Saturday, December 17, 2011

Creativity, Art and Shamanism

untitled (1970)
"We slowly pull focus, lifting up and away from being embedded in our lives until we attain an overview.  This overview empowers us to make valid creative choices." 

Julia Cameron, "The Artist's Way"

I've been thinking about the blog entry I wrote on Depression, thinking about it on two levels.  First, I've been considering what the gifts of that depression may be,  what I've needed to look at, change, grieve, or accept.  I haven't made any art since my residency at Wesley 2 years ago, and so I took out The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, intending to begin her course. 


The other thing I considered was the need to remember the  trans-personal nature of creativity - of mind.  Spider Woman's Web.  What came to mind recently is a group I belong to who are mostly practicing and  retired therapists.  Although I have great respect for them, I've been feeling ill at ease in the group.  Psychologists can tend to "pathologize" - they often see others in terms of  an assumed standard of mental health and normalcy.  I understand  why,  and I honor the experience they bring to the group.  And yet..........something is missing for me, there is not enough room in the group for the mystery, I find that I am often censoring myself.........

Untitled (1972)
There's a thin line between trans-personal, trans-formative, "non-ordinary states", and madness.  Sometimes "madness" is also brilliant insight.  Sometimes creativity arises  from a liminal zone that should not be explained away or dismissed because it's outside of an "acceptable emotional spectrum".  Just because we can't see ultra-violet with our eyes doesn't mean it's not there.

Carl Jung, who formed the concepts of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, had "spirit guides" that he considered a source of  crucial insights, aspects of his  psyche, "which he could produce, but which could also produce themselves, as having their own life".  Among his "guides" were  the archetypal mentor figure Philemon, an ancient Vedic scholar, and Basilides,  an early Gnostic teacher in Alexandria., Egypt. It's also not well known that Jung's family included members who were known locally as mediums.
 "Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of sub-consciousness....I wouldn't know.  But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness."
untitled (1985)
Aaron Copeland


Recently I was talking with someone about  artists as shamans, and as in the past,  I both agree and disagree with this comparison.  It's highly presumptuous for most artists to call themselves "shamans".  Traditional shamans, while their practices and symbol systems may vary widely, do universally have a great deal of structure within which they work - they have cultural and tribal support, traditional systems that go back through many generations,  systems of "visioning", containment,  ordeals or initiations,  and means of psychic protection that have evolved for hundreds of years.  They have a  lot of "invisible support"  as well, a "strong container" within which their responsibilities are clear,  often hereditary, and they are generally expected to be mature and richly experienced before they can  begin practicing as shamanic healers.  It's not a random, chaotic process at all.
"In the case of the Sami, my Shaman teacher was trained in her culture for thirty-five years before she could practice hearings on people outside of her extended family. When I pondered this, given the fact that she was born into a prestigious lineage of Shamans and that her talents were obvious when she was a child, I wondered why she had to study for so long before treating those outside of her kin group............My Shaman teacher was not only a healer, but she was also a student of folklore. This is important, because she always insisted that the three principal sources of her shamanic knowledge were Sami folklore (tales, legends, and so forth); teachings from the ancestral lineage-from her father, who was her mentor, and from other ancestral spirits, who spoke to her from the spirit world; and teachings from spirit entities (what we might call "spirit aides" or "power animals."

THE PLACE OF SHAMANISM IN ECOFEMINISM, Gloria Feman Orenstein

I was once privileged have a conversation with one of the founders of Eco-feminism,  Gloria Orenstein.*  Dr. Orenstein is a Professor of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at USC in Los Angeles.  In the 80's she became friends with, and worked with,  a hereditary  Sami shaman.  (I have an article about her work with the Sami, and can't seem to find it on line - I'll try writing to her and see if she'll let me print it  in this blog.) I always remembered the story she told me about the first time she went to visit her mentors' family in Finland.  It was winter, very dark, and they had driven for many miles into the countryside, at last arriving at a house where she was given a room to sleep in.  She said that she lay in bed wondering if she was crazy,  coming all the way from Los Angeles in the dead of winter.   Then she heard voices outside the window.  They seemed to be calling for  "Caffe, Caffe".  In the morning she asked her hosts why people were outside in the freezing  night, asking for coffee.  They responded that this was a good sign, it meant she would receive help.  It seems that in Samiland, like flowers and food in Bali, or whiskey to the Orishas of Cuba, coffee was an offering made to the spirit world.

I don't mean, of course,  to negate the work of many contemporary shamans, such as Sandra Ingerman ("Soul Retrieval") or Michael Harner, who have studied  traditions from around the world and evolved  new forms of contemporary shamanism.   

'St. George and the Dragon" (1969?)
 I think I'm digressing.  I wanted to demonstrate that making even the most visionary art does not make one a shaman, however, art process can be shamanic within it's healing capacity, and the way it can reveal the seamlessness, the weaving,  of our inner lives.  There is a liminal dimension to the creative process one can hardly fail to notice.

Going over some of my very old drawings, I was amazed to find the one above, which I did when I was about 18,  of "St. George and the Dragon".  I knew nothing whatsoever about feminism, the Goddess,  or mythology ...... and yet I can read what became my life purpose, like hieroglyphics, in this little drawing.  Here is a divine female figure, which I symbolized with wings, who seems to have a snake around her waist and in her hand.  She's merged into the rather tragic looking figure of the dragon about to be slain by George, who looks nothing at all like a saint to me.  (In fact, he looks kind of like my abusive boyfriend of the time.) This is a classic heroic tale - so why did I make "George" so un-noble?  Behind him is a barren, rocky land, in contrast to the depths below the dragon figure, with vegetation bubbling up from the dark earth, and even  something that looks like a dark moon shape as well.

The meanings I can now draw from these symbols represent many years of study and discussion as I became a feminist, and became involved in Eco-feminism and Goddess theology.  In 1968 or so there might have been people like Merlin Stone thinking about the banished Goddess, the Earth Snake***, and the development of patriarchal religions, but I sure wasn't exposed to it until well into my 30's.

The drawing really is a kind of "future memory".

"Skin Shedder Mandala" (1985)
 **"Synchronicity and The Shaman of Samiland" in UNCOILING THE SNAKE: ANCIENT PATTERNS IN CONTEMPORARY WOMEN'S LIVES (A Snakepower Reader). Edited by Vicki Noble. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1993. 

***I just noticed that the article above is a "SNAKEPOWER READER"..........!

4 comments:

sukipoet said...

wonderful drawings and musings. i esp love the first drawing.

Lauren said...

Thanks Suki, seem to be doing "life review" these winter days. Hope you're having a lovely holiday!

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Wow, that drawing you did when you were 18 is phenomenal! All of your art is breathtaking, Lauren. This post is beautiful on many levels. I've been writing for 30 years and have recently been doing a "review" as well. I'm blaming the lunar eclipse from December 13!A any rate, I can't wait to see what you create.
- Trish

Lauren said...

I think that eclipse was a dilly.....blew things wide open! I'm glad............don't know where I'm going these days, but at least the inner life is moving. Wishing you the same in your review process!