Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spirit in its Most Concentrated Form

There is a tendency for those who get involved in the sorts of mystical practices of the sorts I am discussing to become disdainful of the body. This is a mistake, in my opinion, as the body is as much a part of who one is as is the mind or any other part with which one identifies. Indeed, it is in part through contemplation of the body moving through space that we can come to a more full understanding of the self.

One of the ways of interpreting the idea of the world as emanating from a central well, as my own cosmology (derived from ancient sources, as I have previously discussed) has it, is the “emanationist” school. In this concept, common to a number of occult philosophies, the world of experience is the product of spirit being progressively derived, as it were, from emanations radiating from the central source. While some interpret this as a “degeneration” of the pure spiritual influences, another way to consider it is as the diffuse spiritual forces being concentrated into a denser, more highly packed state. In this interpretation, matter is less malleable than thought because it has more inherent inertia. While I don't hold with this interpretation particularly (I will discuss matters of “reality” at another time – I should note here, though, that I don't particularly discount this interpretation either), it is an interesting one that both provides a title for this entry and gives an emphasis to physicality that is often missing in spiritual discussion.

When working with trance states and visionary experiences, it is easy to lose track of the body. When that happens, it is easier still to begin to favor the images in the head over physicality. In my experience, this tends, however, to cause a degradation of the visionary state. This is due to the loss of many sensory experiences that provide a sense of profundity and realism. It transforms visions from ecstatic, visceral experiences into something more akin to watching a movie – flat, alienated, and removed from reality.

To prevent this loss of focus, it is helpful to engage in regular physical activity. Sports are, of course, one way to approach this. The particular sporting types that are most associated with werewolves historically are the martial arts. I recommend regular martial arts practices, myself, though others may prefer some other physical activity. I've discussed martial arts previously as they come from Celtic and particularly Gaelic sources.

Through becoming more aware of one's body, one develops a stronger internal image of oneself. This is useful in meditation and in deep trance, by giving one a solid view of the self, which leads to a firmer foundation for remembering the insights and experiences of these otherwise primarily mental activities. One's dreams become more focused and concrete.

Of course, this is to simply talk about the mental and spiritual benefits of physical exercise. It is also good in itself, as a way to maintain the body in good condition. Keep in mind that we are not just our mental and spiritual selves, but also our physical bodies. We live in our bodies, and spend nearly all of our experience of this life in those bodies. Certainly we might, at times, experience existence at a distance from our physical forms, in trance states and out of body experiences, but it is also true that without our bodies to return to, we move over into the realm of the dead entirely. The characteristic of the werewolf is that he moves between this world and the world of the dead. As a result, the werewolf chooses to survive in this life for as long as it is possible to do so.

One of the notable aspects of the Gaelic Fianna warbands was their focus on being able to survive any hardship. By becoming capable of fending for themselves in the woods through hunting and other survival techniques, by learning techniques of fighting (long called in Europe the Art of Defence, or Fencing), and so on, the Fianna (an Irish reflection of the werewolf bands) aspired to live through difficulties, to be the perfect survivors.

Learning techniques of survival, camping, and the like are also important skills for the modern werewolf. Camping, living away from the support systems of civilized life, is a wonderful and enjoyable way of reminding oneself that one's body is there, and coming in tune with its rhythms. It will also serve as a reminder that the world of other things than humanity is real and has its own needs and wants.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Astral Projection and Trance

One thing that werewolves do that is separate from the more social rituals I've discussed previously is sometimes called “projecting the Double”. Claude Lecouteux, in his excellent Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies (originally titled Fées, Sorcières, et Loups-Garous au Moyen Age ), discusses this subject at length, giving many examples from northern European sagas. One of the most interesting passages is from Nennius's Historia Britonum :

