Monday, December 29, 2008

Saga - Another name for "crone"

“…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*

I was thinking about Julie's eloquent comment below, reflecting on the depths that aging brings to the so-called "dark and light" within the stories of our lives, weaving an increasingly visible gestalt. And "Compost" (one of my favorite words, 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. Thanks again, Julie.

"Working with the archetype of the shadow means we are mining that darkness for its hidden riches...........Claiming the golden riches out of my compost is harder for me - but emerging crone hood makes it easier."** (1)

I was wondering if there was another word for the emergence of the "Crone" archetype, and I remembered a Saga Storytelling Festival I was once invited to attend. "Saga" is a Scandinavian word that means not only "a long, ancestral or heroic story". 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. Similar, but not, to my mind, quite the same in it's meanings, and that is because of the context of "story" that imbues the word and its origins.

She-Who-Speaks is the potent teller of story, because she embodies, within her long life, a long, interwoven, generational, story - a Saga. The Saga hold a thread that weaves through many lives into the distant past, and she casts her warp and weft with her telling forward into the lives of Sagas to come. Here is another one of Spider Woman's many names! 

I want to pursue this a bit farther - but will have to close for today with bit of information about a fascinating book along these lines (or threads), called "My Grandmother's Hair", by Ann Elizabeth Carson (2006). "Our stories", she wrote, "never leave our bodies." Here is a review about this important book, written by a contemporary Saga.

"Our family stories make our memories and shape our lives. "

"Poignant, honest and endearing, My Grandmother's Hair tells the story of how her art kept Ann Elizabeth Carson alive and showed her the truth as she re-membered and relived the stories her own life embodied. A study of power and psyche, My Grandmother's Hair delves into personal and social stories about how power is realized and suppressed in the body. The author explores how the connections of our memories are made in the body and tells the stories of those whose lives and memories are often ignored. My Grandmother's Hair cracks open with the life-changing story of Ann Carson's grandmother: the moment her husband demanded she cut off her hair, and the single cry of anguish she let out during the act. That story resurfaces, eventually becoming relevant in the author's own life. Carson shows how the myths and archetypes of our culture layer with our memories — spoken or buried, our own or our elders- -and have so much to do with the way we live our lives. She brings to light the tendency we all have to "live in that twilight zone where you say you believe one thing so you can be part of a community, while quietly living your own truth in order to save your sanity." Then she bravely shares her own healing journey of coming out of the twilight zone so we may all discover that tapping into the images and languages of our own experience — our memories — can nourish and encourage us."


*(San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), p. 52. (Quote is taken from the website of The SAGA Centre for Studies in Autobiography, Gender, and Age, University of British Columbia )

** Julie's very insightful Blog, "Emerging Crone" is found at


On the subject of composting, or rituals of transmutation, I'm going to tell something very personal here. My brother has had a brain stem stroke, and there is very little hope for his physical recovery. I do not feel, personally, that he is inhabiting his body now.

Glenn, in many ways, withdrew from the world in his later years, and the sweetness of his character I remember from when we were children became overcast with loneliness, and personal despair. He became obsessed with "survivalist" ideas, and subscribed to certain newsletters I personally found disturbing in their paranoia. In his closet I found a collection of guns. 

Last night, I prayed for his release from the dark dreams and loneliness that have encrusted his spirit for the past decade, and I made a ritual of burning that literature. The ashes I took to the garden, watering them so they could represent release and lightening of his spirit, and new growth in the "soil" of life. I sold the guns, and sent the proceeds to THE HUNDRED FRIENDS PROJECT in his name. Those guns, which represented fear and anger, are now turned into money that will build schools in Afghanistan (thanks to Marc Gold), and help children in orphanages in Cambodia and Nepal. I am certain that this is what he would wish.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers

I have resolved to chose a number of topics, and write short articles, as I've been invited to contribute articles to several on line magazines. I do not by any means consider myself a very good journalist, but I'm glad of the opportunity, and can use the discipline.

