Thursday, May 21, 2015

Synchronicities on the road.....


“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 

I've spent so much of my life on the road, in transit to places ........... crossing the country to get to shows,  and often just following the roads of a restless spirit I may have inherited from my father, who moved our family across the country and around the world.   I suppose clinicians would diagnose me (as I think they would many creative types) as having a bad case of ADD (which I have a different perspective on anyway).  But I think, as the poet Bard Robin Williamson said, there are those who "find rest in journeying", and that state of being "in transit" is a special liminal zone where magic can happen, minds can open, and the Great Conversation can be more eloquent.  

So I've been traveling to Los Angeles, doing an exhausting guest artist appearance at the Renaissance Faire, and in the course of that trip some surprising synchronicities have occurred. 



"Changing Woman" (2014)
Since my mother passed away not yet 3 months ago, I feel much is changing , within and without.  I no longer am a caretaker, and see that role slipping away from me gradually like a skin peeling off - what's underneath feels rather brittle and hyper sensitive.  

I find I am impatient, and expressing anger in ways that I would not have done in the past - hence, for good or ill, various relationships have ended.  I think, perhaps, that with the passing of my mother, and really the end of my family (there is no extended family) I'm trying to change the "family karma", the roles and patterns, that have gone forward in me.  The dis-functional ones - along with this maturation process is genuine gratitude for all that my mother, my family, gave me as well.  The previous article I posted  reflects some of that self-examination.

I find that I am also trying to re-connect with, and evaluate, the projects, themes, and inspirations that  were so important to me in the past - apart from and before I became so involved with the concerns of caretaking.  My "Hands of Spider Woman Project", the Masks of the Goddess Collection.............what is authentic still, what is not?  What do I love? How must I simplify my life now to regain that passion, that excitement about my art?
Where are my "power leaks", how am I "vamped", my time and energy drained away so that what I love to do...........I don't do.    What am I doing that I think I "should" do, but don't really want to do anymore, and what "should" I be doing that genuinely gives me happiness.  In other words, it may also be time to stop being a sad saint, and be a happy camper instead.  

So my syncros.............

The Renfair is in Santa Fe Dam in Los Angeles, a beautiful park with an impressive view of the mountains that ring the city.  On the other side of the park  from the Faire is a nature walk, and an area I always return to when the show is not on.  It has beautiful indigenous plants, and a sandy area with a stone circle.   I walked into the circle, made some offerings, and created a circle and cross with some stones in the center, representing the 5 directions - a kind of prayer, a way of centering myself.


When the show opened the next day, my booth opened onto a sandy path, and in the heat and the hum of voices passing by, it can get rather hypnotic, unless I'm working with a customer. Sitting in the back of the booth, I noticed there was a man with a carved staff of some kind in front of my booth.  Right in front of my booth, in the sand, he made a circle with a cross in it with his staff in the sand!  I watched him do it, then he walked off and disappeared in the crowd.  

It was not only the symbol I had created the previous day, the symbol of the 4 directions, but this is also a Native American motif called "Spider Woman's Cross".

It occurs on prehistoric Mississippian amulets, in Pueblo pottery, and is woven into Navajo (Dine) rugs as a sacred motif representing Grandmother Spider Woman.  It is an ubiquitous symbol of balance, wholeness, unity. It's also a symbol I've explored in my own humble way with my projects exploring the mythologies of Spider Woman - because I feel She is very important for our time.  

So it gets better.  On Monday, after the Faire closed, I was leaving  L.A. via I-10.  Leaving L.A. is no small feat, as L.A. is huge, with many suburbs that go on for a good 50 miles.   I saw, near the exits for Fontana, a banner that caught my attention - I didn't have time to see the building it was attached to, but I'm assuming it was over a park of some kind.  It read:


SPIDER WOMAN'S LEGACY
Navajo Rugs (.............)

I couldn't read what else was on the banner, but SPIDER WOMAN'S LEGACY was in big letters, right there on the side of the freeway! Not only was it there, but rather amazing that I happened to be looking over to the other side of the freeway and saw it.

