Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Art (and Orbs) of Ginny Moss Rothwell (Pt. 1)

"Petroglyph" (based upon Tibetan petroglyphs)
I wanted to share the unbelievable mosaic art of Ginny Moss Rothwell, who is also a neighbor of mine, living in the "poet's corner" area of Tucson.  I went  to her house recently to view her paintings done in pieced tile and glass,  and came away not only amazed at the  beauty, and very unique craft  of her work, but also the conversation we had about orbs.  Ginny has photographed thousands of orbs for years, and like the friendship she has with the  birds and animals that live in her back yard (and often visit her art as well), I can say that Ginny has a friendly relationship with  many "invisible collaborators" as well.  Asking for  colors in some of her "orb photos" she has been able to show photos of orbs that appear in various colors - violet, blue, green or red. 

In fact, there's so much material she kindly gave me permission to share on the subject, that I need to break this post into two sections, one to share her artwork, and the next will be about the orb photographs.  

"Jewel in the Lotus"
This mosaic, like "Quan Yin and the Dragon King" below, is the Goddess of Compassion, Quan Yin, who is also related to Tara in Tibetan Buddhism.  In the mosaic below, based on traditional sacred imagery, Quan Yin is with the Dragon, as she is also above, portrayed as a modern woman.  I love the orbs that occur throughout the works as well, the invisible presences and energies.  Here's Marco,  the model for the Dragon King, another one of Ginny's friends who has his own lizard apartment complex in the back yard.
"Quan Yin and the Dragon King"

Here's Ginny at work in her studio, and below a wonderful piece dedicated to Frieda Kahlo - I love the milagros that she uses to frame the work.  For anyone not familiar, "milagros" (I'm used to seeing them in silver, and identified with specific parts of the body, such as the heart, or foot, or hand, etc.)  are religious charms that are traditionally used for healing purposes in Mexico,  They are often attached to altars, shrines, and left as a petition for healing in places of worship, and can be purchased in churches  or from street vendors. 

"Frieda" (with milegros)

This portrait of Frieda includes Chopra, Ginny's friend and model who happens to be a mockingbird.  I once had a mockingbird friend named Mozart, but I suspect Chopra is much more philosophically inclined than he was.
"Hok and Cricket", more of Ginny's friends

Friday, March 23, 2012

Storytelling and "Wild Ethics"

 "Each ecology has its own psyche, and the local people bind their imaginations to the psyche of that place by letting the land dream its tales through them."

 Because I'm thinking about masks that are about spirit of place,  I remembered an article by David Abram I posted in 2009 on this blog (he kindly gave me permission to do so).  I felt like sharing this article from Wild Ethics.   David Abram is a cultural ecologist, philosopher, and performance artist, and the founder and creative director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics. He is the author of "The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World" (Pantheon/Vintage), for which he received the international Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. An early version of this essay was published in Resurgence issue 222, and another in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Taylor and Kaplan, ed., published by Continuum in 2005)

Storytelling and Wonder: on the rejuvenation of oral culture
by David Abram, Ph.D.

In the prosperous land where I live, a mysterious task is underway to invigorate the minds of the populace, and to vitalize the spirits of our children. For a decade, now, parents, politicians, and educators of all forms have been raising funds to bring computers into every household in the realm, and into every classroom from kindergarten on up through college. With the new technology, it is hoped, children will learn to read much more efficiently, and will exercise their intelligence in rich new ways. Interacting with the wealth of information available on-line, children's minds will be able to develop and explore much more vigorously than was possible in earlier eras -- and so, it is hoped, they will be well prepared for the technological future. How can any child resist such a glad initiative?

Indeed, few adults can resist the dazzle of the digital screen, with its instantaneous access to everywhere, its treasure-trove of virtual amusements, and its swift capacity to locate any piece of knowledge we desire. And why should we resist? Digital technology is transforming every field of human endeavor, and it promises to broaden the capabilities of the human intellect far beyond its current reach. Small wonder that we wish to open and extend this powerful dream to all our children!
It is possible, however, that we are making a grave mistake in our rush to wire every classroom, and to bring our children online as soon as possible. Our excitement about the internet should not blind us to the fact that the astonishing linguistic and intellectual capacity of the human brain did not evolve in relation to the computer! Nor, of course, did it evolve in relation to the written word. Rather it evolved in relation to orally told stories.

We humans were telling each other stories for many, many millennia before we ever began writing our words down -- whether on the page or on the screen.  Spoken stories were the living encyclopedias of our oral ancestors, dynamic and lyrical compendiums of practical knowledge. Oral tales told on special occasions carried the secrets of how to orient in the local cosmos. Hidden in the magic adventures of their characters were precise instructions for the hunting of various animals, and for enacting the appropriate rituals of respect and gratitude if the hunt was successful, as well as specific insights regarding which plants were good to eat and which were poisonous, and how to prepare certain herbs to heal cramps, or sleeplessness, or a fever. The stories carried instructions about how to construct a winter shelter, and what to do during a drought, and -- more generally -- how to live well in this land without destroying the land's wild vitality.