I made a committment to write in this blog, and whether it should be information or aesthetic resource, I haven't yet really determined. I am not uncomfortable, exactly, with the notion "personal", because, as a feminist, I've been saying that the personal is political for a good 30 years.

How can the personal not be spiritual, political, and what informs our aesthetics as well? As above, so below. I think what I am uncomfortable with is ironic: because of the often spiritual or metaphysical nature of my art work, I've become afraid to express the dark, the painful, the depressed, the "negative". Which of course only makes me want to do it more, the same way I used to end up dancing around with a lampshade on my head at formal occasions after a few rounds of tequila shots (in my much younger years). Make something taboo and watch how interesting it suddenly becomes.

Although I've read everything from Quantum Psychology to Peace Pilgrim's Memoirs and Caroline Myss "Anatomy of the Spirit", in reality, I am not a "positive" person by nature, and often have to work very hard to shift my consciousness away from habitual dark tracks. Sometimes, I don't want to. A good depression can inform one of authentic needs, a tantrum releases blocked or stagnant energy, getting pissed off is sometimes not only appropriate but absolutely necessary. In fact, with Cronehood, I've become outright irritable. And all of my pretty and charming masks have dissolved.

Don't get me wrong..........I absolutely agree with the necessity for positive thinking and affirmation. Equally, as someone who has suffered with depression, who wakes up remembering that thousands of species are passing out of existance every week, That all that cheery seasonal consumerism comes at the expense of the planet's health, as one who personally must deal, as most people must, with the suffering to be found in a hospital ..... I confess I have a horror of the "dark side of the light chasers" (this is the title of a book by psychologist Debbie Ford (1998). One of my favorite quotes is by (again) Ursula Leguin: "Light is the Left Hand of Darkness".

Sometimes the soul needs a wailing wall, and sometimes the spirit needs to ferment and incubate in its depressions, and sometimes the heart needs to tell its dark story in order to heal. Any actor knows that a full spectrum emotional affect is necessary to create a profound performance.
And those who are too preoccupied with their "purity" have a tendancy to project their shadows elsewhere..........

Friday, December 19, 2008

Spider Woman on the Road

Great Mother, Thank you for this day, My life, My strand on the Web, the Vibration it makes. Keep me in tune, in Harmony with Your Purpose. Let me serve. Xia, The Temple of the Goddess, Los Angeles

