1 Duir 2003

I'm spending my free time embroidering magical sigils for my jacket and drum case. Gary gave me a book of Saami embroidery patterns from Lapland, which seem appropriate. I love the brightly embroidered jackets of the Saami men, and I decide to make mine in that style. There will be a cap of the four winds, too. The two figures that grab me first are primitive octagonal pictures copied from Saami shaman's drums - antlered deer in the center, and little birds in the corners. I change the colors so that the birds are black instead of red, the deer surrounded by ravens. Deer is not my totem, but perhaps this deer will watch my back.

Even with a map, I worry to myself, I might get lost. I'm so good at getting lost. It's one of my best talents. The folks on my e-list tell me to take along a spirit animal. Spirit animal? I don't have one. I've never had a familiar; I've had pets, but didn't seem to bond to them in that way. I have two totems, but the actual Spirit doesn't drop in for tea and cookies; the animals simply inspire me, and I have things in common with them. I have their "medicine", but they're not spirit animals that I can call on. Besides, I get the distinct impression that I'm supposed to be taking actual physical things on this trip, which would bring us back to familiars again, which I don't have.

I obsess about these problems while I hang the laundry, and then I hear a voice in my mind. I know that voice, deep and smooth and soft. It's Herne's voice. "You won't get lost," he says. "I'll make sure you don't get lost."

I feel an immediate rush of relief. Thank you, thank you. When the oldest and greatest of the hunter/tracker gods says that I won't get lost, then I'm probably safe. I guess that opening my body for gods does give me something useful in return. I hadn't thought that there would be any obligation; do you feel an obligation to the taxi that you take a ride in, beyond paying the owner's fee? But apparently Herne has some small fondness for me. I'm one of his little predators. He probably sees me the way I see a house cat. "Can you go anywhere in the Nine Worlds?" I ask, foolishly thinking that as he's not a Norse god, perhaps he'd have trouble moving through their cosmos.

He laughs at me. No, that's not accurate; Herne never laughs. He is amused at me. He doesn't even speak, but I am suddenly reminded of how old this god is. I call him by a Celtic name, but he is older than Celts, or Norsemen, or even Indo-Europeans. When I don furs and do the Wild Hunt every year while he rides me, I am tapping into the same tradition of the Paleolithic cave-dwellers, dressed in their furs and reenacting the sacred hunt around the bonfire. And yet he is older even than that. He is the guardian of the predator-prey relationship, and every animal that is involved in that, which is nearly all of them. He is truly Lord of the Animals. Before there were humans, there was Herne. He might not have looked as we humans picture him - I expect he shows a different face to all his children - but he was there. Herne is familiar with velociraptors and pteranodons and great toothed fish. If it moves and breathes and eats other animals in some way, it is under his protection.

The really old gods, the pre-human gods like the Earth Mother and the Green Man and the Hunter, they don't bother with the cosmic boundaries set up by the younger gods. They just walk through them as if they don't exist. They can go anywhere. As long as his children are there, so is Herne. "Why are you putting the stag on your belongings if not to invoke my protection?" he asks rhetorically.

"Because it was on the shaman's drums," I say.

"And who do you think that the shamans were invoking?" Damn, do I feel stupid. He goes on: "And don't worry about the spirit animal. I'll take care of that. I own all the spirit animals," he says. "They're all mine."

Of course you do, I think to myself. I assume this means that one will appear in spirit form when necessary, or that I simply won't need one. I go inside and tell my family what he's said, hoping it makes them feel safer about the trip, as it does me. I have spirit allies, yes I do. I have allies who've shared my body, and they give a damn about me.

The next morning, our friend Lorelei calls, and she comes over that afternoon. She wears a tattoo of Herne on her ankle, something that I hadn't noticed before. She has rescued a baby raven, a tiny fledgling that had apparently fallen out of its nest and was being attacked by cats on the road. It's bigger than our cockatiels, which seems strange for a baby, but ravens get really big, over two feet long. Its feathers are still fluffy and soft and bedraggled, and it can't yet fly. It still has to be fed by hand, and it opens its gaping maw to accept food. It can't yet peck or feed itself; it's too uncoordinated. Divination says that it's a girl. She's friendly and pettable and attaches herself to us immediately as soon as we feed her. I sit with her on my shoulder, on my leather vest with all the thongs for her to dig her claws into. She pulls my hair and shits on my arm and then curls up to sleep. By the time October rolls around, she will be out of a cage and flying around outside - I'd never keep a wild animal as a pet when it could fend for itself - but she should still be friendly to me if I keep feeding her. I have named her Maegen, a Norse word that refers to the personal power that one earns by honorable deeds and by keeping one's word.

Wow, it seems that I have a familiar, and clearly she's meant to go with me on this trip. I tell Lorelei about my discussion with Herne, and she laughs and indicates the tattoo and says she's glad to be of service. Less that 24 hours and my namesake is delivered to my house in a milk crate. Now that's service, all right. Guess he likes his little predator.

If everyone lived my life, how could they disbelieve in the gods? There's no way. No hallucinatory voice in my head could have pulled off that trick, unless I'm way more powerful than is actually possible. It's as if everyone is pulling together to get me through this journey. It's wonderful to know that you matter to the gods, that the mattering isn't all one-way. Herne cares. I doubt he'd pull my ass out of trouble if I was really stupid, but he cares enough to help me. I won't get lost, and I'll have a spirit animal, wearing flesh. My people will provide my magical stuff, and the rest is up to me. There we are. I wonder if Odhinn himself got so much aid when he walked off into the wilderness in search of wisdom?

"....Do you know you're not forgotten,
Do you know that someone cares?
For half of love is keeping promises,
And you'll find the other half of love
Is simply being there....."
                -Wild Gods, my song for Herne and all the wild gods