Such practical intelligence, intimately related to a particular place, is the hallmark of any oral culture. Continually tested in interaction with the living land, altering in tandem with subtle changes in the local earth, even today such living knowledge resists the fixity and permanence of the printed page. Because it is specific to the way things happen here, in this high desert -- or coastal estuary, or mountain valley -- this kind of intimate intelligence loses its meaning when abstracted from its terrain, and from the particular persons and practices that are a part of its terrain. Such place-specific savvy, which deepens its value when honed and tempered over the course of several generations, forfeits much of its power when uprooted from the soil of its home and carried -- via the printed page or the glowing screen – to other places. Such intelligence, properly speaking, is an attribute of the living land itself; it thrives only in the direct, face-to-face exchange between those who dwell and work in this place.

So much earthly savvy was carried in the old tales! And since, for our indigenous ancestors, there was no written medium in which to record and preserve the stories -- since there were no written books -- the surrounding landscape, itself, functioned as the primary mnemonic, or memory trigger, for preserving the oral tales. To this end, diverse animals common to the local earth figured as prominent characters within the oral stories -- whether as teachers or tricksters, as buffoons or as bearers of wisdom. Hence, a chance encounter with a particular creature as a tribesperson went about his daily business (an encounter with a coyote, perhaps, or a magpie) would likely stir the memory of one or another story in which that animal played a decisive role. Moreover, crucial events in the stories were commonly associated with particular sites in the local terrain where those events were assumed to have happened, and whenever one noticed that place in the course of one’s daily wanderings -- when one came upon that particular cluster of boulders, or that sharp bend in the river -- the encounter would spark the memory of the storied events that had unfolded there.

Thus, while the accumulated knowledge of our oral ancestors was carried in stories, the stories themselves were carried by the surrounding earth. The local landscape was alive with stories! Traveling through the terrain, one felt teachings and secrets sprouting from every nook and knoll, lurking under the rocks and waiting to swoop down from the trees. The wooden planks of one's old house would laugh and whine, now and then, when the wind leaned hard against them, and whispered wishes would pour from the windswept grasses. To the members of a traditionally oral culture, all things had the power of speech. . .

Indeed, when we consult indigenous, oral peoples from around the world, we commonly discover that for them there is no phenomenon -- no stone, no mountain, no human artifact -- that is definitively inert or inanimate. Each thing has its own spontaneity, its own interior animation, its own life! Rivers feel the presence of the fish that swim within them. A large boulder, its surface spreading with crinkly red and gray lichens, is able to influence the events around it, and even to influence the thoughts of those persons who lean against it -- lending their reflections a certain gravity, and a kind of stony wisdom. Particular fish, as well, are bearers of wisdom, gifting their insights to those who catch them. Everything is alive -- even the stories themselves are animate beings! Among the Cree of Manitoba, for instance, it is said that the stories, when they are not being told, live off in their own villages, where they go about their own lives. Every now and then, however, a story will leave its village and go hunting for a person to inhabit. That person will abruptly be possessed by the story, and soon will find herself telling the tale out into the world, singing it back into active circulation.

There is something about this storied way of speaking -- this acknowledgement of a world all alive, awake, and aware -- that brings us close to our senses, and to the palpable, sensuous world that materially surrounds us. Our animal senses know nothing of the objective, mechanical, quantifiable world to which most of our civilized discourse refers. Wild and gregarious organs, our senses spontaneously experience the world not as a conglomeration of inert objects but as a field of animate presences that actively call our attention, that grab our focus or capture our gaze. Whenever we slip beneath the abstract assumptions of the modern world, we find ourselves drawn into relationship with a diversity of beings as inscrutable and unfathomable as ourselves. Direct, sensory perception is inherently animistic, disclosing a world wherein every phenomenon has its own active agency and power.

When we speak of the earthly things around us as quantifiable objects or passive "natural resources," we contradict our spontaneous sensory experience of the world, and hence our senses begin to wither and grow dim. We find ourselves living more and more in our heads, adrift in a sea of abstractions, unable to feel at home in an objectified landscape that seems alien to our own dreams and emotions. But when we begin to tell stories, our imagination begins to flow out through our eyes and our ears to inhabit the breathing earth once again. Suddenly, the trees along the street are looking at us, and the clouds crouch low over the city as though they are trying to hatch something wondrous. We find ourselves back inside the same world that the squirrels and the spiders inhabit, along with the deer stealthily munching the last plants in our garden, and the wild geese honking overhead as they flap south for the winter. Linear time falls away, and we find ourselves held, once again, in the vast cycles of the cosmos -- the round dance of the seasons, the sun climbing out of the ground each morning and slipping down into the earth every evening, the opening and closing of the lunar eye whose full gaze attracts the tidal waters within and all around us.

