[This issue, we sit down for an interview with Lupa. A naturalist Pagan, author, and artist, Lupa here discusses her personal spiritual path; the creation of the Tarot of Bones; the latest editions of her books; and her forthcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your particular spiritual tradition and practice? Does it have a name, or is it more eclectic and intuitive?
Lupa: I am a naturalist pagan. My paganism these days is rooted deeply in the physical world and natural sciences, and I don’t hold to supernatural explanations for things. However, my path over the past quarter century has rambled through several paths including Wicca-flavored neopaganism, Chaos magic, and neoshamanism, with varying levels of belief in magic and the supernatural.
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits are honored in your tradition?
Lupa: I primarily work with nature spirits, especially animal, plant and fungus spirits, as well as place spirits.
ev0ke: If you could correct one common misconception about animal spirit work, what would it be?
That every animal spirit has a stereotyped “meaning” or lesson. What a given animal spirit teaches me may not be what it teaches you, and it’s your job to create that relationship and find out how you and that spirit are able to collaborate.
ev0ke: Is there any particular holy day or festival which is especially important to you? If so, which one, and why?
Lupa: Not especially; there are things I love about all the seasons, and I prefer to celebrate each day as its own joy. Sure, I get excited when the first flowers appear in spring, and when edible wild mushrooms start to pop up in the fall. But I don’t have specific days that I celebrate as part of my path.
ev0ke: The artwork you create using hides, bones, and other natural materials ranges from dance costumes to drums to jewelry. What advice can you offer others who have considered creating their own ritual or devotional tools? Things they should do? Mistakes to avoid?
Lupa: First things first: make sure whatever you have is legal! I have a database of animal parts-related laws (though it’s badly in need of updating.) One big mistake I see a lot of people in the US in particular make is picking up feathers from wild birds, or even entire carcasses. Almost every wild bird in the US is illegal to possess due to a federal law known as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This includes animals that died naturally or as roadkill, as well as feathers that were naturally dropped by the birds. Unless it’s a game bird like a turkey or grouse, or a non-native bird like a pigeon or house sparrow, it’s protected. And there are no exceptions for pagan spiritual use.
Beyond that, it’s important to speak to the spirits in the remains before you start creating. Ask them if they’re okay with being incorporated into this project, and if they have any suggestions or preferences. You may be surprised how different their vision is from what you had in mind! You may also get spirits who aren’t ready for their remains to be used, and would prefer to be set aside until a future time.
Finally, make sure you create an offering for every spirit as a thank you. I find the best offerings are those that directly benefit the Land that supports these animals, whether that’s through planting native flora in your yard or garden, donating money to nonprofits that do habitat restoration, or even volunteering time in litter pickup and other habitat work. It really doesn’t do the Land any good if you bury crystals or other offerings; if you can pick up a shovel, you’re better off getting rid of invasive plants and replacing them with native ones (lots of environmental nonprofits need help with this!) Also, please don’t leave out food; wild mammals very easily become dependent on humans who feed them and lose their natural fear of us, which ends up with more wildlife dead from cars, dogs, or having to be euthanized because they were too aggressive in seeking food.
ev0ke: What was the most complex, but ultimately satisfying, piece you ever created?
Lupa: The Tarot of Bones deck and book set, for sure. It took me two and a half years from conceptualization to publication, and I did literally everything except the photography and the physical printing. I spent a year just creating the seventy-nine permanent assemblages for the cards with bones and other natural materials, all of which incorporate a lot of secondhand materials as well. I also learned a lot about graphic design and layout in the process. And it helped me to deepen my understanding of the Tarot, particularly as I wrote each card’s section in the book as I completed the assemblage, so I was immersed in each card for several days at a time.
ev0ke: You released The Tarot of Bones in February 2017. You have created rune and ogam sets from antler, so was a tarot deck just a natural progression, or were you inspired by something specific to create it?
Lupa: Some of both, really. I’ve always enjoyed creating divination systems and sets, from the antler rune and ogam sets, to the Tarot of Bones, to my Pocket Osteomancy bone-casting set. But the spark that specifically got me going on the Tarot of Bones set was the opening night for a Tarot-themed gallery show that I had a standalone piece in. Spending the evening looking at the many different artworks portraying various cards in a wide variety of media was incredibly inspiring, and by the end of the night I had already planned out some of the basics of the cards like the suits and some of the animals assigned to the cards.
ev0ke: How long did it take you to create the art for each card? Did you ever have to stop, step back, and start over again?
Lupa: It took me a year to create all seventy-nine assemblages. Some took me a day, others a week or more. I never had to really start over a piece, but I did sometimes change certain elements partway through.
ev0ke: You have published a number of books over the years, and recently self-published new, updated editions of several titles. First, why the new editions, and what has changed in regards to the content of the books?
Lupa: I had several books go out of print from two publishers in a small amount of time, all older books. I wanted to keep them available, but because they were older I also wanted to annotate and update them. Some of it was out of date information, other times I wanted to comment on practices I no longer use or believe in. The content is largely the same, however, so those who have the older editions should not feel they have to go out and buy the new ones.
ev0ke: Self-publishing can be tricky and time-consuming, but also deeply rewarding. Which software and platform did you use, and would you recommend them to other authors? And what is your favorite part about self-publishing?
Lupa: For interior layout I use Microsoft Word, mainly because it’s what I already had and had learned to do layout on years ago. I can’t really afford the time or money for a different program, and it works for my purposes (though putting in pictures can be something of an adventure at times!). I create my covers in GIMP, which is a freeware alternative to Photoshop. For a platform I use Kindle Direct; I know it means I’m stuck with Amazon, but it does have the best reach, and it’s very easy to use. My only complaint is that they require the cover to be in PDF form rather than JPG, which means that I have to use an online conversion tool, and some of them can be difficult (like making sure they save the file to the same dimensions.)
What I like the most is the creative control. I get to decide what the content is, how everything looks, what the price point is, et cetera. It is tougher for new authors, I think, because they don’t always have an established platform the way I do. But given that I’ve been a published author for well over a decade and have made something of a name for myself, I can afford to coast some on that reputation. I also like that I get more money per book sold, which is a definite perk given that being an author isn’t exactly a lucrative career to begin with!
ev0ke: Where can people find your books and artwork?
The best starting point for All Things Lupa (TM) is my website, The Green Wolf. It has my blog, a page full of relevant links, and a shop to buy my works. You can also find my Etsy shop which has lots of artwork and, again, my books and deck.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
Lupa: Right now I’m messing about with several different art media, some for personal fun and some for sale. While I still do hide and bone art, I have really gotten back into customizing Breyer model horses and other animals over the past few years. It’s something I enjoyed a lot as a kid, and I’ve picked it up again in part out of a sense of nostalgia. And if I can ever get my to-do list knocked back enough, I want to sit down and finish the book on the Major Arcana of the Tarot I’ve been picking at for years, working title Coyote’s Journey: Deeper Work With the Major Arcana.