Magic

Three Rhinos: Spirit Animals and Personal Power

The second rhinoceros appeared on the projection screen and the entire class collectively held their breath. Eyes shut tight, it knelt in the grass as several disembodied hands reached down to rest on its face, bright woven bangles shocking against gray flesh. I put down my coffee, afraid I would choke if I started to weep.

“A remarkable photograph, eh?” Our instructor paused at the slide, noticing our intense reaction to this particular image. When class meets at 9AM on a Friday, an intense reaction is a rare thing. We were assured the rhino was all right, rescued after a run-in with poachers–a lucky rhino in what was usually a tragic situation. The next slide brought us back to the usual street scenes and portraits. But after a half-dozen more had passed another rhino invaded the frame, this time eye-to-eye with Salvador Dali. Now I knew that something was up.

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Dali with Rhinoceros, Halsman 1956

 

Before the lecture was over, I had seen at least four rhinoceroses in various forms–sculptures, drawings, actual animals. While some could say that my instructor clearly had rhino on the mind while putting slides together, that didn’t change the fact that the rhino is my spirit animal and I was supposed to be hearing something.

Animal totems have a fairly wide appeal, regardless of spiritual beliefs or backgrounds–they can be a tool to embody strength, action, wisdom, or joy, or a reminder to listen to your higher powers. Almost everyone I’ve known can say that they have a personal connection to some animal symbol, in some way. But it’s often far more complex than simply a favourite animal or beloved pet speaking from your memories. I was a teenager when a friend and I laid down on the thin boucle carpet in a minuscule shop near my town, breathing deeply of the fragrant smoke wafting through the room as we prepared to journey into Spirit. We were both open-minded, having grown up in rather untraditional faiths, but we remained skeptical of what would come next: we were going to meet our spirit animals on their own turf. The circle leader beat a steady rhythm on his drum, focussing our attention on the hypnotic beat as he set us off. At first, it was all me–I was in complete control as I pictured myself in the peaceful stream I had waded through that spring, remembering the gentle trickling of the water over rocks and the cool rush against my skin. I pushed aside stones in the banks to find the opening that would lead me into Spirit, and I crawled through, following the dark path downwards. At this rate, my spirit animal was going to be a lizard, or a crow, or any other number of animals I felt “suited” me because I was dictating what happened. A fox appeared in the dark stone cavern before me.

And then something curious happened: I asked whether it was my spirit animal, and it met my eye, shook its small orange head, and said, “No.” I was a little startled. I hadn’t anticipated meeting animals that weren’t my spirit animal at all. A lizard scuttled across the wall of the cavern, hesitating as he saw me. “Are you my spirit animal?” –and with another quick no, he disappeared from sight. Slivers of light caught the iridescence of feathers as a peacock fanned and again I posed my question. “No,” he said, dropping his tail and retreating into darkness, leaving a single feather behind. I was getting confused and worried–what if I didn’t find my spirit animal during the journey? What if I didn’t even have a spirit animal? The vision had gotten away from me completely–things were happening entirely on their own. Several more animals came and went, some only laughing at my question, others sympathetically shaking their heads before leaving me alone again. Then, I came to another space, a room carved out of the rock separately from the cavern at large. Inside was a massive white rhinoceros, glowing softly in the darkness. His impossibly black eyes followed me as I crossed the threshold. “Are you my spirit animal?” I asked breathlessly, and received only a purposeful nod in return. I ran my hands over his massive head, feeling the rugged texture of his skin, the precious stone of his horn. I wove a crown of jane magnolias and dogwoods to place over his ears and danced around him like a maypole. Rhino never moved out of place, tacitly approving my actions with flicking ears and swishing tail.

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The drum beat changed, quickening ever-so-slightly, little by little. It was our call out. I wrapped my arms around Rhino’s massive head, resting my cheek against the cool length of his horn as we said our unspoken goodbyes and I thanked him for his guidance. I backed out of the chamber, through the cavern, ascended the passage, and then out of the stream. When I opened my eyes, I was in the smokey little shop, keenly aware of the hard floor below me and the growing tickle behind my throat. Through the years to follow, Rhino has been a consistent symbol in my life. He becomes a reminder of myself and a suggestion of power. He is often the “I can,” or the “I should” when I’m unsure or unwilling. I don’t always know what he’s telling me, but I know when he presents himself that I need to listen up. Lately, things have been in flux, rapidly changing as I discover new and interesting things about myself and the world around me–three rhinoceroses in one day can’t be a coincidence.