There exist certain men of the Celtic race who have a marvelous power that they get from their ancestors. By a demonic force, they can, at will, take the form of a wolf with large sharp teeth and often, thus metamorphosed, they attack poor defenseless sheep. But when people armed with sticks and weapons come toward them, they flee nimbly and cover great distances. When they are of a mind to transform themselves, they leave their human body, ordering their friends not to change their position or touch them in any minor way whatsoever, for if that were to happen, they would never be able to return to their human appearance. If, while they are wolves, someone wounds them or hits them, the wound or mark on their [animal] body is found in exactly the same place on their [human] body. [Lecouteux, pp.110-111]

But there are many other examples, not all of which have to do with transformation into wolf form. Some transform into other animals, such as bears, mice, cats, and the like, and others travel in their human form, but are also in a state of ecstatic trance, leaving their human body behind. In nearly all of these cases, the person who is entering these ecstatic states is emphatic that their physical forms are not to be touched, and frequently they demand that no one is to say their name. Having been in ecstatic trance myself, I can say that these are important precautions, if only because it can be difficult to maintain the state without falling back into one's body and normal consciousness or losing the events like a fading dream!

So, it is important for a werewolf to learn how to do this. I can't teach this in a single article like this one. There aren't many books that cover the subject well, but if you can find one that works for you, or better still if you are lucky enough to have a teacher in person, or even better have a natural affinity for trancework, then you should use that. The subject matter you should be looking for is sometimes called “ astral projection” or “lucid dreaming”. If you would like my suggestion, I recommend Robert Bruce's excellent work on “astral projection”, Astral Dynamics . “Astral projection” is a way of describing the sort of deep trance that is called “projecting the Double”, and Bruce includes a detailed discussion of exactly how to do it. If, like me, you prefer a structured method of learning, he has another book, Mastering Astral Projection , co-written with Brian Mercer, which presents a 13-week course of exercises that will almost certainly lead to successful deep trance, or “astral projection”. He uses a model of the “energy body” which I don't entirely subscribe to, but which is very useful in developing his method. Now, some people might dispute my recommendation, but I can say that I have learned how to engage in deep trance using the method Bruce describes. If there is a different method you wish to pursue, by all means do what seems best to you. In addition, there are other methods, such as this one , available for those who don't wish to, or are unable to, spend money on learning to project the Double, though I can't vouch for its effectiveness.

While in these ecstatic states, it is very easy, I've found, to change the body of the projected Double into a form that is desired. My very first deep trance state found me diving into deep water, changing into a seal form (seals are one of the animals associated with the Wind-Wolf type of god, at least in Gaelic countries; in Mediterranean areas, the association with sea mammals tends to be with dolphins instead), and swimming to the bottom of the sea, where I found a coral castle that undulated slightly in the current. At that point, I got excited, and the rest of the experience remains hazy to this day (I seem to remember meeting someone, and I was given something, but the details are mostly lost to my memory). Let that be an object lesson: keep calm.

These experiences seem quite real, or at least realistic. Most people have had a dream which they couldn't tell from waking life, except that strange things happened (or, stranger still, that nothing notably strange happened, but later conversation confirmed that the events did not occur in waking life). That's what it's like when the Double is projected. There are other similarities with dreaming, too, such as the fact that the experiences can quickly fade from memory (and I've found that keeping a dream diary, a notebook beside the bed with a pen or pencil so that you can record key words and images from dreams immediately when you wake, is very helpful in developing the ability to recall these experiences). Perhaps they are dreams, but if so, they are of a special sort. Robert Bruce, who I mention above, discusses these phenomena in some detail.

