Monthly Archives: July 2014

Shadow Animals: Mysteries in the Dark

Written by Mimosa
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by Cathy Douglas

My interest in shadow animals comes from personal experience.  I’m often outside after dark, and see a lot of opossums, bats, raccoons, and other animals that like to hang out in Madison at night.  But occasionally, I’ll catch a glimpse of something harder to identify–something halfway in size between a cat and a raccoon, but not exactly shaped like either.  These creatures run off so quickly it’s hard to get a good look at them.  Usually, the next day I’ll try to convince myself I’d seen something ordinary–maybe a baby raccoon, even though it hadn’t really looked or moved like one.  But since whatever I’d seen was dark enough to blend in with the night-time shadows, it was hard to know what else to think.

I noticed one of these creatures very early one winter morning, on the bar of land that goes out into the Lake Mendota by the Tenney Locks.  Against the white of ice and snow, its shape was a little easier to make out, even in the dark.  It was catlike, but bigger and more hunched over like raccoon, 100% black.  It ran away, out onto the mostly frozen lake–something I’ve never seen a cat or a raccoon do.  This animal was much too large to be a muskrat and didn’t have a beaver’s tail; besides, it didn’t jump off the ice ledge into open water as a muskrat or beaver would.  It just ran off across the ice towards the other shore.

This was all very strange, but I didn’t know much more about it than that until I recently decided to check the internet to see if others had similar experiences.  I was kind of surprised to see how much I found.  These creatures I saw are called shadow animals, shadow spirits or black animals.  (“Shadow animals” may also refer to the shadow pictures you make with your hands while you brother is holding a flashlight.  Not the same thing at all!)  Some think they’re related to a well-known paranormal phenomenon called “shadow people,” human-like shadows.  Shadow people sound awfully sinister, so I’m just as glad I’ve only encountered the animal kind.

One paranormal investigator saw a shadow animal while closing a vortex in a troubled house.  Here’s how she describes it:

Suddenly, I saw this bobcat-sized creature bolting toward me.  It had a curved back held in the posture of a raccoon. I saw that it had a rounded head, though I could not see the face.  I only saw the top of the head, neck, back, and part of the sides of the thing.  I knew that it had a cat-like tail, and that it was black with black spots (how I knew this, I cannot say).

–Brandy Stark, from Shadow Animals website.

This sounds exactly like what I saw, except that I didn’t notice any spots.  (I don’t know how anyone could make out black-on-black spots either.)  When she encountered this animal, there were several other people present and a video camera running, but strangely she was the only one who saw it.

Since then, she’s collected first-hand stories from many others.  What’s remarkable about these stories is how much the reports have in common.  The black animals people describe are almost always cat-like, fast-moving, and quick to flee when they notice they’re being watched.  They aren’t scary, but rather leave the viewer with a feeling of perplexity.

I’m not really sure what to make of all this, except to realize once again that there are still many things in the world we do not understand.

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One star to rule them all: The meaning behind pentagrams and pentacles

Written by Mimosa
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by Cathy Douglas

We don’t often see product recalls at a metaphysical shop, but recently we had to pull some mini candle holders from the shelf — not because they were broken, but because the pentacle symbol on them was printed upside-down. It wasn’t a case of physical safety, but one of taking symbols seriously.

Pentagrams and pentacles are two different things. A basic pentagram is a five-pointed star, whereas the word “pentacle” can refer to a number of things. It used to simply mean a plate bearing a magical symbol, and was part of the occult tradition of the Renaissance. In our day it’s come to mean one special symbol: a pentagram enclosed within a circle of protection and synthesis.

Both the pentagram and pentacle are positive symbols in which the top point of the star, representing Spirit, rules the other elements (earth, water, air and fire). In combining the four physical elements with Spirit, this sigil implies a connection between the material world and the spirit world — our wills connected with the four elements. This synthesis goes both ways: the human spirit has the potency to affect the material world, while at the same time humanity is part of the natural world and of Gaia. In this way, the pentacle symbolizes both magic and protection.

So, what’s so bad about turning the five-pointed star upside-down? Metaphysically, this would represent allowing the natural elements to “bury” Spirit, or worse, could imply using magic while disregarding the greater good. A pentagram turned point-downward has also been used as a sigil of the goat-like demon Baphomet. Most of us would just as soon stay away from such symbolism, or at most relegate it to t-shirts advertising heavy metal bands.

Though pentacles and pentagrams symbolize good things, that doesn’t mean they’re without controversy. As recently as 2007, the U.S. Veteran’s Administration refused soldiers and their families the right to select a pentacle as one of the official symbols that could be displayed on a tombstone at Arlington Cemetery and other U.S. military burial ground. Overturning this prohibition was a big win for religious freedom.

Pentacles are also one of the suits of the tarot. Originally this was the suite of coins; recasting it as “pentacles” was an innovation of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman Smith came across the pentacle as Golden Dawn initiates. In the Golden Dawn, the four elemental weapons of the adept correspond to what have become the four tarot suits: the wand of fire, the cup of water, the sword of air, and the pentacle of earth. These in turn may have evolved from the four weapons of the Tuatha dé Danann, reportedly of druidic origin: the spear of Lugh, the cauldron of Dagda, sword of Nuada, and stone of Fál.