I see, according to Google, that there is an exhibit in San Bernardino country called "Spider Woman's LegacyNavajo Rugs and Textiles,” 

In my experience, this is one of Spider Woman's favorite ways to communicate.......with synchronicities!

My last syncro occurred once I crossed the Arizona border, travelling east on I-10.  I had been thinking as I drove about the article I posted last on this Blog, about the meaning of Psychic Vampires.  And about, also, my personal efforts to grow out of a "victim stance" in my own life.  How I've missed so many opportunities, devalued my work,  sustained a great deal of loss because that sensibility is so deeply rooted in my family of origin.  How I've been kind of my own "vampire" by having that sensibility, and how it has to end now and here.

Seriously...........I was meditating at the wheel  on all of this and looked up to see an elaborately painted van in front of me.  It read:


KUNG FU VAMPIRE

Well Damn!  What more affirmation do I need!  Just to make sure though, when I pulled up at a rest area an hour later, there was the van, right in front of me, again.


**
Kung Fu Vampire is apparently a gothic/punk rapper from San Jose, currently touring.  I looked up the site, which was pretty awful and dark not to mention misogynist.  Not my aesthetic, but I don't really need to listen to the music to get the message from the syncro.............

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Empaths and Energy Theft Revisited


Synchronistically, I received a comment from someone (below) addressed to a post I wrote back in 2011 about Empaths and Energy protection. It moved me to re-post the article, realizing that I need to read it again myself.  I'm looking forward to the chance to be alone this summer, and to replenish my energies and revive my creativity.  I have always pretty much known I'm an empath.  



"How do you deal with those who are energetically parasitic? It seems like you and a couple other sources, seem to defend people who make choices to take on a victim mentality, and use manipulative tactics to steal energy and attention. I agree these people obviously lack love, but to some extent they need to realize that and take necessary steps towards healing, and emotional maturity...like people like us chose to do. Hard to support their habits...hard to understand why we support their victim mentality drain....please explain. Much love to you."
May 4, 2015 

I don't feel I defend people who take on a victim mentality or exhaust the life force of others by  any means.........when I can, I try to avoid them.  That's not always possible - in family situations, caretaker situations, and many other circumstances we are often thrown into contact with people who drain the life out of you.  I have  a family member who is a drug addict, for example.   Our society in general may have aspects to it that actively support "psychic vampirism"........ certainly rampant capitalism and consumerism is about exploitation, opportunism, addiction and manipulation.  All forms, in my opinion, of "vampirism".

But  I do believe that most people are unconscious of their motives, drives, attractions, or even needs.   Self-awareness requires work, breaking old familial patterns requires effort, and sometimes to break those patterns requires a fair amount of education and the help of good therapy, as well as seeing through social patterns that often support negative behavior in order to come to terms with one's "shadow side".  No one wants to admit that they are draining others, that they are dependant on others attention and energy, that they don't care about the well being of another as long as they are being "fed", that they are manipulating others, that they are destructive because of jealousy, addiction, etc.

The ability to change, to mature into real conscience and self sufficiency.........is actually something only exceptional people are able to do. 

I know that sounds harsh, but I am tending to feel that the drift of our culture is increasingly away from self-examination, conscience, and empathy.  The "disposibility" of our world has made that so.  How else can such a vast population be uninterested in climate change, in the loss of endless species, in the destruction that future generations much live with?  This is true in social relations as well.

As far as the energy draining "victim stance", I think also that is also often  socially condoned.  And of course it's necessary to make a distinction between people who are genuinely victimized by circumstances and in genuine  need of healing and empowerment.