For we are born of this animate earth, and our sensitive flesh is simply our part of the dreaming body of the world. However much we may obscure this ancestral affinity, we cannot erase it, and the persistance of the old stories is the continuance of a way of speaking that blesses the sentience of things, binding our thoughts back into the depths of an imagination much vaster than our own. To live in a storied world is to know that intelligence is not an exclusively human faculty located somewhere inside our skulls, but is rather a power of the animate earth itself, in which we humans, along with the hawks and the thrumming frogs, all participate. It is to know, further, that each land, each watershed, each community of plants and animals and soils, has its particular style of intelligence, its unique mind or imagination evident in the particular patterns that play out there, in the living stories that unfold in that valley, and that are told and retold by the people of that place.

Each ecology has its own psyche, and the local people bind their imaginations to the psyche of the place by letting the land dream its tales through them.  Today, economic globalization is rapidly undermining rural economies and tearing apart rural communities. The spreading monoculture degrades both cultural diversity and biotic diversity, forcing the depletion of soils and the wreckage of innumerable ecosystems. As the civilization of total commerce muscles its way into every corner of the planet, countless species tumble helter skelter over the brink of extinction, while the biosphere itself shivers into a bone-rattling fever.

For like any living being, earth’s metabolism depends upon the integrated functioning of many different organs, or ecosystems. Just as the human body could not possibly maintain its health if the lungs were forced to behave like the stomach, or if the kidneys were forced to act like the ears or the soles of the feet, so the planetary metabolism is thrown into disarray when each region is compelled to behave like every other region – when diverse places and cultures are forced to operate according to a single, mechanical logic, as interchangeable parts of an undifferentiated, homogenous sphere.

In the face of the expanding monoculture and its technological imperatives, more and more people are coming each day to recognize the critical importance of revitalizing local, face-to-face community. They recognize their common embedment within the life of this breathing planet, yet they know that such unity arises only from a vital and thriving multiplicity. A reciprocal respect and interdependence between richly different cultures -- each a dynamic expression of the unique earthly place, or bioregion, that supports it – is far more sustainable than a homogenous, planetary civilization.

Many of us have already worked for several decades on ecological and bioregional initiatives aimed at renewing local economies and the conviviality of place-based communities. Yet far too little progress was made by the movements for local self-sufficiency and sustainability. To be sure, our efforts were hindered by the steady growth of an industrial economy powered by the profligate burning of fossil fuel.

 Yet our efficacy was also weakened by our inability to recognize the immense influence of everyday language. Our work was weakened, that is, by our inability to discern that the spreading technologization of everyday life in the modern world (including the growing ubiquity of automobiles and telephones, of televisions and, most recently, personal computers) had been accompanied by a steady transformation in language -- by an increasing abstractness and generality in daily discourse. Local vernaculars had fallen into disuse; local stories had been forgotten; the oral forms and traditions by which place-specific knowledge had once been preserved and disseminated were no longer operative.

We in the Alliance for Wild Ethics (AWE) now recognize that a rejuvenation of real, face-to-face community – and the sensorial attunement to the local earth that ensures the vitality and sustenance of such community – simply cannot happen without a rejuvenation of the layer of language that goes hand in hand with such attunement. It cannot happen without renewing that primary layer of language, and culture, that underlies all our more abstract and technological forms of discourse. A renewal of place-based community cannot happen without a renewal of oral culture.

But does such a revitalization of oral, storytelling culture entail that we must renounce reading and writing? Not at all! It entails only that we leave space in our days for an interchange with one another and with the earth that is not mediated by technology – neither by the television, nor the computer, nor even the printed page.  Among writers, for instance, it entails that we allow that there are certain stories that one might come upon that should not be written down -- stories that we instead begin to tell, with our own tongue, in the particular places where those stories live.

It entails that as parents we set aside, now and then, the storybooks that we read to our children in order to actually tell our children a story with the whole of our gesturing body – or better yet, that we draw our kids out of doors in order to improvise a tale about the wild wind that’s now blustering its way through these city streets, plucking the hats off people’s heads…And among educators, it entails that we begin to rejuvenate the arts of telling, and of listening, in the context of the living landscape where our lessons happen. For too long we have incarcerated the potent magic of linguistic meaning within an exclusively human space of signs.

Hence the land itself has fallen mute; it now seems little more than a passive backdrop for human affairs, or a storehouse of resources waiting to be mined for purely human purposes. Can we return to the local land an implicit sense of its own inherent meaningfulness, its own many-voiced eloquence? Not without renewing the sensory craft of listening, and the sensuous art of storytelling. Can we help our students to translate the quantified abstractions of science into the language of direct experience, so that those abstract insights begin to come alive in our felt encounters with the animate earth around us? Can we begin to affirm our own co-evolved, carnal embedment within this blooming, buzzing proliferation of life, stirring within us a new humility in the face of a world that we did not create – in the face of a world that created us? Most importantly, can we begin with our students to restore the health and integrity of the local earth? Not without restorying the local earth.