Dreams. The metaphysics of projecting the Double are debatable. One could approach it as a literal separation of awareness, and perhaps a “ subtle body”, from the physical body, and this is certainly plausible. It fits the facts both historical and contemporary, which have indicated that sensitive people, or people who are distracted by other activities, can see the projected Double, though frequently briefly and in the corner of the eye. Another approach might see the process as one of deep meditation, in which nonlocal sense impressions are converted into a feeling of separated awareness. Those who don't accept that there is a literal nonphysical component of the self, but who are at least agnostic on the subject of “Remote Viewing” (for which there is surprisingly ample evidence available to those who don't dismiss the subject out of hand) could approach the idea of projecting the Double from this point of view. Finally, there are those who don't accept nonlocal sensory impressions, but who might view the whole exercise as meditation without reference to any of the claims of literal separation in these practices, and I hope that such people can at least suspend their distrust of unusual practices to get the demonstrable benefits of meditation. Unfortunately, there is no study to date of the benefits of this sort of meditation, as neurological studies tend to be concentrated on “mindfulness” meditation, which is a particular type of meditative practice common to Buddhism. Ecstatic meditation of this sort, unfortunately, is apparently of less interest to modern neuroscientists (though there is some discussion out there, mostly focusing on so-called “Tantra” and orgasmic ecstasy, which I would say is related to the sorts of “out of body” experiences of astral projectors, werewolves, witches' flight, and shamans – and remember that werewolves are seen as particularly associated with some types of erotic games and activities).

But this is all discussion. The reality is that these practices are experiential. Go do something.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hounds of God: The Werewolf Ritual According to Thiess

In his testimony to the Inquisition of Livonia in 1691 (or 1692), a man called Thiess described in some detail what it was that werewolves of his acquaintance did. He was able to do this as he was accounted among their number himself. This may be the reason that Thiess was so emphatic that the werewolves were not the Devil's dogs, but were the hounds of God. In the following, the translation I am working from is found in an appendix to Daniel Gershenson's Apollo the Wolf-God. It is not, therefore, directly quoted from Thiess, but rather the Inquisition explaining what was said, with their paraphrases and assumptions coloring the testimony. Nonetheless, it is fairly apparent, I think, what was meant, and it is mostly plainly spoken.

To begin with, the werewolf was initiated. Thiess said that this was the ritual: “He [that is, Thiess or another werewolf when he was initiating someone] need only drink one toast to someone, breathe into the mug three times and say: 'You will be like me.' Then, if the other fellow took the mug from him he would [become a werewolf]…”I plan to discuss the initiation of werewolves in the future, as there are other werewolf initiation rituals recorded, but this one has the virtue of extreme simplicity! One note that he made was that the initiation had to be voluntary, “Truly he could not initiate anyone unless he agreed and showed a desire for it, like all the people who had already approached him to ask if he would leave it to them, since he was old and destitute.” Clearly, being a werewolf was considered a desirable state by at least some of the peasants in Livonia.

He was asked if there were women and girls among the werewolves, and he replied: “There were indeed women among the werewolves, but girls were not taken in, but used as flying pucks or dragons, and so sent away to carry off the gift of divine favor for the milk and the butter.” That is to say, there were women who were werewolves, but young girls were instead treated as couriers of a sort for the substances over which the werewolves fought the sorcerers (as we shall see). This is, moreover, an interesting passage, with some fascinating implications. The young girls were “used as flying pucks [that is, elf-like spirits] or dragons”. This passage might imply that these rites occurred in the context of a public or semi-public festival setting, where people of all ages would participate in the games and festivities, though other interpretations are probably possible. Also, as with Lupercalia and Imbolc (which, according to Prof. Bernhardt-House in “Imbolc: A New Interpretation”, found in Cosmos 18, pp.57-76, or summarized on pp.8-9 of this document (pdf), may have an original meaning of “butter-wolf” or “milk-wolf” – certainly, this interpretation is supported by the etymology), we find yet another instance where werewolves are explicitly connected with dairy products. Of course, the most significant point of this passage is that there were women as well as men who were werewolves.

Another part of that question was whether there were any Germans among the werewolves, and Thiess said that no, there were not, because, “The Germans did not participate in their community, but had a different Hell-hole of their own.” That is to say, the werewolves were connected to the specific land on which they lived.

