The Magpie Spirit: Collecting Experiences and Speaking Truth

Children are completely genuine. They live entirely by feeling, experiencing each second as something new and precious. There’s nothing calculated or controlled, nothing born out of expectation or fear. Anxieties and insecurities haven’t infected them yet; those are parasites we pick up along the way to adulthood, passed along as we touch the dead dreams and aspirations of those who came before us.
I have always been sensitive to the world around me. My empathy was never dulled by experience, I simply grew better at hiding it. Unfortunately, this also means I collected fears and worries, plucking them from other people as I learned what was acceptable, what was not. We all want to be talented, capable, beautiful, loved, and we pursue those adjectives with dogged determination, comparing ourselves to everyone else vying for the title. We all want to measure up.
But it’s a draining hunt for validation, and we lose the emotional energy it takes to be any one of those things. Worse yet, we lose sight of what and who we really are.
I have not spoken my truth. My adult life has been defined by ideals, standards I’ve set for myself, models posed by other people. In the last few weeks, I’ve been forced to confront the fact that I’ve been horribly dishonest with myself. There are a lot of things I am not, and will never be, and have tried so hard for so long to become.
I am not quiet, I am not complacent. I am not insincere, I am not calculated.
But there are a lot of things I am and have not embraced. There are so many things inherent in our natures that we push aside as we’re told they’re not conducive to the adult world. We live according to the fears and failings of those before us. And it exhausts me.
I am sensitive. I feel everything. I cry for people I’ve never met and animals I haven’t seen because they don’t understand the cruelty they face. My throat gets tight when I meet elderly couples who have lived their lives side by side, and I tear up reading about couples in love. I believe there’s a reason in everything but still lament the hard lessons learned. With every move I make, I feel the magnetic pull of the universe around me, the hum and buzz of frenetic energy, the overwhelming collective emotion and experience that unites us. I believe in magic, the push and pull of energy that shapes our fates, brings us closer, drives us apart.
I see beauty in dark places. I understand the awesome attraction of the sublime, the terrifying nature of ecstasy. I know that life is a cycle, that history repeats if we do not learn the lessons it offers. I see few absolutes in the world, and opposites are rarely incompatible.
I rarely carry an umbrella because I believe we’re meant to feel the rain. I’m not a good dancer but I can’t help being moved by music, physically and emotionally. I want to dance in the street and laugh until my lungs can’t take it and kiss the words from another person’s mouth and lose myself in the words it takes to appreciate a moment. I relish the freedom of interstate driving at night and the spontaneity of 24-hour diners. I think the strongest communications take place without names, that we connect at a soul level without a need to identify. I believe we are given only what we can handle, but feel that we manifest much of our lives according to our fears and desires.
I do not want to continue to manifest fear. I will not be ruled by anxiety and panic. I am learning that I am enough, that everything I need is all ready inside of me, and that can be shared but never stolen. Energy is infectious, and I want to transmit strength and optimism.
We are born with infinite potential, the ability to bend and shape ourselves into anything we want. We have wings to spread and soar, or shade and shelter–but we also clip those feathers, condemn ourselves to a flightless existence. But the thing with feathers is they can grow back. We’ve merely cut them, trimmed them into uselessness, decoration. They still exist under our skin, ready to pin through out pores, to grow back full and fantastic. With each budding plume, we regrow potential. As we leave them to unfurl, we reclaim some of the power we relinquished when we were told it wasn’t ours to have. But we are not owned by anyone, and we were born to break free. I’m beginning to allow my feathers to grow back, resisting the urge to pluck them out as they pin, trying to ignore the pain as they burst through the skin. Pain is a necessary part of growth, and I’m learning that it’s okay to reach out to others when it feels unbearable: chances are, they’ve experienced it too. But the remarkable part of the budding feathers we grow is that other’s see them. Others are inspired by our struggles and triumphs and begin to grow their feathers, too. Once, we were rare birds, nearly extinct, completely transformed by expectations–but now the world sees more and more of us. We flock, drawn towards the power and freedom of others. Do not be afraid to let yourself plume. Grow your feathers, spread your wings, and make the world colourful with your splendour. Rest assured, I’ll be doing the same thing right here.