For our senses have become exceedingly estranged from the earthly sensuous. The age-old reciprocity between the human animal and the animate earth has long been short-circuited by our increasing involvement with our own creations, our own human-made technologies. And yet a simple tale, well-told, can shatter the spell – whether for an hour, or a day, or even a lifetime. We cannot restore the land without restorying the land.

There is no need to give up reading, nor to discard our computers, as long as we recall that such mediated and technological forms of interchange inevitably remain rooted in the more primary world of direct experience. As long as we remember, that is, that our involvement with the printed page and the digital screen draws its basic sustenance from our more immediate, face-to-face encounter with the flesh of the real.
Each medium of communication organizes our awareness in a particular way, each engaging us in a particular form of community. Without here analyzing all the diverse media that exert their claims upon our attention, we can acknowledge some very general traits:

~ Literacy and literate discourse (the ways of speaking and thinking implicitly informed by books, newspapers, magazines, and other printed media) is inherently cosmopolitan, mingling insights drawn from diverse traditions and places. Reading is a wonderful form of experience, but it is necessarily abstract relative to our direct sensory encounters in the immediacy of our locale.

~ Computer literacy, and our engagement with the internet, brings us almost instantaneous information from around the world, empowering virtual interactions with people from vastly different cultures. Yet such digital engagements are even more disembodied and placeless than our involvement with printed books and magazines. Indeed cyberspace seems to have no location at all, unless the “place” that we encounter through the internet is, well, the planet itself, transmuted into a weightless field of information. In truth, our increasing participation with email, e-commerce, and electronic information involves us in a discourse that is inherently global and globalizing. (It is this computerized form of communication, of course, that has enabled the rapid globalization of the free-market economy).

~ Oral culture (the culture of face to face storytelling) is inherently local. Far more concrete than those other modes of discourse, genuinely oral culture binds us not only to our immediate human community, but to the more-than-human community – the particular ecology of animals, plants and earthly elements in which we materially participate. In contrast to more abstract forms of media, the primary medium of oral communication is the atmosphere itself. In other words the unseen air, which is subtly different in each terrain, and which binds our own breathing bodies to the metabolism of oak trees and hawks and the storm clouds gathering above the city, is the implicit intermediary in all oral communication. As the most ancient and longstanding form of human discourse, oral culture provides the necessary soil and support for those more abstract styles of communication and reflection.

The Alliance for Wild Ethics holds that the globalizing culture of the internet, and the cosmopolitan culture of books, are both dependent, for their integrity, upon the place-based, vernacular culture of face-to-face storytelling. When oral culture degrades, then the literate mind loses its bearings, forgetting its ongoing debt to the body and the breathing earth. When stories are no longer being told in the woods or along the banks of rivers -- when the land is no longer being honored, ALOUD!, as an animate, expressive power – then the human senses lose their attunement to the surrounding terrain.

We no longer feel the particular pulse of our place – we no longer hear, or respond to, the many-voiced eloquence of the land. Increasingly blind and deaf, increasingly impervious to the sensuous world, the technological mind begins to lay waste to the earth.

We can be ardent readers (and even writers) of books, and enthusiastic participants in the world wide web and the internet, while recognizing that these abstract and almost exclusively human layers of culture will never be sufficient unto themselves. Without rejecting these rich forms of communication, we can nonetheless discern, today, that the rejuvenation of oral culture is an ecological imperative.

*A few personal notes:

1 I am reminded here of the Australian Aboriginal ideas of the "Songlines", tracks in the land that bear the "stories of the land" and the "history" of ancestral beings, animated by the walking itself.

2 Like Spider Woman (Keresan, "Tse Che Nako") as the Earth Mother/Creatrix, stories are spun into the world, and become the conversant world, from a kind of universal, ensouled, non-local imagination, a participatory kind of creative consciousness that includes, but is not exclusive to, us.

3  "Story" includes the Numina, the participation of the intelligences of Place, and in this respect, the author is saying that an oral tradition is a much richer tapestry of direct experience that includes body movement, sound, the environment, and the various psychic energy exchanges that go on in the prescence of such.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spider Woman says "hello"

 "Ts’its’tsi’nako, Thought-Woman, the Spider,
    is sitting in her room thinking of a story now:
    I'm telling you the story she is thinking."

        Keresan Pueblo Proverb

I have made an unfinished mask face that looks very much like an old, strong, Native American woman, and I've been unsure of what goddess the face should become.  I belong to an on-line group that is researching and exchanging information about goddess myths that reflect "spirit of place" and themes of ecology especially, as we explore ideas for a performance in the future.  This morning a Macha shared an article by her colleague, Rachael Watcher, Public Information Officer at Covenant of the Goddess (COG),  about her recent participation in a conference that took place in India.   Its theme this year was "Nourishing the Balance of the Universe - a gathering of the Elders".   

