Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blessing Talismans

For quite a while now I've been clearing and blessing each piece of jewelry that I send out to my customers, and when I send them out to everybody I include a note saying that I've done so.  But just in case you've been wondering what that means, I thought it might be a good idea to explain what I actually do. 

While I take great care in selecting components for each talisman, and in constructing it well, I also take plenty of care in what goes into it on the energetic level.  By "energetic" I mean subtle energy, which is an aspect of everything we see and experience around us.  You might find it helpful to think of it as "spiritual" energy, although it is much more complex than that. 

I have been doing shamanic and energy work in some capacity for decades now.  My path is a co-creative one with Spirit, but I have studied and trained in a number of cross-cultural traditions.  Most recently I've trained with teachers in the Andean-Incan tradition and have received rites and initiations on that path.  But as far as my personal work on the shamanic path goes, it's not a matter of following any traditional path.  It's more focused on working with energy and on creative work than with healing per se.  So I very much consider anything I make and send out into the world to be a part of that path, which is why I feel it's important to have my pieces carry the best quality of energy possible. 

That begins when I bring supplies and components home to work with: they are usually cleaned and cleared if needed, and more or less dedicated for the talismans of which they'll be a part.  Then, when I work in the studio I try to maintain a peaceful and positive atmosphere, both within myself and in the space.  Sometimes I do a better job at this than at others!  I'm only human but I always try to be clear that it's my intention to do so.

After working this way for several years, I spontaneously started adding a little extra blessing to the pieces as I was wrapping them to go out to their buyers.  Over time this has developed into a simple ceremony in its own right.  Just before I take a talisman into the office to be wrapped, I get my mesa and a bottle of agua florida and bring them into the studio along with the talisman.  I sit in front of my studio altar with everything and call upon my spiritual helpers and shamanic lineage, and often upon the spirit of the Sandias, the sacred mountains visible from the window.  Sometimes I'll also call upon the spirit of a place or a quality of energy, such as the tranquility of the desert wilderness. 

First I spray the talisman with a drop or two of agua florida (organic scented flower water), which is a traditional practice of clearing and blessing in the Andean tradition.  I then place the talisman on the floor in front of me and thank Pachamama, who is Mother Earth, for the privilege of working with these beautiful materials that she has made, and hope that I have honored them with my work.  Then I offer any "hucha" or "heavy" energy that is in the talisman to Pachamama.  One of my favorite things about the Andean system is their view of energy.  Rather than referring to it as "positive" and "negative" as we do in the West, they say it's "heavy" and "light", or "refined", instead.  They see energy as energy, but for us humans some energy is beneficial and some isn't.  The wonderful thing is, what is heavy to us is food to the Earth, and so we offer her the heavy energy and invite her to "mulch it back into light".  This is an oversimplification of a rather complex subject, but what I do is send that heavy energy down into her as an offering and I keep the piece on the ground until I feel that that energy has drained out of it into the Earth.  That's the clearing part.

For the blessing, I hold the talisman in one hand and press my shaman's mesa to it with the others, asking for the beneficial energies within the mesa to infuse the talisman.  My mesa, which is pictured above sitting on my studio altar, is simply a cloth bundle that holds sacred stones, in the Andean tradition.  The cloth and ties are handmade and come from Bolivia and Peru, while most of my stones come from the desert Southwest, of course!  Each stone carries certain experiences and energies and the mesa is used for in ceremonies for clearing, healing and blessing.  (Mine include different colored jaspers, sandstone, granite, and concretions I've found in various places and mountains, as well as a fulgurite, which was created when lightning struck a sand dune.  Some were given in ceremony.  I even have a piece of the Canyon Diablo meteorite, which created Meteor Crater in Arizona.)

Finally I hold the talisman in both hands at the level of my heart and I call the highest and most refined spiritual energies into the piece.  I connect both with the energy of Mother Earth and of the Cosmos and direct them through me into the talisman.  I ask that it hold only the highest and most refined spiritual and blessing energies for the one who will receive it, from this point forward.  I also ask that the piece remain clear of heavy energy, and only radiate blessings towards its owner.  In addition I ask that these energies flow regardless of whether the piece is worn or simply looked at, by the owner or others. 

