Month: May 2015

On Not Answering the Call

by Madre La Osa

(Now, a disclaimer: If you are crowned or in these traditions, I am in no way shape or diminishing your standing or your Orisha, and come to you with the utmost respect, these are my observances, after over twenty years as an aleyo)

It was either the tail end of 2001 or the beginning of 2002, but I was about 20 or 21 years of age and walking into my first igbodu to have my first ever consultation with a babalawo. Now, I was not by any means alone, because I was with the other three members of my then ile, and everything I had heard or read beforehand has prepared me for a “deep and truly profound personal experience.” We all took our places on the mat, and I held my breath as he threw the opuele. He sat up straight and after literally half a second of looking at the opuele he threw, he looked at us all, in one big sweeping glance and announced, “You ALL must receive elekes, warriors, your one hand of Ifa, Ocha, Ibeyi, and Olokun, and you must do it fast!”

That sounded like (and to this day over ten years later) still is an enormous amount of money, time, energy and ashe, however that is not what cooled my enthusiasm like ice on a swollen knee. It was looking at all of his present godchildren and seeing at least thirty people, all crowned; the three iyawos in the corner; and the two people in the living room chatting excitedly about their own impending Ocha ceremony in less than a week.

After about another year or so, I had to sever ties with that ile, and had moved on looking for a new one, and I happened upon an Ifa house. The members themselves were fantastic (and I still to this day keep in touch and consider them to be my spiritual brothers and sisters), however after the first consult with the head priest, it was once again made clear that I had been called to priesthood. This time around, I had in fact received my elekes and my warriors, unfortunately however, the head priest decided to close down the ile at short notice, and took my warriors away claiming that Eshu told her that I had more money in my pocket at the time of my receiving them, so they were never truly paid for in full, and I should have given the money when I had it. (I was $50 short, but still bought all the supplies, items, and animals. I still paid $400 cash for my warriors. The “extra” money in my pocket was for my gas and tolls on the way home.)

So, about six years later, I got into another ile, and was once again told that I needed to be crowned at nineteen or twenty years of age, so it needed to (once again) happen as soon as possible. I got to know the head priest, her husband, and kids over the course of about two years. She seemed really sincere and it seemed that I was her only godchild, so when she made the suggestion for me to move out to LA, live in her ile, and learn first hand from her and her godfather who happens to be a VERY well known priest and drummer, I jumped at the opportunity. I took my savings of a couple grand, consolidated my belongings and jumped on a plane within three days of being invited. Within eight months and after running completely through my money, she and another devotee she had living there (who had the trust fund money readily available for his $35,000 initiation) chased me out with threats, knives, and broken glass because I had outlived my usefulness, but that full tale is a story for a different day.

See a pattern?

All of them claimed that I was to be crowned for it was DESTINED. . .as it was for every. Body. Else.

So now I ask: Where are the crown-less?

Where are those who are destined to be uncrowned devotees? Where are the custodians and helpers? The ones whose destiny is not to wear a crown but to be the hands, legs, heart, soul and backbones of these iles in these traditions? The ones whose love of the God, the Orisha, Eggun, and Egbe is enough for them. They are not called for beads, warriors, or anything else but are still thoroughly embraced by the love of their spirits, God, their ancestors, and their godsiblings.

I have yet to find yet a one in my travels.

Granted, I know that I may find a house that has them, and I myself am a proud Palo Kimbisa devotee and priest, however I know one thing:

I am still called in some way shape or form. It feels as if one would have a reminder from an unknown yet beloved spouse in the back of their head to stop at the store and get milk before you come home from work, but you keep forgetting. For years. And the reminder is getting louder every day.

It’s just that every ile I have seen, visited, danced with, worked in has all had EVERYONE called for a crown, especially if they have money, but that’s not what a crown is for, and for that reason, I have remained a “professional aleyo”. I am being the change I would like to see in these traditions, by not chasing after the beads, not counting pennies for something I know that without severe financial help I will never attain. However, I will dig the dirt, pluck the chickens, entertain the children, crack the coconuts and sing the songs until I am out of breath.

Because I am the Change, and you can’t answer your spiritual calling without Change.

Be blessed, thanks for reading.

Form and Substance

I have in my possession a small bag of magical tools.  I made it nearly ten years ago and I rebuild its contents on a semi-annual basis.  Occasionally I bring it with me when I feel I need to go into a situation “armed for bear”, so to speak, but for the most part I leave it at home.  It is linked to me in such a way that I am able to call on the virtues of the tools it contains from any distance, and so I do not really need to have it on my person.  A few years back I was going through a very rough time in my life for reasons that I won’t get into here.  I started carrying my bag of spiritual tools with me all the time because I needed its presence there as a reminder that I was strong enough to get through the problems that were facing me.