I thought of one of my favorite "Elder" stories, Grandmother Spider Woman,  who weaves and re-weaves many different threads into harmony and pattern with the stories she spins about how the world is, and might become.  I thought about "Spider Woman's Cross", a motif  woven often into  Navajo rugs, which represents balance, the union of the 4 Directions.  This cross motif has ancient origins, as does the "spider and cross" so often found in ornaments of the prehistoric Mississippian peoples.  Perhaps the earliest Spider Woman/Weaver is to be found among Mayan art, where she  probably represents the Earth Mother. 

Then it occurred to me that, of course, the new face would become a mask for Spider Woman.  It's the best myth I can think of  to talk about ecology, and the interconnectedness of life. And with that thought in mind, it being morning, with cup in hand  I walked outside and immediately saw a magnificent, ambitious spiderweb woven right behind  the back of the chair I sit on to drink my coffee! 

I can't tell you how many synchronicities involving webs and spiders have happened to me since  Spider Woman became my Mythic Mentor.  In fact, as I developed art inspired by stories of Grandmother Spider Woman, I began to see synchronicity as representing the essence of her message - synchronicities, like the almost invisible strands of the web I saw this morning, are those moments when we experience the underlying unity of consciousness. the "web of being".   Or so I think. 

And I've also  met a lot of "spider women" (and men)  along the way as well, weavers all.  In fact, when people ask these days about my marital status, I tell them I'm a "spinster".   I know I've published it  before, but I felt like sharing again an interview I did with an herbalist, Danica, I met back in 2008 at a festival in New York.  

Spider Woman  &  the Dream Time

"As a child I’ve always liked spiders.  I would find them in the corners of my room and say  “goodnight” to them.  The spider motif has always followed me, because the first role I played  was Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web”!  Spider Woman has always been my friend.

The most significant experience I've had occurred on my 25th birthday.  At the time, I was  finding it difficult to end a destructive relationship.  That day I dreamed I was in my childhood  house.  I was chasing a spider, but she was always out of my reach.  I crawled under beds,  over tables, and finally the spider ran underneath the sink in the kitchen.  There I saw a glorious,  illuminated web hidden away underneath the sink, with a spider right in the middle!  Looking  closer, I could see that different strands held different experiences of my life, suspended on the  web.  As I watched, a strand broke off.  It floated into the room, and turned into the man I was  breaking up with!  At that moment a woman spoke, explaining to me why our relationship was  over, and the reasons it needed to end.  My ex was a singer, and he sang a song as he walked out the door, and out of my life. 

 After he left I realized I was supposed to touch the web where  it broke off.   I realized, at that moment, that I was now free to make a choice about where to  go next.  There was a "harmonic" now that would change how my life manifested.  As soon as  I touched the web, I woke up! 
To me, this dream experience was a kind of soul release, as well as a birthday blessing.  It felt  as if Spider Woman was teaching me about how continuity works.  I was reminded that the  Web is under everything, but I had to look underneath surface things, "under the sink", before I  could realize that truth fully.  Spider Woman seems to come at pivotal points in my life.  If she  shows up in a dream or synchronicity, I know it’s time to pay attention. 

 I have another story to tell about Her as well.    My husband and I had moved into our apartment this past Yule.  I found several beautiful spiders there and, as I always do, I welcomed them into our home.  I was at the stove making cinnamon apples, and I turned around to reach for some fresh cardamom.  As soon as I did, I heard what sounded like a shotgun going off.  I had mistakenly turned the heat on beneath a Pyrex pot that held the apples.  It shattered everywhere – except in a semi-circle close to me.  My face was inches from the pot when I turned around.  I was absolutely terrified with shock – and then I saw a spider, walking right across that little cleared area.  And just as loud as day, I heard a voice say:  “I keep you, you keep me.”  At that I burst into tears of gratitude."

 Danica Connors, 2008

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Joseph Campbell Movie

"Myths and dreams come from the same place......And the only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet.  And what it will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have dealt with - the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate to this society  to the world of nature and the cosmos. That's what the myths have all talked about, and what this one's got to talk about. But the society that it's got to talk about now  is the society of the planet. And until that gets going, you don't have anything."

I was delighted to learn of a new movie about Joseph Campbell.  I was just recently looking at the Power of Myth series, which he did with Bill Moyers before he died, and struggling to write about why it's so important to be engaged in "re-mything" our world, personally and universally.

Myths are "imaginal" cells,  the enzymes that can become a coocoon with the potential of becoming a butterfly.   We participate in myth all the time, those stories and rites of passage have much to do with how we experience World.  Myths are the templates of art and of religion  So what are our myths?  What are our rituals, which are the enactments and embodiments of  myths?  If myths are the means for us to comprehend our world so that we can live well within it, then what myths are useful for the time we live in, and which are not?