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Writing

Transformation, Rebirth, and Brood II

I believe in the power of Names. In their primary function of identifiers, they’re not only used to give commands but also offer insight into the thing being named. When I tell people the name of my blog (or my email address, or Twitter handle, or Instagram), they inevitably ask, “Why cicadas?” The answer is usually more than they bargained for because as much as I believe in names, I also believe in symbols–and the cicada is a powerful symbol.

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When I registered my domain, QueenCicada was simply the screen name I had been using at that point. My blog was originally titled “Metamorphosis,” tying in with my transformative theme and insect infatuation. When I decided to rebrand, I wasn’t sure anyone would understand the tie or that it would turn off potential readers–but the truth is, the cicada is a symbol of beauty and creativity too. Cicadas turn up in a fascinating myth mentioned by Plato in “Phaedrus.” According to the heartbreakingly beautiful story, cicadas were originally human beings devoted to the Muses, classic Greek personifications of the arts. They sang their love for so long and with such depth of emotion that they couldn’t stop to eat or drink, never even realizing they had died. The Muses rewarded them by transforming them into creatures that neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, able to sing and dance from the moment they are born until the moment they die. Humans enchanted by their music clearly recognize beauty in life, more susceptible to the call of the Muses than those than continue on with their lives, ignoring the insects’ song. But that’s not entirely where my cicada inspiration came from.

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When I’m in need of guidance, I often seek out a model or ideal. I’ve never been one to look to heroes or idols like celebrities as role models, so while some people aspire to the beauty of Marilyn Monroe or the charm of Audrey Hepburn, I’ve found my inspiration in more primal sources. As a child, I saw the cheetah as a guide to reconcile playfulness with grace, while I later looked to the turtle to develop a strong sense of home while learning to reach out and explore the world before me. I turned to certain animals at certain times based on what I knew of their nature and life cycle, trying to incorporate their ancient wisdom into my daily life. But the cicada came to me in a very different manner.

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Years ago, the tea shop I worked in got a ceramic tea pot in from China. It was a delicate basket-weave design, topped with a perfectly sculpted cicada on the lid. I was positively taken with it. Each day I worked, I thought about the insect on top, why it would be chosen to adorn something people would put on their table and drink tea from–in our Western society, insects are usually considered unclean and just generally icky. What little I knew about cicadas didn’t seem to clarify anything: I knew they were periodic, and shed their skins to transform their shape much like butterflies from their cocoons. What I learned was that they’ve been powerful symbols of immortality and life after death in the East. Their lifespans are remarkably long for an insect, and the shedding of their nymph skins is symbolic of a triumph over death, of life beginning again as one stage ends. It’s an incredibly powerful idea, and the more I thought about it, the more it moved me. My life, like so many others’, has been cyclical.When things seem to be incredibly difficult and impossible to move past, I’m often too frustrated and exhausted to recognize the valuable experiences that I ultimately take away.  It’s only looking back that I realize what an important period of growth I had completed and can experience the amazing rebirth as a result. I firmly believe the universe has a way of wiping the record clean when we absolutely need it: we can be reborn into new cycles.

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This week has been incredibly emotional for me: my area is beginning to see the first wave of Brood II. Just days ago, I watched as dozens of cicada nymphs emerged from the ground, perching on trees, plants, decks, walls, tables, or street signs to shed their skins and take to the air. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this event coincides what I’m sure is going to be a summer of self-discovery for me, one of my greatest periods of rebirth yet. Each one of those tiny nymphs represents a hope or dream I have for my future: some will tear through their skins and emerge mature and complete, while others will be trampled before they have chance, experience snags, or form improperly. My heart breaks as I see mangled wings, missing legs, blinded eyes, but I know that nature isn’t always kind and trust that it’s part of the universal plan. As long as some of those live on to give new life, to inspire future hopes and dreams, they’ve succeeded. It’s a standard I also aspire to.

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Luna, Metamorphosis

Chrysalis

It’s been a hard year. Everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed that 2012 was a difficult year. I live in an area that was greatly affected by Superstorm Sandy, much of which is still struggling to rebuild, both physically and emotionally. While my home was not greatly damaged, I feel like I lost a large portion of my strength in that storm and every day I pick up a few more pieces. Prior to Sandy, though, I battled illness, lost a dear friend, and found myself facing some of my deepest fears. I feel like every last defense I had was broken down, leaving me completely exposed and vulnerable. And I know I’m not the only one who felt this way.