One of the first questions that the Inquisitors asked Thiess was, “What shape did they assume when they changed into wolves?” His answer is a little meandering:

They had a wolfskin that they put on, and he had been brought one by a farmer of Marienburg who had come from Riga, but had given it over to a farmer from Alla some years before. [This may be a prevarication, as Thiess implied in the details about initiation later on in his testimony, which I gave above.]… [W]hen a more special inquiry was made he changed his tale and asserted that they simply went off into the woods, took off their usual clothing, and became wolves at once. Then they ran around as wolves and tore any horses or livestock they met with to pieces. … [O]ften twenty or thirty of them would go around together and eat a whole lot; they would have their meal on the road and roast it.

When further questioned with, “How could they manage [roasting and eating the animals like human beings do] if they had wolves' heads and feet, as he had said they did, and could not hold a knife or prepare a spit or do the rest of the work needed?” Thiess replied, “They didn't need any knives for it, because they tore the meat with their teeth and stuck the pieces on whatever sticks they found with their feet, and when they ate it they were like people once again, except that they did not use bread; they took salt with them from the servants' quarters when they went out.” In this passage, Thiess is telling us that they did not exactly change their shapes in a physical, naïve sense. They carried salt with them. They roasted and ate food like people do, though they ate with their hands, tearing the meat away from the roasted carcass. There is a disconnect between what the Inquisitors are expecting to hear and what Thiess is trying to tell them. From this passage, it becomes apparent that “becoming a wolf” was a social and functional definition, not a descriptive one. It is possible, of course, that I am misinterpreting what is here (there is the matter of “they were like people once again” for instance, which I am taking as indicative of the confusion of communication in which the Inquisitors are hearing what they expect to hear while Thiess is saying things in the terminology in which he is used to conceptualizing these issues; another person might interpret that phrase literally and indicative of perfect communication between the illiterate peasant werewolf and the learned Inquisition), but I submit that, at the very least, my interpretation is plausible. Further, there is this exchange toward the end of the recorded testimony:

Question: How was it possible that one of them could carry off fatted porkers and great horned livestock, like a wolf, and in wolf's shape, from twenty, thirty miles or more away through bush and bracken, and in fact all the way from Estonia, and bring them there, as the witness asserted? All the more reason to conclude that it all was nothing but imagination, false trickery and delusion.
Answer: He stuck to his story. It really happened that way and Tirummen's man [a particularly strong werewolf who Thiess said was the leader of their activities] often spent a week at a time out of doors, and then the witness and his band would wait for him, as they had agreed, in the bushes, and if he brought a fatted porker or so would eat it with him. Meanwhile they would live on hares and other wild animals in the bush. Now the witness was no longer strong enough to run so far and catch or fetch anything, but he still could get as much fish as he wanted, and even when others came home emptyhanded he was exceptionally successful in his fishing.

So, he was fishing while he was a wolf.

At this point, the Inquisitors tried to get Thiess to admit to commerce with the Devil. “…[D]id the Devil eat with them?” To which Thiess replied that they did not, “But the sorcerers ate with the Devil in the Hell-hole cave; the werewolves were not allowed to join but rushed in from time to time, snatched something, and ran out again with it, as if running away.” And here we begin to hear about the particulars of the ritual. Earlier in his testimony, when Thiess was questioned about where and with what instrument another peasant, Skeistan, had broken his nose, he replied, “In a cave, with a broomstick to which a lot of horses' tails were tied.” Asked about how he had come to that cave, and where it was located, Thiess said, “The werewolves went there on foot in the shape of wolves. The location was at the end of the lake called Puer Esser, in the bog below Lemburg, about half a mile from Klingenberg, the estate of the substitute assizes judge; there were wonderful chambers there and appointed doorkeepers who repulsed any who wished again to carry off the sprouted grain that had been brought there by the sorcerers, and the unsprouted grain. The sprouted grain was kept in one special store and the unsprouted grain in another.” Going back to Thiess's answer to the question about the Devil eating with the werewolves, he continued, “If caught, the Devil's guards stationed there would beat them off furiously with a long iron whip which they called the switch and drive them out like dogs, because the Devil, in the Lettish language 'Ne eretz', could not bear them.”

