Local Gods: Portlandia

I imagine that Portlandia wonders sometimes how Athena managed with Athens.

Portland wants desperately to be a city of art and craft, of good food and progressive politics, hip and clever, full of small businesses and neighborhoods that are still full of neighbors, a beautiful city full of art and nature. And it is those things! It is also a city shaped by racism and gentrification, a city that wants artists but where artists can barely afford to live, and a city that fails to live up to its ideals.

Portlandia has been on the city’s seal since 1878. A tall woman bearing a trident, she looks out over the Willamette River and her valley. She is described as the Queen of Commerce and a star shines over her head. I was first drawn to her because of this; I saw her as a relative of my goddess Mara. New to the city and job-hunting, I made offerings that we might find work. Ultimately we ended up in a suburb outside of Portlandia’s domain, but I kept circling back to her and to the city itself.

A bit over thirty years ago, Portland installed a large (second only to the Statue of Liberty) copper statue of Portlandia above the entrance to the then-new Portland building. This depiction of Portlandia does not tower over the river valley, but instead she crouches down, holding her trident out to one side and reaching out to the city inhabitants below. There is an amazing amount of emotion in her face and body, and it was this statue that helped me make that connection with her.

She is the city, and like the city, she wants to be better. She wants to make things better for her inhabitants. She reaches out to help. She offers a hand up. I have gone to her for help finding work and for help finding housing.

I’ve never seen her work alone; it’s always in concert with other local spirits when I get results. I call her with the rivers, with the bridges, with the city ancestors, and with the spirits of smaller parts of the city. The offerings she seems to like best are public praise (Portland is a little bit self-obsessed), taking care of the homeless, and taking care of the city itself. Supporting local artists, local presses and local businesses is good, too. When you can, battle gentrification and racism, and hold the city government accountable.

Do your part to take care of Portland and Portlandia will do her part to take care of you as well.

This post was inspired by Sara Mastros’s American Gods Project; there’s plenty of good stuff worth reading over there.

Day 29 – Bluebird Skies

Not the library I was at today.

It’s Wednesday! I’ve done four complete weeks. It feels like I just started, to be honest. Today started early, as I had a follow up doctor visit to make sure I was recovered from last week’s “event.” I knew I wanted to make today’s prayers at the library before I even went to sleep last night, though, and I had my bag packed with the books I needed to return.

The morning was gray and wet and windy, and no amount of cover helps much when the rain is blowing sideways. I got some quality solo train time in, which hasn’t happened much since we moved. Along the way I took care of some paperwork that needed to be done and visited Portlandia for the first time in a while. It had lightened up some by the time I was walking from the train stop to my office, but it stayed gloomy and damp right up until about an hour before my shift ended, when the clouds thinned and the blue spring sky came through.

After work I was practically skipping on the walk to the library. For the last Wednesday, my offering was joining the Friends of the Library, a proper commitment to the town and the library wights as well as an offering for Pillai.

I need to spend some more time with the new lesson from the Court of the Work In Progress but it’s got me thinking about my writing, and the spirits I already work with and the spirits I could turn to for help with that. The course has thus far done an amazing job of happening to be just what I need when it comes into my mailbox, I have to admit.

One last day with Pechak and Velos and this experiment will officially be complete, though I have to finalize the prayers and their format. And now that I’ve laid this groundwork, it’ll be time to move onto the next thing.

Today’s coin is an Algerian 1 dinar coin. The back features a prominent star and crescent symbol and a hamsa. The star reminds me of the Dark Lady, and the crescent I hadn’t used to associate with her, but pairing her with Monday has made me think about it. I hadn’t spent enough time with Redbird to see it before the last few months, but the Dark Lady and the Bright Lady are very much two sides of the same coin. The hamsa is a protective symbol, so this coin I take as the Dark Lady’s blessing.




Eschatology and Daniel Tiger

In the long arc of the Empty Sky, the world ends lots of times. Maybe it’s local or personal. Sometimes it’s changes in geography and even physics. Occasionally, the perception of the past and present itself shifts. The old world is gone.

And the next morning the sun comes up and the story continues.

Right now there’s a lot going on. Yesterday we got approved for a new apartment. It’s on the other side of town, so it isn’t a long distance move, but it’s going to be a lot of work getting ready in the next month. The landlord wants to show the place starting next week, so I have to clean it and declutter and start packing at the same time.

