Friday, April 24, 2015

The Transformative Arts - Green Egg Article from 1999


I've been going through my archives lately, finding articles and work that I quite forgot about.  Here I decided to re-publish an article I wrote for the late, great  Green Egg Journal.  Ah, those were the days.



THEATRE OF THE MIND

"We are the great work of art in progress.  We, ourselves.
  Our art is the dream of the awake state,
 and our dream is the art of the sleep state." 

  Rafael Montanez Ortiz


Masks, ritual drama and dance are primal ways people have petitioned the gods, enacted rites of passage, and achieved ecstasy since time immemorial.  And humans, everywhere, make masks.  

Yaqui Mask
Art historians may view tribal masks as "art objects", but their original use was as "power objects".    They were meant to be threshold tools that literally "brought the gods to earth".  Sacred masks were never made lightly - there were important procedures to be followed, including choosing the right materials from the right place at the right time, asking ancestral spirits what kind of mask they required for specific ceremonies, and consecrating the finished work. 


A great deal of psychic preparation was necessary, and the masks were activated and de-activated with great respect.  In Bali, I saw dancers carefully anointed with holy water before, and after, each performance.

"Everything was once made for the greater meaning and use of the tribe.  A spoon was more than a spoon, and a sacred pot was also used to store grain in - because they understood there had to be a weaving between the material world and the other worlds in order to live right and well.  An artist was one of those who did the weaving.  Except they didn't think of themselves as artists in the way that we do."
Sarah Mertz

Songhai ceremonial plank mask
Petroglyphs were touchstones,  magic for the hunt, or records of places that are sacred. Tibetan sand paintings, like sand paintings by Navajo medicine people, are prayers for healing, and invocations to the Gods -  offerings finally destroyed and released to the elements to do their work.    In Bali   sacred masks are tools to renew their contact with the gods and goddesses, to tell the stories of their Hindu religion.  

"Within these participatory traditions" performance artist Rafael Ortiz wrote, "there was no passive audience.  That’s a recent idea.   Ancient art process was a transformative process.  It wasn’t a show, it wasn’t entertainment." 
An artist I know once told me of an African mask at the Museum of Art in Milwaukee that, legend had it, sweated.  She said she went to view it over a number of days, and sure enough, there it was, if carefully observed, sweating away.  How is it possible something like that can occur in a glass case before hundreds of people unnoticed?  Magic is literally on display.


Among native peoples of central Mexico, masks used for corn and rain dances were destroyed after a number of years, because they believed that they accrued too much power over time, and could become dangerous as the spirit of the deity increasingly inhabited the mask.  This same sensibility is found in Noh Theatre.  Noh masks are created according to traditions that go back many generations, and represent stories that have firmly become animated by the mask.  Actors will often sit for days with a mask, creating fusion with the character.  In Bali, they are kept in the Temple, and are purified before performances. 

Yaqui Deer Dancer

"The primary function of the mask is to unite the indwelling wearer (and the observer) with a mythic being, or as Jung would say, 'an archetypal power'.  The mask, as we have found in our own work, becomes a transformer of energy, a medium of exchange between ego and archetype.  Thus in traditional societies one finds the taboos surrounding the mask, its recognition as a power object."
          Stephen Larsen,  The Mythic Imagination

The creative process is seamless, intimately personal and equally transpersonal.  I believe when we are in "flow", we find ourselves within a network of invisible collaborators. Some people call it synchronicity, some synergy, for me, it's a grand conversation any creative person is privileged to join.

The mask I made for Kali in 1997  is such a story.  Approaching 50, and recently divorced, I knew I needed to find a new life, to release old, self-destructive ways of being, no matter how painful.  I made a mask for Kali to symbolize this desire, as a kind of personal invocation.  And I wanted to create a dance for the mask.  I visualized the mask dancing with fire at her very fingertips, but had no idea of how this could be accomplished.  So my ideas remained in my sketchbook. 

A year later, I moved to California and opened a gallery.  I hung my Kali mask in the opening show, and noticed a young woman standing rapt before it.  As we talked, I learned she was a professional dancer. Would I be interested in doing something with her, she asked?  She showed me a tattoo of Kali on her midriff, and told me specialized in fire dancing.   And so, a month later, Serene danced my mask at our next opening, flames bursting from all her fingers. 

