Monday, August 20, 2018

"Our Lady of the Shards" series..... New Work

The Memory Keeper
These are Shrines, or perhaps Madonnas, that celebrate and "en-shrine" the lost, forgotten, broken and buried Divine Feminine, as well as all of those ancestral women who kept the important memories, wove the stories and connections, birthed the babies, buried the dead.  "Our Lady of the Shards" lies among the broken shards, debris, and re-surfacing mythos of the past.  She is the Black Madonna, the Numina at the roots of sacred springs and caves.  She is the ancient Great Mother, rising from beneath the careless feet of contemporary civilization to speak to us again, teach, and remind us. 

The Weaver
Weaver, Weaver, weave our thread
whole & strong into your web
Healer, Healer, heal our pain
in love may we return again

We are dark and we are light
we are born of earth and light
of joy and pain our lives are spun
male and female, old and young

No one knows why we are born
A web is made, a web is torn
But love is the home that we come from
and at the core we all are one 

Of life's  Spring may we drink deep
and awake to dream and die to sleep
and dreaming weave another form
a shining thread of life reborn

~~~ Starhawk, from "The Spiral Dance"

                 Our Lady of the Desert Spring, Nuestra SeƱora de las Aguas :

"We pray You hear our prayers, oh Lady of the Desert Spring, Our Lady of the dry Arroyo, Come to us, hear our prayers.   Mother of the cottonwoods, the Palos Verdes, refuge for all.  Bless all those who suffer thirst.  Spread your mantle of green and turquoise, your shining artery of life, upon  the red Earth of our lives."

Ann Waters, from "The Awakening:  Our Changing Earth"

The Black Madonna

Bone Woman

Our Lady of the Midwives

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Waiting for the Barbarians at the Hot Springs

"The Memory Keeper" (2018)

I realize I haven't written for a long time now.  Not really writing, spontaneously.  This was originally intended to be a journal, a journal that began with an artist residency based on my quest to follow the "trail of Spider Woman".  To envision what She might represent, across the ages, across the miles, and across cultures into this crucial contemporary time we live in.  I wonder how far I have come or  strayed from that path, which began  in 2007?
Spider Woman's Hand (2007)

It is my birthday, the last year of my sixth decade.  I guess I have become old, certainly the mirror tells me so, so do my bones.  Sometimes the world seems strange to me, like it's moved on, and, well, here I am, seemingly by the roadside with a few old friends commiserating,  wondering if we have anything anyone wants any more.   And no.  We don't have time to be polite in saying that.

The helper here at the hot springs who handed me a towel is a pleasant, large boned young man with big hands and  a bra under his tee shirt.  He seems like a sweet kind of  person.  I know I'm legally supposed to treat him like a woman now,  but frankly, he just looks and sounds like a  young man in a stuffed bra.  If he takes the bra off, does he have the option to become a man again?  Is womanhood just a "choice" or even a "recreation"  now?  This could get confusing.  Sometimes it seems as if the world has moved on in directions I don't understand.

I often go to a hot spring not far from me, where the waters without fail remove the stress and emotional crusting and debris that accumulates, like lint to Velcro,  to obscure clarity of mind.  At the very least, I relax, and watch old videos that the proprietress makes available.  I've had some great insights and a few visionary "directives" here over the years.  In 2012, for example, I  enjoyed the whole pool to myself late at night under the stars.  Sitting in the waters I "downloaded" an entire Proposal for an art project, neatly presented as a kind of academic paper,  complete with a title: "Numina - Masks for the Elemental Powers".  Seriously.  Sacred waters have power.   That gift later became a series of masks, and my friend Ann Waters ended up creating a play performed in Willits, California called  Numina:  The Awakening.

 And then there was the  dream I had at Harbin Hot Springs in 1999 that foretold the "Masks of the Goddess project".   Sacred places, be they hot springs, mountain tops, or numinous caves the way for the Divine to speak.  My idea of being an artist has always been a bit like being a stenographer, able and willing to do transcription.  Does anyone care about what I "transcribe" anymore?  I honestly don't know.  The "art world" has  apparently no use for me, and I have quit wasting money applying for things.   I cross art world taboos:  religion, spirituality, it's not political, it's not "contemporary", I'm not "emerging" (does that mean I've "emerged"?  Where did I emerge from and when did it happen?).  And yet the Powers that Be keep sending me visions, darn it, that I just have to try to make manifest.

So here I sit at dawn.  This is the last year of my 6th decade.   A friend says I should write a memoir, which seems like real vanity  to me -  although in truth, what I love best are the stories people tell of their lives.  Why should I not enjoy telling my own "epic"?  Memory is all that one finally has left.  At the end, perhaps not even that - I suppose in the passage and logic of the soul, memory gets in the way of new becoming.  Forgive me, I stray now into metaphysics, something I don't particularly do much anymore.  "The World is not with us enough, O Taste and See"  wrote Denise Levertov.  Abstractions get in the way of that important truth, even fascinating  metaphysical abstractions.

