Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Hawk and the Great Mother


by Erica Swadley

O Great Mother Goddess, we call on you now.

We invite your presence.
Surround and encompass us.
Rise up from your roots.
Hear us, our our voices of pathos.
See our dancing feet, how we beat out your rhythms. 

With our hearts, we drum you back.
We are staggering toward you.

Will you run one hundred steps to us?
Will you spread your mantle of peace?

This is the sack of our offerings:

We give up our greed to feed the needy.
Here is our lust to restore compassion.
We release our hatred to stop the killing.
We forego our vengeance to discover balance.
We scorn our fears, to rebirth love.
We tread softly to bring back forests. 

And Mother Answers:

No more no more no more!

I have sent you shining planets to help you remember.

Mars and Venus beg you to reconcile.
From the depths of space, Sedna appears,
a planetary avatar to stop you in your tracks.

Time is ended, truth be told.

Release, forgive, restore.
Remember Me in all of My forms.
I will bring light to your shadows 
and make you whole, 
if you will call on Me.

                   April, 2004

Yesterday I had a new picture windows put into the living room, and I sat admiring them this morning.  Then I found myself thinking about the poem above, and "Restoring the Balance", the performance shaman Erica Swadley wrote her Invocation for, almost 10 years ago, and decided I would offer it again with some new work on the Equinox. 

Then a very large bird flew, wham, into my new window.  Not just any bird, but a red wing hawk.  

Fortunately, it flew off again, hopefully not hurt.  But the "Message" is well taken.  Wake up!  Pay attention! See!  Get the Big Picture!    New windows give better vision, the ability to see through them more clearly.  And no creature sees better, and has a bigger view, than a hawk or an eagle. 

I know I often write about the Dark Goddess, the One who can help us to see, integrate, and understand our shadows, but I do this because I feel, personally and collectively (along with theologian Andrew Harvey and shaman Erica Swadley) it is so very important to invoke Her help now.

  "It's quite clear that humanity  can only be transfigured by a totally shocking revelation of its shadow side. And this is what we're living through, these shadow sides exploding in every direction because we have done nothing but betray the sacred in us."
........... Andrew Harvey

The "shadow side" Harvey speaks of is revealed in contradictions, in paradox often.  Just this morning I was also thinking about a personal revelation along these lines.   So much of the work I do, outside of my commercial masks, are really Shrines to Gaia. Over and over I feel compelled to make torsos and hands with roots and leaves.   My versions of the Black Madonna, of the creative, sacred Mother inside all  of nature's manifestations. And yet, as important as these images are to me, I tend to be apologetic about my work, not believing in myself often.

I recently had someone ask about purchasing a  "Gaia" piece,   someone I admire, who wanted to know if the humidity of a bathroom would affect it.  I had to wonder:  do I project so little sense of the worth of my  work that it has no more meaning than "bathroom decor"? Is that my shadow?  And if so, by failing to respect the impulses that become my art, am I disrespecting what is sacred to me?   What does this reveal about the loss of a sense of the sacred we're all, myself well included,  completely unconscious of?  

I think about my dismay this summer when I saw the porta potties lined up  just across from the entrance (and exit) to the Labyrinth and Ancestor Mound at Sirius Rising last year.  Leaving the Labyrinth (Center) ritual, it was what one saw coming out of the Labyrinth.  My  comments about it  got me in hot water with the community who put the ritual on, many of whom I otherwise admire.  But they did not see, or appreciate, my (quite literal)  point of view. .............What does it mean, viewed symbolically, about what me and my well meaning friends and colleagues are unconsciously responding to?
"I will bring light to your shadows
and make you whole 
if you call on me.
 The Dark Goddess, whether we call Her the Black Madonna, the hidden Magdalene, Kali, Black Tara,  or Sedna, is so much more than an idea, an archetype.  She is an active force in the world, an archetypal  intelligence working in the world through the minds of those who open to Her.   She can Restore the Balance, she can dance with us as we achieve an ever moving point of balance.

