Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Telling the World in a Time of Drought" - Reflections on Art, Myth and Ritual

“What might we see, how might we act, if we saw with a webbed vision? The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk, yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.”
 Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web

Recently I travelled cross country, joining conversations that always seemed to end with a question.  Since many of my friends are artists (I include writers, performers, ritualists, dancers, storytellers, and a number of shamans in the category as well) the question seemed to come down to "what do we do now?"  How do we, in a time that seems bent on eliminating education, free speech, environmental preservation, social ethics, and possibly even any kind of consensual truth…..as practitioners of the arts, increasingly marginalized by society, how do we find meaningful identity? 

My own response is that I believe it's vital for artists to remember that we are myth makers.  Throughout history artists of all kinds have possessed the imaginal tools to invent and re-invent the myths that were the cultural underpinnings for their time.  

Phil Cousineau, author of  Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives (2001) cautioned that if we don't become aware of both our personal and our cultural myths which "act like gravitational forces on us" we risk becoming overpowered, overshadowed, and controlled by them.  Myths are in many ways the templates of how we compose our societal and personal values, as well as how people organize their religions.  As Cousineau commented further, "the stories we tell of ourselves determine who we become, who we are, and what we believe."  

The human mind has a unique ability to abstract.  A stone is not always a stone - sometimes it becomes a symbol of something, a manifestation of a deity, or it can also become intentionally invisible, even when it stubs our toes.  An interpretation of "God" is something that whole nations have lived or died for.  And depending on the aesthetics of a particular culture, foot binding, skull extension, or bouffant hairdos can be experienced as erotic beauty.  If the worlds we know are, indeed, experienced through the lens of the stories we tell about them, then how are those stories serving or not serving the crucial time we live in?

A renunciate myth of the Earth as "not real" or a "place of sin and suffering" does not serve the environmental crisis facing a global humanity.   Stories that make women lesser beings do not release the creative brain power of half the human race.  A cultural mythos that celebrates violence and competition do not contribute to nurturance and sustainability.   Stories of "rugged individualism" may not be as useful in a time when science, sociology, ecology, theology, and even physics are demonstrating that all things are interdependent. 

I remember years ago participating in a week long intensive with the Earth Spirit Community of New England.  The event took place in October, in celebration of the closing of the year, the "going into the dark" time.  The closing ritual occurred at twilight.  Bearing candles, different groups wove through the woods toward a distant lodge from which the sound of heartbeat drums issued.  Slowly the lodge filled, illuminated with candles.  As we sat on the floor, lights gradually went out, we were blindfolded and the drums abruptly stopped. 

We felt bodies rush by us as hands turned us.  The sounds of wind, and half understood voices, someone calling, someone crying, or a bit of music came from all directions.  As we lost any sense of direction or time we became uncomfortable, frightened and disoriented.  I felt as if I was in a vast chamber, the very halls of Hades, listening to echoing voices of the lost.  And when it felt like the formless dark would never stop:  silence.  And the quiet sound of the heartbeat drum returned, re-connecting us to the heart of the Earth.

As blindfolds were removed I found myself in a room warmly illuminated with candles.  On a central platform sat a woman enthroned in brilliant white, illuminated with candles and flowers.  At her feet were baskets of bread.  Slowly we rose, took bread and fruit, and left the "Temple".  And as we left, on each side of the entrance, stood a figure in a black cape.  Each had a mirror over his or her face – mirror masks, reflecting our own faces.  

Now that was a ritual telling of the myth!  We had entered mythic space, we had participated together in the Great Round of death and return to the light - and none of us would ever forget it.

I am suggesting that artists, troubled as my friends and I have been, step away for a while from the complex questions of identity so beloved by the art world, cast aside as well the dismissal, even hostility of the current anti-intellectual environment.  Instead, let us view ourselves  as engaged in a sacred profession.   We are pollinators of the imagination,  holding  threads in  a great weaving of myth, threads that extend into a time  yet to come, and far back into a barely glimpsed past.  If "the Universe is made of stories, not atoms" as the poet  Muriel Rukeyser famously said, the only real question for us now is "what kinds of stories are we weaving"?     

