drop to the road in my rearview mirror. By then I was screaming and sobbing. This is the third time I have had an experience of hitting a bird while driving, and each time has marked a significant moment.
I turned around to go back to the bird, hoping I wouldn’t find it, hoping I would, hoping it wasn’t smeared all over the asphalt by the truck that had just gone by. As I pulled over, I saw that it was intact, exactly as it had fallen after hitting my windshield.
I picked it up and looked at it, feeling its lightness. Later, I was able to identify it: a male spotted towhee. It is in the sparrow family, and its range includes the entire Western US Eastward into the Great Plains. Their feet have three forward-facing toes and one backward-facing toe, allowing them to easily perch on a branch.
The road was mercifully empty for some minutes. I told the bird how sorry I was, how devastated I felt that I had done this, that we humans have become lunatics careening around in metal boxes killing everything. It looked at me with an open, unseeing eye. The other eye was closed. The head dangled. I sang to it, offering a heart bridge for its soul to cross peacefully. I laid it on a pile of leaves in the lap of the nearest tree, a valley oak with multiple trunks - the sign of an ancestor tree in many parts of Africa. There were lichen-covered twigs in the leaf pile. The ground was muddy. I sprinkled corn meal around it, explaining that this was food for the journey, and tobacco gently on top, a blessing on behalf of the original people of this land where we now drive our cars. In my offering bag was a fragment of a prayer tie containing wisps of tobacco and ash that had been gifted to some friends, two profound writers, teachers and activists. It was within days of the anniversary of the husband's death three years before. The prayer tie had come from Cherokee friends of theirs who had stayed up all night praying for D's recovery when he was ill. As I held the prayer tie, I had the automatic thought, “Oh, I should save this for something special.” And then I remembered my manners and added that most precious prayer tie to the leaf pile beneath the bird.
Later, I re-read the divination and realized that I had been instructed to notify my close circle of fellow writers, and that we together needed to let the spirits and the Earth know that we had heard them; to notify them of our intentions. I saw that the offerings must be made by the community, on behalf of the community, including and especially the animals and the ancestors, to acknowledge and request their support and to spell out our commitment to the work we have been given to do. And I realized that the community of the moment was the four of us who would be gathering in LA on New Year's Eve. It was clear that the animals and the ancestors have come. They are with us. An oak tree supports as many as 80 species. Those of us that had gathered on the threshold of the new year are four trunks of a single oak. Our larger community is a forest.