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Dear readers, 2012 has been a hard year. It’s okay to admit it, and it’s okay to stop fighting. Your energy is better used to transform the negative emotions, the pain, the feelings of weakness and uselessness into lessons learned–lessons about yourself, your coping mechanisms, your behavioral patterns, your surroundings. Reflect on those lessons and turn them into something useful, something you can apply to future situations and personal growth. You’ve made it this far: despite what you feel, you are very strong, and this will only make you stronger.

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2013 is hours away. With each passing moment, I’m more and more excited to welcome it. Things are all ready looking up: I write this under the supervision of a scaly new friend who reminds me every day of simple pleasures and the rewards of caring for another living creature. Khepri reminds me to cherish every moment spent with loved ones, because that opportunity is not always certain. Even the simplest moments–car rides, dinners, lounging, shopping–can become beautiful memories.

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Expect changes in this space. Changes to content, graphics, titles, everything. It’s been on my mind for a while, but I felt it too big an undertaking to start on while I was so emotionally unequipped to handle anything. But 2013 is rising, and it feels soothing. Hang in there. I will be.

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Impressions

Dewlap Valentine: a Reptilian Love Story

I was raised by animals. Don’t get me wrong, I had great parents, but for as long as I can remember I’ve been surrounded by animals of all kinds: cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, hamsters, frogs, turtles… My family and I have worked in rescue for years and opened our hearts and home to countless animal companions, some of whom have left for forever homes and some of whom have made their forever homes within our walls. I’ve learned something from each of them and loved every one.

Bob hugs in the hospital

Bob hugs in the hospital

Bob came to me as a baby barely longer than my little finger. His eyes were eager, his feet quick, and his scales impossibly green. He had a calcium deficiency that required a sweet-smelling syrup spoon-fed to him with each leafy meal for the first two years of his life and left him a little more sluggish than most iguanas his age, but it gave us even more quality time together. As he grew, he would sit on my shoulder while I watched television or surfed the internet; we sat together on the back porch in the hot summers; he even maintained a live journal in his younger days–many of the entries read “alkjdskllllllllllllll,” but he still acquired more friends than he had long, spindly toes.

Bob loves dinner

Bob with a favourite meal

We knew each other well: Bob knew when I got home from school or work, crawling off his Throne of Rocks to wait by the food bowl while I chopped up leafy greens–collard, mustard, dandelions–along with a finely-chopped strawberry or melon, all sprinkled with vitamin and mineral powders. His golden eyes would go wide, ringed pupils dilating as he stared down the bowl before his sticky pink tongue would dart out to taste the day’s offering. His preferences were red and yellow foods: berries, yams, squash, but above all bananas. Simply seeing a banana on the counter beyond his enclosure could send him into a fit, shaking his head, paddling at the tank, trying to lunge open-mouthed on it despite the glass between them. Yellow shopping bags, purses, flowers, and knick-knacks had the same effect.

Bob's insides and a bladder stone

Bob’s x-ray and removed bladder stone

It was the day before Easter when I noticed something was wrong. He was drinking excessively, moving as little as possible, drooling. My family vet had never seen anything like the x-ray image we took and we were referred to an emergency specialist who instantly identified it as the largest bladder stone he had ever seen. He went into surgery the next morning and had the stone successfully removed. A few weeks later, however, he suffered some complications of his condition and passed away at the emergency vet. I was fortunate enough to visit with him the night before he passed away, and I know he received nothing but love and care from the wonderful staff. I was heartbroken. He had fought so hard and come so far and even the doctor had expected him to fully recover. At that time, I was working towards my state board exams and graduation and I felt as if Bob had set the ultimate example for me: he just kept going.

Bob makes a swan friend

Bob makes a swan friend in the hospital

I wanted to hang on Bob and his determined survival instinct desperately. While he will forever live on in my heart, I needed a physical memento. Enter Darling Clandestine. Owner Evonne knows what it means to love a lizard or two, and she worked tirelessly with me to create a blend I know Bob would have loved, appropriately named Dewlap Valentine. In its glimmering green bottle, it smells like ripe, fresh strawberries and yellow banana tossed with dark leafy greens. It’s bright, it’s fresh, it’s delicious. But applied to the skin, Dewlap Valentine comes to life. The greens grow darker, the fruit goes riper, and something beautifully animal comes through. It becomes musky, salty, organic-smelling, like bright green noses and spiny toes and stripy bellies, all smeared with fresh fruits and leaves. It is one of the most complex scents I’ve ever smelled.

