Sunday, January 28, 2018

Imbolc candle ceremony for setting an intention

Even though the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc begins the evening of February 1st, and marks the heart of winter, it is also a fire ceremony that marks the return of the light.  Because my birthday is in early February, for many years I have honored this cross-quarter day of Imbolc by creating a candle ceremony to set my intention for the year.  Here is how I prepare and what I do.  This year I am sharing my small ceremony with friends, which is why you are seeing nine of everything.

I begin by trimming a birthday candle to a size that will burn for about 5 minutes, and fit this into  a small plastic holder so it will remain upright for the time it is alight.

I want something tasty to "receive" the energy of my intention, so this year I am melting chocolate, oats and honey to fill candy cups. At the conclusion of the ceremony I will certainly eat my good intentions.

The candy cups required a second one for added stiffness, and the chocolate got dribbled around, but most of it made it into the forms.  Jiggling the cups causes everything to settle nicely.

Once the chocolate has begun to stiffen, I press a candle into each center.  Some take a bit of fiddling to keep them nicely vertical until the chocolate is firm.

The next part of the preparation certainly appeals to my inner child.  I purchase a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg with a little toy inside, but I don't open it yet.

I begin the ceremony by clearing my thoughts, bringing my body to quiet, smoothing my emotions.
I light the candle with the sentence:  "This is my intention for the year." (It is also possible to use a different focus for the intention.  You might want to finish the sentence this way:  This is my intention for this relationship or this new job or this next step.)

I meditate gazing at the flame. When the candle goes out--the word, phrase or image I hear in my head or see in the smoke is my intention.  Just that.  No editing, adding or deleting.

The ceremony is as simple as it is profound.  I just watch the candle flame, trying not to anticipate,  project, or plan what will happen.  I only have two requirements:  Don't miss seeing the small puff of white smoke when the candle goes out.  Don't edit whatever I hear or see.

After I write in my journal exactly what I heard or saw, I open the Kinder Surprise.  The little toy is my guidance to realizing my intention.  Its creatures and their actions are a visual oracle telling me how to proceed, and who will help.  And like all oracle cards and processes,  meaning can hide in plain sight.

These two mice on a teeter-totter over a flowing milk jug was an oracle for an Ombolc candle ceremony some time ago, when I asked "What is my intention this year for the Journey Oracle divination deck that I have just completed ?" 

I understood the jug was the Oracle deck itself, and the milk was the nourishing flow of inner wisdom set in motion with oracle card readings.  But who are the mice?  One fat and one thin.  For me these are the successes and anxieties of promoting and marketing the Journey Oracle, the ups and downs of attention and isolation.  The teeter-totter especially seems to represent the emotional highs and lows--because of its bright red color--of trying to bring the Journey Oracle out into the world .  Interesting that the fat mouse is in the narrow seat, and the thin mouse is in the wide seat.

 Keep everything in balance.  Keep moving. Don't fall off.  Pretty good advice from a plastic toy.

Happy Imbolc from the Journey Oracle.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Can I be an artist if I have Aphantasia?

Pretty word, buAphantasia literally means “no fantasy.”  A person without any pictures in the mind’s eye.  Like me.  When I close my eyes, there is only soft black.  No images, no mental pictures, no visual memories.   And I have been a visual artist for my entire life, childhood included.  So here are some of my ways to be an artist with Aphantasia.

Because I do not have inner sight, I have had to learn "outer sight" --nature in all her myriad detail.  I am a photo-realist painter because I am in love with the colours and shapes and textures around me. The photograph allows me to hold nature still enough to really see.

"There are three classes of people: those who see.  Those who see when they are shown.  Those who do not see."

Because I do not have mental pictures, I am unable to manipulate shapes in space with my inner eye, turning them this way and that to discover the effects of light and shadow.  Although the buffalo in the distance and the birds in flight are from photographs, the only way I could understand the flying boats was to build one.  I filled the paper containers with bird see, just like in the actual experience this image is based on, and then I turned to boat every which way under a bright light, sketching the angles and shadows.   

"One has no right to love or hate anything if one has not acquired a thorough knowledge of its nature. Great love springs fro great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you know it but little you will be able to love it only a little or not at all."  

As an art teacher, first in Junior High School and then at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, I know lots of tricks and gimmicks to encourage students to have fun with their creativity.  One of my favorites is "cereal box inspiration."  This technique creates a fantasy image that is not dependent on seeing with the mind's eye.