I'm talking about people who are  "vampires" because of their unconcious dedication to seeing themselves as "victims".  Which can not only be a ploy for exploiting the energy reserves of others, but  is also somewhat socially accepted.  If you are a "victim" you don't need to take responsibility for what you do or what happens to you, because it's "not your fault".  Such people remain dependant children, unable to move forward - but they rarely are able to understand that process.  You can get a lot of mileage from others by being a "victim", and you can also belong to victim social clubs that reinforce the sanctity of your eternally wounded position.  If someone rejects you, it's because they are "unkind" and lack empathy.........and empaths are the best source of energy!


http://threadsofspiderwoman.blogspot.com/2011/10/intuitive-empaths-energy-theft.html


Friday, October 28, 2011


Intuitive Empaths and Energy Theft

 I've come to believe, experientially  more than conceptually,  that mind is more than the physical body and brain, and that we are far more connected with each other, and our planet,  than we can personally imagine. We are  very permeable, indeed we have to be so, because we are constantly exchanging life force with the planet and everyone who has ever lived with every breath we take; exchanging energy and information with each step we take and every word we utter. The exchange and negotiation of energy is the fundamental dance of life. 

Most people value empathy, the ability to sense and often emotionally experience, or resonate with, what others are feeling.   Empathic individuals are usually compassionate people, sensitives who often become healers, teachers, and profound listeners.  Highly empathic people have excellent "antennas" - if they have experience and discernment, they can scan the emotional and psychic environment  and determine what is going on beneath the surface.  If they don't, they can  absorb energy that is not their own unwittingly.   

I believe this skill of discernment takes time to mature, and an empathic child or unskilled person can often become overwhelmed.  Because being empathic can also be detrimental, overwhelming, and even life threatening, and is one of the reasons sensitive people often become alcoholics or recluses in order to "tune out the noise".  Highly empathic people, what Dr. Judith Orloff calls "intuitive empaths", can be like velcro - everything sticks to them.  

People are always discharging emotional energy. Children scream in anger, cry in frustration, and laugh with pleasure when their needs are met, and so do adults, if not always as obviously. Sometimes it's absolutely necessary to tell our stories, to have our pain witnessed by compassionate others in order to change, to "fore-give", to let go of the trauma and move fore-ward in our lives.  But some people have become addicted to dumping negative emotional energy on others, and they can leave an empathic individual drained, or feeling scattered and crazy from absorbing their energy.  This can be true of collective energies as well. 


I don't like the term "psychic vampires" because of its judgemental terminology.  It implies that dreadful, inhuman people are stalking the streets, ready to suck up all of your lifeforce, when the fact is, most of us have at various times in our lives been draining or exhausting.    Sometimes people are energy draining because they are, in Buddhist terms, unskillful in their understanding of how to manage their own energy systems, in how to manage their thoughts and social interactions in other words.  Many people are energetically exhausting because they have become addicted to complaining, or have adopted a "victim" life stance, which can be addictive as well as socially supported.   Carolyn Myss spoke about what she called a "culture of woundology" as a related issue.   

Some people have learned, as children, negative ways of achieving attention, which is a form of energy theft if it's not willingly given.  I had an acquaintance I worked with who could be absolutely relentless in demanding attention, to the point where otherwise calm, poised people would "lose it" around him.  Including me.........one day I found myself screaming at him at the top of my lungs.  It was at that moment I noticed he was smiling blissfully - and I painfully saw, briefly,  a small child who had found the only way he knew to get attention. 


And many people are just plain worn out, ill, grieving, troubled by misfortune,  or elderly, and haven't got a lot of personal energy.  That doesn't make them "vampires".  That often makes them people in need of a little understanding and kindness.

True psychic vampires, I believe, are rare.  About 10 years ago, I broke my leg, and was confined to a wheelchair for 4 months.  It happened that I was offered a couch in a friends studio, which was in a lovely complex that had other studios, a few shops, and a chiropractor's office, so people were always coming and going, which I enjoyed.  But because so much of my energy was going into mending my broken bones, and I often felt weak, I became quite sensitive to how interactions with others affected me.  Some people were like bright lights - I felt enlivened when they entered the room.  Most were neutral.  But there was one woman I'll never forget.   Although she was a fascinating woman, who ironically was a practicing psychic, every time she came by  I'd be flat on my back afterwards, sometimes all day.   I don't know if I would have realized her "vampire" effect so clearly, had I not been in a sensitive lowered energy state because of my recovery.   What made her like that?  I can't possibly know, although I would bet it arises from some kind of traumatic childhood. 

