Visions of the Cat

April 25, 2019
K. Fink/US National Park Service

This excerpt, about meeting a cougar on a vision quest, is from Divining with Animal Guides: Answers from the world at hand.

I decided I would do a vision quest. I would go out on my own, build a fire, and instead of sleeping I would stay up all night and have visions.

I chose the dark moon for my journey. I walked a few miles along a deserted beach, with cliffs along the edge that had small caves and alcoves. When I reached a sheltered place I pulled firewood out of my backpack, gathered kindling along the beach, built a small fire, and in the approaching twilight commenced scrying into the flames. I didn’t have any visions.

I sat there a long time, getting up only to add more fuel. It began spitting rain and I became chilled even with the fire. I felt silly, shivering all by myself in a deserted place with a car less

than five miles away and a warm bed within a few hours’ drive. “This is boring,” I said to myself. I gathered my belongings and scattered the fire. As I stamped out the last embers, I had a vision.

A fat Chinese Buddha appeared, so rotund that I could not discern the outline of his body within my psychic frame of reference. I intuitively understood that he appeared to me thus to

show that he was bigger than I could envision. The limits of his influence were beyond the scope of my understanding.

The Buddha raised his hand in a gesture of protection and the apparition dissolved. I commenced my journey home.

As I trekked northward, the cliffs at my right and the ocean to my left, I discovered it was not raining at all; the fine droplets were from an unusually rough tide. How had I blotted out the sound of that surf? I realized that I was now in danger of being cut off from dry land; cliffs to one side of me with water butting up against them. Though it was very dark, I put my flashlight in my backpack because I needed both hands to scramble over the slippery rocks. I felt angry with myself for having bumbled into such a dangerous situation.

Finally the cliffs ended and the beach opened up. I had made it. I unloaded my backpack and retrieved my flashlight.

I was now only two miles from the car, two rather slow miles over sand or a short brisk walk via a trail close by. The logical option was to take the trail, but I felt an unexplained reluctance. It was one of those feelings that don’t make sense at the time, but you understand later. I was sopping wet from struggling with the surf, and I was rattled, so despite my misgivings, the trail won out.

I practically ran along the narrow path, so I was very close before I saw her. She was huge, the largest carnivorous beast I had confronted in the wild. She appeared confused. She moved a few steps from the beam of my flashlight and stood there, staring at me.

“You’re supposed to run away,” I said helpfully. The conventional wisdom was that cougars would not attack humans unless cornered, though they might possibly eat children. Many well- publicized deaths from unprovoked mountain lions have occurred since, but this was the prevailing belief at the time. I was not reassured by this while standing face-to-face with my cougar, however, because I am not a large woman. I thought to myself, “I hope this cougar understands that I’m a grown-up and not a child.”

“Listen, you’re blocking the path,” I reasoned. “Turn and follow this other path, or run back the way you came. I have to go in this direction because my car is there.”

The mountain lion took a few steps forward, slightly left of my shoulder.

“Okay, I give you the path,” I said quickly. “I’ll go another way.” I took a small step backward and shone my flashlight directly in the animal’s eyes. I took another slow step backward, and another, and another. I began shining the flashlight away, then back in her eyes, then away, then back, rationalizing this would interfere with her ability to focus. She remained still.

As I finally turned away, I let out the loudest, most terrifying scream I could muster, just to give her second thoughts about following me. “Take that, you big scream machine,” I thought.

My relationship with wilderness changed that night. After my third cougar encounter I still went out by myself, sometimes after dark, but I interacted with my environment in a different way. Hearing an unfamiliar sound I would investigate not only out of curiosity, but also out of concern for safety. I remained vigilant; I became cautious. Magical protection was no longer an abstract concept. Once there was a girl who roamed the wilderness alone at night, aware that there were mountain lions in the woods and completely unafraid. I am no longer that girl.

Indie Shaman Review for Divining with Animal Guides

May 18, 2018

Thea Prothero writes: “The book is brimming with wisdom and exceptionally well researched; this in turn guides the would-be diviner to access the natural world form a uniquely well-grounded and refreshing perspective.”

Indie Shaman is always a recommended read. The theme of this issue of Indie Shaman is “Shamanic Lands: The Otherworld,” and there are many in-depth articles about the worlds of the ancestors, from a breadth of perspectives and modalities. I have an article in this issue titled “The Weasel Underground.”

Radio Interview with Susun Weed

March 2, 2018

Susun Weed interviewed Hearth on Tuesday February 27 about animal divination.

First 90 minutes Susun answers questions about herbs, including herbs for fighting colds, always a popular topic. Interview with Hearth begins at 1:26:50.

The New Year Post

January 5, 2018

Photo: Jana M. Cisar/US Fish & Wildlife

This marks the sixth anniversary of this blog.

Ahead this year, my second book, Divining with Animal Guides: Answers from the world at hand is due out February 27th. The ebook will also be available on that date.

I have articles that will be published in upcoming anthologies and shamanic magazines. I will keep everyone posted.

I had my nose to the grindstone in 2017, which will be evident in the coming year!

Update on the Next Book

October 14, 2016

My book-in-progress is coming along nicely. I have completed the first draft and compiled the illustrations that will go along with the manuscript. This next book will be a more focused take on animal magic, looking specifically at divination with animal signs. I have been sharing short excerpts on this blog and I will be sharing more snippets over the next few months. The book will be published by Moon Books. Production schedules with commercial publishers can be quite long, so look for the finished product in about a year. It will be worth the wait.