Glamour for Personal Power: Charmed Lipstick Spell for Manifestation

Charmed Lipstick
I parked my car in the far reaches of the mall lot because I could no longer see through the tears to drive. It was 2012 and my life was a very different place—everything and everyone around me seemed to be falling apart. My family was experiencing the loss of my grandfather, my mother had been away dealing with the situation, my relationship was at a serious crossroads, and my career was painfully unfulfilling. In the course of six months, my life had turned upside-down and I couldn’t understand why. I was stuck in the fog, blinded by what I could only see as misfortune, and I felt completely powerless.
But I always believed in magic, and like so many others, I fell back on my faith to get myself through the crisis. I balled up the sleeve of my sweater, swiped the mascara tears off my face, and got out of the car.
When I was little, I had gruesome night terrors. Most of the time, I was too afraid to even sleep, cowering under the blankets until I saw the light break through the blinds. Once the light began to grow, I could safely run down the hall, jump into bed with my parents and sleep comfortably. One night, my mother brought in a set of white-and-pink polka dot printed sheets and began to make up the bed. “These,” she told me very seriously, “are magic sheets. As long as they’re on the bed, you can only have good dreams. Nothing can hurt you, nothing scary can see you, and you can sleep without worrying about monsters.” And I believed her—it worked. Whether my mother charmed the sheets themselves or simply knew that setting the intention would be enough for five-year-old me to work the magic on my own, I don’t know, but in 2012 I felt it was time for another enchantment to propel me forward.
  Urban Decay Vice Lipstick in Junkie
I marched into Sephora, purchased the most outrageous lipstick I could find, and took it home to work some magic. I anointed it with oil, set it on my altar while I burned candles, ran it through the smoke of incense, surrounded it with crystals, all the while telling the Universe (and consequently myself) that as long as I wore that lipstick, I would never have a bad day. The next day, when I pulled it off the altar and applied it generously, I had the best day I’d had in a very long time. Every day afterwards, as long as I wore that lipstick, the tensions and traumas I’d experienced grew farther and farther away. I moved forward.
Since then, I’ve charmed a number of objects for assorted reasons. I performed a similar ritual with a bottle of perfume to secure a job I desperately wanted, and after wearing it to the interview received a call back less than three days after. This summer, I found myself at another impasse. I charmed another lipstick, even more outrageous than the last, and wore it near daily. That lipstick stained glasses across the country, kissed tombs and shrines in New Orleans, and smeared on handkerchiefs while I worked through the emotions and searched for the magic that would put my life back together. And before the summer was over, things turned around.
I’m not saying that lipstick can fix a life. Lipstick can’t bring back the dead or win the lottery. But lipstick can be a bold reminder of our personal power. It can become a signature, a personal power object that we use to remind ourselves of our inner and outer beauty, our natural magnetism. We can use it like a lightning rod to amplify our energy, or project an image of the person we’re trying to embody. Lipstick can be a compelling glamour

Below is an outline of the ritual I use to charm objects like this. Feel free to adapt it to your needs, use the tools you feel speak to your purpose, do as much or as little as you feel you should. Unlike “High” Ritual Magic, witchcraft is rarely by the book. For me, spell craft has always been like prayer—everyone does it differently, for different purposes, to different ends.

Charmed Lipstick Ritual Supplies


For this ritual, I recommend using a candle in a color that corresponds with your intention, a selection of crystals to raise energy, essential oils or blends for attraction, offertory incense, and a blend of herbs or flowers specific to your intention. You can focus simply on attracting positive energy and events, building towards your purpose, or specify that you want to enhance your sexual attraction or draw prosperity. Additionally, I recommend the absolute most outrageous lipstick you can tolerate—this summer, I used Urban Decay’s Junkie, a sparkling reptilian green. I’m sure this would work with a more demure daily-wear shade but I can guarantee you there’s nothing like a few swipes of rainbow-colored lipstick to make you feel like a totally badass witch, ready to conquer the world.