So once again thanks to my friend Charlie Spillar for a great video by Dr. Judith Orloff.

Judith Orloff MD, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and intuition expert, is author of the New York Times Bestseller Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011) Her other bestsellers are Positive EnergyIntuitive Healing, and Second Sight. Dr. Orloff synthesizes traditional medicine with cutting edge  energy medicine.  Her website is:  www.drjudithorloff.com


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Archetypes"


I've found myself reviewing old posts on this Blog lately. Here is a synchonicity I recorded back in 2009 that has special meaning for me now, as I approach just three months since my mother died.


I've been so busy this year with endless tasks, money making, responsibilities to others, caretaking..........I have not given myself time to see that the magic has gone away, or to notice how tired and empty I often feel because of it.  Personally, life without magic is, well, not really worth living  Time to "go dark" as my friend Valerie puts it, to unplug, drop out, and listen to spirit once again.  I'm leaving for points unknown, just driving East in June, no matter what..........hope to end up at Brushwood and Lilydale along the way.  Some of us find rest in journeying, and healing of grief in the stories of transit.  I miss my mother, especially since it was just Mothers Day.


"ARCHETYPES"
5/2009


A month or so ago, my therapist, Jeaneen, asked me what archetype I thought my mother was. I couldn't answer, any more than I could have said which archetypes informed who or what my own life stories have been. So I put the question off for "later examination".

Yesterday I was looking at a photo I had placed on my altar, next to the photo of my brother. And I realized suddenly (actually, while at the riverbend hotsprings, which is a good place to get great ideas while inconveniently wet).........that a syncronicity had supplied the answer to my "for later examination" question. Sometimes, things work that way, once you begin to notice.Reviewing much of the stories in this blog, I see that I'm always recording and wondering at such phenomenon. The mythic dimension leaking through..........

The photo was taken in 2004 at the opening to an exhibit of my masks (which I shared with artist Catherine Nash MFA). Valerie James, an artist who lives in Amado, took the photo randomly. I kept it around because it's the most recent photo I have of my mom and me together...the last photo I have of her when she was fully here, fully cognizant, to be exact. And now Jeaneen's question is also within the frame of this photo, as well, perhaps, within the frame of having placed it upon an altar and thus imbuing it with sacred attention ..... at any rate, a serendipitous truth emerges that answers the question about archetypes.

My mother has the "Corn Mother" mask above her. That archetype of unconditional, self-sacrificing, idealized motherly love, devoted to the nurturance of her children without any limitations - is the very truth of what my mother has devoted herself to, both consciously and unconsciously, with its bright and "shadow" sides. She has lived the story of Selu. And for me, the picture could not be more appropriate. Above me, Spider Woman, the weaver, higher Self, the artist and divine co-creator, dedication to a vision of ecology, my most tangible mythos of deity. And beside me, Butterfly Woman, my personal "life story" archetype. "La Mariposa" is a story I wrote more than 15 years ago. And here in this photo........is one more living metaphor, one more poem about our journey together.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Saga/Sage


Saga 

…the word saga has been translated out of its original meaning, which was ‘She-Who-Speaks,’ that is, an oracular priestess, such as were formerly associated with sacred poetry. The literal meaning of saga was ‘female sage.’ The written sagas of Scandinavia were originally sacred histories kept by female sagas or ‘sayers,’ who knew how to write them in runic script. Among northern tribes, men were usually illiterate. Writing and reading the runes were female occupations. Consequently, runes were associated with witchcraft by medieval Christian authorities. To them, saga became a synonym for witch.
”Barbara G. Walker, The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power(San Francisco: Harper and; Row, Publishers, 1985), p. 52.