Dewlap Valentine by Darling Clandestine

photo from Darling Clandestine

They say scent is one of the most powerful triggers of memory, and Dewlap Valentine is all of Bob’s scent-memories bottled. I know he would be proud to have inspired this scent–he’s even smiling on the bottle. I can’t thank Evonne enough for creating this wonderful scent and making it available to her customers. It touches my heart to think that people might wear this perfume and look at the little green bottle bearing Bob’s grin and smile themselves, imagining all the love and warmth that this cold-blooded companion contributed during his lifetime. I know I do every time I put it on.

 

(originally published on Bella Cantarella)

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Olive Interlude

Metamorphosis 143.0 – the Little Lizard with the Big Stone

If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you’ll know that I mostly blog about beauty products and style. Rarely does any bit of my personal life make it into this blog–I’m a fairly private person by nature and I think it’s important to separate my personal and my professional lives. But every once in a  while, an event so remarkable occurs that it affects everything.

Meet Bob. Bob is a green iguana that I got when he was about the size of his own head. He’s been a member of my family for eleven years, and I love him dearly. On Saturday morning during frantic holiday cleaning, I noticed Bob didn’t look well. He was laying head-first in his water bowl, gulping down mouthful after mouthful. His eyes looked sunken and his scales were greyed. The bowl of collard greens I had given him the night before sat untouched. To coax him into eating, I cut up a banana (his favourite) and some strawberries: he sniffed at them and promptly turned away, when I noticed his back legs appeared to be dragging.

I took him to the vet without a second thought. When the vet felt an irregularity in his abdomen, Bob was swept away for an X-ray. What they found was astonishing.

We couldn’t tell from the image whether the mass was attached to an organ or had caused damage of any kind, so we were unsure of how to proceed. I took the scans to the 24-hour emergency vet and waited to see the exotics specialist.

Luckily, he knew exactly what was wrong: Bob had a massive bladder stone. He was confident it could be removed but we wouldn’t know what sort of damage we would be dealing with until it was out. With teary eyes and a heavy heart I left my scaly green baby at the vet for fluids and antibiotics and waited for news.

I got the call on Sunday afternoon that Bob was out of surgery and doing well. No internal damage was caused and he was expected to make a full recovery. But the doctor couldn’t help but mention how shocked he was by the stone. It filled his entire bladder and was covered in nodules that were likely causing more discomfort than originally suspected. Needless to say, I feel awful that I didn’t notice this sooner. Reptiles notoriously don’t exhibit symptoms until things are very bad, but as a pet owner, it’s hard not to blame yourself for being negligent.

The next day, assured he was doing well and able to return home, I went to pick him up. I was greeted in the lobby by the exotics tech. “Hold out your hand and close your eyes,” he told me. This is what I received:

This grew inside my iguana. From the x-rays, I had anticipated something monstrous but this was beyond anything I had imagined. It was dense, irregularly shaped, and shockingly heavy. The animal hospital regularly removes bladder stones from all animals, many far larger than my (relatively small) iguana, but this was the largest stone they had ever removed. Some of the nodules are as big as stones removed from cats and dogs.

In case you thought my hands were just really small, here is the stone next to a quarter. It weighed in at around a third of a pound. While I had asked to keep the stone for my collection of odd and slightly morbid things, the staff had hoped to add it to their Museum of Things Retrieved from Animals. When I saw their jar of bladder stones, I felt an odd swell of pride knowing that Bob would go down in history as the Little Lizard with the Big Stone and donated it to their exhibit. The tech said Bob would get his picture on the wall next to it and promised to e-mail me the shot the doctor had taken after surgery.

Bob is home now, and while he’s still lethargic from the anesthesia (reptilian metabolism is so slow that it can remain in the system for days), he’s all ready looking better. His back legs seem stronger than ever, and he’s moving with more agility than I’ve seen in a very long time.

Needless to say, this is why I have not written about lipstick or clothing or shoes or any of my regular material these last few days. I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule shortly. Thanks for understanding.

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Reviews

Metamorphosis 122.0 – Astonishing Evolution: more from Linnaeus Cosmetics

Back in February, I reviewed a fairly new company with a great concept: makeup inspired by some of nature’s most unique and beautiful creatures. Since my initial purchase, the company has grown immensely with collections based on birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, even insects. Earlier in the year, I placed an order for some of these new colours but never got a chance to post them before the shop closed. But with Shopping’s High Holy Day upon us, Marin is selling off her remaining stock of shadow in order to make room for bigger and better things in the new year. It’s going to be an amazing sale on some truly amazing colours!