Joseph Campbell was a mentor of mine when I struggled to find a reason for committing to a path as an artist (and not everyone needs to have a "reason" by any means).  But for me, I began to see that artists could be engaged in "re-mything" culture.  If nature is something to be "conquered", if we come into this world in some kind "original sin" and divinity is somewhere other than in the world, a reward for being "saved" or a "chosen one",  if God is a Father, rather than a  Mother, if the Warrior archetype is valued above all else...........how then will we experience, and act?  

the Green Goddess of Northumberland (with thanks to Robur D'Amor.  )

Serpent Mound, Ohio
"At a conference for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) here in Vancouver, British Columbia, experts argued that the path to a truly sustainable future is through the muddy waters of emotions, values, ethics, and most importantly, imagination.........."We live in our heads. We live in story," agreed John Robinson of UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. "When we talk about sustainability we are talking about the future, how things could be. This is the landscape of imagination.  If we can't imagine a better world we won't get it."

From Nation of Change

"The world is made of stories" ~  Muriel Rukeyser

Friday, March 9, 2012

Solar Storms and Crop Circles

  A friend from the U.K.  forwarded this article to me - unfortunately, the forward did not have credits, so I'm unable to give them.  I recalled my interest in Crop Circles when I read, and some pretty far out speculation I remember hearing about solar storms, and certain crop circles back in 2009.

After attending the Glastonbury Symposium last year, walking in a crop circle myself, and meeting many people who have been involved with research for years, including meeting a woman from Avebury who told me she belonged to a group that used to make crop circles......I just don't know what to think.  I came away agreeing that a great many of the circles are human made, but not all are, and those cannot be explained in any logical way, and also have unique phenomena associated with them.  Whether human made or not, the circles are beautiful, and embody sacred geometry and universal human spiritual symbols.  There is also a very good chance that so many of these circles occur in the ancient sacred landscape of Avebury and Wiltshire because of the electro-magnetic qualities of the area and the underlying water table - some suggest that the circles may energize or affect the land and ground water, "raising the vibration" in some way.   One theory regarding a series of  3 formations in 2009 was that they were predicting solar flares that summer. 

According to  Michael Salla, Ph.D., from his 2009 article (http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_sol22.htm)  3 crop circles predicted solar flares in July of 2009, or may be predicting future solar activity.   "If so" he commented, "this may be the first barrage of CMEs to hit the Earth in Solar Cycle 24. Importantly, scientists will be able to directly study the impacts of large amounts of solar plasma penetrating a breach in the magnetosphere first reported by NASA scientists in December 2008."  


Here's the article about solar flares:

"Recent reports have warned of an increase in solar activity and subsequently more solar weather. Some scientists have claimed the storms created by eruptions from the sun will cause damage to satellites and communication systems around the world.

The sun has variable magnetic activity going on all the time, sometimes this activity releases in the form of coronal mass ejections (CME) or solar flares, which causes high levels of radiation in space.  Not all CMEs or solar flares head towards to Earth, but if it does it will come in the form of either electromagnetic radiation (including ultraviolet wavelengths or X-rays) or plasma (electrically charged particles). The sun has a cycle during which the star's magnetic field changes polarity form north to south; on average this cycle last just under 11 years. The two extremes of this cycle are known as solar minimum and solar maximum. During the solar minimum there is less activity, fewer solar flares and CMEs, while during the solar maximum there is much more activity.

We are currently emerging from a period of relatively calm solar activity and scientists predict the solar maximum is due to begin in 2013. This means there is expected to be much more solar activity, more radiation and subsequently more solar weather.

What damage can solar weather cause?

The real problem comes when a solar storm hits the Earth's magnetic field. This will cause magnetic storms and power surges that can damage communications satellites, GPS systems and electric power grids. With so many aspects of our life reliant on these systems, scientists believe the damage could prove to be huge.  Helena Lindberg of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency said: "I'm not talking about days or weeks, but several months without electric power, blackouts, across large regions of Europe and the US."

One of the last major solar storms came in March 1989 and caused a massive blackout in Quebec, and since then we have become more dependent on the kind of sensitive electronic technology that can be damaged by solar storms. As a result of the solar flare in February 2011 many airlines re-routed away from the polar regions, over fears their radio communications would not work.

How often is solar weather a problem?

The sun's cycle means that solar storms are not a consistent problem; the cycle also makes it easier for scientists to predict when solar weather should worsen. The sun has had a relatively quiet period recently and the solar flare which erupted in mid-February was the largest in four years.  In May 2009 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that they expected the next solar maximum to occur in May 2013 and scientists warn that we can expect more severe solar weather for a few years once the solar maximum begins. 

Are we prepared for big solar weather events?

The simple answer appears to be no. Many leading scientists have recently spoken about how ill-prepared the planet is for a severe solar storm.  During a recent symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science the strongest warning yet about the dangers of space weather were delivered. It was at this event when Sir John Beddington spoke of the global hurricane Katrina and Helena Lindberg talked about long-term blackouts.  Lindberg also said: "To my mind, there are few emergencies today that require such a close cooperation across the Atlantic as that of the geomagnetic storm."