As you might imagine, the Inquisitors were somewhat perplexed by this, as their assumption was that, as had been “proven” elsewhere (though this “proof” mainly consisted of assertions by figures of authority in the Church that it was so), werewolves were the Devil's own dogs. The transformation of man into beast, as they thought obvious, was a denigration of God's creation of man in His own image. They asked, “If the Devil could not bear them, why did they become werewolves and run to the Hell-hole cave?” Thiess replied to them, giving us a wonderful description of the first part of the ritual:

They did this so that they might be able to carry what the sorcerers had brought in by way of livestock, grain, and other growing things off out of the Hell-hole cave; for, last year, he came late along with the others and did not arrive at the Hell-hole cave in time, so that they could not carry off the sprouts and the grain brought there by the sorcerers while the gates were still open, and we had a bad year for grain. This year, though, he and the others had arrived in time and had done their duty; the witness himself had carried off as much barley, oats, and rye as he could, out of the Hell-hole cave, so that we should have plenty of all kinds of grain this year, though more oats than barley.

The Inquisitors asked him how often the werewolves would do this, and Thiess replied, “Ordinarily three times [per year] : Whitsunday eve [interestingly, Whitsunday is the Scottish Term Day corresponding most closely with the Irish Lá Bealtaine, being in Scotland fixed on 15 May], the eve of St. John's Day [that is, Midsummer, 24 June], and St. Lucy's eve [which was Midwinter in the old calendar, 13 December in the modern one]; as far as the first two were concerned, it was not always the same night, but when the grain was in its prime and at the time of sowing the sorcerers carried off the gift of blessing and brought it to the Hell-hole cave while the werewolves got ready to bring it out once again.” Thiess doesn't specify (it being outside of the parameters of his questioning), but I expect that the werewolves would also engage in other functions throughout the year, by parallel with the Benandanti of Friulia, who similarly would fight against evil forces several times a year for the harvest. I'll discuss the Benandanti at a later time.

The last part of the ritual is contained entirely in a single question and answer. Thiess was asked, “Where did they leave the grain and tree saplings and the other things they took from the Devil, and what did they do with them?” To which he replied, “They threw them up in the air, and the blessing rained down over the whole country out of the air again for both rich and poor.” The blessing of the werewolves is for everyone, regardless of their social position or wealth.

To summarize: the werewolves and the sorcerers would gather three times a year at a place they called “Hell-hole cave”. The sorcerers would have a feast and put grains, saplings, and other agricultural produce in the cave. The werewolves, possibly wearing wolfskins, would run in on occasion and steal some of the food and other items, then run out, while the sorcerers would try to stop them with sticks (Thiess, in fact, had his nose broken by one of the sorcerers, named Skeistan, some years earlier) wrapped in horsehair. Young girls, considered to be pucks or dragons, and possibly dressed to suit the role, would carry the stolen items to a place where, presumably, the werewolves would later collect them. After getting away, the werewolves would throw the items they'd stolen from the caves up in the air, which would rain those blessings down on the countryside. If you squint, as it were, you can see some of those elements showing up in modern holidays. What the “sorcerers” believed that they were doing, and what they thought of the werewolves coming in to steal food at their feasts, is something that we don't have a good understanding about from Thiess's testimony. It seems likely that they were having a ritual feast of some sort, so looking at those sorts of activities in the eastern Baltic area would be the most likely place to come to an understanding of that aspect of this ritual complex.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger's "Hiccup"

Apparently, while I was out, Blogger had a little technical problem which resulted in various posts being lost, then later recovered. I don't seem to have lost any posts, but the comments on my last one were deleted. I've restored them from my archive (I pretty much obsessively archive this blog), but people who are subscribed to that post may no longer be. You might have to go back and click the "subscribe to comments" button/link again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gods and Goddesses of the Werewolves: The Wind-Wolf

Another short article. I have about six articles in process, but none of them are finished. I hope that I'll have at least one ready for next week.