Two years later, when I had made it through those troubles and been strengthened by them and my life was looking much better all around, I no longer carried my bag with me.  I made regular offerings to the gods and spirits that work with me, I was deepening my interaction with my own ancestors and incorporating the ancestors of my partner into that practice, I was studying new forms of magic, I was learning about local trees and herbs, I had embarked on a new spiritual path, and I was even learning a new language specifically to study some magical texts that were not available in english.  But these were things I largely did in private, or at least didn’t broadcast.  And I no longer had my bag at my side.  So imagine my surprise and bemusement when, at a time when my practice was more vitalized than it had been in years, I was told by fellow spiritual workers that I needed to rebuild my practice.

Fast-forward a few months, and a new set of problems had cropped up in my life that took up much of my time and attention.  My offerings had become irregular.  My studies had greatly diminished.  But I had my bag with me.   So things had clearly gotten better.

You might think that those of us who walk occult or spiritual paths would understand the difference between form and substance in matters like these.  That there is more to a person than just what meets the eye, and that appearances can be deceiving.  After all, our work concerns itself so much with the intangibles of essence, virtue, and spirit.  But I find that’s often not the case.

A few months ago myself and a (former) friend who considers himself a spirit-worker were driving up to an occult convention several states away.  Along the way we stopped at a highway rest stop for some food and drinks.  My then-friend looked disdainfully at the other people who had stopped there and began an extensive commentary about the “Muggle-ass Bitches” he saw.  This commentary continued for most of the way up, every time we saw a group of people who appeared ordinary–even though my own attire had more in common with them than with him.

Nor did this commentary stop when we reached the convention itself.  In a hotel full of occultists, I continued to hear at length about how he was surrounded by “Muggle-ass bitches”.  Apparently occultists need to dress a certain way, outside the norm, in order to be taken seriously?  The high point of the evening was when we headed outside for folks to grab a smoke, and he starts to rant about the “Muggle-ass looking bitches” he sees outside the doors we’re approaching.  I couldn’t have laughed harder than I did when the doors opened and we found the group outside the doors were our own friends and fellow spirit-workers who were also attending the convention.

But now, thinking back on it, it doesn’t seem as funny.  Shouldn’t spirituality be about more than mere costume?  Shouldn’t occultism be less about how one dresses, accessorizes, and applies makeup and more about what one knows and what one can do?  How many of those “muggles” we passed on the drive from Virginia to New Jersey had a richer, deeper, and more powerful spiritual practice than the one who was criticizing them?  I’d wager at least a few.

Of course, none of these observations are confined to those I know personally.  My partner touched on this a bit in his recent post, On Being Feral, when he talked about people in the occult communities posting pictures of their altars, ritual spaces, tools, luceros, prendas, etc. on Facebook or Tumblr or other blogs and social media.  This may have the outward appearance of spirituality, but is there any actual substance to it?  Or is it simply a fashion accessory?

On Being Feral

I’ve said and have been saying that my spirituality isn’t up for public consumption.  As much as I enjoy writing, I’m a highly inconsistent person.  I don’t blog regularly, and getting a simple essay written takes an inordinate amount of time for me.  Truth be told, I’m easily distracted.  But there is a reasoning behind all of that. My spirituality is very intimate and personal.  I’m a spiritworker, scavenger and bone hoarder. Dirt and blood and bone are the primary mediums with which I work.  I talk to dead people.  I dig in the dirt.  I create art from rotting corpses.  I shed blood.  It’s not pretty, or clean, or glamorous.  It’s not made for display, but it’s not supposed to be.  I am Feral.  What is Feral isn’t easily categorized, it can’t be boxed or caged or classified.  It goes counter to manicured domesticity, its very presence unnerves.  It is for this very reason that I find it so hard to write about aspects of my spirituality, even when I have the time and the desire to do so.  This concept doesn’t easily filter down into blog posts or books or essays.  Putting a thing to words is hard when that very thing defies words or labels.

Harpocrates has me by the balls.  Casting light on these things causes them to shimmer and fade, or retreat into the shadows, beyond where I’m able to follow or reach.  So I don’t.  I prefer to walk in the shadows with them.  My altars and shrines and sacred objects are just that.  They’re not for public edification, they’re not for display.  They aren’t tools to use as a prop for my ego, or a megaphone by which cries for attention may be broadcast.  I see and hear stories of people posting their “sacred” objects (I must use scare quotes, if they were that sacred, why display them like that?) on Twitter or FaceBook, or blogging posts.  I can’t grasp at why.  Luceros, prendas, altars and sacred spaces.  No detail left unwritten.  Look at me.  Look at what I have.  Look what I am.  Read my blog, read my books.  I ask, what time do you have for Spirit, when all you do is snap selfies, holler on social networking sites, write and write and write.  What happens off the computer?  Where’s your spirituality when no one’s looking?  Who are you without the audience?