I always begin by cleansing my space. For me, this involves burning sage and wafting the smoke into each corner of the space, and cleaning my instruments with sea salt. You may choose to take a bath with salt and herbs, to dress in something clean that makes you feel powerful. Whatever helps you raise your energy and get into the headspace of manifesting magic.
Charmed Lipstick Ritual
Take your herbs and scatter them around the space. For this ritual, I used rose petals collected from bouquets I’ve been given, but I’ve worked with herbs and flowers purchased specifically from magical suppliers and corner bodegas as well. Take the candle and hold it between your hands. Feel it grow warm as it absorbs your body heat, and understand that it is also absorbing your energy. Focus on your intention. See yourself with whatever you desire: imagine the devastating Instagram snap you’re going to take, envision yourself taking the hand of the partner you’re trying to draw, picture yourself writing that rent check and not worrying about whether it will clear or how you’ll buy groceries afterwards. With this still in your mind’s eye, take your chosen oil and anoint yourself: start with your wrists, drawing lines inwards towards your body, willing what you want to be pulled in towards you. Draw a line up your breastbone, towards your head, touch it to your third eye and see how much more vivid your vision becomes. Then, anoint your candle, holding it with the wick away from your body and drawing the line from wick to base. Tell the Universe that as it burns down, your goal will grow closer and closer towards you.
Place the candle in a central position on the altar and light it, knowing that as the flame burns, your intention solidifies. Begin the place your crystals. I used rose quartz, green aventurine, pink moonstone, and pink tourmaline, all stones sacred to Venus and used to draw luck and love from within and without. Arrange them in a way that feels natural, using your hands to sense the individual vibrations. Once your crystals are in place, light your incense and waft the smoke around the space, focussing on your intention as you inhale the fragrance. Feel the magic growing denser as the air grows thicker around you.
Now, pick up your lipstick. Hold it between your hands like the candle. Feel it grow warm. Feel the energy buzzing around you and pull it into you—breathe it into your lungs and then push it through your chest, down your arms, and into your hands. Allow the lipstick to absorb that energy and know that each time you apply it, you’ll be absorbing it too. Pack in as much energy as you can. Then, take your oil and anoint the lipstick, starting at the top and drawing the line towards you, towards the bottom of the tube. Know that as the tube runs out, you’ve absorbed more and more of that magic. You don’t need to finish it to manifest your goal, but with each application, you grow closer and closer.
Charmed Lipstick Ritual
Place the lipstick on your altar. You may choose to place it on a bed of crystals or sprinkle your herbal blend over it. You might want to meditate on the candle flame or incense smoke, but don’t linger too long. Your intention has been set, your energy has begun to manifest, and now you leave it in the hands of the Universe to bring you closer. Don’t obsess. Walk away. Go to bed, paint your nails, eat cake, or drink some wine. Do something for yourself. In the morning, take the remaining herbs, the candle wax, the dust from the incense, and collect it in one place. You can choose to hold onto the remnants until your manifestation is complete, or dispose of them immediately. I usually bury my materials and trust that as they break down, they release more energy towards my cause.
Obviously, practice caution with your materials. Don’t abandon open flames, and don’t bury, burn, or release into the water any harmful chemicals or poisons that can hurt wild flora or fauna. You’re working in harmony with the Universe.
That’s it. Your lipstick is now fully charged, and possibly one of the most powerful objects in your magical arsenal. Wear it proudly, knowing that each swipe not only brings you one step closer to your goal, but also releases courage to reach for what you want, assurance that you deserve your best life, and understanding that you are so, so much more powerful than you might believe.
Charmed Lipstick

Refresh and Renew: June Tarot CardCast

It’s been retrograde city over the last few months—with a whole pack of planets on the Rx (Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn to name only a few of the big ones), it’s no surprise that things haven’t exactly gone according the plan lately. That includes last month’s tarot forecast. Don’t worry, though: Mercury went direct last weekend and Mars is back on track before this month is out. We still have a while before powerhouse Jupiter gets with the program, but by then our planetary woes should be long behind us!

June CardCast

In the meantime, we’ve got a lot to celebrate—the weather has finally broken, summer is well on its way, and with it come all of the fun-in-the-sun plans we’ve missed for the last eight months. It’s time for block parties, barbecues, and picnics in the park—it’s time to recharge your batteries and detox all those winter worries. Friends might be coming out of the woodwork, but this is a perfect time to spend some quality time with You, especially if you’ve neglected your own base needs in the frantic energy of the last few months. Take yourself on a date. Go for some long walks on the beach, buy yourself a piña colada, reconnect with yourself.

This would also be a great time to have a heart-to-heart with yourself and forgive all the things you’ve been blaming yourself for lately: not everything is your fault. There’s a difference between taking responsibility and berating yourself. If things haven’t worked out, examine the situations as they transpired and really think about what went wrong. Consider them missed opportunities instead of failures: the growth you’ll achieve by learning from this will be more valuable in the long run.