This becomes increasingly important at 70.  "O Taste and See!"  You don't need abstractions at 70.  You need sunsets, mountains purple and azure, starscapes, the tender hands of children, the taste of old champagne and fresh bread........... you need to love the World.

I have had one revelation while soaking this day.  A visionary experience that I had, oh, back in 1989, came to me vividly for recollection.  The vivid memory of that experience was preceded by the  image of a tortoise I met recently in my garden.  Tortoise represents to me Turtle Island, the Earth, our patient Mother.  When a tortoise shows up I pay attention.

The vision happened in my old red Toyota pick up truck, in a rest area somewhere in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  It was 1989, and  I had just driven across the country, heading for my summer home at the New York Renaissance Faire.  I became exhausted and pulled off the road, and fell into not so much a sleep as a trance state.  It seemed that my car started flying up into the sky, so that I got a good birds eye view of the landscape below.  What I saw was a misty, green land below, and a great circle of standing stones.  Approaching the Circle was a group of people clad in white, all coming for some kind of ritual. (I reflect that I am going to  Avebury this fall, to attend a conference on Earth energies and sacred sites).

Then I seemed to be flying over a southwestern landscape, red canyon walls that were covered with layers of patterns of petroglyphs that seemed to recede back into the stone.  and then once again, I was flying in my truck, this time over Los Angeles, and below me I saw the freeways of L.A., forming a perfect figure eight, the infinity symbol.  And was over, I was in a rest stop in Virginia.

What I realize now it that this vision was about my life..........I've  loved the stone circles in New England and overseas,  I'm made and participated in rituals, I've learned to dowse, I've sensed the footfalls of ancestors, I've been to ancient sites of England.  And I've lived in the Southwest, and followed  petroglyphs of Spider Woman, like touchstones along the path.   Last, how many times have I driven the highways and freeways of America, the infinity loops of Los Angeles, where I grew up?  Those patterns underlay my life, but they are also the underlying patterns of Gaia, of Turtle Island.    The Pattern is not lost, even if it is too large and too ancient for us to see.

Memoirs.  I've been blessed to see more than one of what people call miracles........... and how do you talk about such things?  I think I got out of the prophet business quite a long time ago!  Especially now, when I do indeed feel like an anachronism along the side of the road.....people do not sit at tables facing each other and sharing visions much anymore, they sit before  little electronic boxes in their rooms with the doors closed.   Standing beside the road, sometimes it seems a little lonely.

So why don't I write any more?  Truth is, I'm depressed. I don't feel a need to apologize for that.
 Depression may in fact be an appropriate, if futile, response right now. The Earth is heating up, the oceans are filling up with plastic, California is burning and Florida is sinking, millions of fellow beings on this beautiful world are becoming extinct every week, refugees are fleeing drought and war, and my grandson doesn't have a very hopeful outlook for his future.  We desperately need visionary leaders, and instead,  America is sinking into savagery and fascism under a corrupt regime headed by a would be dictator paid off by a corporate oligarchy.  Goodbye, America.

Still, practically speaking, it doesn't help me, or anyone else, this depression which  I don't know how to come out of , how to get "positive" and "enlightened".  I'm dark and melancholy these days, and I don't believe in numbing drugs or quick fix therapies.  There is something very American about that denial of the spiritual function, and emotional deepening, of depression.

I think about the Roman practice of the Saturn shrine, a somber place that was set aside in their gardens, where one might sit in sacred solitude, and allow the  melancholy  God  to inform and converse with  one's psyche.  There is a place for the voice of Saturn, for the torches of Hecate, in the gardens of our lives.  I claim the right to examine this long life I have been privileged to have, to ensadden about the losses and the disappointments, to be depressed about the eternal violence, greed and stupidity of humanity,  to grieve the daily destruction of the only Mother Earth any of us will ever know, and the decimation of America, which for all it's faults, was also a place of hope and idealism and great innovation.  My country.

When I was a child in the 50's my family toured Italy.  My mother dragged us to many Roman temples and mausoleums and museums, and I am embarrassed to say that all I really remember of it all, outside of the wonderful cats in the Coliseum, are the statues without noses.  They always seemed to be without noses, and in my 10 year old imagination, I pictured Romans as toga clad people without noses.   Much later, when contemplating pictures of those impressive (noseless)  marble statues, I imagined breaking floods  of  roaring barbarians, crossing the Rubicon and riding into civilized Rome, looting the Temples, raping the women (women always seem to be perceived as loot), and shouting with glee as they knocked the noses off of every statue they saw.  That, I believe, accounts for the facial disfiguration of Roman gods or generals.