"The new myth coming into being through the triple influence of quantum physics, depth psychology and ecology suggests that we are participants in a great cosmic web of life, each one of us indissolubly connected with all others through that invisible field. It is the most insidious of illusions to think that we can achieve a position of dominance in relation to nature, life or each other. In our essence, we are one."

Anne Baring 


Keller, Catherine;  From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and Self,
       Beacon Press  (1988)

Baring, Anne;  "A New Vision of Reality" from her website

Cousineau, Phil; Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in
        Modern Times,  Conori Press (2001)

The Earthspirit Community, Twilight Covening (1993),   

Rukeyser, Muriel;  The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser,  McGraw (1978)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Zoe's Camino de Santiago

All photos are copyright Zoe d'Ay (2014)

Camino de SantiagoMy friend Zoe d'Ay, who lives in Glastonbury, England, in 2014 walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain at the age of 68......something I have so often dreamed of myself!  She brought the Camino alive with her photos, and it was my delight to make a Blog for her and share vicariously her stories of "The Way" along with her beautiful photos of her Pilgrimage.  I wanted to  re-visit the Blog,  and walk with her again. The posts go backward, with the beginning of her journey at the beginning of the Blog. 





The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, pointing the way all along the long pilgrimage route.   After Compostella, many pilgrims, as Zoe did,  continue on to Finisterre, "Lands End", where they truly finish their pilgrimage before the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.   As David Whyte wrote: "Because now, you would find a different way to tread, and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,  no matter how........."


The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now
but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water,
going where shadows go,

no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags;
to sort this and to leave that;

to promise what you needed to promise all along
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge,

not because you had given up

but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all,
part of you could still walk on,

no matter how, over the waves.” 

― David Whyte


All photos are COPYRIGHT Zoe D'ay

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Now I Become Myself" by May Sarton

This poem has been coming into my mind this summer, and so I post it in this Blog.  
For all the complaints I, and friends, make about entering into old age and becoming Elders, 
this is the real prize of it.  There is a Circle, glimpsed sometimes, woken to on splendid mornings,
wherein "There is time and Time is young."
Now I Become Myself

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
‘Hurry, you will be dead before-’
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

May Sarton


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Alphabet vs the Goddess.........reflections.

“Older yet, and lovelier far, this Mystery………and I will not Forget.”
Robin Williamson

Travelling for 3 weeks, and now, on the Summer Solstice, landed at last at Brushwood in Chautauqua county N.Y., where I have spent many summers. 

A synchronistic encounter with a psychic reader, on the street in Boulder, Colorado, had me thinking as I drove the long hypnotic miles, about the significant advice he gave me.  “Ask and ye shall receive”……and my journey began with questions that slowly have found their answers on the road.  I've spent so much of my life in motion, and driving seems to be a moving meditation for me, the "in transit" state.  I don’t know how to explain that, except that “listening” in various ways is important as I travel, and being on the road is being in that “between” realm, freed from the habitual patterns of  life.

One of the things the psychic, sitting alone at a small table,  told me, with his water-clear pale blue eyes looking into mine, was that I should write.  That I should write about my life.  Write about my life........how vain that seems to me, to produce "memoirs".  And yet, what other  frame of reference  can we have, if not our lives?  So here I am, someone who has not been able to write for over a year, someone who would much rather be out in the woods meditating on the extraordinary variety of greens to seen on moss, sitting under a lightning struck old growth maple tree I know pretty well,  sensing the Fey Folk and warding off the less ephemeral mosquitos………here I sit at the keyboard.  But the Tree and the Moss will have their day too.   And the language spoken in that wood calls me back and back, and is full of twigs and luna moth wings and the cry the phoebe bird makes and sienna shades of tree cambrium  whorls that tell the tale of a hundred seasons.........and rarely speaks the human tongue.  Too long apart from that conversation I become stupid, I forget my real place in  World.