Drissana Devananda also danced the mask of Kali in ceremonial events, celebrating the Great Mother with her dance.  She commented that,
"When we create rituals we're really praying.  It's a way to remember. She dwells within us all the time. Not just when we wear a mask, or are in a workshop. We're physical emanations of the Goddesses, extensions of them. Not bodies seeking the spirit, but spirits seeking bodily experiences. Sacred dance is about re-membering that we function from our whole bodies, the "body mind".  That is the place we find the Goddess within ourselves."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
Ritual dance and drama  experienced  thus is  about em-bodying what is personally sacred.  We open a temple within ourselves, and bring that temple to the floor.  And within that context, we can touch an often inexplicable timelessness.   "When I travel with a role", actress Barbara Jasperson says, "I often find that I become familiar with something I previously thought I knew nothing about.  It's as if it was always there within me, waiting to be known, waiting to introduce herself."  What happens when we invite the Goddesses and Gods, the archetypal powers, into our magic circle?  The answer is often, "If you build it, They will come." There is a magnetic field the dance engage.   "When you create within a sacred paradigm" Elizabeth Fuller continued, "you find a strange thing.  You are communicating with, and being fed by, sources you know are within you, but have a much greater reflection somewhere else.  You've touched something timeless." 

MASK MAKING, MASK WEARING

If you wish to explore mask work on your own, experiment with some simple masks.  They don't need to be perfect; your interpretation of what they are will have a lot to do with their effectiveness. You can find out what they have to say by making and embellishing them, and then moving with them.  Do some stretching.  Stand in front of a mirror.  Imagine how the rest of your costume might look, and see if you can sense the whole persona you're stepping into.  What sounds, what gestures, might it have to express?

Working with others generates intensity, so get together with some kindred souls and call it your improv theatre, your "place between the worlds".  Experiment with music, and enact some very simple scenarios.  Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself - let yourself pass through that absurdly uncomfortable threshold to the spontaneity we once had when we were children.  After all, there's a mask on your face.  Let the music, the stories and feelings that arise, carry you into the mask. While you're there, explore polarities the mask may hold:  move between light and shadow, sad and joyful.  Is there a benign and dark side to each persona?  Then get together and talk about it.   You may find surprising things.  If you haven't done theatre, or used masks before, you may be shocked to discover that you are "possessed". You have been tapping your own interior council of masks, expressing the archetypal intelligences that inhabit you.


Some of these may be stifled and inarticulate, and hence, imploding with locked in energies.  Giving expression, within the safe arena of improvisation, to disenfranchised personae can release a great deal of emotion.  Each mask has its reserve of energy, its story, to be found not as an abstraction of the mind, but as an authentic experience to be had within our spontaneous, creative imaginations, and in the sensory, visionary immediacy of our bodies.  

"I wore the Sacred Clown mask for a ritual.  Now I have a rubber nose, and a chicken hat - I guess it took!"  participant Michael Stewart  told me.  "The Clown represents the element of chaos, bridging the mundane world and the world of the divine, the one who walks on the periphery.  Locating that is a source of continuing vitality.  It  reminded me that we are always bridging the worlds, and also, not to take myself so seriously, not to buy the idea that I'm so self-important."

I believe that we become more empathic beings when we free up a more integral, and mysterious, sense of "who we are".  We are all multiple personalities, and mask work can help to celebrate the  "circle of self" -  from the mundane to the divine, the angelic and the daemonic, the profound and the absurd. 

Lauren Raine
from Green Egg Magazine (2000)

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Elements are Us

Four-Elements-Fanart-the-four-elements-28674988-629-475

I take the liberty of sharing here an great article I read yesterday in the feminismandreligion.wordpress.com blog - such a great way to celebrate a Sunday morning.  We are the Earth.