Waiting for the Barbarians. ( I do not refer here, by the way, to the poem by  C.P. Cavafy,  or the famous book by  Pulitzer prize winner J.M. Coetzee ,  or even the very promising  forthcoming movie which will star Mark Rylance).  I co-opt the term for my own uses.  As an educated, and thus privileged woman, sitting here sipping coffee and enjoying the sound of running waters and dawn birds, sometimes I cast myself as an aristocratic late Roman woman.  How  might she  have felt, sitting in her Atrium with her family, "waiting for the barbarians" to arrive?  In the modern version, will all the sculptures in my sculpture garden be noseless one day, as the barbarians ride in with their motorcycles, hideously angry, sexist hip hop music blaring, NRA assault rifles in hand? Will they gleefully knock the noses off of every Goddess in the place?

Instead of Star trek, is the future to be more like the Road Warrior? A glorious patriarchal dream of one alpha male duking it out with another for supremacy?    Is it decent for me to even care about art, in what sometimes looks like the "end times".........with so much suffering, now, and hovering on the horizon?  And here I am.  I've partaken of the higher benefits of a great civilization, been part of an optimistic generation.

  I just finished a piece called the Memory Keeper.  She holds an overflowing bowl.......... she shares waters from another time, sustaining and growing the seeds of the future.  What else can any of us do, waiting for the barbarians?

Here I am, writing  at last.  I'm being truthful, and personal.  It seems like the day to do it

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"The Parting Glass"............ wonderful Celtic drinking song!

This is true blessing at the bar............ it could easily be my own theme song!  I have always loved Celtic music for the exquisite blend of bitter and sweet.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

"Our Lady of the Midwives"... Reflections

          "The breath of the ages 
            still ghosts to the vitality
            of our most early and unwritten forebears
            whose wizardry still makes a lie of history
            whose presence hints in every human word
            who somehow reared and loosed 
            an impossible beauty enduring yet:
            and I will not forget."

            Robin Williamson, "Five Denials on Merlin's Grave"

"Our Lady of the Shards" is a series of Madonnas I have been working on for a year or so now.  Our Lady of the Shards lies among the broken shards, debris, lost artifacts, and resurfacing mythos of the past.  She has been buried by time, his-story, and by endless war, and co-option of what was once sacred.  She is the Black Madonna, the dark Earth mystery at the roots of timeless sacred springs and caves, the generative "Numina" of place.  She is also the buried work and lives of the women who wove the ancient stories, who birthed our ancestors, the memory keepers and the comforters.  Perhaps collectively my "Madonnas" are  the Divine Feminine, arising into the world again at our greatest need, insisting that we see, re-member, re-claim. 

A number of years ago I met a midwife who was retiring.  Her hands had brought many children into this world, so I asked if I could take a cast of her hands.  She took what she told me was the "Midwives Gesture".  My Icon celebrates her life and work, and the lives of Midwives going back into prehistory, those un-named ancestors who brought us here through that Portal.

My Madonnas are also visual prayers, iconic images that pray that humanity will turn toward life-giving and life-nurturing once again, toward generation instead of destruction, toward reverence for our Mother Earth. 

            "I hate the scribblers, who only write of War
             and leave the glory of the past unsung between the lines."

             Robin Williamson, "Five Denials on Merlin's Grave"

I reflect on the ongoing tragedy of patriarchal culture and priorities, whereby the military, whereby technologies devoted to Death, are celebrated, funded excessively, endlessly rewarded and mythologized.  The U.S. has the highest military budget in the his-story of humanity.  What might be accomplished, if even a fraction of that went to serve Life, communion and love,  instead of Death?  Entire museums are devoted to famous generals, great epics about conquering armies and the rape and murder of women and children, like the Iliad or the Odyssey, are celebrated classics.  While ubiquitous Midwives of new life of all kinds.......are forgotten, un-known, trivialized, un-important.  How might we live, how might we act, if the welcomers of souls into this world were as celebrated, as honored, as those who are experts at killing? 


How might we live, how might we act, if Our Lady of the Midwives rose in all of Her power to teach us a new way of being?

            “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 

Friday, July 27, 2018

"Not Man Apart" - Robinson Jeffers

Then what is the answer?
Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.

When open violence appears,
to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.

To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness.
These dreams will not be fulfilled.

To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
appears atrociously ugly.

Integrity is wholeness, 
the greatest beauty is organic wholeness, 
the wholeness of life and all things,
the divine beauty of the universe.

Love that, not man apart from that,
or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken."

- Robinson Jeffers

"Seldom do we realize that the world is practically no thicker to us than the print of our footsteps on the path. 

Upon that surface we walk and act our comedy of life, and what is beneath is nothing to us. But it is out from that under-world, from the dead and the unknown, from the cold moist ground, that these green blades have sprung."  