I was thinking about not so long ago about the depths that aging brings to the so-called "dark and light" within the stories of our lives, weaving, hopefully,  an increasingly visible gestalt. And  one of my favorite words, "Compost" ( derived from the town of Compostella, wherein a famous "black Madonna" is housed)..... is another, more organic word for "Transmutation" wherein "gold" is distilled. Composting is the alchemy of life, going on all the time within the depths of Earth.   Just as this process is going on in the depths of our souls and psyches as well.  Or should be..............

I love contemplating what I can learn about the roots of words.  For example, the word "witch" is related to "wicca", "wicker", and "wick", words that relate to the life force, a flame, and weaving.  Following this thread (!) I was wondering if there was another word for the "Crone" archetype (I just don't vibrate with calling myself a "crone" somehow.  It's kind of like calling myself a "scone", full of old crumbly crust, no teeth, and, culturally, implies being a useless old woman.)

I remembered a Saga Storytelling Festival I was once invited to attend. "Saga" is a Scandinavian word that means  "a long, ancestral or heroic story" with many threads.    According to the dictionary, "Saga" is:


1. a. Any of the narrative compositions in prose that were written in Iceland or Norway during the middle ages; in English use often applied spec. to those which embody the traditional history of Icelandic families or of the kings of Norway….

b. transf. A narrative having the (real or supposed) characteristics of the Icelandic sagas; a story of heroic achievement or marvellous adventure. Also, a novel or series of novels recounting the history of a family through several generations, as The Forsyte Saga, etc. 


Now freq. in weakened use, a long and complicated (account of a) series of more or less loosely connected events.

”The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), s.v. “saga.”


According to mythologist Barbara Walker, Saga also means "She Who Speaks". Similar to the masculine "Sage", a Saga is a wise old woman, a female mentor and teacher. She-Who-Speaks is the potent teller of story, because she embodies, within her long life, a long, interwoven, generational, story - a Saga.  Perhaps the male counterpoint is "Sage".


"As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin

A  Saga holds a thread that weaves through many lives into the distant past.  In the telling she casts her warp and weft with her telling  forward into the lives of Sagas to come.

Another one of Spider Woman's many names!




Monday, May 4, 2015

Circles



You  have
noticed that everything
an Indian does is in a circle, and that
is because the Power of the World always
works in circles, and everything tries to be round.  In
the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all
our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and
 as  long as the hoop was   unbroken, the people   flourished.  The
flowering tree was the living center of the hoop and the circle of the
four  quarters nourished it.    The east gave  peace and light,    the south
gave warmth, the west gave  rain,   and the north with its cold  and mighty
wind gave strength and endurance.  Everything the Power of the World does
 is in a circle.  The sky is round and I have heard that the Earth is round like a
 ball, and so are all the stars.  The wind,  in its greatest power, whirls.  Birds
make their nests in circles.  The sun  comes forth and goes down again in a
 circle.  The moon does the same, and both are round.  Even the seasons
form a great Circle in their changing, and always come back again
to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle  from childhood
 to childhood, and so is everything where Power moves.  Our
 teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were
 always set in a circle, the nation's  hoop, a nest of
 many nests, where the Great Spirit meant
 for us to hatch our children.


----Black Elk


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beltaine andThe Sacred Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi

From "The Rainbow Bridge Oracle"

Well, that most auspicious day is here, Beltane, May Day, a Celebration of the Earth's fertility with ancient and universal roots, indeed, one that made the Church fathers very nervous,  so nervous that they managed to demote the holiday if not extinguish it's meaning all together, along with demoting erotic love to, well, something to feel guilty about.  Birds may do it, bees may do it, but holy men, God, and the Virgin Mary, in the tradition many of  us have inherited, definately don't do it.