There are a number of gods who fall into the general category we can call “Wind-Wolf”. I will deal with each of them individually later, but for now I am going to discuss the type. Most of this can be referenced in the excellent Apollo the Wolf-God by Daniel Gershenson. The rest can be found variously.

The Wind-Wolf, according to one view, seems to be a type which seems to be first found in Anatolia, as a god of plagues. Quickly adopted by the Trojans and the Greeks under variations of the name “Apollo” (there is a plague god in Anatolia named Nergal who has an epithet among the Akkadians Aplu Enlil “The Son of Enlil”, which the Hurrians and Hittites shortened to just Aplu ), He is soon seen as a god of healing, and so, associated with the miasma theory which says that bad air is the source of most disease, he is seen as the wind which blows the miasma away. This means that he must represent good air, which was thought to come from the underworld. Frequently, this wind was felt blowing out of caves in which wolves made their lairs. As a result (and keep in mind that this is speculation based on later associations and the rhythms of nature), wolves were seen as intermediaries between this world and the underworld, and became a holy animal of the healer-god. One of the epithets of Apollo is Lykeios “Lycean”, which derives from the word for “wolf”. Apollo Lykeios is associated with a particular posture, later used also by some images of Dionysos, in which the right arm is rested on top of the head. Another is Sminthos “mouse”, in which guise He was prayed to by the Trojans to bring plague to the Achaeans at the beginning of the Iliad . Mice are another animal frequently associated with the Wind-Wolf.

As we move to Northern Europe, a number of other attributes become associated with this type. He is seen as the god who brings the fertile rains of summer which grow the crops. Like Apollo, He is associated with poetry. He becomes associated with either a special posture, in which one eye is closed, one arm held behind the back, and standing on one leg, or else with the loss of an eye, or lameness in one leg, or missing one shoe. I don't know that there is a relation between the posture of Apollo Lykeios and these images, but I suspect that there is.

Contrary to the usual image of Apollo as cultured and refined, the Wind-Wolf is seen as filled with a frenzy that is associated with poetry and battle. In some cases, the name of the god gives His name to the frenzy or vice versa, such as *Wodanaz , whose name is associated with wod “madness, frenzy”. This would seem to be like the intoxicating gifts of Dionysos, and there is of course a connection between Dionysos and Apollo. One could say that they are, in some sense, two faces of the same coin.

As the wind that brings the fertile rain, the Wind-Wolf is also associated with lightning (but not thunder, which is the province of the Sky God). In Ireland, at the great fair of Lúnasa, the festival associated with Lugh, that god was said to be present when a lightning storm came over, and also in the late summer rains.

In some cases, the Wind-Wolf is thought to be the leader of the Wild Hunt, the procession of the dead as it passes through the sky or across the land. This is because, as we have seen, the wolf is the one who can pass between this world and the underworld. The wolf stands at the boundary of this world and the afterlife, communicating from one to the other. As a result, it is a canine who controls access to the land of the dead, like three-headed Kerberos . It is the werewolf, therefore, who has the spiritual authority to communicate with the shades of those who have departed this life, though the dead are under the rulership of another, the Lord of the Dead, who we will discuss another time.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Song Of Amergin and Transformation

Transformation is, among other things, taking on the form of something other than one's current form. Some people say that it is possible to do so in a physical way, though I have seen little evidence of that. I do know one woman who is able to so thoroughly take on the kinesics (body-language) of canines that she appears at a quick glance to be canine in form. However, another method of transformation is mental in nature (and may underlay that woman's remarkable ability). It involves completely identifying with another form by use of the imaginative faculty. Now, imagination is widely maligned in the modern world as being separate from anything “real”, but it was not always so. As late as the nineteenth century, important theories of art relied on the imagination as a basic element of the cosmos. For myself, I do think that it is an expression of the creative force, which the Irish knew as brí .