June CardCast

Use this month to really balance your energies—have fun, lighten your load, and go forward with the understanding that you’re only human. You adapt and evolve based on the challenges you’re presented with. Where were you at this time last year? Where were you even six months ago—how long ago does that feel? You may not have always been in control, and you may not have made all the right choices, but look how far you’ve come. Six months from now, you’ll be somewhere entirely new all over again, with new things to celebrate and new challenges to face.


Hothouse Blossoms: your April Tarot CardCast

Most months, when I pull my tarot cards, I instantly understand the message at hand. This month, however, wasn’t as clear. I pulled one, two, three cards–they weren’t entirely disparate, they weren’t in conflict, but something felt “off.” For a moment, I doubted my intuition: there was something here that I wasn’t seeing, something overlooked. I had to ruminate on the reading for a few days.

And then, in the small hours of the morning some 50-plus hours after the cards had been pulled, it hit me. I had overlooked something–that was the point. We all have.
April Tarot CardCast
As spring unfolds, the fever sets in. We all want to shed our winter layers, cast off our icy attitudes and frosty ways of being. We want to take part in the abundance we see coming in around us. We watch flowers bloom, trees bud, animals awaken and we want that newness for ourselves. What we have doesn’t feel comfortable anymore.
But here’s the thing: we have all that, and more. We have all the pieces we need for that fresh, full life–they’ve been there all along. The seeds have been planted and are beginning to sprout, all we need to do is tend the soil. Those new green buds have been growing silently, waiting for us to turn our eyes to the ground and take notice. They’ve fed off our cast-offs, fertilized by our acts and decisions all winter. And now that they’ve broken ground, it’s time for us to see what we’ve sewn and begin to actively nurture our own abundance.
April Tarot CardCast
The barren season is over, and all the pleasures of these fertile times are ahead of us. If things still seem stormy, remember what children say this time of year: “April showers bring May flowers.” Rain will make the flowers grow, and there’s nothing more beautiful than a hothouse blossom. Everything worth having takes time and effort, and patience is rewarded manifold, but so much of that work is all ready behind us—instead of keeping our eyes fixed ahead towards the future, it’s time to be present and enjoy what we have right now. This month sees the sun in both ego-driven Aries and beauty-driven Taurus, and we can take lessons from both signs: take time for yourself to reconnect with the things you love, the things that bring you pleasure. You’ve earned it.

Thawing the Ice: a Tarot Card Cast for March 2016

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: March is my least favourite month of the year. With truly insane weather and the anticipation of Spring in everyone’s minds, it always seems unnecessarily tense and generally unpleasant. Last year, the first brought a monster snowstorm to New York City, and I shivered my way through the month with curses on my breath and rubber boots on my feet. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this year needs to follow suit: we can’t change the weather, but we can change our outlook.

March CardCast

We may be feeling a little burned out, the emotional hangover from a tumultuous winter of highs and lows. It’s weighed on us heavily, and it’s affected more than just our mood. But winter is almost over and we’re beginning to catch glimpses of growth under the snow. Just like the crocus that pop up to tell us it’s all okay, that we survived another dismal, frozen season, we’re beginning to see signs of hope all around. Our creative fire is coming back, thawing the ice that’s stopped us cold in our tracks. Remember that renewal energy we felt last month? Well, we can’t fight it anymore. Why would we want to? We’ve put this off for way too long.

March CardCast

We still have some unfinished business to take care of before the month is out, but we’ll get it done. We need to clear some space in order to receive all the hot new energy coming in–clean out the spiritual closets to make room for what will become our Spring signatures. I know that it can be hard to let go of the old, especially when it’s something we’ve held onto for so long. But just like the pair of jeans you outgrew in highschool or the shoes you ran into the ground, there are some things that just stop serving a purpose in our lives. If we’re not careful, we can clutter up our lives with so many useless energies that there’s no room for the things we actually need. Embrace the new. Use this burst of energy to clear out all the winter muck. Remember: you can smother a flame with too much fuel.