In modern Wicca (and similar neopagan traditions), the pentacle is an important symbol, representing both earth and the synthesis of elements. Patterns of five are rare in inanimate nature, but common in living things: the five senses, five fingers, five flower petals, etc. A natural pentagram form is visible in an apple, which when sliced through the center reveals its seeds in a perfect, five-pointed form. The seed itself is, of course, symbolic of mystery and rebirth.

As a religious symbol, the five-pointed star dates back to followers of Kore, an earth goddess worshipped from Europe through northern Africa since ancient times. (The word “kore” is ancient Greek for “young woman or maiden,” which was how they addressed Persephone.)  Later Roman followers, who worshipped the goddess Ceres, called this shape the Star of Knowledge. Christians adopted the Korein, her feast day, as the feast of Epiphany, and borrowed the five-pointed star to represent the Star of Bethlehem and the five wounds of Christ.

A pentacle, often in the form of a plate, is also one of the basic tools of a Wiccan altar. The current form is shaped a lot like those of the Renaissance, but now usually features a pentagram as its central symbol. People also personalize it with astrological symbols, runes, or really any symbol that has personal meaning.

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Ancestor Altars & Honoring Our Mighty Dead

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Category: Home & Altar
Written by Mimosa
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by Mari Powers

In many parts of the world, including the United States, people still actively honor their ancestors.  Some would call the practice “ancestor worship,” yet this is not how I understand or maintain the practice.  Worship implies a feeling that the recipient of your actions is more worthy of praise and love offerings than yourself, your family, or any other being like you.  For me, honoring my ancestors, both blood-related and chosen, fosters a deep connection and acknowledgment of appreciation and remembrance.  This is a two- way relationship.

Some people honor their relations on the anniversary of their death.  In the Northern hemisphere, many connect with them at the final harvest, called Samhain (pronounced “sowen,” and translated as “summer’s end”).  This is a time of communal or solitary connection at the end of October.  For many it falls on October 31st–All Hallows Eve, also known as Halloween or the “Day of the Dead.”  All Soul’s Day follows on the Christian calendar, while older calendars governed by the changing seasons mark November 1 as New Year’s Day.  Some people celebrate the lives of those loved ones who have cast off their mortal bodies on both the anniversary of their death and on Samhain, while some acknowledge and connect with “The Mighty Dead” throughout the year in rituals small and large.

Different spiritual paths set aside other days to grieve, remember and connect; it is a nearly global spiritual service which has been practiced for hundreds of thousands of years.  Why do we do this?  The answers lie deep in our psyches, hidden in plain view.  Life and death are as intertwined as day and night and the turning of the seasons.  We are all temporarily living, and will one day become ancestors.  Death does not stop love, and we acknowledge that we stand upon the shoulders of those who have come before.

More personal reasons include the need to grieve, let go and move on with our lives.  We remember and share stories to pass on to our children.  We show appreciation of what we learned, and show we still love those who give us so much.  We set aside time from our everyday busy lives to grieve our loss and celebrate the ones who have enriched our lives, known and unknown.

As we descend into the dark time of the year, and nature’s quiet time begins, plants die or go dormant after the final harvest.  This is the time to take a day and a night to honor the endings that make way for new beginnings.

I believe that our dead are not truly gone; they live on in a new form and continue to have a pact with the living.  As we honor and celebrate their lives, we feed ourselves with rich memory and directly connect with the spirit world.  An ancestor altar facilitates this.  And so we light candles to attract our beloved dead to join us.  We tell their stories, mourn the loss of everyday worldly connection, and celebrate their lives as we celebrate and give thanks for our own.

Altars may be small and simple–a picture or two, a piece of jewelry or a tool, a candle, and food and drink to feed their spirits.  Other altars may be large and weighed down with flowers, full plates, coffee or wine, garden produce, pictures, drawings, written prayers or praise songs and items representing what the ancestor loved in life.  Ancestors are fed first, with the best food and drink.  We honor them for helping us to be who we were, are and will be.  We pray that that they are happy and ask that they watch over us and our descendants.  We remember their sacrifices and celebrate their lives.  We ask for their love, guidance and support in the coming year.  It is a living relationship that is reciprocal in nature.

In some cultures people only honor their blood relations; they may call out the names of all who are remembered, even those they never met when living.  In my tradition, I honor all of my relations, known and unknown, and remember by name chosen family, friends, teachers or mentors, as well as blood relations.  Even blood relatives I did not particularly like in life are honored, as they contributed to who I was, am and will be in some way.

I also honor and connect with those who have gone before me throughout the year, as spirit moves me.  Sometimes I simply express appreciation.  Sometimes I ask for assistance or guidance.  I listen with my inner ear and journal what I hear.  The mighty dead can help us solve problems, give us perspective or inspiration.  I know I will be there for those I love when I am released from my body.  I will welcome connection and appreciate their prayers, praise and invitations to assist and guide.

So this end of summer, consider creating an altar to your own beloved dead.  Grieve and let go.  Celebrate their lives and share your fond memories.  Acknowledge their gifts, and make offerings to feed their bright and shining spirits.  Include your children.  It is a great gift to know where we came from and where we are going.  She, or He, who is remembered, lives.

Mari Powers, © October 11, 2012

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