As my friend, Ann Weller, commented in 2000 after invoking the Dark Goddess for a healing ritual event for her community:

"The Dark Goddess serves the future. Her work is evolution in its fullest sense.
The Dark Goddess, who is found in many cultures by many names, is not aspected lightly.  Working with Her calls forth one's internal capacity for psychic empowerment, a transformative energy not easy to encompass. The work was larger than my concerns, and ultimately impersonal.  I was a brief vessel for an immense archetypal intelligence manifesting itself within the ritual drama we created."

So, I ponder all of this, this beautiful and important poem that Erica gifted us with 10 years ago, and share also an article by Andrew Harvey that is related.  As we move closer to the Equinox, may we find many ways and paths to Restoring the Balance.

"Black Madonna" by Therese Desjardin

Andrew Harvey

The entire world is now going through a massive crucifixion on all levels.  It's going through an environmental crucifixion. Hundreds of species are vanishing every month. It's going through a personal crucifixion. There are two billion people living on less than a dollar a day. It's going through a crucifixion of all the patriarchal systems. Look at Enron and what it has
shown us about Corporate America. Look at the Catholic Church's scandals of pedophilia and what it shows us about authority. Look at the growing disillusionment with politicians of all kinds. All of the systems are  being exposed as illusory and fantasy-ridden, as deeply corrupt and exploitative.

There's another kind of crucifixion going on: crucifixion of purpose and hope. Everybody is totally bewildered. They know that the world is potentially on the brink of  apocalypse. There's a tremendous danger that as people wake up to the horror of what is going on, they will run into political extremism or into fundamentalism of one kind or another.

So it's extremely important that the wisdom of the 'dark night of the soul' gets across, because if people understand the necessity for this crucifixion, and understand that it's preparing a resurrection and empowerment, then they will be prepared to go through it without too much fear, trusting in the logic of the divine transformation.

The Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths shared with me his experience of the dark night of the soul. He said he was sitting outside his hut one day when he felt as if a hand hit him on the right side of his being. He had suffered a massive heart attack that destroyed what he described as his patriarchal mind and gave him access to a much deeper elaboration of
Oneness with all things.  

 He said, "It's a very strange thing, but when I thought of surrendering to the Mother I of course thought of Mary--I often say the 'Hail Mary'--but it was Mary as the Black Madonna that came into my mind. She is the mother of the earth as well as heaven, of the body as well as the soul, the mother of the subconscious, the hidden, of all those powers that the
'masculine' mind represses; the Mother of the sacred darkness. In Her the Western Christian vision of the Divine Mother and the Eastern one merge and meet; you can think of her as both Mary and Kali, both preserver and destroyer. From that time on, I have turned to Her again and again.  

Invoking Her strength and grace, I find, makes the 'birth' go so much faster and more cleanly."

The power that is doing this to us is coming towards us simultaneously with terrifying destruction and extreme grace and prosperity. The destruction is, in fact, a form of that extreme grace. It's quite clear that humanity is now terminally ill, and can only be transfigured by a totally shocking revelation of its shadow side. And this is what we're living
through, these shadow sides exploding in every direction because we have done nothing but betray the sacred in us.

We have lacerated the sacred in others. We have betrayed the sacred in an orgy of fundamentalism. We have brutalized the sacred in nature. We are now terminally destructive.

So only an almost terminal destruction that reveals to us the full extent of our responsibility in this destruction can wake us up. And that is what is happening, and it will get worse. It's bound to get worse. But it is only being done to us for our own redemption.

Those who turn to the Mother in total faith, those who turn to the Black Madonna in total admiration, those who realize the mercy behind the violence will be given extraordinary protection, strength, and revelation. They will be empowered in the core of themselves to become what everybody who has a heart and a mind must now become--a spiritual
revolutionary devoting their entire life and all their resources to the preservation of the planet.