It’s ironic that I should receive "instructions" from spirit to write, because my companion on this trip has been THE ALPHABET VERSUS THEGODDESS, a 1996 book by Leonard Shlain. * The author (who I met when I lived in the Bay Area and greatly admired)  was a man of many interests.  He was a neurosurgeon who wrote about art and culture, exploring the intersection between brain, consciousness, aesthetics and culture.   He eloquently proposes that the demise of the Goddess and the descent of women throughout the world  had much to do with the evolution of literacy, and the loss of visual language and oral transmission, recording how these phenomena coincide throughout his-story.
The demise of the Goddess represents the fracturing of the human spirit, literally divided against itself.  Dr. Shlain  explores his premise throughout the evolution of the monotheistic “literate” religions,  and their patriarchal origins, to explose a universally renunciate  mythos, appallingly violent and misogynist, that always follows the development of “literate religion”.   In other words, Schlain argues that the increasing left brain, “masculine” domination of society became concretized with the development of writing, along with the loss of right brain, visionary/intuitive “feminine”  modes of consciousness and accompanying values.   

Yes, I can write I reflect,  but I think in images.  When I have studied mediumship I experience  Spirit communicating through symbolic images...........and I have never met a medium, or an animal communicator, who hears long and authoritative sentances.  Spirit, and animals, seem to communicate largely with universal language of image, symbol, sometimes sound and smell as well.  So do dreams, in timeless, visionary  ways.  

The first thing a new human encounters are the mobile faces of her or his parents, the language of facial expressions.  Perhaps that is why I’ve always been so fascinated with masks, and why it is so important to help the  “art illiterate” to understand  that a painting, any  work of art, is really a conversation.  It invites reply, response, engagement.  

Leonard Slain's book is a provocative, important book.

*In this groundbreaking book, Leonard Shlain, author of the bestselling Art & Physics, proposes that the process of learning alphabetic literacy rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture. Making remarkable connections across a wide range of subjects including brain function, anthropology, history, and religion, Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain's linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy's early stages, the decline of women's political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.

Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject of any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Alice Walker on a Responsive World

I remembered this wonderful  story  from Alice Walker and take the liberty of excerpting it here,  as I cross this country (currently in New Mexico), continuing to wonder about  how we  "speak with the Earth ".   How humans once spoke to the Earth, how World was a Conversation, not a resource to be exploited, despised, ignored.  

The Universe Responds
by Alice Walker

A few years ago I wrote an essay called "Everything is a Human Being", which explores to some extent the Native American view that all of creation is of one substance and therefore deserving of the same respect. In it I described the death of a snake that I caused, and wrote of my remorse.

That summer "my " land in the country crawled with snakes. There was always the large resident snake, whom my mother named "Susie", crawling about in the area that marks the entrance to my studio. But there were also lots of others wherever we looked. A black-and-white king snake appeared underneath the shower stall in the garden. A striped red-and-black one, very pretty, appeared near the pond. It now revealed the little hole in the ground in which it lived by lying half in and half out of it as it basked in the sun. Garden snakes crawled up and down the roads and paths. One day leaving my house with a box of books in his arms, my companion literally tripped over one of these.

We spoke to all of these snakes in friendly voices. They went their way, we went ours. After about a two week bloom of snakes, we seemed to have our usual number: just Susie and a couple of her children.

A few years later, I wrote an essay about a horse called Blue. It was about how humans treat horses and other animals; how hard it is for us to see them as the suffering, fully conscious, enslaved beings they are. After reading this essay in public only once, this is what happened. A white horse came and settled herself on the land. (Her owner, a neighbor, soon came to move her.) The two horses on the ranch across the road began to run up to their fence whenever I passed, leaning over it and making what sounded like joyful noises. They had never done this before (I checked with the human beings I lived with to be sure of this), and after a few more times of greeting me as if I'd done something especially nice for them, they stopped. Now, when I pass they look at me with the same reserve they did before. But there is still a spark of recognition.

What to make of this? 

But what I'm also sharing with you is this thought: The Universe responds. What you ask of it, it gives.............I remember when I used to dismiss the bumper sticker "Pray for Peace". I realize now that I did not understand it, since I also did not understand prayer; which I know now to be the active affirmation in the physical world of our inseparableness from the divine; and everything, especially the physical world, is divine."**

** (From: "The Universe Responds: Or, How I learned We Can Have Peace on Earth", 
Living by the Word, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, N.Y., N.Y., 1988.)