March CardCast


Refresh and Renew, a Tarot Card Cast for February 2016

CardCast Feb 2016

Whether you’re lighting a white pillar for Imbolc or waiting for news from a groundhog, we’re halfway through it–we can officially see the other side of winter. There are plenty of reasons to be happy to wave goodbye to January: personal strife, dreary weather, readjustments and resolutions… but we’ve done it! We’ve officially made it into February!

Cardcast Feb 2016

February brings the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, and this year, even a calendar-extending Leap Day, but most importantly, it brings us that much closer to Spring. With the sun in revolutionary Aquarius, our motivation kicks back into gear, and with Mars in Scorpio, we’re finally getting to the bottom of why–and knowing is half the battle. This month, we’ve finally found the energy to melt the freeze, wash off the sludge, and move forward. The temptations of winter–complacency, over-indulgence, malaise–aren’t so appealing now that we’ve caught the fire of renewal. Goals are becoming clearer, more concise, and looking more attainable than ever: your personal power has been slowly growing, like a bulb under the snow, and now you’re ready to bloom. You have everything you need to become the person you foresaw when you imagined 2016: use this energy to reconnect with yourself, reinvent yourself–remember, this is your time. You are not what others think you are, or what they need you to be. You are your own.

CardCast Feb 2016

But everything in moderation. Balancing your spiritual well-being with your worldly success is important: working too hard in one area or the other can throw the entire effort. Be patient and kind to yourself–you’re still learning, and you always will be. Every failure, like every success, brings opportunities for reflection. Use them. Everything is on your side.


A Solitary Candle: the mystery of symbolism in Bowie’s Blackstar

From the moment I saw the strange, beautiful, baffling video for “Blackstar,” I knew there was much more to David Bowie’s new release than we initially see. Even beyond the avant-garde sound and experimental influences, there was something going on behind the music and lyrics that left my mind buzzing. By the time “Lazarus” was released, I was positive there were some deeply esoteric forces at work behind the scenes.
It’s no secret that Bowie steeped himself in the occult–he obsessively studied the work of master magician Aleister Crowley during his years in Berlin, but references to the Wickedest Man in the World begin as early as Hunky Dory. It’s a common phenomenon that people return to religion at the end of their lives, but Bowie was never one to take well-traveled roads. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw the visual references littered throughout the “Blackstar” video. “Uniform of imagery,” indeed…
Major Tom, Catacomb Saint
It began with the astronaut’s corpse. We last saw Major Tom somewhere in space, significantly less human than his previous incarnations. We bid him farewell and buried him in moon dust. But “Blackstar” sees him ressurrected, his skeleton bejeweled, made precious again in death. In this sense, the album itself is something of a catacomb saint: while many would have heard the chant-like harmonies and avant-garde progressions and dismissed them as the inaccessible musings of an artist who had officially done it all before, Bowie’s death turned the release into something magical. It becomes a relic, one final token to remind us of the miraculous career he had as an artist. It’s impossible to look at a Van Gogh or Rothko without thinking of the painters’ untimely ends: Blackstar will likely become a work inseparable from its author’s death. But I don’t necessarily think Bowie meant it to be anything else. It was timed and released specifically to coincide with his passing. This was a sign off.
Excavated from the ruins, Saint Tom is taken by a young girl with a tail—video director Johan Renck said Bowie had specifically requested the tail, but wasn’t quite sure why. Bowie himself dismissed it as something merely sexy, but nothing in this video is merely anything. The tail only made sense to me when I put it in the context of the setting, presumably the Villa of Ormen, as referenced in the lyrics. Ormen, it turns out, is not only the name of a town in Norway, it also translates in English as “serpent.” So that Villa of Ormen becomes the Town of the Serpent, and the girl with the tail could be seen as a sort of uncoiled Ouroboros. In retrieving the skull and bringing it back to the people of Ormen, she repurposes it as an object of worship, beginning a new cycle in Tom’s story. The feverish, vibrating dance performed by the worshippers immediately reminded me of voodoo—the possessed devotees in ecstasy before Ghede Tom, now an icon of death and life, sex and oblivion.
Ghede Tom
And this isn’t even where things get strange. In researching some of the symbolism in this post, I fell down an internet rabbit hole of weird. In addition to theories about terrorism, Robert Chambers, and everything in between, I came across a peculiar tumblr account filled with hypnotically creepy images directly corresponding to lyrics and themes not only in “Blackstar” and its music video, but also to the album’s second single, “Lazarus.” But the Villa of Ormen tumblr was created within hours of “Blackstar’s” release, and a full month and change before any hint of “Lazarus.” Needless to say, it’s created a stir
So what do we make of this beautiful, brain-rattling mess of symbols left for us to ponder? Maybe it alludes to Bowie’s ultimate spiritual leanings, or his return to the Gnostic fold; maybe it’s the wrap-up for a character Bowie felt had outlived his purpose again. Maybe Bowie was warning us about his own death and we all missed the message—or maybe it was just a great story, period. There may not be any connection with Chambers after all, but I think it’s safe to say that like the King in Yellow, the brilliance of “Blackstar” and its timing, its mystery, and its relation to its author’s death will drive us all mad in admiration.