............Robinson Jeffers

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Hecate (2018)

I have  made a number of paintings throughout my life that portrayed myself as Hecate  It wasn't until later that I began to realize that I was invoking the aid of the Dark Goddess Hecate,  asking for the inner guidance I needed as I moved through  through menopause into old age, calling on Her aid as I became a caretaker for members of my family as their lives ended, calling on Hecate who stands, with her two Torches, at the crossroads of life and death, at the crossroads of time.

So when I made this sculpture in my "Our Lady of the Shards" series, it was not possible to personify Hecate rising from the broken pieces of the past to confront us again........without making Her a Trilogy.  She encompasses all aspects of the cycle of life, the Maiden, the Mother, and at last the Old Woman at the liminal point of life.  
Hecate is the Underworld aspect of the Triple Goddess.  The "power of three", the sacred Triad, is very ancient indeed, with roots that go back and back and back into prehistory.   The Triad represents the eternal cycle of nature, the Earth  which the most ancient of human beings seem to have universally revered  as  "Mother Earth".  Early peoples observed that the Earth, like women, gave birth, nurtured, and finally "took back" life into some mysterious spiritual underground realm (Womb/Tomb)  to return again in the springtime.   The Triad or Trilogy was  co-opted by later patriarchal cultures and religions that sought to diminish or replace the Great Goddess, among them Christianity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost)  and Hinduism with Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer).

The earliest known  paintings were of animals.  But the earliest known paintings (or sculptures)  of human beings (not animals)  are of  vulva symbols.  These female symbols  occur in cave paintings - the one on the right is over 30,000 years old, one of the oldest paintings in the cave.  The bull was apparently painted over it at a later time.   It might be said that very ancient people understood the vulva as the  crucible of entry into this world, and to honor the Earth Mother in caves, along with the animals  early people hunted and revered as spiritual beings as well.....was to enter the womb of the Great Mother, and thus prepare, sacrifice,  and  pray for a good rebirth.  The cycle of life/death/life was recognized as arising from the body of the Earth Mother, and returning to the body of the Earth Mother.

"Hecate's Wheel" 
Associated with Hecate is a peculiar icon called "Hecate's Wheel",  which shows three loops suggesting a labyrinth  turning around a wheel, symbolizing an  eternally transformative movement.   The Wheel of the Triad moves through conception and birth, sexuality and motherhood, and finally death, the return to the Underworld, incubation and return.   The Three Goddesses are really One Goddess, each a manifestation in a different phase.  

Hecate  lives at the crossroads between conscious and unconscious, dream and waking, life and death.  She stands at the apex of the  liminal zones.  It was  Hecate who   heard the cries of the naive maiden Kore as she was carried by Hades into the underworld, and it was Hecate who bore a torch for Kore as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the dead and also Queen of life's rebirth.  Hecate is the guide of souls through deep, unfathomable places of the psyche. When the time is ripe, Hecate stands quietly at the threshold with her two torches, unseen until She hears the soul-cry of those who ask Her to light the way. 

I  take the liberty of copying a wonderfully insightful and well researched  article by  Danielle Nickel - for further insight, visit her site 

Hekate is primarily a goddess of the Underworld, holding dominion over death and rebirth. This is meant both in the literal sense and in the metaphorical as well. For life is filled with many deaths and rebirths aside from that of the flesh. Because of this the Dark of the Moon especially is her time of the month, since it is a time of endings and beginnings, when what was is no more, and what will be has yet to become. 

Hekate guards the limenoskopos (the doorstep), for she is a goddess of liminality and transition. Of being on and crossing boundaries. This includes not only the boundary between life and death, but any boundaries, such as those between nature and civilization, waking and sleep, sanity and madness, the conscious and the subconscious minds. Indeed, any transition can be said to be her domain. As such she is also goddess of the crossroads, where the paths of one's life fork and a person must choose which future to embark upon. In ancient times these were believed to be special places where the veil between the worlds was thin and spirits gathered.

Hekate is also the goddess of psychological transformation. Her Underworld is the dark recesses of the human subconscious as well at that of the Cosmos. Many have accused her of sending demons to haunt the thoughts of individuals. What they fail to understand is that the demons are not hers, but their own. By the light of her twin torches Hekate only reveals what is already there. These are things which the person needs to see in order to heal and renew. However, if they are not prepared for the experience of confronting their Shadow then it can truly feel like they are being tormented. Hekate is not motivated by cruelty, nor is she seeking to harm. But her love can be tough love. She will prompt a person to face the things that they must, whether they like it or not..........Hekate goes with them. While she may not be the deity many people would like, she is the one whom they need. Because of this I believe that she comes to those who require her, whether or not they were looking for her.