It’s a little sad because this is the place we brought the baby home, where she learned to roll over and crawl and walk and talk. On the other hand, hopefully I’ll stop thinking I hear the cat all the time.

Besides the move itself, I’m trying to see how fast I can get all of my paperwork in order. I’ve been thinking about it since I need to get a new license anyway, and now that thought process is sped up a little. Better safe than sorry.

There’s a lot to worry about right now, and a lot I can be doing. But this move is a good reminder that small magic can add up. I started working with the local spirits near my new job when I went for the first interview, and I know that helped. I kept building the relationship when I started working. It’s an awful housing market right now, but when my spouse and I asked for help they delivered almost immediately.

None of us has control over the big picture. All of us have control over some small corner, and the whole point of magic is to increase that control. Well, I’m taking that and running with it: wards and charms and protections, blessings and curses, luck and strength to those who need it. More offerings and stronger relationships, that they drop gifts in my lap and open my eyes so I can see them.

It’s hard to focus in on what I can do personally, so I ended up turning to one of my daughter’s favorite shows for advice. On Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, when a big storm damages the neighborhood, the cleanup effort has three steps according to one of my dad role-models, Daniel Striped Tiger: first you help your family, then you help your neighbors, then you help your neighborhood. I think this combines nicely with the reminder to put on my own oxygen mask first – you start in the spheres where you can make the most difference.

Taking care of my family is the biggest thing I can do. My family isn’t just my spouse and kid or any kind of blood family, but it’s the people who know me and whom I know, the people who I know are safe to vent to and who feel the same way about me, even if we don’t always agree or face the same problems. Heartsiblings, best friends, the people who drop everything when you need to talk and vice versa. These people are easy to help because you either know what they need or they’re comfortable telling you what they need. If you’re doing it wrong, they’ll tell you and you’ll listen. That’s family. They’re easier to magic for because they trust you and are open to you and often your wyrd is bound up with theirs in some way. These are the people you’d trust your life to at the end of the world.

Once my family is as stable as I can make it, then there’s neighbors. These are the people who live near me – because a lot of the time, my safety and well-being is intertwined with theirs – and this is also friends and other social groups: for me it’s my church, my online friends,  and my coworkers. For you it might be people in your church or grove, your co-workers, your kid’s classmates, your gaming group, whatever. These are the people whose well-beings directly impact your well-being, either because you care about them or their situation impacts yours or both. I don’t know them as well as my family, so I need to pay more attention to what help they want. But not only do I want my friends to be safe and happy, but if my neighbors are in trouble or my coworkers aren’t able to come to work, I’m likely to be impacted by that too. These are people who you probably know at least a little bit, and who probably are willing to trust your good intentions (and you’re probably able to trust theirs). Ask what they need and help them get it if you can. These are the people who are going to be in the warehouse with you at the end of the world, fighting off zombies with baseball bats. You want them in as good a shape as possible.

The neighborhood is the bigger picture: governments, organizations, movements, demographics. I can’t protect every queer person personally, but things that affect the queer “neighborhood” affect all of us. I’m disabled but not dependent on the ACA as much as some people, so I need to listen to other people in the disabled neighborhood to know what is most helpful. I’m not a person of color, but I can try to protect the PoC neighborhoods similarly. Listen, ask, act. Magic and action alike in this area tends to be most effective if it’s supportive magic powering others or precisely targeted: I can join an organization with a regular donation, volunteer at a local group to do a specific thing, knock on doors and get out voters in my district, honey jar my government officials, bless and protect those in the streets.

In that same episode, Daniel Striped Tiger quotes Mr Rogers, telling his son that when he was scared, his mother taught him to look for the helpers. This is important too. This is still the same country it was last week in a lot of ways, but some band-aids got ripped off hard and we popped some stitches. I have a whole house to pack, altars to disassemble, a toddler to take care of, plans to make. We have a lot of work to do for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our neighborhoods. But we’re not alone. I’ve had friends already offer to help with moving. Lots of people are trying to figure out what to do next. That’s what we can do. Those of us who can, get up in the morning. Keep moving forward. And remember the names of the ones left behind.