Finding the Black Madonna, in whatever form you want to find her, realizing the massive task that she's doing and turning to her for protection is now crucial to the preservation of the planet. It's extremely important that people really come to understand the feminine and turn towards it, because it's our betrayal of the feminine in ourselves and in the divine that has led to this crisis.

Copyright Andrew Harvey 2004--All Rights Reserved


I've found it interesting that one of the most consistently read of my blog posts has to do with "Black Tara" (2010).  Truly a Tibetan manifestation of the Dark Goddess, I often wonder why so many are curious or responsive to this Goddess.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Spider Woman's Hands.......

  "What is the new mythology to be,
   the mythology of this unified earth as of one harmonious being?"

 Joseph Campbell
I've recently been reviewing several of the projects I' ve been doing in the past 10 years (Spider Woman's Hands, Numina, The Masks of the Goddess) and felt like taking another look at "where I've been" as I try to figure out where to "go from here".    Although, "coming" and "going" are increasingly a strange idea to me.   The whole process of  examining my bodies of work is like, in retrospect, reviewing my dreams, my meditations, and  reminds me, again, of how seamless everything is, the vast and yet intimate Web interpenetrating all.  I hear Grandmother Spider Woman chuckling, the vibration carried on some near strand.  Perhaps some other weaver draws it slowly into a warp, somewhere, some when.............

All of the work I've done with Grandmother Spider Woman has been fraught with synchronicity, I feel like adding here.  So much so that I never feel that far away from Her reminders, Her guidance and humor, and I've written about them quite often.  One of my favorite synchronicities occured in 2008, when returning from the second show of "Spider Woman's Hands" at the Creative Spirit Center in Midland, Michigan, I decided to take a detour to visit Paducah, Kentucky.  Just outside of Paducah I discovered a prehistoric Mississippian Mound, and it was there that I discovered just how ubiquitous the image of Spider and Cross was throughout that ancient world (the Gorget below, with Spider, Cross and Hands, is from that culture.  I had no idea........ the story is in a post from September 2008

Perhaps the best synchronicities are visual.  At Wickliffe Mound on that occasion I took a picture of an ancient gourd in their museum - developing it later, I was stunned to see that reflections from the floor had created an overlay of.........strands............that seemed to recede into infinity. 

Here's another of those "Spider Woman" synchronicities, caught on my camera.  This occurred when I stopped to get some coffee earlier that summer, en route to the Creative Spirit Center in Midland to see the show, which was a wall of "Icons" created by participants, each hand holding a "thread" that passed on to each other participant, and finally disappeared through the door and into "forever". I had to laugh when I saw where I had parked!

Below is a brief article I wrote about my 2004 to 2008  project about the ubiquitous "Legend of the Spider Woman".   I have always felt Her hand in my life.

A Metaphor for Our Time 
By Lauren Raine MFA    (

“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 (1989) 

Years ago I was enjoying a panoramic view of the Sonoran desert.   I happened to be sitting near a spider web, stretched between two dry branches.  I realized, by shifting my point of view, I could view the entire landscape through the web’s intricate, transparent pattern…..a  landscape  seen through the ineffable strands of an almost invisible web.  

What might our experience be, what kind of culture might we create, what would our priorities be, if, as Catherine Keller writes, we "saw the world with a Webbed Vision"? 

Perhaps the World Wide Web is Spider Woman's latest appearance. Pueblo mythology tells that when each of the 3 previous worlds ended, it was Spider Woman who led the people through the sipapu, the kiva (or birth canal) into the next world.  As such She is the divine Midwife for each new age.............and perhaps now we can understand how Her message is necessary for this, the "5th Age", to manifest.   With so many people interested in the “2012 prophecy”, which reached epic proportions through Hollywood, it seems strange that so few know of Spider Woman, the midwife/creatrix, who plays a key role in this metaphor for our time.   She's increasingly making visible the connections, the strands of the Web of life, whether we speak of an evolving global human culture, ecology, quantum physics, or synchronicity and integral psychology.  “Spider Woman’s Hands” was my contemporary exploration of this myth. 