In modern Neo-Pagan practice Hekate is typically identified as an aspect of the Crone, and as such is most often portrayed as an old woman. This is in contrast to ancient vase murals which depict her as being an adult woman in her prime. As with many things about this goddess, this is a perception that has changed over time. However, the Crone aspect of the modern Triple Goddess is not truly defined by her age, but rather by the powers her age represents (that of wisdom, magical potency, annihilation, and the transformative journey through the Underworld), and those indeed fall under Hekate's domain. So while perhaps not historically accurate, this is not a demotion or devaluing of her, but rather the way in which modern Neo-Paganism fits her into its philosophy (this difficulty with integrating her into their cosmology is something that we will see Neo-Pagans share with the Ancient Greeks as well).

Hekate is more often than not portrayed as carrying two torches and is known as "The Torch-Bearer". She carries these because of her role as a guide through the transition of the Underworld. One torch shows a person where it is they currently stand, the other where they might go. In this manner she reveals the mysteries of transformation to those who enter her realm of darkness. 

.......Hekate is also associated with a wheel shaped design, known as Hekate's Wheel, or the "Strophalos of Hekate". It is a circle which encloses a serpentine maze with three main flanges, that in turn are situated around a central, fiery spiral. The symbolism refers to the serpent's power of rebirth, to the labyrinth of knowledge through which Hekate could lead humankind, and to the flame of life itself: "The life-producing bosom of Hekate, that Living Flame which clothes itself in Matter to manifest Existence" (according to Isaac Preston Cory's 1836 translation of the Chaldean Oracles). The three main arms of the maze correspond with her being a triple goddess, as well as goddess of the three ways, and that she has dominion over the earth, sea, and sky.

A Goddess of Crossroads and Transitions 

As earlier stated, Hekate is a guide for people who are in transition. While she is most famous in her role as a psychopomp, guiding the spirits of the dead in their journey through the Underworld, she also aids those who cross boundaries or otherwise travel from one condition to another, particularly when that crossing involves danger.........For more than anything else she is a deity of liminality.

She is a goddess of the crossroads for this reason. In the ancient world a crossroad was a point where three roads met to form a "Y"-shaped intersection. It was believed to be a place where spirits gathered, including those of the Underworld and those of Fate. It is also a metaphor for the divergence of possibilities in an individual's future. Their life will bring them to the crossroad along one of the roads, and they will be met with a branching, where they must choose one path or the other to continue onward. As goddess of transitions, Hekate rules this place where the roads separate and differing futures are possible. 

However, it is important to remember that Hekate is a guide. She points out where a person is currently heading and where else they might go if they change their path instead. She does not choose a person's fate herself. That is always left to the person to decide. She is a torch-bearer because of this illumination she sheds upon one's life. That is also one reason she is a lunar-deity, for while a torch brings light to the darkness of night, so too does the moon on the grandest possible scale. This reflects both her link to the night-realms and to her role as an illuminator of ways.. 

Hekate is often portrayed as  three torch-bearing female figures standing in a circle looking outward, with their backs joined so that they are in fact one being. This exhibits her dominion over the triple-crossroads and her ability to see in all directions simultaneously. The road a person had come from, and the directions they might take in the future. These hektarion (or hekataion) were placed at crossroads. Their earliest forms consisted of a pole upon which three masks were hung, with one facing each road. In more recent times these became statuary, sometimes of three figures standing with their backs to a central pillar, other times a similar portrayal without the column in the center.   The Romans knew Hekate as Triva, which means "where the three roads meet".

Hekate Triformis - The Triple Goddess

Hekate is a triple-goddess, serving as the Crone aspect in more than one triumvirate of deities. Perhaps most commonly we see her partnered with Kore-Persephone and Demeter. Where Kore takes the role of the Maiden (indeed, the word kore means "maiden" in Ancient Greek), Demeter the Mother, and Hekate the Crone. This triumvirate plays a central role in the myth of Kore's descent into the Underworld and her re-emergence as Persephone. 

This myth appears to have been the basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which initiates relived the experience of Kore and like her returned forever changed, reborn with a new understanding of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

 In the earliest tales, Kore willingly descends into the Underworld, while in the later and more well-known versions she is kidnapped by Hades. The latter being indicative of the rising patriarchy of Ancient Greece. In either version, her mother Demeter - who is the goddess of agriculture -  withholds her blessings from the Earth and causes the first winter to come about. It is Hekate who spies Kore within the Underworld and guides her back to the surface to be reunited with her mother. She emerges not as the maiden Kore, but as Persephone, a powerful woman in her own right, and with her comes the warmth and promise of spring. Persephone however, has become inextricably tied to the Underworld and returns there for four months every year, one for each pomegranate seed she ate while there. Her leaving is accompanied by the onset of winter, and while she holds her court in the Underworld she is joined by Hekate. In this myth we not only see a metaphor for rebirth, but also of coming of age and into one's own power and place in the world.