(Un)lost: the magic of New Years and an open letter to 2016

Change happens. Time marches on and we’re all left to put together the pieces left behind. Every year, at 11:59 on 31st December, we hold our breath and wait for change to wash over us. It comes in effervescent waves of champagne, noisy blows of party horns and the drunken cries of elated strangers. For one beautiful instant, we’re all united in our desire for change, looking with fresh eyes at the first moments of the new year, dripping with possibility and sparkling confetti. Wishes hang in the air like raindrops, washing away the negativity of the expired year.

Somewhere beneath 53rd St, the last few seconds of 2015 drowned in the strains of an upbeat 80’s pop song. I turned to my boyfriend and closed my eyes as we greeted 2016 together in a kiss, mentally listing my goals for the new year in a ritual older than I can remember. Familiar strangers patted shoulders and shook hands, united in the experience of watching the resurrection of the year. Some ten blocks downtown, Times Square was still a tangle of bodies, littered with coloured paper inscribed with the wishes of tens thousands. Despite the frenetic energy all around me, there was something so natural about the fresh new year. I all ready felt at home in its round, even digits mere moments in.

2015 was a year of adjustments: I spent the first half of the year adjusting to a new city, a new apartment, a new school. I adjusted my courses, my major, my career. I adjusted to new rolls within my family, my friendships, and my personal life. Some of it was incredibly trying, painful, intimidating. Some of it brought more happiness than I knew was possible. 2015 brought with it moments I will undoubtedly recall forever among the best and the worst, and for all of them, I am grateful. But 2016 is here, and with it come new lessons.

For years, I’ve sat on the floor with my cards some time after midnight and drawn for the coming year: one initial card for each month with an additional card or two for additional insight, creating a twelve-spot circle before me, laying a single card in the middle for the general theme of the year as a whole. In 2016, amongst an assortment of ambitious wands and root-laying pentacles, that central card spoke of letting go, moving forward, and looking to the future. While this reading was a personal one, meant for my own meditative purposes, I can’t think of a better message to move into the new year.

from the Thoth deck

from the Thoth deck

Whether 2015 was a dream come true or a waking nightmare, it’s time to put it to bed. It’s time to process the past, take an inventory of lessons learned, and suit up for the journey ahead. 2016 can take you to fantastic new places as long as you’re ready to make the trip. Even if the past is full of heartbreak and hardship, it can be hard to leave. The past is familiar, and familiar is comfortable. We know where we’ve been, and it’s so easy to stay there. 2016 challenges you to look beyond the horizon, to trust that the wild unknown is better than the beaten path, that your destination is still ahead. There will be thorns to dodge, storms to weather, bridges to cross, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and fortune favours the bold. 2016 begs you to be bold. I can’t help but hear John O’Callaghan in my head, singing words I never knew would be so relevant when I first heard them in March–

Unaware of where I’m going
Or if I’m going anywhere at all
But I know I’ll take the leap
If it is worth the fall
So long as the blood keeps flowing
I’ll set a sail and swim across
I’m not looking to be found
Just want to feel (un) lost

So, 2016, take it slow, control what you can, confront what you can’t, and always remember how lucky you are to have yourself. Whether 2016 is “our” year remains to be seen, but I can pretty much guarantee it’s a step down the right path.


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.


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.


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.