I can usually feel a strong flow of energy move into the piece as I do this.  It takes a couple of minutes, but after a bit I feel the flow subside and I know the blessing is complete.  It's different every time!  Sometimes it's extremely powerful and others very gentle and subtle.  Each blessing has a different energy "flavor", but I simply intend for it to carry whatever is most appropriate.  Occasionally I'll also feel inspired to bless the talisman with a sacred feather or with other stones from sacred places, or I'll hold it in the sunlight for a while.  And that's the blessing.

Please do bear in mind that I am not sending anything out to you that is specific, such as healing energy.  To do so would be unethical: sending out anything that isn't specifically asked for would be interfering with your journey as a human being and as a soul.  What I am sending with these pieces is more like a kind of uplifting energy for you to use as you--or your Higher Self--see fit. 

I would be happy to put energy into a talisman that is for a more specific purpose, but I will do so only on request.  By the same token, if you do not want your talisman to be cleared and blessed, please feel free to ask...I certainly won't be offended! 

The main thing is that I want the piece to feel good to you.  If at any point you feel it doesn't, or may be picking up heavy energies, let me know and I'll give you some suggestions for keeping it clear.

So I hope that clarifies things for you a bit.  It really is a very simple process and not mysterious at all, but I did want you to understand what you are getting when you receive a talisman from me. 

Blessings...and walk in balance.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Leaving Etsy?

For several years now, my Etsy shop Desert Talismans has been doing so well that it's become the sole outlet for my work.  Rather than spreading my work out between galleries, museum shops, craft fairs and studio tours, I've found a venue that allows me to list and often sell new pieces as soon as they're made.  This has been delightful, because as a middle-aged adult with mild ADD I need to keep my business as simple, contained and straightforward as possible. 

But problems have been brewing at Etsy.  As many of you already know, certain policy changes have angered and driven away formerly happy sellers in increasing numbers.  And I'm sad to say that I may soon be among them.  I'll explain more in a moment, but first, a bit of backstory to fill you in:

On March 24, 2008 I opened my shop on Etsy.  Since then it's generated a modest living for me, enabled my work to reach countless others, and connected me with some truly wonderful people.  Today, I have a large group of followers and the majority of my customers are repeat collectors who are fast becoming genuine friends. 

There were a lot of things about Etsy that I found attractive.  It was an open and egalitarian business environment with a level playing field, where a casual, part-time crafter had the same opportunities as a high-end artisan.  The emphasis was on handmade items and running your own show, your way.  The atmosphere was friendly and unpretentious.  Both buyers and sellers were encouraged to support each other's work and create community, rather than competition.  For someone who was very put off by the mainstream art scene and who wasn't interested in making a "name" for myself (I had already done that in another field and found it overrated), Etsy appeared to be deliberately fostering a new-paradigm business model.   

So, I jumped in.  I was thrilled to be able to design my shop and do business my way, rather than being told what to do by others.  I could talk about my work the way I wanted to--just as I had been doing at craft fairs and studio tours--and engage with customers personally, one at a time.  My business philosophy basically boiled down to "Keep it small and simple" and "Treat customers the way you would like to be treated".  It worked beautifully.

Sounds great!  It has been great, and for the most part it still is.  So why would I ever think of leaving?

It's because I believe the people who are running Etsy have shifted their priorities away from supporting artisans to generating profits for Etsy itself.  And I believe that the people who are currently running Etsy have lost sight of the heart and soul of what made Etsy special in the beginning: respect for individual creativity, and fostering community in a soulful, rather than profit-driven, way.

Whereas the policies in '08 were very accommodating and friendly, they have become much less so in recent years.  I hear that Etsy did change hands a while back and things have been going downhill since then but I haven't looked into it.  To tell the truth, I've ignored most of the Etsy "culture" because I've just had my hands full making jewelry and working in my own shop.  I also have found the vast landscape of blogs, promotions, events, forums, town halls, teams, labs, etc., to be absolutely bewildering. 

For the first few years I was very happy with Etsy; it seemed tailor-made for my needs.  Trouble was a distant rumor and I chalked the rumors up to people who thrived on drama and crisis.  The first serious trouble that I was aware of concerned a policy change which drove away a large number of sellers from Etsy, when Admin decided to allow non-handmade items to be listed as handmade.  I heard about it several weeks after the fact, and I didn't pay much attention to it since it didn't affect me.