I woke up this morning feeling very sorry for myself, as I often do, the "victim act" being my primary character flaw, a "weaving" of my mind that has depleted so much of my creative life force........then I remembered, again, that Spider Woman and the great Divine quite literally "dropped in" for a little wake up call not so very long ago in the form of a wonderful syncronicity. Flooded with that miraculous memory, I kicked myself in my metaphorical butt, dedicated some of my morning coffee as an offering to the rising sun and the great privilege of being alive another day, and here I sit to tell the tale. It's a long, barren stretch from Hatch to Deming. Vast treeless desert, blue shapes of jagged treeless mountains in the distance, fifty miles without even a gas station. Driving west, the setting sun is blinding, so I wear a baseball cap pulled down low over my sunglasses when the glare is especially brutal, just before the sun tips below the horizon. With that glare before me my mind wandered to an astrological consultation I had, on a whim, recently. The astrologer did something called astrocartography, and I was surprised with his accuracy. He pointed out that Indonesia was a well aspected place (Bali has indeed been a huge inspiration for me). And the places he mentioned on the east coast - are the very places I've been drawn to in heart, over and over again. It seems that Tucson and Phoenix are just about the most unauspicious places I could find to live. In the corner of the chart, he pencilled "born teacher". I was thinking idly of that, how aimless I feel about my goals these days, how out of touch with what I used to call "guidance". Specifically, I was thinking wistfully "they want me to teach", and wondering if I had anything worth teaching anyone. Suddenly a tiny spider dropped down on its web, right before my eyes in the glare of the setting sun, from the hood of the baseball cap. It startled me so that I swerved the car........then it dropped down onto my lap and disappeared! Syncronicities are like waking dreams, an engagement with the greater conversant intelligence we are a part of. I ponder them as I would ponder a dream. Because I dream so little, they are far more significant to me. I don't think this is difficult to interpret - I was thinking of teaching, and a spider dropped down literally before my eyes, weaving it's strand. When you're as stubbornly dense as I am, I suspect Spider Woman, who has a great sense of humor, needs to manifest in not so subtle ways! I'd call that a "Webbed Vision" in dynamic progress! (Well, I'll return to this a little later. The rock and roll noise level in this cafe is winning, and I am going to have to flee until I can find a place one can think in. I like Wi Fi, but forgot that there is nowhere left as far as I know in Tucson where one can drink coffee without being blasted with loud adolescent sex music. Did I say that?.......) Well, I was just packing up the computer, and would you believe, they switched the music to Christmas music by Frank Sinatra? So with pleasure and relief, I sit a bit longer and sip my delectable coffee. I note one more syncronicity. My motorhome is in a strange but very appreciated rv court in T or C - it is full of people over 50 who are basically amiable hermits, living frugal lives in their rv's or trailors. Most of them are sensitive souls, educated and full of stories about interesting lives. Joanne, next to me, was a professor somewhere in Maine, and her trailor is so full of books she can hardly move. When it's cold, she's like a hermit crab that never comes out of her shell. Down the way is Jeff, who organized the local poetry group, and has committed to writing a poem of the day. There's a new trailor on the other side of me, occupied by an elderly but spry man named Carl. We've been introduced, but that's about it. Yesterday, as I was packing my car, he spontaneously started telling me about his near death experiences, and the several times he has had what is called an "out of body experience". He said that when that happens, we instantly know that we are far more than physical, and all the fear of death disappears. I thanked him, took off on my long trip to Tucson, and Glenn. It was a surprising comfort from a stranger.

“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, Theologian

From a Broken Web

I want to thank those who left entries on this blog, again, for your wisdom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Still from movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", 2007

I'd like to thank the kind people who responded to the previous post with sympathy and wisdom. I genuinely appreciate your generosity. It is so good to know that there are kindred souls literally all over the world.

I may not be able to be consistent with blog entries for a while, as the demands of my family's needs press me. My mother is 91, and my brother has lived with her as her caretaker. They have taken him to Phoenix, which is a 100 mile drive from Tucson, so the visits are long endeavors. I'm working to get the insurance necessary to bring him to Tucson. What the longer term prospects are for him, I don't know. Glenn has had a brain stem stroke, and the prospects aren't good - it is hard, with such, to know what kind of recovery he may make, if there is to be a recovery. This is something my mother and other brother will not, or cannot, contemplate, and so I am also isolated in this. As it is, Glenn may have "locked in" syndrome, which means, he can perceive, hear or perhaps see, and cannot communicate.

I have tried asking him to blink, or to move his feet, but am unable to determine whether he responds with volition or not. I do not know what kind of therapy he will get in Phoenix. I am overwhelmed, frankly, with this situation. These circumstances leave me mute..........I do not know how to ease my brother's suffering, I also do not know how to come to terms with the aspects of myself that are overwhelmed with the needs of my family and my own needs. I will do my best, and the best I can do ultimately is to be aware. I will try to not deplete myself with guilt or the other emotions that follow.

I'm in T or C for a few days, a friend from NY will be taking the studio I just finished, which leaves me with a wistful feeling. In my imagination it is full of paints and canvases ready to become interior universes...........well, someday I hope, and the best laid plans of mice and men, etc................ here is a quote by my favorite author (who has created many, many universes that I've come to visit and occasionally inhabit). I put it on the inside door, alongside a yin/yang symbol. It will be a blessing for the fecundity of the place. Sometimes, I wonder about my obsession with painting and renovating rundown storefronts and motorhomes and rooms and yards and circles of stones in woods ........ I think I'm always running around making studios, theatres, sacred places, shrines........making creative wombs for the Divine to manifest, even if I can't be there to see it happen. Making containers..............