The Invincible Queen Of The Dead

While Hekate is a versatile deity, she is best known as a goddess of death and the Underworld. However, it is important to remember that her Underworld is not the place of terrible suffering popularized by patriarchal Greece and later Christianity.*** Rather it was a place of divine transformation, like the cocoon where the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. This was the primordial Underworld, the place from which all life ultimately derives. Death and Birth stand back to back in the great spiral of existence, while Hekate and her Underworld lie between the two. 

Our ancient ancestors saw that many things sprang from the earth, not just plants, but animals such as snakes, bears, rodents, and others as well. Even the sun and moon appeared to rise from the earth and later sink back down within it every day and night. To their eyes, it seemed that something magical was taking place in the darkness below the ground. This idea was further reinforced when they learned that plant life originates from seeds buried within the earth. They saw that if a person kept a seed in - for example - their pocket, it would never grow into a plant. It had to be buried in the soil. Our ancestors reasoned that something magical must take place down there. Some transformation hidden away from the eyes of people and the rays of the sun. 

This was their Underworld. A place of renewal and rebirth where buried seeds sprouted into life. Because they saw the generative power of the Underworld, they buried their dead deep within the earth so that they too could transform into new life, just as a seed does into a plant. Being thorough people, they also dyed the bodies with red henna to symbolize menstrual blood (and in some cases did use menstrual blood), in order to capitalize upon the regenerative power believed to exist in that as well.  

This is why how so many Pagan deities such as Kali, Hekate, Freja, et al. are associated with both death and life. Our ancestors saw that death and birth were interconnected, standing back to back in an ever-turning spiral. In this manner Hekate is both child-nurse of all life as well as harbinger of death, and thusly it was to her that the ancients prayed to ensure both long life and eventual rebirth. Interestingly enough it is also in this manner that Hekate might be considered the goddess of compost. For it is the decomposition of plant and animals that insures the fertility of the earth, which in turn ensures the creation and nurturing of new life.

These views of the Underworld would change as religion became politicized, a tool for power. The Underworld became a place of terror in order to frighten people into obedience. So too were its denizens altered in public perception to become the monsters such a place needs to be populated with. This is one of the dynamics by which Hekate was increasingly negatively portrayed............ 

Keeper of the Unconscious

As Goddess of the Underworld, Hekate is not only the guide to the spirits of the dead, but also the keeper of each individual's own personal Underworld, the benighted territory of their unconscious mind. She lives within each of our inner worlds, and is there to guide us as we transition from inner to outer realms of consciousness. When accepted, her blessings enrich our lives with vision, healing, inspiration, and magic. She brings light to the darkness and empowers us with creativity, confidence, and strength. However, when we deny her it manifests in our Shadow-Self. She holds the key to both the treasures and terrors of the unconscious mind.......

Hekate is the light that reveals the Shadow, like the light of the moon at midnight. Her goal is not to destroy, but rather to illuminate. However, it is no accident that we have buried these things so deeply within our psyches. We are often not ready to face them when revealed. In such cases it may indeed appear that Hekate is bringing demons to terrorize us. We must remember that the demons are ours and reclaim them as our own. For with that revelation we also take back our power over them. That is the only way in which the Shadow can be truly defeated. By accepting it as our own. Learning that is the key which turns the lock of the person's emotional healing and rebirth. Hekate is there as a guide to help us, her twin torches shining our way through the darkened recesses of our unconscious.........

.............We must come to understand that Hekate and the darkness she exemplifys are not terrible, but rather natural forces within us and the world around us which are necessary components in the process of healing and regeneration. We must trust to her as our guide and give ourselves over to our journey through the Underworld, rather than resist the sacrifices we must make in order to grow. For one can only heal by moving through darkness. This requires courage and insight on our parts, but thankfully she is there to show us where to find both these qualities within ourselves as well.

"Hecate" (1997)

**Judith Anderson has passed away, and her powerful work is not well known.  She was an extraordinary artist whose prints emerged from the depths of the sacred Earth and the realms of the Soul.  For an excellent article about Judith Anderson:

***This is true as well of the Nordic Goddess Hella (also part of a triad), Underworld Goddess whose name became the source of the Christian "Hell".

Friday, July 13, 2018

Old Masks

These tales of old disguisings, are they not
Strange myths of souls that found themselves among
Unwonted folk that spake an hostile tongue,
Some soul from all the rest who'd not forgot
The star-span acres of a former lot
Where boundless mid the clouds his course he swung,
Or carnate with his elder brothers sung
Ere ballad-makers lisped of Camelot?