U is for Urban Legends and City Spirits

Paul Bunyan

I’ve talked about city spirits that are the energy or personification of a city or a neighborhood, but I don’t think I’ve talked about urban legends in that context. Portland is a great city for this, but almost all cities have a few of these urban legends, folk heroes, and so on. You can leave an offering to Walt Disney in Anaheim or Harvey Milk in San Francisco – and in Portland we can call on Joan of Arc, Theodore Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln – but you can also offer to the… less historical spirits that every city has.

Portland has a wide assortment of these spirits. There are structures, like the many bridges, that each have their own personalities and energies. Another good place to start meeting urban city spirits is by looking at the statuary you have around you. The best pieces are the ones people see and even interact with every day – like velveteen rabbits, they start to take on the characteristics we see in them.

Here in Portland, we have Paul Bunyan, who can be called on when you’re battling big business. There’s Allow Me, the spirit of shared transportation – he’s explicitly linked to cabs, but I’ve invoked him in the name of getting the MAX to run on time, too. There are the Skidmore Fates, whom I’ve entreated for good luck and coincidence. There’s Ramona and Henry in Grant Park, if you’re in the mood for invoking fictional characters – Ramona’s a great one to call on if you need a little chaos.

There are also a variety of animal sculptures if you’re looking for a focus when dealing with animal spirits. There’s the Thompson Elk downtown on Main Street, who I’ve called on for protection, as well as cats, bears, dear, beavers, otters, and Chinese elephants – and that’s just off the top of my head.

Want to get to know the people in your neighborhood?

Start by thinking about the places you pass regularly that seem to have personalities of their own. They might be statues or man-made structures, or they might be parks or natural features that have their own active land wights. If there’s a place or a piece that you’re drawn to, you can spend some time with it to get to know it, and maybe leave a small offering. From there, it’s pretty much the same process as getting to know any other spirit or small god, just more immediate because you know exactly where that spirit lives.

P is for Portlandia and Spirits of Place


No, not the TV show.

Portlandia is the goddess of the city of Portland. She’s been here since at least 1851, which is a pretty good run for the west coast.

The poem at the statue’s base says that “our breath/ becomes her city.”

The most famous depiction of her, the large statue downtown, shows her reaching out to the people below. This is not just quality sculpture, though – I’ve found this to be very much the spirit of the city. She will make sure you can get by, more than any other city I’ve ever lived in.

I’ve found that Portlandia and the other city spirits are great for metaphysical networking. Making offerings to her, Columbia and the Skidmore Fates for help or asking advice tends to result in “coincidental” results – suddenly turning up job listings or apartments, taking a shortcut that happens to take me past something else I never knew I needed, and so on. The spirits of the place where you live know the city, and they can direct you to the places you need to go.

As you might imagine, the best ways to honor her are to take care of her city and its inhabitants. Get involved in planning events in Portland. Work to help those who need it, or preserve the city’s infrastructure. It doesn’t have to be major – volunteer or pick up litter or whatever works for you.

I think most cities have their own spirits, though I rarely see them personified like Portlandia. It’s worth reaching out to the place where you live. Most cities have a personality and an interest in their inhabitants. The land itself has its own personalities – in our case, there’s the Columbia and the Willamette, there’s Mt. Hood watching over us, there’s dozens of smaller spirits of place attached to the buildings and the parks. Just as your neighbors are a part of your neighborhood whether you hang out with them or not, and it’s not a bad idea to get to know them, it’s also a good idea to get to know the spirits of the place you’re living. Whether you’re putting down roots or just taking a break, knowing where you are is the first step in knowing where you’re going.

The City and the City

(If you’re seeing this post in your feed reader, and you were subscribed to the old blog and didn’t change anything, please let me know? I’m hoping for a smooth transition.)

It’s been more than a year since I posted about Blue Jay Walking, hasn’t it? I am so bad at followup, guys, you have no idea. If I said I was going to come back to something you actually wanted to read about, and then I never did, tell me and I’ll come back to it.

I suspect most people have a Place that they think of as theirs, where they default to crossing over into the otherworlds. Mine is the City, or what I sometimes call the Forgotten City. It is a patchwork of buildings and people that I’ve visited in my dreams as far back as I can remember, with different districts having wildly variable architecture and age. The only thing that connects them is that they have ceased to exist.