Still remnants of the most ancient and sacred act of love, the union of the Goddess and the God, the "Sacred Marriage" with it's ancient hope of fertility and abundance, have survived throughout the world, even to this day.  Consider the story of the May Queen, "Lady God-diva", and her famous ride to the Maypole.  Or for that matter, the marvelous symbolism of the May Pole, where in the maidens of the village plant the phallic Pole into the ripening earth, along with much festivity.  In earlier times, the festivities usually ended with couples going into the fields to celebrate, as a pleasurable form of sympathetic magic, the sacred marriage, the idea being that their pleasure would encourage the earth and the animals to do the same.  

One of my favorite examples of the de-sacralization, and descent, of not only the power of Eros in our world but also of women is the use of the word "whore".  We all know that "whore" means a degraded woman, an insult.  And yet the origins of this word go all the way back to the Hebrew "Hora"(and to this day a circular fertility dance called the Hora is danced at Jewish weddings)  or "Hara" (healers still refer to the womb/generative center as the "hara" center).  This root word originally meant both "fertility" as well as a title for a woman who was a priestess.




That rich sense of participating in the sacred sensual lifeforce, so vibrantly felt at the ripening of Spring, the "Sacred Marriage" is something I believe people long for in our guilty and cynical times.  People talk about "having sex" with the same consumer disposibility as "having a beer".   Somehow in the long years since Inanna called to Dumuzi to help her "plow her high field" the sanctity of physical love has been lost, along with the potent magical  sense of participating in the generative, mysterious,  love act  of nature.

So to honor this day, I copy below from the wonderful translations of 5,000 year old poetry by the literary and archeologist team of Diane Wolkstein and Samual Noah Kramer, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer (1983)
Inanna and Dumuzi

Inanna bathed and anointed herself 
with scented oil.
She covered her body with the royal white robe.
She readied her dowry.
She arranged her precious lapis beads 
around her neck.
She took her seal in her hand.

Dumuzi waited expectantly.
Inanna opened the door for him.
Inside the house she shone before him.
Like the light of the moon.
Dumuzi looked at her joyously.
He pressed his neck close against hers.
He kissed her.

Inanna spoke:

   “What I tell you let the singer weave into song.
    What I tell you, let it flow from ear to mouth,
    Let it pass from old to young:
    My vulva, the horn, the Boat of Heaven,
    Is full of eagerness like the young moon.
    My untilled land lies fallow.

    As for me, Inanna,
    Who will plow my vulva?
    Who will plow my high field?
    Who will plow my wet ground?
    As for me, the young woman,
    Who will plow my vulva?
    Who will station the ox there?
    Who will plow my vulva?”

Dumuzi replied:

    “Great Lady, the king will plow your vulva?
    I, Dumuzi the King, will plow your vulva.”

At the king’s lap stood the rising cedar.
Plants grew high by their side.
Grains grew high by their side.
Gardens flourished luxuriantly.

Inanna sang:

   “He has sprouted; he has burgeoned;
    He is lettuce planted by the water.
    He is the one my womb loves best.
    My well-stocked garden of the plain,
    My barley growing high in its furrow,
    My apple tree which bears fruit up to its crown,

    My honey-man sweetens me always.
    His hand is honey, his foot is honey,
    He sweetens me always.
   
Dumuzi sang:

    “O Lady, your breast is your field.
    Inanna, your breast is your field.
    Your broad field pours out the plants.
    Your broad field pours out grain.
    Water flows from on high for your servant.
    Bread flows from on high for your servant.
    Pour it out for me, Inanna.
    I will drink all you offer.”

Inanna sang:

    “Make your milk sweet and thick, my bridegroom.
    My shepherd, I will drink your fresh milk.
    Wild bull Dumuzi, make your milk sweet and thick.
    Let the milk of the goat flow in my sheepfold.
    Fill my holy churn with honey cheese.
    Lord Dumuzi, I will drink your fresh milk.
    My husband, I will guard my sheepfold for you.
    I will watch over your house of life, the storehouse,
    The shining quivering place which delights Sumer
    The house which decides the fates of the land,
    The house which gives the breath of life to the people.
    I, the queen of the palace, will watch over your house.”

    I would go with you to my garden.
    There I would plant the sweet, honey-covered seed.”



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)