The first time I realized things were indeed changing for the worse was late last summer, when out of the blue I received a message from Etsy.  In it, they said they were "reaching out" to me to let me know that they had deactivated one of my listings for a pair of earrings, which were made with fossil walrus ivory.  Fossil ivory, they explained, was prohibited on Etsy.  I was stunned.  Surely there must be some mistake?  I had sold dozens of pieces featuring fossil ivory.  No, apparently they had abruptly, and without notifying sellers of the policy changes, decided to ban it simply because it was ivory.  That it was ancient ivory coming from animals that had been killed for subsistence centuries or millennia ago, and was legally sold in the US, was immaterial to them. 

My inquiry yielded no helpful insights into their reasoning. In fact, the reply I received bordered on arrogance.  I was left with the impression that they felt I was misguided, perhaps na├»ve, and they were very graciously taking the time to set me straight.  As I contemplated this in the weeks that followed, the only rational reason I could see for the policy change (apart from the political correctness bandwagon) was that Admin simply didn't want to have to bother with checking to see if a piece was made from fossil ivory as opposed to contemporary ivory taken from endangered species.  If you know what fossil ivory looks like, there's no question as to which is which, even at a casual glance.  It was pure laziness--they didn't want to have to take the time or spend the money to distinguish between the two. 

In the short term, I lost money and peace of mind because I had invested quite a bit of money in fossil ivory for my pieces.  Other Etsy sellers who featured fossil ivory pieces lost their shops entirely.  We were not notified of this change beforehand, and were not given any chance to contribute to the decision making process.  Etsy just did what it wanted no matter how it harmed its users.  It was growing so large that it could easily afford to alienate and lose a few customers in order to further its interests. 

So this adversely impacted my work, as many of you know.  I did solicit e-mail addresses and formed the Fossil Ivory Tribe, but to date have only listed three pieces for the group.  The reason is that--and I certainly mean no offense to you dear people!--it feels like the pieces are invisible to the world at large.  So ever since then I've felt a bit cramped creatively, and one of the reasons I wish to open a second shop is to have a place to sell my fossil ivory pieces again, without Big Brother looking over my shoulder.

It's time for a break.  Here's a nice picture of our blooming cholla cactus that I took today:

That's better. 

The second change that has really driven the point home for me has to do with the so-called "testing" Admin has been doing on the storefronts as they appear to buyers and sellers.  You've all probably heard about this already, or experienced it firsthand, but here's what happened: 

One afternoon this past winter I turned on the computer to check on my shop, and found that something had apparently gone wrong.  My shop's banner was gone, as was the shop announcement.  The few items I had for sale were floating adrift in a white void.  After a few moments of complete disorientation, I wondered if it was a bug.  Surely it had to be a bug, what else could it be?  So I started looking for answers.  Etsy has no real "front page" for users, with pertinent, time-sensitive announcements in one easy-to-find location.  Instead, it has information scattered, and buried (some would even say carefully concealed) across the site.  I decided to start with the Forums. 

What I discovered was that Admin was running a "test".  In this test, they were changing the appearance of certain shops to see if people liked the changes better than the original look.  As far as I could tell, they were not telling people about the test beforehand, nor had they asked anyone prior to the test if they:
a) wanted to contribute ideas for possible changes,

b) wanted the changes Etsy had chosen for them in the first place, or

c) even wanted to take part in the test at all.

No.  Apparently Etsy wanted an "authentic" response to the proposed changes and therefore all of this had to be a surprise.  It was a surprise all right.  As I read through the Forums , it was clear that people were absolutely furious. 

I can go into tons of detail here about why a shop banner is an integral part of a storefront's appearance, and why being able to post an announcement is very helpful, even necessary, to the relationship between an artisan and customers, but it would take up a lot of space.  The irony is that Admin had just a few weeks prior launched an extensive campaign to encourage seller "branding" and shop identity.  Then they proceeded to remove the single most distinctive aspect of the shop's brand, the banner.

The bottom line here is that Etsy Admin has changed its behavior to such an extent that it seems to only be interested in perpetuating itself, rather than maintaining a welcoming atmosphere for the people who keep it in business.  It is next to impossible to communicate with them in any meaningful way; if you do figure out how to circumvent the heinous "Contact" menu pages and actually write to them, it is very unlikely that you will receive a helpful response.  What Admin usually sends you amounts to a form letter laying out company policy.  That's it.  And if you have a problem with that, too bad.