 " The new myth coming into being through the triple influence of quantum physics, depth psychology and the ecological movement suggests that we are participants in a great cosmic web of life, each one of us indissolubly connected with all others through that invisible field.  It is the most insidious of illusions to think that we can achieve a position of dominance in relation to nature, life or each other. In our essence, we are one."

Anne Baring
In Pueblo mythology, Spider Woman is also called Tse Che Nako, Thought Woman. Thought Woman creates the world with what she imagines, weaves with the stories she tells.  We also participate in this imaginal power.   

"The question is not so much "What do I learn from stories" as "What stories do I want to live?"    ……… David R. Loy, "The World is Made of Stories"

Navajo rugs often have “Spiderwoman’s Cross” woven into the pattern.  The cross of Spider Woman represents balance - the union of the 4 directions.  Spider Woman is at the Center:  the 5th direction is a hologram, reflecting every other strand.   The ancient Maya used stones called ‘spiders’ to map the four cardinal directions required for ceremonies, and artists of the prehistoric Mississippian culture often depicted a spider on shell gorgets with a cross on its back.  Among the Osage, special women had a spider symbol tattooed on their hands, also with a cross at its center.  And among the Navajo, to this day, a bit of Spider Web is rubbed into the hands of female  infants, so they "will become good weavers".  Sacred and ubiquitous is the web, warp, and woof of Spider Woman, who it may be said has many names in many places and times. 

As anthropologist Carol Patterson-Rudolph has written, to the Navajo,   Grandmother Spider Woman ((NA ASHJE’II ’ASDZÁÁ) represents initiation into a mature way of being.  The "Web" becomes visible within an integral, relational paradigm:   a "webbed vision".   Spider Woman thus is a bridge between the mundane, mythic, and sacred dimensions of life.  Like a spider web, her transparent, circular strands exist on multiple levels of meaning.   
In his book on Hopi religion, John Loftin writes that:

Spider Woman was the first to weave. Her techniques and patterns have stood the test of time, or more properly, the test of timelessness.…..…..Weaving is not an act in which one creates something oneself – it is an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.”

I believe Spider Woman has  profound meaning for our time,  offering a "Webbed Vision" in a world that urgently needs to see  life as a shimmering web of  relational interdependency and fundamental unity.   My own need to  need to explore and "re-member" over the years became public web-weaving rituals, the creation of many  masks, with the hope of collaboration,  for ritualists and theatre, community art projects, and sculptures.  In  2007 I received an Alden B. Dow Fellowship which allowed me to create a community art project called “Spider Woman’s Hands” in Michigan,  and in 2009 I created “Weavers” for Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.  
 Tse Che Nako, Thought-Woman, the Spider
 is sitting in her room thinking up a story now
I'm telling you the story she is thinking. “ 
Keresan Pueblo saying

 May we all rub a bit of Spider Web into the palms of our hands. 

View more presentations from laurenraine.

    Loftin, John D., Religion and Hopi Life, Second Edition, Indiana University Press
    Keller, Catherine, From a Broken Web (1989), Thames & Hudson
    Patterson-Rudolph, Carol, On the Trail of Spiderwoman, 1997, Ancient City Press
    Franke, Judith   A., The Gift of Spider Woman,  Dickson Mounds Museum, THE LIVING MUSEUM         volume 61, No. 2, 1999

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Alice Walker "Beauty in Truth"

It's wonderful that you can stream PBS films from the internet (see the link above)........just wanted to share this wonderful film about Alice Walker, which can be viewed online.


Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth. Full Film

"Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth" is the first film biography of writer and activist Alice Walker. Most famous for her seminal novel "The Color Purple" for which she won a Pulitzer Prize, Walker was raised in poverty in the rural South during the violent and seismic social changes of mid-20th century America. Women, poverty and civil rights became the inherent themes in her writing.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On Sacred Arts - reflections

"A Navajo rug may be a commodity for trade.
It also may be the voice of the weaver’s prayers and dreams"
 I once had a brief conversation with a young woman who mentioned that spirituality (or religion) is "taboo" in the world of contemporary art. I agreed at the time, although  perhaps things have changed  since the 1980's when I received my MFA.  To be honest, I don't keep up with what's happening in the contemporary art world much, finding my relationship to my art mostly contemplative and devotional.

