Bird Spirit Work: New Shrine and All Species Week

birdshrineA big part of my path is my spirit work. Traditionally, a spirit worker or shaman serves a community–this is the purpose of the particular abilities a spirit worker has, to fulfill the needs of a community. The community I serve is that of the spirits of extinct birds.

Many many bird species have gone extinct. Some were ancient species, more dinosaur than bird, that went extinct long before human beings were bothering them. Others are much more recently extinct, often directly due to human actions, and some so recent that we can know the exact date that they were last seen, sometimes even the date the very last bird of that species died. For some bird spirits that I work with, I do know this date, and I honor them on the date of their extinction, as a memorial. But for many more, I do not. So I came up with an idea to honor them on an “All Species Day”. This would just be a general day of offerings, remembrance, and communing, for the many species that don’t get an individual holy day from me throughout the year.

I wasn’t sure when to schedule this day though. I thought about putting it in the dark half of the year, when we’re especially focused on the Beloved Dead. But I didn’t just want to mourn these spirits, because to them, they are still very much alive! They want to be communicated with and offered to as living beings, and they still have thoughts and wishes on the other side of the veil. So then I started thinking about the bright half of the year, with Spring and migrations and many baby birds being hatched. When to celebrate? I knew I didn’t want this observance to exactly coincide with any existing holiday, because I didn’t want to detract from either one.

Then I noticed that Earth Day and Arbor Day both fall in April, between Oschdre and Moifescht. They tend to be about one week apart. Earth Day, of course, is a secular holiday honoring the Earth as our home, but one that many Pagans have taken to as a spiritual celebration as well. Arbor Day is another secular holiday, but this time honoring the importance of trees, and emphasizing planting trees and protecting our existing forests. This struck me as having particular significance because there are so many bird species that have gone extinct because of habitat destruction. Many of them had unique partnerships with particular species of trees, where each supported the other. When the trees went, so too did the birds, and as the birds’ numbers diminished, the trees were less and less able to reproduce. (Less spread of their seeds, less fertile ground from lack of bird droppings, no birds to break down older branches and let more light in, etc) 

So “All Species Day” became “All Species Week”, a chance to honor and celebrate all the bird species–and all the plant and animal species that made their homes and fed them–whose physical forms no longer live in this world, but whose spirits are very much alive.

I’m getting ready for this year’s All Species Week, and what should I discover at the dollar store but this adorableIMG_0464 little bird box! It seems to have been custom-made as a shrine. It has a bird cut out of its door, and inside are three small hooks on which one could hang prayer beads or other small items. There’s enough space that one could put a picture, a tiny figurine, a tea light, feathers, seeds and nuts, or other offerings. I love it! Since I happened to find it just when I did, I think it’s kind of a present-to-me that will then become a present-to-the-spirits in honor of the occasion. I have some time to cleanse and dedicate it before it will be put into use. It even has a hook on the back so that it could be hung directly on a wall, and it’s skinny enough that it could be put on a small shelf or such. I’m sure its original intent was something along the lines of being someone’s keyholder by the door, but I looked right at this and just immediately saw “shrine”! #Spiritworkerproblems, am I right?

I’m working up more plans for my observance, including what kinds of offerings I will be making. I’ve also been working on memorizing what I’ve been calling “the Litany”–that is, the names of every single bird species that has gone extinct since 1500. If you clicked the link above, you can see that’s a huge list! I won’t have it anywhere near down-pat for this year’s All Species Week, but reciting it is important because, as we learn from Heathen practice, what is named, lives. Speaking the names and stories of these spirits is a very important part of supporting their continued existence, of strengthening them, and in my case, serving them. Reciting this litany in and of itself becomes a type of offering.

I would really love to hear from you about what kinds of individualized offerings you give, how you like to decorate your shrines and altars for holidays and such. Do you celebrate your own holy days that aren’t part of a traditional religious calendar? Tell me about them!

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