My Spirit Animal: The Cat (and Drum Circles)

This past weekend I was a speaker at an amazing women’s retreat in Starkville, Mississippi. The retreat was organized by Alison Buehler, director of The Homestead Education Center. I’ll do a post soon with more about the retreat workshops, led by four contributors to the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. For today, I want to share something that came to me during the retreat that was a bit inspirational and also a lot of fun.

We were making “nichos”—little jars filled with items that have special meaning to us in some aspect of our personal growth—during the workshop led by Nina Gaby on Saturday. Nina is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a writer, and an artist. When Nina talked with us about her art, and also about making our nichos, she said:

We are all artists. The creativity within each of us gets us through the dark times.

Me and Oreo, a few days before she died.

I had chosen to take with me a small (3-inches tall) sculpture of a cat by Susan Lordi (Willow Tree) called “Love My Cat.” I had a cat named Oreo who lived 21 years. She brought me much comfort and joy, and now I collect figures of cats from all over the world when I travel.

I also chose to take with me for my nicho tiny prints of the covers of all four of my books, some small sea shells (because the beach is my favorite place on earth and the place where much of my creativity and growth have happened), and even tiny prints of my husband and one of me that represents my spirituality and my shadow, because I’m wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket, and I’m kissing a large pectoral cross that belongs to my husband, who is an Orthodox priest. And one tiny print of the weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt (my patron saint) which is on the back cover of my novel, Cherry Bomb. It was so much fun filling the jar with several of these items and gluing the others to the outside, finishing it off with some shiny silver ribbon with stars on it, to remind me always to shine.

For some reason, during the retreat, I came across this web site that’s all about spirit animals, so I looked up the cat, and this is part of what I read:

Those who have the cat as spirit animal may be encouraged to develop balance between independence and time of togetherness. Harmonious relationships between light and dark, action and observation are also attributes of cat spirit.

Cats (and two peacocks) in our foyer

This was so point on, as I struggle sometimes with loneliness, although I treasure the time I am able (and must have) to spend alone as a writer. But I also treasure my friends and times I’m able to spend with them. The words about light and dark, action and observation also spoke strongly to me. As did these words from the same site:

The cat carries many meanings revolving around the balance between seemingly opposites, such as inner and outer, action and rest, light and dark. It’s strongly symbolic of the connection with what usually hides in darkness or the unknown. The cat generally represents:

  • Patience, waiting for the right moment to act

  • Independence, yet enjoying social connections

  • Spirit of adventure, courage

  • Deep, relaxed connection with self

  • Healing from the inside out

  • Curiosity, exploration of the unknown or the unconscious

And these words, which intrigue, invite, and encourage me:

If the cat shows up in your life as a spirit guide or you have this animal as totem, you may be inclined to start exploring areas in your life or aspects or yourself that you do not know well yet.

Jeri leading drum circle (me learning)

Maybe some of that exploration came at the end of the weekend, when I participated in my first ever drum circle, led by Jeri Vanwinkle Mangum, a native of Oklahoma now living in Starkville. Jeri brought many drums with her, from numerous countries and cultures, and we took turns—moving to a different place in the circle after each song—so that we could experience more than one instrument. Since I was new to this, I read a bit about it first, and found this article helpful: “The Unwritten Rules of Drum Circle Etiquette.”

Twenty or so of us women who has spent the weekend sharing many personal things about ourselves and growing together sat in a large circle learning to beat out rhythms on many styles of drums as we chanted together. It was at times joyful and uplifting, and at times very somber. I ooked around the room at the faces of these wonderful women—many of whom had experienced much trauma in their lives—and I let each of their stories fill my heart and find their way to my hands as they played the drums.

(The sign at right was on the wall in the living room at the Homestead Center. I loved it and had to share it!)

Thanks always, for reading, and come back in a few days to read what several women have to say about their experience at the retreat.


The Cat and the Cradle

IMG_2599Another excursion that I was surprised by on our Rhine River cruise was also in the small town of Kinderdijk, where we visited the cheese-making farm. Again, I’m a city girl, and I rarely find joy in rural settings, but the history and culture and charm of these historic windmills was something I didn’t expect.


IMG_2649The windmills in Kinderdijk—the largest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands—are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These 19 windmills are a feast for the eyes, and their story is fascinating.


The families who lived—and continue to live—in them keep them working, and they are called “millers.” When I first heard our tour guide use the term, I thought she was talking about people who mill grain. But no, they are people who keep the windmills working.


IMG_2646The windmills were erected in the 1600s to drain the Alblasserwaard polders, which had suffered floods since the 13th century. One such flood, the Saint Elizabeth Flood of 1421, is both the source of the name Kinderdijk and of the associated fairy tale, “The Cat and the Cradle”: after the storm, a wooden cradle was spotted on the flood waters, in which a cat jumped to and fro to keep the cradle afloat.


When the cradle approached the dry land of the dyke, the locals discovered a baby inside—hence the name Kinderdijk, Dutch for “children’s dyke. “


IMG_2648The one windmill that we were allowed to go inside had pictures of the family who lived there years ago, with their 15 children! The sad story is that one of the toddlers was running towards the blades of the windmill and the mother rushed to stop her, saving her child, but losing her own life.



IMG_2654When I put pictures of the inside of the windmill on Facebook, my Goddaughter Katherine, who has three teenagers, commented that her kids wanted to live in a windmill! (They love adventure.) The quarters were so small that I can’t imagine where everyone slept. The beds were tiny, and I heard that the adults slept sitting up. It would take a hardy bunch to want to live there and keep the windmill working!


Stay tuned as I move into the city of Cologne, Germany, in my next post.


The millers have some big shoes to fill....

The millers have some big shoes to fill….

Cat in Kinderdijk

Cat in Kinderdijk


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