The Elements Are Us by Elizabeth Cunningham

by Elizabeth Cunningham
Elizabeth Cunningham headshot jpeg
My late uncle, an atheist since age twelve when well-meaning Christians told him his youngest sister was “in a better place,” is now ashes in three red cloth bags. He was the last of my mother’s siblings to die, at the age of ninety-eight, the first being their little sister who died at age four. His children and grandchildren are taking his ashes to be scattered at sea where they will mingle with the bones the pirate Blackbeard, who met a violent end in these same waters almost three centuries earlier. Though most of this memorial weekend is a series of social occasions, and the guests on the boat continue chatting, I am moved by the sight of my cousins taking up spoons and scattering their father and grandfather’s ashes on the wind.
He is returning to the elements that sustained his life: fire, earth, air, water.  When we breathe, drink or eat, sweat or shed a tear, in every moment of our lives, we connect through the elements to all the life that has gone before us and all the life that is to come.  No belief system is necessary to know this truth in our bones.  May we learn to care for the elements—rivers and oceans, air, soil, fuel for light and heat—as we would care for our own bodies. When the elements are degraded, we are degraded; when they are vital, we are vital. The elements are our ancestors, our children. The elements are us.
At the end of a particularly severe Northeastern winter, likely the effect of climate change which in the Northwest may be causing drought, I have been pondering the elements as sources of renewable energy:solarwindgeothermaltidal.  In preparation for this post, I spent several hours reading about these alternative technologies.  I wanted to be confirmed in my hope that we have everything we need to solve the problems we’ve created with our huge population and its escalating demands on the planet. It’s elemental, I wanted to say.
I discovered, even in this brief investigation, that there are drawbacks to each one and potential hazards to a variety of eco-systems, not as detrimental as fossil fuels and the devastation already wrought by climate change. But no easy answers either.  (Note: solar appears to be the most benign renewable energy source.)  In these articles, the words “exploit” and “harness” appeared with notable frequency.  Would it make a difference to our developing technologies if we thought in terms of alignment with the elements, gratitude for their gifts, and reverence for their power—and vulnerability?
Many traditions and cultures, ancient and contemporary, do honor the elements and reflect on how they correspond with directions, seasons, colors, animals, minerals, and more.  (In Chinese medicine there arefive elements and a system of correspondences that includes the organs of the body.) At High Valley the all-are-welcome center where we celebrated the Wheel-of-the Year (from 1995-2013), we kept things simple and honored the elements without assigning a direction, representing them in form—a shell, a rock, a feather, a candle—invoking them through rhythm and dance, and we always sang chants. Below is one of our favorite chants from an unknown source, passed from circle to circle, woven into a gorgeous original song by the late Nicole Sangsuree:
The day after my uncle’s memorial was Easter. With a long journey ahead, my son and I took the early ferry back to the mainland over the waters my uncle and Blackbeard share with all the undersea life. I close with a poem in celebration of an elemental Easter I will always remember.
resurrection ferryboat
we take a chance on the Easter morning ferry
just before seven, sunrise and moonset, clear skies
coffee a dollar in the box, we roll on board
west into the wind, the sheltered back deck all ours
moon disappears into wave, sun finds our faces
more layers, more coffee, salted nuts, warm and fed
my son goes off to roam the boat, I sit alone
gulls winging dark against sun-dazzled sky and sea
this way of water and light leads from life to life
my son returns from watching seagulls ride the wake
I tell him: this is the best Easter of my life
really? he says. what surprises him I wonder?
except for when you and your sister were children,
I amend, Easter egg hunts and chocolate rabbits.
but this, I gesture, sea, sun, gulls, this is Easter
I say things I haven’t put into words before
about rites and beliefs I don’t need anymore
this moment, already memory, is enough
Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen. Her third collection of poems So Ecstasy Can Find You will be published in September, 2015 by Hiraeth Press. She is currently working on a mystery series. An Interfaith minister, she is also a counselor in private practice and a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

New Mask for Isis



I have been re-making some of the Goddess masks, and this is a new mask devoted to Isis, the Great Mother of Egypt, whose wings protect and bear to the heavenly realms so many ancient paintings of Egyptian nobility, who is the mother of the Sun, Horus, in whose honor Paris was named (Par Isis), who may be the origin of both the Black Madonna, as well as the original Angel........I hope this mask will serve as my offering.

Below is a lovely prayer to Isis I found on the internet, graciously offered by a devotee.

Celestine Starr as Isis, 2005


Monday, April 13, 2015

"Before the Deluge", .........Celebrating Jackson Brown

Every generation has its great singers, its heart movers, an Orpheus who can move you to tears with their words and their songs...........JacksonBrowne has been one of those singer poets for me, along with Robin Williamson and Leonard Cohen......people whose songs will no doubt be with me until the end.    This post is sheer indulgence for me, and thanks to the technology of UTube and the generosity of Blogging, I can come back to these favorite songs again and again.  

Like Leonard Cohen, Jackson Brown has always been bitter sweet, infused with both pragmatism and a deep mysticism, sad, ironic and celebratory  at the same moment. Everything, as Cohen pointed out, "has a crack in it - that's how the light gets in".  