What is the City? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. It might be “on the astral plane.” I’ve had people suggest it’s related to Faery, and people tell me it’s definitely not. While I can’t say I’ve been to all of Faery, I lean toward not. I suspect the City is a thing unto itself, a spirit of civilization or urbanization. There are parts that are old, stone and sand and brick. There are parts that are new, too, and everything in between; the important thing is that it’s been around a while.

It contains, oh, everything. The Library and the Theater, the church of the Blue Lady, the river and it’s school, the arcade, the park and the palace, the Alchemist’s castle. It seems to go on forever, or to present you with the foothills in a moment if it’s testing you.

Portland is a particularly good city to pathwalk the City in; it has a peculiar relationship with its history and doesn’t like to clear the old if it doesn’t have to. Lots of old buildings still exist, even if the places they used to be are gone.

I’ve never actually tried to explain how I do this before, so it’s probably going to sound a bit ridiculous. Lots of magic does, I find, until you get up to the really impressive “then I lit the bonfire and donned my ritual bear-skull mask” levels.

I usually start at a train station, because I know how long I have to wait, and use that time to meditate and settle into where I’m going. Then, when I step on the train, it overlaps with one of the subways or streetcars in the City. Sometimes the crossover happens quite by accident and I don’t realize it until it’s there, but I realize that’s not very helpful as a description.

The trick is just to line up where you are here with where you are in the Otherworld, whichever Otherworld that might be. The more alike, the better, but there’s always malleability there. The trick is always in how well your mind can hold on to both places; the more it can hold on to the Otherworld, the less you need this world to match it.

I expect to say more about Portland in the near future, when we get to the letter P.

The Library

Let me tell you about the Library.

The Library is a large building near the heart of the City. It is made of stone with columns out front and guardian animals and large, leaded windows. The main doors do not open easily for the casual traveller, and when they do, the answers they find are not always the ones they want.

Ancient as it looks, the contents of the Library vary widely. Like most places I visit in the City, it is larger on the inside than on the outside. Inside are everything from maps to ancient scrolls to modern trashy paperbacks, stored in narrow aisles. Aside from the many floors of stacks, there are also small rooms and carrels for study.

The main reading room, where the Librarians meet with guests, has tall, gothic ceilings and wide worktables. Between the reading room and the vestible is the circulation desk, where various regular inhabitants of the Library can often be found. There is always at least one person at the circulation desk, sometimes more

There is also a sub-basement that is far more modern than anything else found in the library, including a room dominated by a very large computer. This space uses data storage crystals in a way that could easily be interpreted as Atlantean or Lemurian, if you were looking to make such a connection.

The closest thing I’ve ever heard described is the Akashic Records, but I’ve never met anyone whose worldview I meshed with that worked with it, so it’s hard to figure out. I often go there when I’m not sure what to do next or I don’t know what I’m dealing with, just as I do with my local library. In this case, though, it’s more like journeywork than just hopping on the bus.

I have, on occasion, used a combination of pathwalking, where I wander with the otherworld overlapping this one, and bibliomancy in the library/Library itself. It can be brutally efficient, but I can’t recommend it lightly.

Bridges of Multnomah County

A stitched panorama of the Hawthorne Bridge in...
A stitched panorama of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I haven’t written very much about localized paganism lately, mostly because I’ve been distracted and antisocial. When I spend less time out of the house, I spend less time appreciating the land, the rivers and the cities. That’s a shame, though, because I love the place where I live, and I want to get back in the habit of appreciating it.

I was thinking about the personalities of the rivers I’ve met up here, and it occurred to me that I’ve gotten a feel for the personalities of the bridges as well. There are quite a few bridges up here, and I haven’t gotten to know all of them, but I’ve got a few impressions.The bridge I’ve spent the most time on is the Glenn L Jackson Memorial Bridge, which I used to cross frequently on my way to and from work. It’s a rather sensible bridge with a romantic streak, as it seems to enjoy the idea of itself being a river of light at night in contrast to the river it crosses.

The other major bridge over the Columbia is the I-5 bridge, which is more likely to be a little congested. It’s got an interesting personality, perhaps because half of it is considerably older than the other span – it’s a bit like a pair of conjoined twins. When the lifting portion of the bridge goes up to let river traffic through, there’s a palpable feeling of excitement like being a small child whose realized everything stops when he does something.