"To create difference - to establish strangeness - then to let the fiery arc of human emotion leap and close the gap: this acrobatics of the imagination fascinates and satisfies me as no other." ......Ursula K. Le Guin

I wanted to share something about an extraordinary book, and now a recent movie based upon the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby. This book would not have come to my attention had my brother's stroke not occurred. I take the liberty (and I sure hope I never get caught with all the liberties I take in this blog of copying the writings of others.......if I do, I hope there is some humanity in the publishing world that sees it is from admiration, and I am careful to give the credit due).........I take the liberty thus of copying below a review by Thomas Mallon, with links to the review. Also, should anyone want to purchase the book, here's how you can buy it from Amazon:

"I can weep discreetly. People think my eye is watering."

Jean-Dominique Bauby

"I think you need to go into his world in order to get out of his world. And he said the only way he could escape his diving bell was through his imagination and his memory."

Julian Schnabel, Director The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

June 15, 1997
In the Blink of an Eye

After a devastating stroke, the author dictated this memoir using only his left eyelid


By Jean-Dominique Bauby.
Translated by Jeremy Leggatt.
132 pp. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf. $20.

A year and a half ago, following a catastrophic stroke and weeks of deep coma in that same hospital, Jean-Dominique Bauby gradually ''surfaced'' into a new existence as a victim of ''locked-in syndrome,'' mentally alert but deprived of movement and speech. Just 44 years old, his body useless but still painful (''my hands, lying curled on the yellow sheets, are hurting, although I can't tell if they are burning hot or ice cold''), he was forced to recognize that his former life in Paris as the witty, high-living editor in chief of Elle magazine had become as unreachable as the books and trinkets across his hospital room, where he now lived ''like a hermit crab dug into his rock.''

His time ''as a perfectly functioning earthling'' ended, one might say, in the blink of an eye. But it was blinking -- that age-old image of heedless speed turned into literal, concentrated labor -- that saved Bauby from becoming just another object in the room. By moving his left eyelid in response to an alphabet rearranged according to the letters' frequency of use, Bauby managed to write a book as moving as Job's and as expansive, in its way, as any composed by the wheelchaired, boundless Stephen Hawking.

Jean-Dominique Bauby was the victim of a stroke that left his mind and one eye functioning -- enough to enable him to dictate "The Diving Suit and the Butterfly" to Claude Mendibil before dying of heart failure. (Jean-Louis Sieff)

''It is a simple enough system,'' he explains. ''You read off the alphabet . . . until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted. The maneuver is repeated for the letters that follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word.'' Fairly soon! Less soon when the amanuensis anticipates and makes mistakes: ''One day when, attempting to ask for my glasses (lunettes), I was asked what I wanted to do with the moon (lune).''

Bauby allows that his ''communication system disqualifies repartee,'' but it does beautiful service to all sorts of physical and emotional description. ''There comes a time,'' he explains, ''when the heaping up of calamities brings on uncontrollable nervous laughter,'' but in this strong, slim volume the author displays a writerly control equal to his honesty: ''One day . . . I can find it amusing, in my 45th year, to be cleaned up and turned over, to have my bottom wiped and swaddled like a newborn's. I even derive a guilty pleasure from this total lapse into infancy. But the next day, the same procedure seems to me unbearably sad, and a tear rolls down through the lather a nurse's aide spreads over my cheeks.'' There are scenes in Bauby's narrative -- his discovery, in a windowpane, that he is not just ''reduced to the existence of a jellyfish'' but ''also horrible to behold'' -- that one might be inclined to describe as unbearably sad, if ''unbearable,'' thanks to this book, were not a word one will never again use quite so loosely.

