I have practiced shamanic work since 1995. I am an urban shaman; I've lived my whole life in Chicago. I say only half-jokingly that I'm an indigenous shaman, because I was born and raised in Albany Park, only a couple miles from the location of Life Force Arts Center, which I founded. Despite the urban landscape, I have had some powerful encounters with nature in this area, such as the time when I was 10 years old and almost drowned in the Chicago River (in Horner Park, at Montrose and California). But that is another story.
How did such a city girl become a shaman? For me, it was through the arts of music and dance, which I have practiced since I was a child. Gradually, I realized that I was engaging in the arts as a form of spirituality and energy work, rather than with the Western values of art as entertainment or self-expression. My art created powerful energetic shifts for me as a performer, and also for my audiences.
I began studying energy work, and realized that I naturally had a shamanic approach to life and work. I developed my shamanic practice, and became both a teacher and healer in this tradition.
I have lived in downtown Chicago near Clark and Division for 16 years. I live in a high-rise building, but it has a wonderful garden, and is right next to a park. Birds sing there in the spring; a woodpecker once landed on my 12th floor windowsill and stared into my eyes for at least five minutes. Between 1995 and 2001, I composed 34 songs or chants to the seasons, honoring the natural world right there in my own backyard. These are on my CD, "Season Songs."
Beginning in 2002, I was guided to offer a series of Totem Animal Ceremonies to honor the energies of different animal spirits. Shamanism is an ancient practice, probably the very first spiritual practice that humankind developed all the way back when people lived in caves. Humans were completely immersed in nature at that time, needing to have a deep connection with the animals and plants around them in order to survive.
Thus, there is a long history of people communicating with the spirits of animals, and much lore about what each type of animal represents: what it signifies when you encounter the animal. For example, that it's bad luck for a black cat to cross your path, but good luck to carry a rabbit's foot. To find out more about animal guides, just google "totem animal."
The Totem Animal that I work with in February is Wolf. In Scots Gaelic, February was called Faoilleach, the Wolf-month, and in ancient Rome, the feast of Lupercalia (lupus means "wolf") was celebrated on February 15, honoring the she-wolf who nursed the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. So February and wolves have a deep connection. I have conducted a ceremony invoking Wolf every February since 2005.
It was late at night last Saturday, January 23, 2010, as I pulled into the parking lot in the back of my building. I sent out an energetic greeting and blessing to the grove of trees next to my building, when something suddenly caught my eye. It was a large animal running through the parking lot.
I looked again, and then again. "That's a coyote!" I exclaimed. The animal loped gracefully past my car. I believe it was a male, judging from the size - much larger than a German shepherd. He had beautiful gray and white fur, and did not look at all scrawny the way some coyotes do. Perhaps he had grown a thick winter coat, to protect himself from the Chicago winter? He ran out into the street, and fortunately was not hit by any cars.
I parked my car, and went to look for him, but he was long gone by that time. I felt blessed by this encounter. What a sign to receive!
Interestingly, the lore of animal spirit guides is that Coyote has a different significance than Wolf. Where Wolf is the Teacher, Coyote is the Trickster. Books on animal guides say that seeing Coyote means someone might try to trick you (or you might be contemplating tricking someone else!). It can also mean simply to enjoy being playful, rather than so serious.
But I find that the best information is to ask the animal him or herself what energy or message s/he brings. I look forward to doing so before or during the Wolf Ceremony!
Joan Forest Mage is honored to serve as a shamanic artist, teacher and healer in her hometown of Chicago, where she is founder and executive director of Life Force Arts Center. She will be leading Totem Animal Ceremony: Wolf at LFAC on Thursday February 4 at 7 PM.