I love writing, and I love reaching out to others of like-mind.  But I need to be free, unshackled by social networking and long hours spent writing.  I’m restless and my attention span doesn’t hold very long.  My sanity begins to pace like a caged leopard.  I need to be free.  I need to be Doing.  I will write about the hows and the whys, but only so far.  The finer, more intimate details are for me alone, and those whom I work with and for.  If you need me, you’ll figure out how to find me.  If you claim to run with me, then try to catch up.  I don’t linger.  My spirits won’t allow me to.  They keep my soul restless and moving.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Originally posted on:

Self Care Tips for Mediums, Sensitives and Others

Originally written 4/21/13  and published on the website of “Cressona Paranormal”.   I’m doing a bit of revising  due to further experience and to reach a broader audience, but the main information remains the same…..

And now for a tidbit from Riverwolf…

This is written in order for paranormal teams and the assistants of spiritual workers to keep in mind what a Worker may need during and after an encounter or ceremony.  It’s also written as a reminder for Worker/Priests/esses to have on hand things to ground them and help them recover so that they can continue to do their calling.  I refer to mediums mostly in this post, but the word can be changed to suit any other Spirit Worker.


After some intense spirit work, I figured I should post a bit on something we mediums tend to forget, Self Maintenance.

We tend to forget sometimes that what we do as mediums takes a great deal of energy, and we cannot rely on others to know when we are running low. Sometimes we cannot even rely on ourselves to know and so we must take steps to charge up  ourselves before we go to work and to take care of ourselves after a session.

1. Some think that coffee is the elixir of life, and it is a wonderful brew, but myself and my colleagues have found that water is of crucial importance. No only does being hydrated add to your level of concentration, but drinking during and after a session/investigation washes out any toxins that may have accumulated. Going without water can cause a toxic build up than can manifest in the form of headaches, migraines, body cramps, stomach aches, lethargy and general scatteredness.

2. Don’t push yourself past the point of no return. We as mediums and spirit workers can think that we can go like Energizer Bunnies until our spirits begin to slowly bring us down to earth. We need to recognize this limit, and better yet let our partners/team members know when this limit is reached. If we ignore it, we run the risk of having “the plug pulled” or begin to “run on fumes”. Any medium or spirit worker out there knows exactly what this feeling is and is nodding their head with a “been there, done that” smile. When we begin to run on fumes, then we can have a hard time bouncing back. Some of us can even fall into emotional depression or be physically ill afterward. No case is worth a medium needing to push that hard. Have a prearranged signal that everyone knows as their “The medium is getting tired” sign and let her wrap up what she is doing. If the family continues to try to talk to her, have another field member gently tell the family that the medium needs a break. Then hydrate and if you feel recharged, go on or go sit out in the car if you are completely drained. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP. This is your team and they care about you. If the team seems not to care about your welfare, you need to join another team.

(The above was written as if the Worker is part of a paranormal team.  As a rule, Workers should never work for the community alone, especially when there is a report of a possibly violent/malignant haunting.   Always go into a community home with at least an assistant unless you know the people well.)

3. Develop a “Spiritual First Aid Kit”. Again, this has been developed over years, trial and error and a dose of “damn, I wish we had -fill in the blank.” We never know exactly what we will be experiencing when we walk into a situation. We could be faced with anything from being overwhelmed by a waiting room full of frustrated spirits trying to communicate with their loved ones, to possession to being psychically attacked. We keep a bottle of “La Bomba”, in our kit, for spiritual cleaning of both ourselves and the possible client, some supplies for communicating with spirits, extra drinking water, protein (usually beef jerky or peanut butter cookies) for grounding and other things that help us. A First Aid Kit should contain anything you might think you would need to help yourself reorient and recharge. Other examples of what we have are bandanas to cover your head or clean people, ginger for nausea and pain killers for headache. If you work with another medium partner, it would of course be good to plan this pack together.

Hopefully, this little blog will give Spirit Workers ideas and reminders on taking care of themselves.  And PLEASE feel free to add your comments and suggestions and “tricks of the trade” to further ideas on how we can take care of ourselves.