The diving bell of Bauby's title is his corporeal trap, the butterfly his imagination: ''There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court.'' Childhood fantasies of war heroism alternate with elaborate dreams of cooking, in which his pantry is a previous lifetime's memories of smells, tastes and textures: ''You can sit down to a meal at any hour, with no fuss or ceremony. If it's a restaurant, no need to call ahead. . . . The boeuf bourguignon is tender, the boeuf en gelee translucent, the apricot pie possesses just the requisite tartness.'' It's as if he'd reversed the most famous moment in Proust and used memory to bring back the madeleine..........

The author cultivates strong feelings, especially anger, to keep his spirit from atrophying along with his limbs. But despite occasional sarcastic eruptions, the book's tone, in Jeremy Leggatt's translation, is dominated by a sweet, even humorous, lyricism. Bauby notes with pleasure how, in his reordered alphabet, ''T and U, the tender components of tu . . . have not been separated,'' and he recounts his practical distribution of all the prayers coming his way: ''A woman I know enlisted a Cameroon holy man to procure me the goodwill of Africa's gods: I have assigned him my right eye. For my hearing problems I rely on the relationship between my devout mother-in-law and the monks of a Bordeaux brotherhood.''

to read the full review

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Waiting Rooms

Things have changed. My brother has had a devastating stroke, and has been lying in the Tucson Medical Center on life support for the past week. He is paralyzed - it seems that he can hear…….that he can respond by blinking his eyes, and possibly he has some control over his feet. It is terrible to imagine what he is experiencing, if he is fully conscious. I think of a book called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A week or so ago I was finishing off my studio and ordering paint. Now my day begins with going to the Intensive Care Unit to visit Glenn, dealing with insurance, then driving around Tucson unsure of where to go or what to do next. It’s strange. Yesterday I found myself at the Friends Meeting House downtown, talking to the woman there, but mostly just wanting to hang in the peaceful white room with the good energy, where they all meet to be silent together.

Here’s the deal. If grief teaches anything, and it is a GREAT TEACHER if you can stick around long enough to do some listening instead of running off in constant search of relief of the pain……(which is ok also)…….if grief teaches anything, it is that it levels away all the crap, and shows, unequivocally, that we really are one. One. One being, one world, one family, one humanity, one sorrow and story and beginning and ending. Energy that is consciousness moving in and out of form. Which is no consolation at all, when one is dealing with our individual lives, and all of the pain associated with simply being another finite animal on the breast of Mother Earth.

Glenn and I have been at conflict since we were very young, sibling rivalry that never resolved, just hardened and became more and more habitual. The truth is, he was the sensitive middle child, and became the family scapegoat, sustaining the brunt of my father’s abuse, and later, my mother’s dependency. As time went by, perhaps the only way he could survive at all was to wrap a thick, hostile wall around his psyche, with a huge “keep out” sign on the door. Every so often, he peeked out, but as the years went by, less so, and I never knew how to reach him. His anger and cynicism and the deeper depression was something I fled from, and in the past few years, absorbed and reflected in myself as well. Grief has a way of cracking the shell. All these years, trying to run away from my family, trying to sever the “ties”, and here I am. I don’t know how to help him. I sense that he’s getting ready to leave, and why should he want to stay in the body, with such a life?

Yesterday I sat by his bed and had a picture come into my mind – he was standing before me in his ridiculous hospital gown, waving at all the plastic tubes and bottles that are attached to his body, jumping up and down, as if to gesture “no more, no more, stop it”. But that could be my imagination as much as an actual psychic event………..I have, to be honest, no confidence anymore in my psychic abilities, especially where the concerns are personal. What is so terrible about this is of course the feeling of helplessness, that there is nothing I can do to make Glenn better, or to free him from his pain. I cannot speak for the desires of another, but I know that if this happened to me, I would want the plugs pulled, and release from a life that is no longer worth living.

Is this appropriate for me to put this entry into this Blog? I don't know. But it's the truth of my life at this moment. May the light of Grace come to Glenn.

I remember the good times, brother, we've travelled together in this family, seen some things together. I love you. I don't know what to do.