One of the most important Irish sources related to the identification with the other is the poem known as the Song of Amergin. In this song, the poet identifies himself with many aspects of the world, taking them into himself and becoming one with all things. Here is one translation (by R.A.S. Macalister. Others, and the original Irish, can be found here ):

I am Wind on Sea,
I am Ocean-wave,
I am Roar of Sea,
I am Bull of Seven Fights,
I am Vulture on Cliff,
I am Dewdrop,
I am Fairest of Flowers,
I am Boar for Boldness,
I am Salmon in Pool,
I am Lake on Plain,
I am a Mountain in a Man,
I am a Word of Skill,
I am the Point of a Weapon (that poureth forth combat),
I am God who fashioneth Fire for a Head.
Who smootheth the ruggedness of a mountain?
Who is He who announceth the ages of the Moon?
And who, the place where falleth the sunset?
Who calleth the cattle from the House of Tethys?
On whom do the cattle of Tethys smile?
Who is the troop, who the god who fashioneth edges
in a fortress of gangrene?
Enchantments about a spear? Enchantments of Wind.

There is a similar poem associated with Taliesin, in the Brythonic tradition. Here is the relevant section (in translation, of course, though the only translation I could find quickly was that of Robert Graves):

Primary bard to Elphin am I
And my country is the region of the Summer Stars.
Many have called me Merddin,
But at length every man will call me Taliesin!
I have been a herdsman, and traveled over the earth.
I have slept in a hundred islands, guest of a hundred kings.
I have dwelt in a hundred cities.
For a year and a day I was in fetters…
I have been a fierce bull and a yellow buck.
I have been a boat upon the sea.
I have been the foam of water.
I have been a drop in the air.
I have journeyed high as an eagle.
I have been a tree-stump in a shovel.
I have been an axe in the hand.
I have been a spotted snake on a hill.
I have been a wave breaking on the beach.
On a boundless sea I was set adrift…
Then for nine months I was little Gwion
In the womb of Ceridwen,
And at length was Taliesin.
I have been at the throne of the Distributor.
I have stood high upon the white hill.
I was fluent before being gifted with speech.
I have been teacher to all intelligences.
I have singly built the tower of Nimrod.
I am the Tetragrammaton.
I am a wonder whose origin is not known.
I shall be until the day of doom upon the Earth,
And it is not known whether my body is flesh or fish.

The same concept appears in poetry found in many other cultures worldwide, of course.

Identification with the Other is the theme of poems like these. Bringing all of the cosmos into oneself through the imaginative faculty is the goal of the poet. This is one of the meanings of shape-shifting. So, let's look at one way to do it.

A technique that is used by a number of occult or self-improvement methods is sometimes called “Assumption”, by which we can use the imaginative faculty to transform ourselves. Because the term “Assumption” is tied up in a particular metaphysics which I do not share, I will instead call it “Transformation”. It is a fairly simple practice of meditation which is best done by steps.

First, find a small object of uniform character and simple shape. A small, homogenous stone, a piece of copper, or the like are best. Sit with it in front of you, and close your eyes. Envision the object in detail (open your eyes to glance at it if you need to, but the goal is to be able to envision it completely with your eyes shut). In your vision, slowly make the object larger and larger, until it is the size of a door that you can walk through. Now, imagine that you and the object are merging together, becoming one thing. Feel the sensations of the object itself and what it (you!) is feeling. How does it feel to be a stone? What is your temperature? What is the kinesthetic sensation of being that piece of copper?

After a while of meditating on this simple object, move on to a plant. Choose a plant that is alive, and go through the same process of meditation. Envision the plant in detail, learn about its cellular structure and include that in your visualization, slowly enlarge it to a size large enough that you can fit within it, and merge yourself with the plant. After working with the plant, you can do the same meditation with an animal, then a particular human being, then a large system like a river or mountain, with its complex parts, ecosystems, and so on. In each case, do not meditate on an abstract representative of the object in question, but an actual example. Not “a stone”, but a particular stone you have actually picked up from the roadside. Not “a rosebush”, but the rosebush beside your front door. Not “a person”, but a specific person whose name you know and who you can observe – perhaps a friend who is working through this series of meditations with you.