Etsy has become the company with two faces.  On one hand, there is a ton, a TON of promotional material being generated by Admin, through e-mails ("Etsy Success") and various other means.  The emphasis of these is invariably on the sellers promoting themselves and their shops, and on how to increase business and revenue.  These things are good and necessary up to a point, but there are artists and artisans out there who place what they are actually creating, and why they are creating it, ahead of the business, and I believe Etsy has forgotten this.  Sometimes I have come away with the feeling that Admin feels the creations themselves are beside the point.  Now, it's all about shop stats, about trending, about the hustle.  This has left me feeling cheapened and increasingly marginalized. 

The other face, which Etsy presents to the sellers, is distinctly unhelpful.  Behind a veneer of forced friendliness--all those bright young faces!--it has become very clear that Etsy exists only to serve itself.  In other words, it's become just another soulless corporation.

Anyway, after a few weeks, the "test" and its fallout gradually died down to a dull roar.  My shop and others were restored to their original appearance and all was well again, at least for the moment.  I wanted to think that Admin had gotten the message, but I knew better.  And sure enough, a couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a long-time customer: What had happened to my shop?  She couldn't see my banner.  And where was my shop announcement? 

Here we go again.  Apparently another "test" was in progress, this time on the customers.  While my shop appeared normal to me, a number of my customers were seeing it sans banner and announcement...and I had about five items listed, so to them it must have looked sorry indeed.  I checked in on the Forums, and they had lit up again. 

I'm sure many people out there are wondering what my problem is.  This isn't such a big deal.  Why should I be so out of sorts when Etsy clearly is trying hard to ensure it is a competitive platform that has a clean, easy to use look...which is so important to most buyers (who apparently do all their shopping on their mobile devices and average 30 seconds per transaction)?

Here is the clearest way I can describe the "testing" situation:

Let's say you have hired a company for its services which support your business, which is your livelihood.  Both you as a seller and your customers use, and pay for, these services.  One day, the company decides to run a test on you--its sellers and customers--ostensibly to improve business.  Only they do not tell you they are running a test, or why.  The test comes as an unpleasant surprise, upsets and confuses you and your customers, and disrupts your business.  The resulting confusion costs you time and money, in some cases a substantial amount.  You only discover the reason for the test after the fact, and only because you went looking for answers.  The company did not choose to inform you itself.  After expressing your concerns to the company, you are essentially told that they will do whatever they please, and you can take it or leave it.

Would you continue doing business with this company? 

Well, that is exactly what Etsy is doing right now. 

Time for another flower.
That one's a prickly pear. 

One more note about that "test":  there are a number of shops on Etsy that specialize in creating banners for others.  I can only imagine how this must have made them feel. 

The bottom line is that Etsy has become the kind of service provider that acts as if we are working for them, and not the other way around.  Ultimately, this is an issue of respect.  Etsy is no longer treating its customers with the respect they deserve, and the climate has been gradually growing less hospitable for serious artists...people who may not be making money hand over fist or be great businesspeople, but who are nevertheless wholly invested heart and soul in what they do. 

My concern is in being able to find another venue that will accommodate my needs as an artist first and business owner second.  I know there are many alternatives out there, some which look very slick and professional, but I need a place that also has a soul, not just a pretty face.  I'm in the slow process of looking, and don't expect to make any quick decisions soon, but ideally I would like to have a professional webpage, shop and blog all in the same place.  So we'll see.

Meanwhile, Desert Talismans will remain open on Etsy for the time being.  There are, for all of my ranting, a lot of very, very good things about Etsy.  The ease of use, the unlimited space for product descriptions, the emphasis on sharing and networking, and the shop's
"About" page are some, and there are many more features I appreciate.  It's been a great home, which is why I'm so disappointed in the recent changes, I suppose.  No, it's not all bad, it's just that the general focus and climate are moving away from my own priorities. 

And what are those?  Well, first and foremost, my work has to come from the heart and soul.  It has to be more than just a piece of jewelry.  I need my business, creative life and spiritual path to be a part of one another: spirit-driven, rather than market-driven.  It's not exactly the capitalist model, but I think it can be done.  I want to be able to set up a place to sell my work that directly shows who I am, where I and the work come from, and what it's about.  I want to be able to give my customers an authentic, consistent and trustworthy atmosphere, and connect with them person to person. 

In the beginning Etsy was a great support for those priorities...now, it seems to be changing.  That's sad, really.  They had a great thing going and they're blowing it.  There's still time for them to turn things around, but we will see.  In the meantime I, like many others before me, will be looking elsewhere for a new home.