Friday, December 19, 2014

Reindeer Games

Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser

Siberia is a place of the far North characterized by long winters, snow, and reindeer. The Tungusic are indigenous peoples of Siberia whose lives have long been dependent on an intimate and sacred relationship with reindeer – they are reindeer herders. The word ‘Saman’ (shaman) is a Tungusic word that connotes a spiritual specialist, someone who serves as a bridge between the ‘everyday world’ and the ‘spirit world.’  The shaman’s role is to engage with the spirit world (aka practice magic) in order to support the community, generally through visions, healing, protection, and resource abundance.

Far North

Amanita muscaria is the scientific name for a mushroom commonly known as fly amanita or fly agaric. It is a relatively large, attractive looking mushroom sporting a red cap specked with white dots. You’ve probably seen them illustrated alongside fairytales.  Amanitas generally grows under – and in a close ecological association with - conifers (pine trees). They contain the psychoactive compound muscamol which, when ingested, can induce hallucinations (including visions of flying), euphoria, and a ruddy complexion.  Dried mushrooms are, apparently, most potent. However, it is reportedly safer to experience the affects Amanitas by drinking the urine of someone or something that has already consumed the fungus.  Amanitas muscaria is a favorite Autumn food of reindeer.

Red and white
Pine trees
Reindeer games

In the Tungusic tradition, it was the shaman’s role to work with the spirit of the Amanitas mushroom – the holy mushroom. When it came time to gather them, he would do so ceremoniously, dressing in long black boots and a red and white fur-trimmed coat. He carried a large collecting sack. Once he had a sufficient number of mushrooms, he returned and distributed them throughout the village. When the snows became deep, it was common to enter the family yurts (large teepee-like structures) through a hole in the ceiling – which also served as an exit for smoke. Imagine, under the influence of Amanitas, how this rather jolly, red-faced man might look descending through the chimney with a “Ho, ho, ho!” And envision the mushrooms then being dried by the fire with care – strung together like garlands or, possibly, hanging in garments, such as socks.

Santa’s attire
Holiday decorations

When the dried mushrooms were consumed during Winter Solstice ceremonies, would these peoples have seen the shaman flying in a sleigh led by reindeer? Perhaps. Stories of the various gods being associated with flying chariots date far back in human history – and various versions of the story claim the chariot was pulled by horses or, yes, reindeer. Thor was one such god. In the Old High German language, he was known as Donar. Interestingly, mythology also reveals links between the chariot and the Big Dipper – a star constellation which appears to circle the North Star over the course of a single night.

Super human
Flying reindeer and sleigh
All in a night
Guiding star

The North Star was considered sacred by indigenous people of the Northern Hemisphere. Because it seems to be a fixed point encircled by other stars, it was essentially their Axis Mundi – the center of the universe. To some of these peoples, the North Star adorned the top of the World Tree which connected the realms of the universe – underworld (roots), middle world (Earth), and upper world (cosmos - the realm of the gods and their chariots).  The shaman was responsible for climbing the World Tree and setting the star in place.

Or, so the story goes.

Remember to leave the cookies and carrots on the hearth.

(c) 2014/Jamie K. Reaser
From "Winter: Reflections by Snowlight"
Published by Hiraeth Press (

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nuthatch Logic

Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser

Today, in the wood, I decided to converse
with nuthatch. “Nuthatch,” I said, “the
world seems upside down.”

And, nuthatch squeaked in the way
nuthatches do, and replied:

“I can see how you would see it that way.
I don’t understand how you people get
around the way you do,

All that blood going to your feet. It must
be hard to think.”

And, I could say no more.

©2014/Jamie K. Reaser
From "Coming Home: Learning to Actively Love this World"
To be published by Homebound Publications in October 2015

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Friday, December 12, 2014

My Dirty Windows

Photo: (c) Jamie K.  Reaser

Someday you might visit. So, I need to tell you
this: I keep my windows dirty. I’m not a bad
housekeeper. My mother was. And, she’d say so.

I like the birds and feed them because I’ve heard
that you should feed the holy, and also because
it makes me happy to see them so delighted.
They are. You can tell. They have their ways of
expression, as I have mine. Though I’ll admit, theirs
are much better.

