Thursday, February 9, 2012

Masks for the Numinous


"O fountain mouth, giver, you, mouth, which
speaks inexhaustibly of that one, pure thing,—
you, mask of marble placed before
the water's flowing face..."

from Sonnets to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

In our proposal  Macha wants  masks that are elemental, allowing "voice" to goddesses that have their origins in places...the land, the waters, the forests -  the true wellsprings of myth.    To our ancestors, as to  indigenous cultures today that have been able to preserve their traditions like the Aborigines of Australia, or the Hopi in Arizona, the entire world was alive and conversant.  One way the "mythic conversation" occurred was by personifying the spirits of place.  As Macha  (and I) believe, the experience of communing with the elemental powers is grounded and woven into myth, but the experience is  real. The Pythoness or Oracle drew her visions from the heightened energies, the "mind" of sacred Delphi.   Hawaiians tell traditional stories about Pele, the Goddess of Kilauea - but many modern people, visiting the great volcano, have come away with personal stories of transformation, wonder, and mystery.  
"Volcano Spirit"

We feel the numinous power of special places, the  "anima", be it a life giving spring, a cave with oracular potency, or the generous "devas" that infuse an orchard with fruitfulness.  How many rivers bear the names of Goddesses, for example the river Avon in England, derived from the Celtic goddess Abnoba?  How many mountains are called a Goddess, or a God?

How, in other words, do we "talk with the Earth", and what might the many voices of Gaia have to say, voices garnered from sacred places throughout his/herstory?
'The River Face"

Myths (and masks) are portals that can open possibilities of  "communion with the invisible realms", because myths (like masks) open windows into the country of the mythic imagination.  In other words, giving a "face", a "voice", and personae to the elemental powers isn't  just about creating  fairy tales.  It's about finding a human face for the ineffable,  so the conversation, generations long,  can be more readily translated into human language.  Does that make sense?
"Numen ("an influence perceptible by mind but not by senses", pl. numina) is a Latin term for a potential, guiding the course of events in a particular place or in the whole world, used in Roman philosophical and religious thought. The many names for Italic gods may obscure this sense of a numinous presence in all the seemingly mundane actions of the natural world." (Wikipedia)


I've always loved the notion of "numina", the local deities of early Rome.  Pomona is one such Roman goddess who derived from simple shrines placed near orchards, revered as the lady who helped the apples and grapes to grow.

When I made my pilgrimage to Glastonbury this past summer I visited again and again the sacred springs -  the White Spring (which is in an underground chamber, and they wouldn't let me publish the photos I took), and the Red Spring (the Chalice Well).

The Red Spring (Chalice Well), Glastonbury, England
I profoundly felt the power of these holy springs, as well as the Tor, which is (I believe) the source of the two springs.  People have been coming to Glastonbury for millenia on pilgrimage, the site of Avalon, and Arthurian lore, and the famous Glastonbury Abbey.  One of the first things I encountered in "Avalon" were many works of art devoted to the "Lady of the Lake", and everywhere, violet, amethyst, and purple.  Here's a photo I took inside the Tor - notice the "purple haze" that the camera consistently recorded in my photos there.

"That two springs, one red and one white, should rise together and flow out from one of the most remarkable hills in the British Isles strikes a profound chord in the imagination.  In esoteric tradition, the Tor as world centre and axis mundi provides the means of passage between the mundane world and the spiritual realms.  In such a place, the veils separating ordinary reality from spiritual planes can thin or dissolve, allowing those who are receptive to receive the guidance and blessings of the otherworld.  The guardian spirits of the Avalonian soul-portal invite all those who are drawn here to pass through the symbolic gateway that is the Tor.  The interplay between the subtle energies of the Red and White Springs is a vital key to understanding the impact of this experience upon the individual soul-body."

 THE RED AND WHITE SPRINGS OF AVALON , Nicholas R Mann and Philippa Glasson
52 fully illustrated pages available from

The monastery in Glastonbury gradually drained the lake and swamplands around the Tor with a system of irrigation channels to create farmland, but in earlier times the Tor must have been visible as a mysterious island in the mists, the "isle of Avalon".  Today the deep springs still pour from the slopes of that island - the iron-rich red waters of Chalice Well which arise from beneath Chalice Hill and flow out through the Chalice Well gardens; and the waters of the adjacent White Spring, arising from beneath Glastonbury Tor. 
So, today I'm working on a mask dedicated to "the Lady of the Springs of Avalon".  Although there is so much lore and mythological legacy connected with this ancient place of pilgrimage, I'm going to just go with my own intuitive vision, and hope I produce a mask that will, like the ever-flowing waters of Avalon, be used to dance new stories about this sacred place into the world.

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