The Burnside Bridge is pretty much the iconic Portland bridge – it’s more decorative than any of the other bridges, offers shelter to the Portland Saturday Market on the west side and a skate park on the east side, and is also home to the iconic Portland Oregon sign. It’s the hipsterest of all the bridges, and I say that with love, I promise.

Hawthorne Bridge feels more hippy than the Burnside Bridge, a little more down to earth, and very welcoming of pedestrians and bicyclists in particular.

The Morrison Bridge is hard to get a feel for because it’s currently under construction. (You can only cross it in one direction! I’d imagine that’d make any bridge feel off-kilter.) It’s a bit of a showy personality, though, especially because of the special colored lights it displays.

Marquam Bridge is graceful in a concrete sort of way and busy. I haven’t really been able to get a feeling for it beyond that yet

Sellwood Bridge is down near Oaks Park, and I’ve only crossed it a handful of times, but it seems to enjoy the crowds in view at Sellwood Park and on the river. It’s a tired bridge and badly in need of repair.

Steel Bridge is the bridge the MAX uses to cross the Willamette River, so I’ve ridden on it a number of times. I tend to be anxious when on this bridge because of that, so it took me a longer time to get a sense of the personality of this bridge. Steel Bridge is actually very serious-minded, probably because it plays such a distinctive role in Portland transportation.

There’s several other traffic bridges that I’ve only been over once or twice and a few I haven’t been on at all, including the railway bridge over the Columbia.

History and Place

There’s a discussion going on in one of the ADF mailing lists about honoring the spirits of a place and how that can intersect with the beliefs and practices of Native American tribes that currently or formerly live and worship in the area. It’s an interesting discussion, though somewhat lacking in perspective because of the closed nature of the group it’s taking place in.

I think it’s important to at least make an effort to research the mythology of the area where you live if you’re trying to form a relationship with the land. After all, some of the land spirits are going to be the same ones that others have worshiped for a long time. The Columbia River was here long before white folks showed up, and I do my best to honor that.

At the same time, I’m not Chinook or Kalapuya or anything even close. I can try to reach out to local spirits and gods, but I’ll be honest… I’d be hesitant to write in-depth about working with gods known to the local tribes, even if I did have a relationship with them. Native mythology is still widely ignored or misunderstood, and I wouldn’t want to risk contributing to that. (Virtually every website I’ve seen that talks about Quileute mythology, for example, has a nice bold note that there are no Cold Ones in Quileute myth and can everyone please shut up about Twilight already. Because people read things and they believe it.)

There is definitely a point where you can go too far. Attempting to recreate Native American rituals in any way is probably crossing it if you haven’t actually been trained in that kind of thing. And I think we all know a plastic shaman when we see one at this point and know not to touch that shit with a ten foot pole.

My goal, in the long run, is to build a religious practice that’s intensely local: working with the Columbia and the Willamette rivers, with Portlandia and the Skidmore Fates, with the bridges and the nearby mountains and the Pacific Ocean and on and on. While some of these spirits are obviously considerably younger by deity standards, some of them have been here for a very long time and to ignore that is to do them, and my relationship with them, a disservice.

Journeying and Blue Jay Walking

Running late with my PBP post this week, mostly because of neuro reasons I’ll talk about later. Also because I was going to write about Jormungand, and someone else I read did a good job with that so I need to think about it some more.

So I was listening to Don’t Stop Believin’ and I was thinking about journeying. A lot of people, when they talk about journeying, are referring to sitting in some kind of meditation, maybe with drums or a guided instruction, and visualizing where they’re going. That’s not what I do.

While I sometimes journey in the out-of-body sense, I more often do what I refer to as “blue jay walking” because I like the pun – I interact with the world in a state of overlap, where what I’m doing here and what I’m doing elsewhere align. Mostly.

This can be as simple as walking the bridges and speaking to them, using the Otherworld as a way to open myself up to impressions or feelings from the structures, or making offerings to Portlandia or the Skidmore Fates. It can also mean letting places in this world match up with places elsewhere. I can go down to the shore and have it align with the tribal space of otter-shapeshifters in the Otherworld, or visit the heights of Washington Park, where I speak with Golden Eagle, or deep below it, where I speak with the Serpents.

I may end up writing more about how I see Portland this way, especially the genus loci of the City – it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, anyway.