Over the last couple of years I have been opening up my heart to see the influence of “guides” in my life. While the living Christ remains central to my relationship with the Source of life, within “Christ” I find many dimensions, facets, and mysteries that cannot be captured by a male human deity alone.
I still have no idea of what to call these guides. “Guardian Angels” are a Christian concept. They are an idea I find pervasive in the popular culture – and in people’s experience. Animal totems are indigenous to North American first peoples and common in earth cultures. New age mysticism talks about “spirit guides”.
From somewhere I got the idea, in the midst of transformation, that I wanted to create a shield to represent, I suppose, my growing awareness of how much help I needed to defend this new emerging Self.
I scrounged a large rusted steel manhole cover about three feet in diameter. It’s gotta weigh thirty kilos at least. It would take a Goliath to hold it with one arm. At Thanksgiving I hung it on the pine at the entrance to the 3 brothers retreat property.
Deciding how to decorate this shield took well over a year. Each colour, each animal, and where to place them, has changed and evolved as I work at the art of re-creating Self. On the shield I painted images to express the protection, strength, courage that I’ve always needed and depended on. I’ve just never before acknowledged, or named, or been so aware of their role in my becoming.
In some ways I am weaker – more vulnerable - than ever. I’ve lost my chain mail ego stumbling through the Shadowlands. I go into the day to day battles now naked (not literally) and so I need the help of these guides as never before.
These symbols have now also found their way onto the ceremonial robe I use to lead in Worship. They help to draw me out of ego and into Self so I can share from a wider, more universal, place of Spirit.
Two fish swim in a circle head to tail
This water symbol is about my predominant way of being. I swim in the waters of psyche beneath the surface of ordinary daily things. I search for meaning beneath - in the realm of heart and soul.
The fish appear to be opposed in yin yang counter balance. This is my tendency to play with opposing masculine/feminine, Christian/pagan, conservative/progressive ways of being. I tend to swim against the popular current – whatever current I find myself in.
But in fact the two fish are swimming in the same direction, completing the circle’s round path. Of course the circle, as the primary universal symbol of spirit and life is, at the heart, the centre, of who I am. And so it is at the centre of my shield. And yes, I am a Pisces. And no, I am not “into” Astrology.
Red Cat: based on the Scottish wildcat from my maternal MacDougall lineage crest. The motto is “touch not the cat ere a glove”. Translated as “don’t mess with us”. The Scottish wildcat is a long-legged grey striped feline. It swims and hunts fish. It is endangered by human invasion of its territory and inter-breeding with domestic cats.
It heads into the red romantic sunset of the west. West is the direction of the Quest. The hungry cat discovers adult identity and purpose through adventure and risk.
My “alleycat” alter-ego is about leaving the security of the status-quo and wandering the culture’s back alleys for soulfood. The nine lives of the cat corresponds with the Enneagram’s nine ways of being in the world. To integrate all nine ways is the path of wholeness.
White Bear: (a white black bear with a white cub)
After leaving my family home in Fenelon Falls I had a vivid dream of meeting these two creatures on a wooded road. The dream led me to an Algonquin elder named, you guessed it, White Bear.
White is the direction of North, of wisdom, of the elders, of death, of sleep, of a clean hard cold truth.
It is a symbol that reminds me of my sacred role as father. The wisdom of White Bear is to claim my inner wisdom and “never back down”. This corresponds to memories of youthful encounters with a mother bear and cub – and a few years later - a charging grizzly.
My heart has always risen to see the majestic slow flight of the great blue heron. It has an ancient pre-historic look and an unhurried Tai Chi kind of energy.
It serves in place of other large birds I might have chosen. The eagle is too American. Hawks are too small. Vultures are too hungry and opportunistic (bells ring there).
Known to hunt river shores and rest atop the tallest of white pines, the heron is appropriate for the 3 brothers’ river retreat. It is the God’s eye view of things. The long view and larger perspective we glimpse but cannot hold onto.
Yellow is the eastern direction of rebirth. From that high ground comes new insight to begin again. The abundance of ideas and opportunities “spring” up from this powerful creative energy - generated within winter’s wisdom of “letting go”.
Another river creature. The dragonfly’s life cycle is a powerful story of transformation and liberation. After seven years of bottom-feeding as a nymph, it sheds its skin and becomes the deadly winged hunter of humanity’s curse – the mosquito. It is about coming into one’s own – if only at the end of life. The dragon flies only for one summer’s season.
It is a Warrior symbol of strength, dexterity and resilience. The dragonfly can travel great distances, mate on wing, and hover above the flow of the river’s passing.
Green is the summer colour of growth. It is the energy of life and the childhood spirit of discovery, imagination and play. Without a return to this season, the adventure of the adult western quest cannot be sustained.
I’ve arranged these symbols according to the placement of the shield on the retreat property of 3 brothers falls. Where it hangs on a white pine at the entrance, the symbols are situated according to the directions they face on the property. It happens to put them in opposite directions to a compass’ face.
Contrary? On the Contrary. Welcome to my life.
I put this description out to you – fearing that I’ll be labeled a Christian quack, a Native wanna-be, or a New Age flight captain. Can you understand me when I say that it’s not that I “believe” in these things – because whether I “believe” in them or not – they are there. I’m simply expressing my experience of being part of something wider, deeper, more powerful, and wiser than my isolated mind alone can grasp.