Old singers half-forgetful of their tunes,
Old painters color-blind come back once more,
Old poets skill-less in the wind-heart runes,
Old wizards lacking in their wonder-lore:

All they that with strange sadness in their eyes
Ponder in silence o'er earth's queynt devyse? 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Telling is Listening" - Ursula K. Leguin on Communion

One of my favorite weekly e-zines is BRAIN PICKINGS by Maria Popova.  It is free to subscribe, well worth supporting when you can, and Ms. Popova is a deeply insightful writer and editor, whose reflections on culture, art and literature never fail to amaze and inspire me.  We also seem to share a love of the the writer Ursula K. LeGuin, whose work I have followed since her earliest books.  So I take the liberty of reproducing here one of Brain Pickings  most recent posts, because it deserves to be shared as much as possible.  

Telling Is Listening: Ursula K. Le Guin on the Magic of Real Human Conversation

Every act of communication is an act of tremendous courage in which we give ourselves over to two parallel possibilities: the possibility of planting into another mind a seed sprouted in ours and watching it blossom into a breathtaking flower of mutual understanding; and the possibility of being wholly misunderstood, reduced to a withering weed. Candor and clarity go a long way in fertilizing the soil, but in the end there is always a degree of unpredictability in the climate of communication — even the warmest intention can be met with frost. Yet something impels us to hold these possibilities in both hands and go on surrendering to the beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift. And the most magical thing, the most sacred thing, is that whichever the outcome, we end up having transformed one another in this vulnerable-making process of speaking and listening.
Why and how we do that is what Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929–January 22, 2018) explores in a magnificent piece titled “Telling Is Listening” found in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (public library), which also gave us her spectacular meditations on being a man and what beauty really means.
Ursula K. Le Guin by Benjamin Reed
In the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut’s diagrams of the shapes of stories, Le Guin argues that “our ruling concept of communication is a mechanical model,” which she illustrates thusly:
She explains:
Box A and box B are connected by a tube. Box A contains a unit of information. Box A is the transmitter, the sender. The tube is how the information is transmitted — it is the medium. And box B is the receiver. They can alternate roles. The sender, box A, codes the information in a way appropriate to the medium, in binary bits, or pixels, or words, or whatever, and transmits it via the medium to the receiver, box B, which receives and decodes it.
A and B can be thought of as machines, such as computers. They can also be thought of as minds. Or one can be a machine and the other a mind.
But the magic of human communication, Le Guin observes, is that something other than mere information is being transmitted — something more intangible yet more real:
In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.
Paralleling Hannah Arendt’s assertion that “nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator,” Le Guin points out that all speech invariably presupposes a listener:
In human conversation, in live, actual communication between or among human beings, everything “transmitted” — everything said — is shaped as it is spoken by actual or anticipated response.
Live, face-to-face human communication is intersubjective. Intersubjectivity involves a great deal more than the machine-mediated type of stimulus-response currently called “interactive.” It is not stimulus-response at all, not a mechanical alternation of precoded sending and receiving. Intersubjectivity is mutual. It is a continuous interchange between two consciousnesses. Instead of an alternation of roles between box A and box B, between active subject and passive object, it is a continuous intersubjectivity that goes both ways all the time.
In a sentiment that calls to mind Nikki Giovanni’s magnificent ode to what amoebas know about love that we don’t, Le Guin writes:
My private model for intersubjectivity, or communication by speech, or conversation, is amoebas having sex. As you know, amoebas usually reproduce by just quietly going off in a corner and budding, dividing themselves into two amoebas; but sometimes conditions indicate that a little genetic swapping might improve the local crowd, and two of them get together, literally, and reach out to each other and meld their pseudopodia into a little tube or channel connecting them.
This, too, she illustrates with a diagram:
In an exquisite passage at the intersection of biology, anthropology, and sheer literary genius, Le Guin elaborates:
Then amoeba A and amoeba B exchange genetic “information,” that is, they literally give each other inner bits of their bodies, via a channel or bridge which is made out of outer bits of their bodies. They hang out for quite a while sending bits of themselves back and forth, mutually responding each to the other.
This is very similar to how people unite themselves and give each other parts of themselves — inner parts, mental not bodily parts—when they talk and listen. (You can see why I use amoeba sex not human sex as my analogy: in human hetero sex, the bits only go one way. Human hetero sex is more like a lecture than a conversation. Amoeba sex is truly mutual because amoebas have no gender and no hierarchy. I have no opinion on whether amoeba sex or human sex is more fun. We might have the edge, because we have nerve endings, but who knows?)
Two amoebas having sex, or two people talking, form a community of two. People are also able to form communities of many, through sending and receiving bits of ourselves and others back and forth continually — through, in other words, talking and listening. Talking and listening are ultimately the same thing.
Reminding us that literacy is an incredibly nascent invention and still far from universal, Le Guin considers the singular and immutable power of spoken conversation in fostering a profound mutuality by syncing our essential vibrations:
Speech connects us so immediately and vitally because it is a physical, bodily process, to begin with. Not a mental or spiritual one, wherever it may end.
If you mount two clock pendulums side by side on the wall, they will gradually begin to swing together. They synchronise each other by picking up tiny vibrations they each transmit through the wall.
