For those who don’t know, Lupa is a shaman living in Portland. She is a prolific artist, (I have always wanted to be interviewed as an artist myself), and a practitioner in pagan culture. Regularly part of events, and shaman dances, you might see her at Howl Con if you live in the area.
When you submerge yourself into the skin spirit rituals with a given animal, do you feel the inherit traits in each one, or is it just a means for communication solely with the animal totem? Do mammalia, or predatory have more challenging and intimidating energies, than perhaps reptilia and fish, who might be more passive?
It’s both; when I wear my wolfskin, I connect with both the spirit of the skin, and the totem Gray Wolf as well. Part of why I do this skindancing is to offer the spirits of the skins a way to have a body again, to move and dance. In return, I get a chance to feel a bit of what it’s like to be that animal.
It really depends on the individual skin spirit (or other animal spirit), as well as the totem of the species. People think of predatory mammals as being big and aggressive, which they can be, and dragonflies as being graceful and relatively harmless. Yet in their own world dragonflies are ruthless killers driven primarily by the needs to eat, to mate, and to not be eaten, while lions and wolves have complex social systems in which they can be tender and loving to each other. We have to be careful not to let our biases as humans intrude.
If you can dig far into your brain and remember, can you write the different animal parts you have worked with?
Oh, geez. Soooo many over the last decade and a half. Hides, bones, claws, teeth, feathers, hair and more. My art has brought me into contact with so many of them that there’s no way to catalog them all. Probably the most unusual has been dried horseshoe crabs; they’re such ancient beings and they see the world in such a different way than we land-dwelling upstarts. Keep in mind we’re talking a family of animal that has the existence of living trilobites in its ancestral memory.
Do you do much bone hunting or carrion collecting in nature? How is this while always having a cyclus of dead critters to work with, living in an apartment and trying to clean them? Do you prefer to bury them and the decay happen naturally?
Not any more. Now that I’m primarily an urban dweller, I don’t have easy access to places where animal bones might be found. Also, roadkill collection is illegal here in Oregon. And because I am in an apartment that I share with another person, I don’t have the room to deal with something quite so messy—all we have is one tiny porch that’s mostly covered in garden and barbecue grill. I’d rather make the art than tan hides anyway; I leave the messy bits to others these days.
I once found an eagle in the north, with no head. Another time with my ex, we found an opossum and a dead cat, both of them had fetuses inside, and the opossum fetuses were still living, crawiling out of the pouch while the mother lay rotting in some grass. What has been the strangest animal death you have discovered?
Really, none of the ones I’ve seen have been unusual. Everything’s been attributable to natural causes. There were the many tiny crabs washed up after a storm on the Oregon coast, and countless animals hit by trains in my hometown, and the huge pile of deer bones left by hunters at the end of a quiet rural cul de sac in rural Oregon
I suppose the only notable death I ever came across was the doe that was hit on the road in front of a house I lived in in Pittsburgh. The doe had been hit by a car, and it shattered her jaw and leg. She stumbled around until a cop showed up and shot her, and they just rolled her into the ditch in front of the house. It was summer, and over the next week I watched the progress as the maggots reduced her to mostly bones. Once she was clean enough I pulled her up into the garden and let her decay the rest of the way before harvesting the bones.
What does kink represent and hold for you? Do you think it is the most intimate way to tie into sexual spirituality, and bringing the body to new levels of consciousness?
I think it’s one of many ways in which a person can be sexual. I don’t think it’s any more special or intimate than vanilla, but I do feel there are certain levels of intensity that it can hold that are unique to it. Kink can be a ritual even without the conscious intent thereof, and much of more formalized BDSM, especially D/s or M/s, can be very ritualized.
The importance of any sacred sexuality is how it transforms you. Do you become a better person for it? Do you feel better and healthier afterward? Then you did it right.
In more recent years I have distanced myself from a lot of sacred sexuality because I see so little attention paid to a lot of the inequalities in sexuality in the US. People treat women as “sacred Goddesses” to be worshiped, but do nothing to fight discrimination against and oppression of women as a group. Heterosexual sex is held up as a standard of “balanced energies” while homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia still exist even within paganism and sacred sexuality. Rape and sexual assault happen in these communities, as well as the kink community, and often they’re ignored.
And, honestly, I have become more private and personal about my sex life. I asked my ex-husband Taylor to take “Kink Magic” out of print more because it was a symbol of our marriage, and it was a form of closure, not because I regretted it. But these days I keep my cards closer to the chest, at least as far as details go. I don’t go to public kink events any more and I have zero interest in public scening.
As one who also identifies with my spirit animal to be that of a wolf, I am curious what you think of the various wolf conservation areas? Do you think this poses problems and domesticates wolves when they have human care, and are then released?
From what I have seen, the people who raise wolf pups to be released into the wild are very careful not to acclimate the pups to human companionship. I see this as a very good thing; wild animals need to be truly wild, not quasi-domesticated.