But, sometimes birds see things that aren’t there
and make bad choices based on these illusions.
Head first they go, hard, often.  The window
pane is not a forest, not the sky, not another set
of feeders full of tidbits to gleefully chip and
fluff about. But when the lighting is just so, they
don’t get this. Sadly. No.

Have you ever held one that hit and fell, lifeless?
The spirit goes out of winged ones fast. I suppose
that is because they already know how to fly. Or,
they already know which angels to call by name. Or,
they become angels. These are some possibilities.

So, do you now understand the smears and splotches?

Maybe. Likely not. I say this kindly. I’ll explain.

My windows are dirty so that I will remember to be
thoughtful, discerning. I’ve seen a lot of things in my
life. Some of them, I later found out, weren’t what
I believed them to be.  

© 2014/Jamie K. Reaser
From "Coming Home: Learning to Actively Love this World"
To be published by Homebound Publications in October 2015

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Monday, December 8, 2014

When I Knew

Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser

The long ringlets of white synthetic hair were so many; I could only make out a nose. The red and white fabric of his hat, jacket, and boots was shiny and soft to the touch, but synthetic too. And the wide black belt, plastic. Most notably, the sprig of holly attached to him, fake.

If this was Santa, he was a man of little fashion sense. And, cheap. What’s more, he was well preserved in a way that I didn’t care to appreciate. His hands were absent wrinkles. Not a one. Surely, Santa should be a grandfatherly man.

But there he sat, jollying it up on our floral couch with me in my floral dress sitting, suspicious, upon his lap. Yes, as he handed me a small gift wrapped in pea green tissue paper (it was the 70s), I was being told in no uncertain terms, “This is Santa.”

How very disappointing.

I decided to prefer the unknown, and magic.

(c) 2012-2014/Jamie K. Reaser
Published in "Winter: Reflections by Snowlight"

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Saturday, December 6, 2014


Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser

Maybe it’s fog, or mist, or a cloud in
fetal form, or maybe it is something else
that has come for a time to teach us to look
close in because we are so often set on far

What is your perspective?

This is what I know:

that which
you can’t
see is what
turns a
into a

© 2014/Jamie K. Reaser

Friday, December 5, 2014

Maybe, Then

Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser

If you can’t hear the turkey tail and the bright green
moss singing on the rotted oak corpse, please don’t bother me.
If you can’t converse with a stone or
haven’t even thought about learning the language of birds,
Please move on.
Life is short. Each one.
I want my allegiances to be with lovers;
the kind that reach out and invite everything to touch them.
Two hands are not enough for this world
in my humble opinion.
There is so much to hold beyond fear, beyond hatred,
and so we must use our sensibilities to find each other.

Let my prayers be that you will hear the angels at the corpse
and listen for a long while to what the stones know
about the bodies that they have met.
And, the birds, the birds. Let me pray that someday, soon,
you will understand what they are saying about
the need to wake and rise.

Maybe, then, we could take a walk together
and be astonished
by the beauty of this world.

Maybe, then, a poet could be understood.

© 2014/Jamie K. Reaser
From "Coming Home: Learning to Actively Love this World"
To be published by Homebound Publications in October 2015

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Old Tom

Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser

Nine years ago, a large-pawed tom sung his way into my
small cabin.  He’s not happy. At sunset he has been taking
to the window sill, waiting among the orchids. I watch. And,
I wait too, but not so earnestly. Eventually, I get distracted
by something else, a chore most likely, and that’s when it
begins: the growling, the arched posturing against the pane
that I should get around to cleaning sometime soon. “He’s
out there!” he says. “Another one!” And, I turn on the porch
light and confirm, “You are correct.” A lean brown tabby streaks
into the darkness. And, then I say, “Be nice. Don’t you remember
when you were scared and hungry and alone? It was not so long
ago.” And, he looks into me with sharp golden eyes, locked.
Annoyed, I think.  “I’m getting old,” he replies. “Our time
together is short. I will not share you.” And, to make his stance
clear, he turns and marks the front door, the threshold of our
shared life, our cozy home. Suddenly, I’m back in high school
Humanities class, studying mythology. Sooner or later, I recall,
the gods always get jealous.

© 2014/Jamie K. Reaser
From "Coming Home: Learning to Actively Love this World"
To be published by Homebound Publications in October 2015

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