Hollie Riverwolf
Medium/Spirit Worker

So spring is finally here…

So spring is finally here, which means it’s time to get to work in the yard.  What here looks like a pile of bricks, railroad spikes and buckets is actually sacred space.  The buckets are where I’ll be macerating animal skulls, and behind those buckets is a cairn, lovingly named The Pit, a portal and workspace for interfacing with the land’s basimbi (land-spirits, put simply).  This here is a work in progress, and will actually be expanding outward as time goes on, and more animal skulls and bone get processed and transformed into important tools for ritual and ceremonial use.

As an animist and Palero, I see all life as being sacred.  Which is why, for me, absolutely nothing goes to waste.  Everything has value, from the blood that’s shed, to the meat that’s eaten, to the skulls and bones that’re left behind.  The processes of death, decay and rot are just as sacred, and just as infused with life and potential.  Witnessing and working with these processes is deeply influential to understanding the workings of life itself, and is far from what most people would see as “morbid” or “depressing”.

Originally posted on:

On Working With the Relics of the Dead

Working with the parts and relics of the deceased in a spiritual fashion is a form of ecstatic union, connecting on a deeper level with the underlying spiritual current permeating what most conceive as “reality” (Kalunga is what would come to mind to the Palo practitioner).  At its most superficial I’d describe it as a form of psychometry, but what it really is is taking on the role of the psychopomp.  That itself takes on different manifestations, however.  A dog and a crow are both psychopomps, but both are shaped differently from one another and behave and function in their own unique fashions.  This also largely depends on who you are and what you are working with.  Not everyone is capable of being a psychopomp.  Taking on such a task without the mental or spiritual fortitude can manifest itself in mental imbalance, among other unpleasant things.  I’ve seen this numerous times over the course of years in my work with the dead, but I’m not here to tell stories of specifics, but to offer a general idea of what this kind of work entails, and the job I perform personally.

What do I mean when I say “relics of the dead”?  This could count as anything that is left behind at the moment of death, or relating in some way to the passing of an animal (be it human or nonhuman).  Similar to the Catholic understanding of relics, these take primary and secondary forms.  A primary relic would be the skin, hair, bone, nail or any other physical remnant of the direct body.  A secondary relic would be various items such as pieces of clothing, reliquaries, graveyard dirt and so on.  I’ve worked with relics of all kinds: animal bone, skin, blood, soft tissue, crematory ash, graveyard dirt, and numerous other items.  Each of these things have different attributes, spiritual imprinting, and function.  To keep things simple, I’ll start with the differences in spiritual function between animal bone and animal skin.

In my long experience, the deepest and longest-lasting spiritual connection one can find is within bone, particularly the skull.  While fur and leather and soft tissue decays and dissolves, bone will endure for much longer and serves as a lasting foundation and record of the animal (whether human or nonhuman) that once lived.  Numerous animistic cultures and spiritual traditions throughout the world make use of the skull as the primary focal point for spirit and for the personalities, thoughts and perceptions of the once-living animal.  It is the sum total of all wisdom, knowledge, experience and sensation, which is why skulls were so revered and held highest of all the remains of the dead in numerous animist cultures and societies. In Regla de Palo, skulls make up a very important part of various ritual workings and spiritual tech.  This has been the basic premise for a great many headhunter societies whose primary goal was to capture the head of the enemy and gain control over the fallen enemy’s soul.  The bones and particularly the skulls of the ancestors received similar preparation and treatment.  An example of this is the story of Odin and Mimir, when Odin preserves the head of the fallen sage through the use of various herbs and incantations, seating the soul within the decapitated head and accessing the wisdom and memory within.  The severed head proffers wisdom and knowledge to Odin.

Animal skins and hides also make up a significant part of animistic practice and tech that involves psychopomp work.  The skin is a very intimate part of the body, and is the external expression of ourselves, the organ by which we sense the world around us.  Skin-to-skin contact is a very powerful form of connection and energy transferral.  Much has been written about skinwalkers, berserkergangr (bear-shirt), and the shaman and his or her ritual cloak of shapeshifting.  The skin or hide of an animal, especially when ritually prepared, is a powerful tool by which the animist or spirit-technician can interface with the spirit and energies of that particular animal.  To give you an example of how powerful an animal skin can be, sometimes the simple act of draping one over a person can cause them to “go under” or become posessed by the animal’s spirit or energy.  Animal skins can also be used as containers or coverings for the storage and transport of ritual and holy objects or items, or mediums on which spells, sigils and so on can be written upon.  The spiritual charge within the skin or hide amplifies the work being done.