The Universe Provides: Release your fear, and live your love

When I quit my corporate job to focus on building my portfolio, I never expected it to be easy. I knew it would involve cutting back, living leaner, indulging less. I’ve never been good at saying no–my parents raised me to be incredibly self-sufficient at getting what I want. If you have the money to spare, go ahead. Get it. Don’t wait for it to find its way into your life some other way, because it might slip away forever. This mantra was truly meant for can’t-live-without situations–the perfect party dress for an event that weekend, a necklace on clearance sale that sparks your inspiration, a gadget that will make your daily routine that much easier–and eventually, I took it too far. My room is a graveyard of cheap dresses worn once, shoes worn for a week straight and then lost to the void, hair products and makeup that didn’t quite perform as well as I’d been convinced they would. Working in cosmetics, there are many, many, many of these failed products cluttering up my surfaces. I will also admit that I am a first-class retail therapist. Depression, anxiety, and stress all manifest as new clothes, tubes of lipstick, and jewelry. I am not in debt, but I’m not saving either. And because I have nothing to fall back on, the cycle of anxiety, lipstick, and stress continues…

When I handed in my notice, I told myself the cycle would stop. I would be out of retail, I would want less because I wouldn’t be near it, and quite frankly I wouldn’t have the money for it. It felt exhilarating. The prospect that I would be free of the consumer cycle made me giddy. I should have anticipated the eventual depression that would lead me back to old habits. When my credit card bill came, I paid it in full, like always, but nearly emptied out my savings to do so. “Never again,” I told myself. …I’m sure you can tell where this story is going. This month, when I got the email that my statement was ready, I couldn’t even look. I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I spent the better part of my month fretting over it, wondering what jobs I could pick up to cover it, who I could borrow from, what I could return… Then, something came over me. I was totally calm. Things would be okay. I had a few freelance jobs, I would be able to pay. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to pay in full like I normally do, but I would at least make the minimum payment and I’d be able to pay the rest when I had more. It would be okay.

And then, something truly magical happened. My tax return came. It covered the entire amount with some to spare. Some of you might read this and think, “wow, what a lucky coincidence,” but I suspect most of you will smile knowingly. I don’t believe in coincidence. Magic happens, and the universe provides. When you put out the right energies, the right energies can find their way back to you. Panic and anxiety are forms of negativity, and negativity is a plague that simply breeds and multiplies. It’s hard to banish fear. Even in our comfortable modern age, fear is pervasive. We may no longer be afraid of predators and illness quite the same way our ancestors were, but each primal fear we’ve chased away has been replaced be thirty first-world worries. I don’t check the skies for giant birds of prey when I leave my house: I worry about reckless drivers, lost phone signals, and anaphylaxis instead. Fear kept me locked in my dead-end, joyless job for too long. How would I get ahead if I didn’t have money? How would I provide myself with a future if I was penniless? I wouldn’t even be able to afford the film and paint I needed to work on my portfolio, let alone take care of myself and maintain a lifestyle I could be happy with. It turns out, none of those were things I should be worrying about. Fear would be my undoing when all was said and done.

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The minute you can push fear away is the minute you start living your life. The surge of energy you feel when you can say, “I am going to be okay,” and mean it is enough to power you through. Fear is an addiction, but positive energy is addicting too. Confidence is exhilarating, and once you’ve tasted it, you’ll never want to go back to that cold, dark place of fear. You are a creature of the universe, and the universe will take care of you if you allow it to. Breathe in–the universe has given you everything you need, you just need to take it. It provides you with oxygen, water, nourishment, but if you allow, it can also provide you with joy, hope, and love. Breathe out–release the fear and negativity that has been growing in your heart. You don’t need it. Do not mistake fear for ambition: fear can drive us to great heights, but we will never achieve happiness if we push ourselves out of fear. Once you replace that with love–love for yourself, love for the universe–you will realize you can do so much more.

When you need something in your life–really need it–the universe will put it there. Several weeks ago, I told someone I needed to read the Bhagavad-Gita in full. I had read parts of it in college, and I’ve always found myself fascinated with Vedic spiritualities, but I’ve never read the full text. It felt like something I needed to do for my spiritual growth. The other day, my sister came home with literature from a missionary she encountered at a festival. She donated what she could with no intention of reading the books he offered, but decided they looked like something I would read and passed them on. “It’s some sort of Indian bible,” she said, handing them off. There, in my hands, was a pocket-sized version of the Bhagavad-Gita. I put my intention out into the world, and the universe agreed by giving me the means to follow through. Coincidence? Maybe, but I prefer to see it as evidence that magic happens when you’re ready. Release your fear, and start living your love.