The US and the UK have finally joined forces to look at this issue and a joint statement on the threat of space weather is expected later this month. We are more reliant on GPS and other communications satellites than ever before and if there is mass damage to these devices, or they are disabled by a solar storm, it will have a massive impact.

Should I be worried about this?

There will be an increase in solar activity, which will bring with it more solar weather. The sun's cycle is known and calculated and the solar maximum is expected in 2013.  There is a medical study which claims to show a link between increased solar activity and an increase in strokes; there was also a study in the US which claims those monitored, who were born under a solar maximum, had a slightly shorter average life.  The main danger looks to come from the damage a solar storm could inflict on satellites, GPS and power grids. The largest solar storm on record occurred in 1859 and a slightly smaller storm happened in 1921 and both caused damage to the communication systems of the time."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

Illustration from ©iStockphoto.com/Mark Kostich, Thomas Gordon, Anne Clark and Peeter Viisimaa

Today is  International Women’s Day! It is also the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. 


Everyone in me is a bird.
I am beating all my wings.  
They wanted to cut you out  
but they will not.
They said you were immeasurably empty  
but you are not.
They said you were sick unto dying  
but they were wrong.
You are singing like a school girl.  
You are not torn.

Sweet weight,
in celebration of the woman I am
and of the soul of the woman I am
and of the central creature and its delight  
I sing for you. I dare to live.
Hello, spirit. Hello, cup.
Fasten, cover. Cover that does contain.  
Hello to the soil of the fields.
Welcome, roots.

Each cell has a life.
There is enough here to please a nation.
It is enough that the populace own these goods.  
Any person, any commonwealth would say of it,  
“It is good this year that we may plant again  
and think forward to a harvest.
A blight had been forecast and has been cast out.”
Many women are singing together of this:  
one is in a shoe factory cursing the machine,  
one is at the aquarium tending a seal,  
one is dull at the wheel of her Ford,  
one is at the toll gate collecting,
one is tying the cord of a calf in Arizona,  
one is straddling a cello in Russia,
one is shifting pots on the stove in Egypt,
one is painting her bedroom walls moon color,  
one is dying but remembering a breakfast,  
one is stretching on her mat in Thailand,  
one is wiping the ass of her child,
one is staring out the window of a train  
in the middle of Wyoming and one is  
anywhere and some are everywhere and all  
seem to be singing, although some can not  
sing a note.

Sweet weight,
in celebration of the woman I am
let me carry a ten-foot scarf,
let me drum for the nineteen-year-olds,
let me carry bowls for the offering
(if that is my part).
Let me study the cardiovascular tissue,
let me examine the angular distance of meteors,  
let me suck on the stems of flowers
(if that is my part).
Let me make certain tribal figures
(if that is my part).
For this thing the body needs
let me sing
for the supper,  
for the kissing,  
for the correct  

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Way, the Camino, and Black Madonnas


I recently saw "The Way", a film with Martin Sheen, who walks the ancient pilgrimage route in Spain.  I found it a quietly wonderful movie, very true in the personal journey that Sheen makes to grieve his son, and wonderful to see  as you walk with him and his chance companions on "The Camino".  Synchronistically, I met a woman  a few days after seeing the movie who, in her early 60's, did the trek herself.  I want to!  And perhaps I will someday!

The Camino is the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, a 10th century Romanesque and Gothic cathedral that houses the bones of St. James, a Christian martyr.  It also houses a Black Madonna effigy.  Thinking about the Camino, and pilgrimages to "spirit of place", I  felt like sharing again this article I wrote in 2009. 

Black Madonna of Guadaloupe

Reflections on the Black Madonna 

"There was once a vast pilgrimage that took place in Europe. Pilgrims made their way towards the town of Compostella in Spain, where an ancient effigy of the BLACK MADONNA is housed. The word Compostella comes from the same root word as compost. COMPOST is the living, black material that is made from rotting fruits, grains and other organic matter. From this compost -- life and light will emerge. When the pilgrims came to the Cathedral at Compostella they were being 'composted' in a sense. After emergence from the dark confines of the cathedral and the spirit -- they were ready to flower, they were ready to return home with their spirits lightened." ~~ Jay Weidner
I can't write about the Camino, and pilgrimage, without revisiting the mysterious "Black Madonnas" found in shrines, churches and cathedrals all over Europe - France alone has over 300. These icons have been the focus of millions of pilgrimages since the early days of the church, and most probably rest upon sites that were places of prehistoric  pilgrimage long before the advent of Christianity.

Why were these effigies so beloved that pilgrims traveled many miles to seek healing and guidance? Why, in a medieval world where European peasants were unlikely to see a dark skinned person was the Madonna black?  Some of the effigy statues are made of materials that are true, ebony black. And why are there so many myths that connect the effigies with trees, or caves, or special wells, and ensuing miracles of healing? 