There are numerous examples of the above given, and I’ll write more on specifics later on.  Part of what I do is fulfill the role of ‘sacred scavenger’, which means finding and preparing nature’s relics and artifacts to be used in a spiritual or ritually meaningful way.  My methods range anywhere from scavenging roadkill to procuring tannery and furrier rejects to seeking out lost and overlooked treasures in antique stores, junk shops and estate sales, and the search itself is just as sacred.  Part of my search involves meditation, prayer and offerings to the animal I wish to work with (either personally or for a contact or client seeking my assistance), and usually it will present itself in some form.  An old skin in a junk shop, a skull at an estate sale, or a pile of bones in the forest.  Serendipity and ‘coincidence’ make up a large part of this–what many occult practitioners call synchronicity.

I’ll write more on this later, when my migraine isn’t kicking my ass.  Hopefully with pictures.  Folks do love pictures.  Keep up the great Work all!

Relics, Artifacts, Dead Things, and the ATRs

(Note: Part of this is a bit of personal history, so I can get across a general idea of the progression of events that led me to where I am now, and why.)

As soon as I was old enough to walk, my parents would take me to the museums in Washington, DC.  I was lucky that I had parents who valued knowledge above other things.  There were no visits to Chuck-E-Cheese, and amusement park trips were rare.  By the time I was in middle school I was reading and comprehending college level books, and taking out my own interlibrary loans.  But I had begun to comprehend something else, and at a much younger age.  It was within these museum halls that I first became aware of a seemingly subtle current that flowed around and through what most people perceived as “reality”.  Animals long dead came alive before my very eyes.  Spirits in old coffins and canopic jars rose to tell me stories of ancient times beyond the reaches of memory or comprehension.  These experiences firmly crossed the line between ecstasy and terror, and my young mind grappled desperately with the changing flows of reality all around me.  I remember when I would go into the Sant Ocean Hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  All around me I would see the sea creatures come to life, telling me their stories through sound and movement, color and pulse and vibration.  I was immersed in their world, a kaleidoscope of wonder.

It was these experiences that would form the skeletal frame of what would become my spirituality.  I spent a very large part of my time as a child rambling in the woods, or lost in a book.  I had much preferred the company of animals and spirits to those of other children.  I knew, even if I did not fully comprehend at the time, what these spiritual entities were, but I didn’t discuss them with the adults around me.  I bore enough of a stigma from struggling with a severe learning disability and behavioral challenges.  I didn’t want to compound this with stories of spirits, “imaginary friends”, talking trees and so on and so forth.  Not that people never suspected anything.  A mummified turkey foot in the toy chest.  A weathered fox skull found on the railroad tracks and hidden under the bed, directly beneath my pillow, “So he can talk to me better in my sleep”.  By the mid-90s I started actively exploring the occult.  Like most people I cut my teeth on Wicca first, and ended up firmly rooted in Hermetics (alchemy) and closely bonding with the deities of the Greco-Egyptian pantheons (particularly Dionysos, Hermes and Wepwawet).  Fast forward to the present, I’m initiated into the ATRs.  I’m still very new, having only been initiated for a about nine months or so.  In truth I never expected this to be the end result.  How exactly I stumbled into the ATRs is an interesting adventure.

For years I’d maintained an online presence under the moniker “Shin Cynikos”, though most people simply called me “Solo”.  I was an active presence in various occult and metaphysical circles, as well as the “scavenging” and “vulture culture” communities (primarily on LiveJournal, a format I no longer use).  I also kept an active blog,, which I may or may not go back to using.  Tumblr seems to allow for more on-the-go posting, since I rarely sit down long enough to write detailed posts like this one.  But I digress.  Gradually I began to withdraw my online presence, mainly because I seemed more preoccupied with actually living my spirituality instead of typing about it like so many others do (and there is much in that department I simply keep a secret–Harpocrates and yadda yadda), and I tend to care very little about attention-seeking and what others think about me and what I do.  I’d also by that point amassed quite an impressive collection, and had a penchant for finding the oddest things, which garnered me a reputation amongst the local and semi-local occultist friends and acquaintances who’d come around looking for stuff for their rituals and projects and so on.

Eventually I’d attracted the attention of a Palo house a few years back, though contacts with some mutual friends, and started working with them on finding various things, as well as talking shop about everything from spirit-work, necromancy and the ritual use of animal parts to animal husbandry.  It was funny at first, because–although I had an awareness and understanding of the ATR/DTRs, they never registered much on my radar at first, and I honestly could not understand why someone would want to, say, take a museum-grade, fully articulated wolf skull and stick it in a pot of dirt.  “A skull is not a root bulb!” I remember saying at one point.  But I ended up fostering some truly valuable friendships as a result, and ultimately ended up “going native” and getting initiated myself.  It’s been a crazy ride, but ultimately I’ve no regrets.

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