Find an empty cereal box with a light, unprinted cardboard interior.  Set out an array of particularly messy art materials--acrylic paints, chalk pastels, sharpies, crayons--anything  that will smudge and blur. Invite a circle of friends to participate.  Children are even better.  Start passing the box around the circle, each person reaching inside to make a scribble or swipe or blob. Don't look inside the box.  Keep passing until the art materials are pretty much decorating everyone from elbow to fingers.  Open the box and pin flat to dry.  Make a small frame of stiff paper and begin moving this over the dried interior box surface until a composition presents itself.  Tape the frame in place, then cut out the framed section to use as the image source for a painting.

I use another version of this kind of fantasy sight when I gaze into the textured surface of a common object and see faces or creatures.  Much like seeing fantastic scenes in clouds as they drift by on a summer day.  This is how the Journey Oracle card images were painted: by finding images in stones, agate slices and dried rawhide.


Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours.  If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways.  Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form.  I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds or mud or like places, in which if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries."  (all quotes by Leonardo da Vinci)

Aphantasia--is it an obstacle to becoming a visual artist?  Only if I let it be. 

Maybe Leonardo da Vinci had Aphantasia.  If so, I think he did OK.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Working with the five hindrances

A profound teaching for me in my meditation practice is learning how to clear away the five hindrances.  These states of mind are obstacles to serenity and make concentration difficult in meditation and in everyday life.  Of course I am the poster child for several of these, and so I created some water images as visual metaphors to help me overcome them. The original art is painted chalk on matte board, a technique which creates a shimmer and sparkle just like the surfaces of water.

Skeptical doubt can take over the mind and I wonder, "Am I doing this right?  Why do this at all?" The tiny tree growing in tumultuous water and hard stone is like my struggle for quiet and concentration.

When I think a good thought for myself, it is hard to also think a doubting thought for my progress.

Spiritual torpor is sluggish and cloudy, like stagnant water over mossy rocks. 

When I overcome my drowsiness by focusing on the dazzling light and myriad detail of nature's calm, I understand her instruction: don't be lazy.

Ill will in all its forms, from irritation to anger, destroys my peace. 

The water cannot be released from the boiling cascade of its downward flow, but I can have the patience of the rocks in its path who seem to know that less is more.  

Agitation and restlessness are like water rippling and pouring everywhere at once.  My worry will bubble over everything I have done, and not done.  

This agitation will cease when I just stop.  Breathe.  Be in this moment, because this moment is my life. 

Desire is more than mere liking.  It is the distraction of craving.  

When I understand that naming it makes it so, I can release my wanting by naming, and therefore recognizing, my feelings of contentment with how things are.

A set of five prints of these conversations with water is available in my Etsy webstore.  Perhaps you also have a struggle with doubt, laziness, anger, worry or desire, and would like to contemplate the teachings of water when working with the five hindrances. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Free Journey Oracle card reading for 2018

This blog is my new year's gift to you: a free reading using the Journey Oracle cards.  Posted below are the 4 cards I drew for a new year's reading about a situation I am in right now--planning a new direction in my art.  

You can print and fill out this full oracle card format to create a new year's reading for yourself. 

Begin by thinking of a situation for which you would like some advice.  This will be the topic of the reading.  Allow the situation to be around you in all its complexity, without thinking of any solution.  Then follow the prompts to meet the Oracle and complete your reading.

An Oracle translates a problem or question into a language of image and symbol like that of dreams.  It changes the way you experience a situation to connect you with the inner forces that are shaping it.  An Oracle dialogues with your imagination—the creative basis of experience we call the unconscious.   

This is a picture of

Describe your first impressions of this image using simple phrases.  Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  When you feel inner quiet, go to the Oracle’s identity.

Identity of Oracle: The Sun  
Qualities of this Oracle: opening to higher self; entering the sacred circle
Time of year associated with this Oracle: all time
Why this is the Oracle of your situation?

Message from the Oracle about your situation: Feeling the truth.
Why are you receiving this message?


An Oracle reveals the forces that are moving beneath your situation. These sentences are not statements of logic or reason.  Write brief first impressions next to the statement.  If a statement draws a blank from your unconscious, move on to the next sentence.  


This situation began by feelings of depression.

The prevailing energy of this situation is unexpected quiet.

The core energy pattern of this situation is overcoming tragedy.

The Mother of this situation is soft touch.

The Father of this situation is foxes music.


Your relationship to the prevailing energy is bright wings.

Your perception of the situation is painful.