Despite the company’s growth, everything is still so incredibly personalized that it’s almost hard to take in all the little details. As usual, everything arrived in a hand-stamped muslin bag and tied with raffia.

If I recall, Linnaeus was moving away from the hand-stamped lids and towards the printed labels when I ordered. I personally think both are cute, but I think the labels really bring the branding together. All shadows were heat-sealed and sealed with paper sifter stickers. From the top right: Anomaly, Aberrant, Myth, Scuttle, Vex, Cyranose, Alacritous

Cyranose and Alacritous are two of four shadows from the Ruby Throated Hummingbird collection. Cyranose is a deep, forest-y green with sparkling green glitter, where Alacritous is a pink-toned red with sparkling red glitter. In the jars, these both look a little dusty but they truly come to life on the skin. Together, they perfectly capture the shimmering, scale-like feathers of the male hummingbird.

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Above, Cyranose and Alacritous are swatched over Urban Decay Primer Potion (top), bare skin (middle), and MAC Painterly (bottom). Because of the amount of glitter in these shadows, it is absolutely imperative that you use a sticky base. Not only does the glitter stay put, but the colours are too stunning for words:

 

Above, Cyranose and Alacritous are swatched over Darling Girl’s Glitter Glue. You can see how it not only keeps the glitter in place, but also really pops the base colour. These two are absolutely breathtaking colours, and must-haves for lovers of glitter and colour alike.

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The Rose Chafer is the first insect to have a Linnaeus collection, and despite being the bane of rose-gardeners, they are indeed worthy specimens. I’m a sucker for metallic beetle-back shades, so there was no way I was leaving the site without these greens in my cart.

Scuttle is a mossy gold-toned green, reminiscent of the highlights on the beetle’s back. Vex is a shimmering green-turquoise, almost blue depending on the light.

Scuttle and Vex are swatched above over Urban Decay Primer Potion (top), bare skin (middle), MAC Painterly (bottom). These are intensely pigmented regardless of what primer is used, and you can see the sparkle adheres to all primers just as well.

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I have a thing for monotremes–who doesn’t? Whether they’re short-beaked or long-beaked, the echidna is an adorable mash-up of porcupine, ant-eater, and kiwi. When Marin asked me what animal I’d like to see a collection based on, I never dreamed she would take my echidna suggestion seriously. How wrong I was! Marin generously gifted me these echidna shadows, and I am thrilled to have them in my collection.

Aberrant is an almost metallic, soft beige, Myth is a shimmering chocolate brown, and Anomaly is a multi-toned taupe-grey shimmer. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I really don’t do neutrals. But like the echidna, these neutrals are so full of surprises that they deserve their own order.

Aberrant, Myth, and Anomaly swatched above over Urban Decay Primer Potion (top), bare skin (middle), and MAC Painterly (bottom). Aberrant is a perfect my-lid-but-better shade for me. It’s a beautiful peach-toned beige that makes a fantastic base for other shadows as well as a subtle blender. Myth is a deep, warm brown with gold and white sparkles. This can be either as intense as the swatch above or blended out to a much softer shade. Anomaly is not quite brown, not quite grey, but sort of a cool-toned, dark taupe with metallic sparkles. When I use these three together, Anomaly is usually my crease shade since it can really pop the contour of the eye and blend out into a smokey taper. (No one said neutrals couldn’t be dramatic, right?)

I also received samples of Branchial, from the Axolotl collection, and Swoop, from the Ruby Throated Hummingbird collection. Branchial is a bright red-toned pink with silver sparkles, while Swoop is a velvety moss green.

Branchial and Swoop swatched over Urban Decay Primer Potion (top), bare skin (middle), and MAC Painterly (bottom). The sparkle in Branchial is far more intense on the skin as it is in the bag, so I tried it over Darling Girl’s Glitter Glue to see how it might look.

Not only does the silver sparkle look even better over the super-sticky base, but the base shade looks even brighter.

While Linnaeus Cosmetics is still currently closed, you can purchase stock shadows beginning the 25th. Make sure you grab some of these before they’re gone! I know Marin will be putting out great things next year, but can you really wait until then?

Stay tuned this week–I have a big monotreme-themed surprise for my readers!

Love you to the Moon and Back,

Luna Valentine

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