Thank you, Jackson Brown.

https://youtu.be/ioyNHJiVXPg



https://youtu.be/DZFRPwrYeNA  for a dancer



https://youtu.be/AWIJ8RAcsHQ  In the shape of a heart



https://youtu.be/BV03illYdTM  the pretender




Friday, April 10, 2015

The Artist's Oracular Cook Book


Art = Magic.
Art heals.


Image by Catherine Nash

"It seems to me that a creative act, in any field of endeavor,  really does, after you take a good look around, have to begin with a leap of faith.  Maybe being alive at all is a profound leap of faith.  Faith in yourself, faith in some greater web of minds and being and continuum you are a part of that will catch you when you fall......faith in the sheer beauty  of the process, faith in what you'll learn from it when you're (theoretically) "done".
I've been applying for residencies this coming summer, feeling a deep need to get  on the road for a while, and to be somewhere where I can again be in Flow, to open to the creative energies within and without once more.

Among them I applied to the magical IPark, near Devil's Hopyard park, in Connecticut.  In 2005, when I was last there, at  I Park Artist's Enclave it was the custom for residents to leave behind  a  recipe for a cocktail. Because I spent a month utterly blissed out in a creative fury there, my contribution was the "Artist's Oracular Cook Book", cards I made with commentary on the back.   They later evolved into the Rainbow Bridge Oracle, but I still like them a lot.  They remind me that art is Magic, that art can heal, and that it really is basic and simple.

I put the collection away in a box a number of years ago, feeling it was naive and silly.  In taking a look at this little book from that magical month again, it's as if a fragrance has drifted in the window.   I realize I am revived -  a previous version of myself is giving the  woman I am currently a reminder. 




Open a door for Mystery.

And sometimes, the 
Miraculous.

"As you come near the glass, she approaches from the other side to meet you. You lift your pen, and she raises hers to touch its tip in the other world. You begin to move your hand and words form on the glass on her side, on that other side. Patiently, you now follow her pen; you hear what she is writing, but dimly. You can see a little bit into the images she is creating. Can you read what she is writing?  Is the glass clearing, can you collaborate?"
 Felicia Miller







                                                                                       Sometimes  you are a beacon.



More than you can  imagine is possible
when you believe that it's possible.
Imagination is the confluence
 of possibilities

the Beginning Place






Be Contrary.

Be capricious, liminal,
walk the borderlands.

When you find yourself  making too much sense
try doing it 

Backwards




When the Moon is full, allow yourself 
a heaping dose 
of lunacy.  

Develop night vision, 
the penetrating ability 
to see 

in an alternate
 kind of light.  





When the  Sun is shining,

in the dappled play 
of light and shadow, 
 the amazing 
rainbow palette
 of color, 
the purple taste 
of  grapes, lemon  grass, sweat, iridescent,
 gleaming words 
crystallizing
on a 
pristine page......

Play!





The beauty and mystery
 of nature  is always calling

In all the worlds
you have friends, 
visible and invisible, 

ever ready 
to collaborate



Accept the fallow times 
for what they are:

times of rest, 
gestation,
 and renewal.
Pregnant times

(whether you're a woman or a man)
when you are incubating something  New




Respect your Demons.

They are worthy opponents.

They are there to test your valor, courage,  and ability to make decisions.  

They will force you to fight
for your vision, and
your heart.




Take good care of your work.

Nurture your  discoveries, and protect the children
of  your imagination.   

 Avoid people who talk you into being smaller
 than you really are.  And anyone, or anything, 
that wounds your enthusiasm.




Where there's Fear 
(or resistance)

there is Power




Light a fire 
in your mind
and heart.  

Don't let it go out.



Is your studio a
 Sacred Space?

Even if, for now, 
it's just a notebook, 
or a table.

Are your art works touchstones,
talismans,
field notes,
and road maps
from a life-long journey
that sometimes
feels like a pilgrimage?


Strive for Balance.

The harmonious exchange
of creative opposites.



You will never lack 
for Grace.



as 
Above 
so 
Below





With brush, voice, eye, hand, heart and mind, 
 at last 

we dance!



The Circle has No End.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(The top  image not my own - it was created by  Catherine Nash.)


Monday, March 30, 2015

A Blessing for all Makers

      Beannacht

("Blessing")

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


~ John O'Donohue ~


(Echoes of Memory)

With many thanks to Susan Nowogradzki for sharing this poem with me.............