Any two things that oscillate at about the same interval, if they’re physically near each other, will gradually tend to lock in and pulse at exactly the same interval. Things are lazy. It takes less energy to pulse cooperatively than to pulse in opposition. Physicists call this beautiful, economical laziness mutual phase locking, or entrainment.
All living beings are oscillators. We vibrate. Amoeba or human, we pulse, move rhythmically, change rhythmically; we keep time. You can see it in the amoeba under the microscope, vibrating in frequencies on the atomic, the molecular, the subcellular, and the cellular levels. That constant, delicate, complex throbbing is the process of life itself made visible.
We huge many-celled creatures have to coordinate millions of different oscillation frequencies, and interactions among frequencies, in our bodies and our environment. Most of the coordination is effected by synchronising the pulses, by getting the beats into a master rhythm, by entrainment.
Like the two pendulums, though through more complex processes, two people together can mutually phase-lock. Successful human relationship involves entrainment — getting in sync. If it doesn’t, the relationship is either uncomfortable or disastrous.

This entrainment, Le Guin argues, occurs organically and constantly, often below our conscious awareness and beyond willful intention:
Consider deliberately sychronised actions like singing, chanting, rowing, marching, dancing, playing music; consider sexual rhythms (courtship and foreplay are devices for getting into sync). Consider how the infant and the mother are linked: the milk comes before the baby cries. Consider the fact that women who live together tend to get onto the same menstrual cycle. We entrain one another all the time.
Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action.
When you can and do entrain, you are synchronising with the people you’re talking with, physically getting in time and tune with them. No wonder speech is so strong a bond, so powerful in forming community.
Illustration from ‘Donald and the…’ by Edward Gorey. Click image for more.
In a complement to Susan Sontag’s terrific treatise on the the aesthetics of silence, Le Guin considers the singular nature of sound:
Sound signifies event. A noise means something is happening. Let’s say there’s a mountain out your window. You see the mountain. Your eyes report changes, snowy in winter, brown in summer, but mainly just report that it’s there. It’s scenery. But if you hear that mountain, then you know it’s doing something. I see Mount St. Helens out my study window, about eighty miles north. I did not hear it explode in 1980: the sound wave was so huge that it skipped Portland entirely and touched down in Eugene, a hundred miles to the south. Those who did hear that noise knew that something had happened. That was a word worth hearing. Sound is event.
Speech, the most specifically human sound, and the most significant kind of sound, is never just scenery, it’s always event.
This event of speech, Le Guin argues, is the most potent form of entrainment we humans have — and the intimate tango of speaking and listening is the stuff of great power and great magic:
When you speak a word to a listener, the speaking is an act. And it is a mutual act: the listener’s listening enables the speaker’s speaking. It is a shared event, intersubjective: the listener and speaker entrain with each other. Both the amoebas are equally responsible, equally physically, immediately involved in sharing bits of themselves.
The voice creates a sphere around it, which includes all its hearers: an intimate sphere or area, limited in both space and time.
Creation is an act. Action takes energy.
Sound is dynamic. Speech is dynamic — it is action. To act is to take power, to have power, to be powerful. Mutual communication between speakers and listeners is a powerful act. The power of each speaker is amplified, augmented, by the entrainment of the listeners. The strength of a community is amplified, augmented by its mutual entrainment in speech.
This is why utterance is magic. Words do have power. Names have power. Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.
Art by Sydney Pink from Overcoming Creative Block
In a sentiment that calls to mind Anna Deavere Smith on the art of listening between the lines, Le Guin argues that this entrainment and our intuitive expectations around it are at the heart of how and why great art compels us:
In the realm of art … we can fulfill our expectations only by learning which authors disappoint and which authors offer the true nourishment for the soul. We find out who the good writers are, and then we look or wait for their next book. Such writers — living or dead, whatever genre they write in, critically fashionable or not, academically approved or not — are those who not only meet our expectations but surpass them. That is the gift the great storytellers have. They tell the same stories over and over (how many stories are there?), but when they tell them they are new, they are news, they renew us, they show us the world made new.
So people seek the irreproducible moment, the brief, fragile community of story told among people gathered together in one place. So children gather at the library to be read to: look at the little circle of faces, blazing with intensity. So the writer on a book tour, reading in the bookstore, and her group of listeners reenact the ancient ritual of the teller at the center of the circle. The living response has enabled that voice to speak. Teller and listener, each fulfills the other’s expectations. The living tongue that tells the word, the living ear that hears it, bind and bond us in the communion we long for in the silence of our inner solitude.
The Wave in the Mind, which borrows its title from Virginia Woolf’s timeless meditation on writing and consciousness, is one of the most intelligent, insightful, and profoundly pleasurable books you can ever hope to read — the kind guaranteed to far surpass any expectations seeded in this very sentence.