"Black Madonna" (2005)
In 2005, during a residency on the 150 acres of IPark, the land spoke to me, and I had time and space to speak back, to engage in a conversation, and my own "Black Madonna" arose from that numinous time.

Many suggest that the  Madonna with Child originated in images of Isis with her child Horus (the reborn Sun God). Isis was a significant religious figure in the later days of Rome, and continued to be worshipped in the early days of Christianity. In general, when Isis arrived in Rome she adopted Roman dress and complexion, and was sometimes merged with other deities, such as Venus. The images of Isis that survived the fall of Rome were perhaps the origin of later Virgin and Child icons - temples devoted to Isis continued well into the third century. "Paris" derives from the name of Isis (par Isis).

fresco from the Temple of Isis at Pompeii

Mother Earth

Whether originally derived from Isis or not, most of these images are connected in place and myth to healing springs, power sites, and holy caves. The Black Madonna is the Earth Mother, in the form of Catholic Mary, and yet not entirely disguised. She is black like the Earth is black, fertile (and often shown pregnant) like the Earth is fertile, dark because she is embodied and immanent, as nature is embodied and immanent.

I did not realize until recently that there are many pilgrimages in Europe to Black Madonnas. The Cathedral of Santiago at Compostella is the endpoint of "The Camino", the long pilgrimage still made by thousands today across Spain.

Pilgrimage routes to Compostela

The Camino is also the title of a book by Shirley Maclaine, who undertook the journey in 2000. It's believed that the earliest pilgrimages were made to the "Black Madonna of Compostella", a very ancient effigy housed in the church. Compostella comes from the same root word as "compost". Compost is the fertile soil created from rotting organic matter, the "Black Matter". The alchemical soup to which everything living returns, and is continually resurrected by the processes of nature into new life, new form. Mater. Mother.
[Digitized image of Our Lady of Montserrat]
There are many legends and miracles associated with Black Madonna icons. The icon at Guadalupe, Spain, is said to have been carved by St. Luke in Jerusalem, although this is highly unlikely. It doesn't ultimately matter how old the icon actually is. The question is, what does it embody that strikes a deep chord, that speaks to those who come to contemplate the icon? And what does the icon emanate? Can it actually have healing powers, or is the site itself a "place of power", it's energies renewed by millenia of worship and pilgrimage? What resonance does it attune those who come there to? And how significant is the act of making the pilgrimage itself, the long effort to come to a sacred place, a sacred image?

In the Middle Ages when the majority of the Black Madonna statues were created there was still a strong undercurrent and mingling of the old ways. Black Madonnas were discovered hidden in trees in France as late as the seventeenth century, suggesting these were representations of pagan goddesses who were still worshipped in groves.

Black Madonnas are also found close to caves (the womb/tomb of the Earth Mother).  The earliest human paintings, some dating back more than 30,000 years,  are found in caves in France, beautiful paintings of animals and birds.  Within these caves were also found the earliest (and only) representations of human beings for many millenia, the little sculptures of seemingly pregnant women, the so-called "Venus" figures.  I agree with archaeologist Marija Gimbutas that these figures were not some form of "neolithic pornography and fertility fetishes" but represented the Mother deity herself, and the caves were regarded as  sacred wombs where the animals that provided sustenance and power to ancient hunters might be thus born again.  Caves of becoming.

In medieval Christian churches, it's interesting to note that  the black Madonna statues were sometimes kept in a subterranean part of a church, or near a sacred spring or well.
"Again and again a statue is found in a forest or a bush or discovered when ploughing animals refuse to pass a certain spot. The statue is taken to the parish church, only to return miraculously by night to her own place, where a chapel is then built in her honour. Almost invariably associated with natural phenomena, especially healing waters or striking geographical features" Ean Begg

Black Madonnas, not surprisingly, are also associated with the Grail legends. The Grail or Chalice may represent the mingling of Celtic mythology. Cerridwen's cauldron was an important myth about the womb of the Earth Mother, from which life is continually renewed, nourished, born, and reborn. 

The extent to which people make pilgrimages to these sites is amazing. For example, the Black Madonna of Montserrat, near Barcelona, receives up to a million pilgrims a year, travelling to visit the 'miracle- working' statue known as La Moreneta, the dark little one.

So why am I writing all of this? Well, because it's important to know that the ancient "Journey to the Earth Mother", which exists in all cultures and times, never ended. It just transformed again. (In fact, there is a lot I could say about the black stone (the Kaaba) of Mecca, and its prehistoric origins, but I'll leave to another time.)
Black Madonna of Czestochowskad (Poland)
Procession to the Black Madonna, Poland

The Cult of the Black Virgin (1985) by Ean Begg;
Miraculous Images of Our Lady (1993) by Joan Carroll Cruz;
The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology (1993) by Stephen Benko.
Martin Gray: Sacred Sites (http://www.sacredsites.com)