Are you fond of the concept of human Re:wilding? If you do, how do you integrate yourself into it? Do you practice any kind of self-sustainability, growing food, owning land, reducing possessions, etc?
I feel that the more skills we have, the better, no matter the sort. As Robert Heinlen said, “Specialization is for insects”. I am in a tiny apartment, and I don’t really have a proper garden so I have to rely on grocery stores and farmers’ markets for my food, but my intent is once I have some more stability across the board and can buy a house, I want it to be a place where I can turn the yarn into garden, raise rabbits, etc.
I do try to not consume more than I have to. Outside of books and clothing, most of my possessions are art supplies and therefore temporarily “mine”. I don’t collect tchotckes and the like, and I’d rather people gave me food as gifts than toys and such.
I have been developing more outdoor skills; I didn’t go camping until my early twenties because I never had the opportunity. My family didn’t like outdoor stuff other than backyard barbecues, and I didn’t really have friends until I was an adult. So I’ve been trying hard to build up missing skills, and I recently went solo backpacking for the first time earlier this month. And I’m doing more to educate myself about the flora and fauna of the area; I’d still starve out in the wild at this point, but maybe a little more slowly.
Have you had thoughts about making displays of taxidermy into art scenes to unveil something atypical with their spirits? Like having a wolf mount feeding on real entrails with dead trees, detritus on the ground, and raven mounts with rare stones for eyes in the trees? Sort of like a still life after death.
I have some plans for things to do with reclaimed taxidermy, but I’m keeping that under wraps for the moment.
Do you do much tenting in the nature to be further in touch with your wild personality, and animal atavisms?
Not as much as I’d like, but every time I’m out there, whether hiking or camping, alone or with others, it’s a connection to the inner wild self, my own Wolf, as well as to everything around me. My shamanic practice has become more more bioregional and localized once I moved to Oregon, and so I don’t just work with the animals, but also plants, fungi, waterways, geological totems, etc.
There are practices now to create life using ‘biobricks’ that can stimulate primitive life using a computer. As well as gene transplanting through different animals, such as taking spider silk and putting it inside a goat to collect the silk from its milk, or using camouflage squid cells in farmed plants. What are you thoughts on modern science and experimental biology?
I think it’s going in some truly fascinating directions. However, I also think that like so much of our technology we’re too self-centered. We look only to our own needs, and not how our technology affects other humans and other beings as well. I am not entirely against genetic engineering, especially in the medical field, but we don’t think nearly enough about ethical and other implications and realities of our explorations. In the words of Stan Lee, “With great power there must also come great responsibility”. Spider-man is far from the only example of that.
Tell me about some of the festivals you have been apart of, pagan, occult, music or otherwise, and what you did there.
Holy cripes. There have been so many! I’ve been to festivals across the country from Florida to New York to Washington. (Oddly enough I haven’t been to any in the southwest!) Primarily pagan in flavor, with occasional others. I cut my teeth at Brushwood Folklore Center in New York state; in addition to a roster of yearly festivals, they have drumming and dancing every weekend when the weather permits. So I got a lot of good experience there; it’s where I first did public wolf-dancing, and met a lot of awesome people. I also wish I’d spent more time at Four Quarters Farm in Pennsylvania; the few times I went there I was really impressed with the energy as well as the rituals there.
I’ve gone to lots of events here in the Northwest, at though certainly not all of them. One of my very favorites is Sunfest, held every summer solstice out on the Oregon Coast. I’m going to be leading the rituals there next year (2013) with a shamanic/totemic theme—more info soon! Anyway, it’s a nicely laid-back, family-friendly festival, and it’s become one of my favorite things of the year.
And then there’s FaerieWorlds, which isn’t so much a pagan festival as a bunch of people dressing up in fantasy costumery and having a great time with excellent music. I don’t usually get to leave my booth much because I’m usually too busy working and selling art and costumes to people, but because everybody comes to visit, they bring the festival to me.
If there is a time that creating dead animal art, and having such a prolific artistic routine becomes too much, is there anything you want to accomplish or try before your own life spirit dies off?
I want to own my own home; I’m tired of having to audition every time I move to prove to some rental company that I deserve to have a place to live. Less mundanely, I want to do something with the Master’s in counseling psych I was awarded last year after three years of graduate school. Assuming I don’t get hit by a bus or develop cancer, I should be able to do both of these before all’s said and done.
Any last howls, from a fellow lupine creature to another?
Besides “buy my art and books”? Heh—I kid, mostly. Well, keep in touch—I write stuff at http://therioshamanism.com, as well as http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com, and all things Lupa can be found at http://www.thegreenwolf.com. I like hearing feedback from people who’ve read my books and so forth, and I like hearing about the adventures of my art that has gone on to other homes. Plus I’m open to questions and thoughts about shamanism, totemism, and the like.