The impact of your perception is visible.

The connection between the core energy pattern and the situation
 is felt as unsteady.

The momentum of this situation is fed by cleaning up.


This is a picture of

Describe your first impressions of this image using simple phrases. Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  When you feel inner quiet, go to the Oracle’s identity.

 Identity of Oracle: Stars 
Qualities of this Oracle: entering doorways to healing, confidence, balance
Time of year associated with this Oracle: all time
Why this is the Oracle of your experience?

Message from the Oracle about your experience:  good work in all directions
Why are you receiving this message?



Why is this the name of your experience?


medicine lessons from nature, dreamtime
taking time, spirit power negated through self-doubt
upheaval in every direction, I would rather know this one
“no disaster here,” being observed
good work in all directions

Which of the above phrases are you experiencing most directly right now?

Which phrases are you trying to avoid experiencing?

Which phrases are you seeking to experience?

 If these phrases and spaces are a map of your experience--where are you on the map?


An exterior or support system for the situation is spidery places.

What is the meaning of this for your situation?


The Journey Oracle’s answers change the way you see things. Your anxieties, fears and desires emerge to be recognized and resolved, and hidden transformative energies are released.

This is a picture of

Describe your first impressions of this image using simple phrases.  Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  When you feel inner quiet, go to the Oracle’s identity.

Identity of Oracle: West
Qualities of this Oracle: the water of dreams, visions, feelings, mysticism, sexuality  
Time of year associated with this Oracle:  all time
Why this is the Oracle of change?

Message from the Oracle about change:  dream is still around me
Why are you receiving this message?


These statements bring an in-depth recognition of the change you feel coming.  This change is an expression of the healing that is asking to happen. Write brief first impressions next to each statement.  If a statement draws a blank from your unconscious, move on to the next sentence.  


The power needed to shift this situation will be a sound of wonder.

Change will come by receiving a new song.

Your relationship to the change in this situation is discovering imperfection.

The moment of letting go into the change will smell saucy.

The concern to be avoided within this change will taste smooth.

The wisdom of lying down quietly will empower the transformation.

Completed transformation will be felt as a quality of bright lights


 Will you gladly donate your share?




This is a picture of

Describe your first impressions of this image using simple phrases.  Do not analyze, doubt or discard what your inner voice is saying.  When you feel inner quiet, go to the Oracle’s identity.

Identity of Oracle: Samhain (Halloween)
Qualities of this Oracle: Water, Earth, Northwest; storing
Time of year associated with this Oracle: October 31
Why this is the Oracle of your resolution?

Message from the Oracle about your resolution: Do you realize you have your own story to write?
Why are you receiving this message?


The dense weave of meaning in a fairy tale provides insight into the hidden forces behind your situation, and points to the resolution sought by your unconscious wisdom.  In this fairy tale, your unconscious wisdom knows the names of all the characters, all the connections to your situation, and what is the happy ending. 

A woman wanted to speak to her dreams, to ask the meaning of images and actions and so receive a different way to look at things. But how could her being in the dream talk with her being in ordinary life? The woman had yearning rewarded when she realized that both these parts of her were breathing, and so maybe she could ask her breath to tell her the meaning of her dreams.
The woman began to pay attention to how she was breathing when she was feeling a Yes about something: her breath went deep into her chest without interruptions. She noticed that when she was feeling a No her breath could not maintain a balance of action and consideration—and became tight and shallow in her throat. The woman practiced asking her breath by focusing on situations she knew to be true or false. She would say “I know this plant” while holding a sprig of something she recognized from her walks in the forest, and then take a full natural breath. Her throat would open and the air would go deep into her chest. Then she would pause at her driveway and say “it doesn’t matter which direction I turn to go home.” And her next breath would stay high in her throat, feeling constricted and shallow.
         The woman’s practice became a spirit-filled good intention toward her dreams. When she first woke up she would ask her breath to discover the subject of a dream, and confirm the meaning of places and people because of course in a dream nothing is ever what it appears to be. The woman became so skilled at this that she began to call on her breath to confirm all her decisions. When someone said “Does it matter which one we leave?” or “Is this the way we go?” the woman would close her eyes and be asking the breath and in this way speak her decisions from a clear guidance. Then all of nature began speaking to the woman; because of course everything is a part of the same breathing.

Who are you in this story? 

What is the meaning of the story for your resolution?

Based on your character in the story, now what are you now going to do?

HAPPY NEW YEAR from the Journey Oracle