 I remember emerging from graduate school with a body of work ("A House of Doors" and "When the Word for World was Mother") very much concerned with metaphysical and spiritual exploration, and I felt  angry at the resistance I received in the program for my subject matter.  This was the height of "New Age", and  I had an enormous desire to find out who, what, and where art and spirituality were united in contemporary life, outside of the church, of course.

"Hands" by Lorraine Capparell
"If you bring forth what is within you it will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will harm you."

.....from the Gospel of Thomas

So I did what I've always done, took off travelling on a "vision quest" that lasted almost 5 years, visiting California and New York City, and points in between. The result was a collection of interviews I intended to make into a book called "Seeing in a Sacred Manner:  Interviews with Transformative Artists".; The book was never published, although some of the interviews were published with the kind permission of those artists who granted them to me, among them Alex and Allyson Grey (The Sacred Mirrors), Rafael Ortiz (Physio-Psycho-Alchemy), Rachel Rosenthal (Pangaean Dreams), Kathleen Holder (The December Series), and others. In retrospect, I wish I could have made their conversations more available to others, because what they had to say was so profoundly inspiring to me, and so important to others seeking to understand the same questions.  Some of the interviews are on my website,

Artists in our world have an "identity crisis". We are surrounded with structures that say art is important - schools, museums, galleries, magazines, books, churches. And yet, a contemporary practicing artist is often not given credit for pursuing her or his profession, often not seen as doing something with social significance. I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me what I do, and afterwards responded with "so what's your real job?".  "Real job?"   We define value in monetary terms, and equate quality or "professionalism" to how much money a "product" makes - which is an insane way to evaluate the "worth" of an innovative work of art, or any innovative work for that matter. 
Illuminated manuscript by Hildegard Von Bingham (11th century)

Many of the greatest, and most profoundly transformative, contributions to our world had no "monetary value" whatsoever. Among them, the works of poets such as Rainier Maria Rilke, Rumi, and Gary Snyder, the solitary musings of Emerson at Walden Pond, the great visions of Lakota Medicine Man Black Elk and Hildegard von Bingam. When Van Gogh went into the fields to ecstatically paint the energy he saw in sunflowers or a star strewn night sky, when Georgia O'Keefe gathered bones she found in the New Mexico desert and contemplated them in her studio, when Louise Nevelson found pieces of cast off wood and furniture in the rain- slick streets of New York city.....they were responding to the beauty and story they each saw, the creative energy that welled up from that source.

"Compassion is the rooting of vision in the world, and in the whole of being"

....David Michael Levin

I often think of Bali, the amazing way art making, ritual making, music making are so much a part of daily life, from the woven offerings that women make first thing in the morning to the elaborate festivals held on specifically auspicious days. For the Balinese, art is a devotional activity, constantly renewed within the traditions of their Hindu religion.  Certainly, our modern "identity crisis" would not be understood by such a traditional society, the questioning of "what is art", the sometimes arbitrary separation we seem to make between "high" and "low" arts, "fine arts" and "crafts", etc.  I'm not sure, after 40 years of being an artist, i understand it myself.  I do remember feeling quite at home in Bali, when I studied mask making, quite at home with the flow of art, ritual, and culture, seamless, and wishing I lived in an environment myself that had that quality.

 So what is "art process"?  I've been thinking lately that it helps, on so many levels, to think of it as a  spiritual practice.  You don't have to live in a traditional culture like Bali, or even be affiliated with a traditional religion, to give the making of art that devotional respect.   I think if one considers it in that light, it becomes so much easier! Making art gets me out of the tyranny of my mind, and into a greater world of seeing, sensing, color, light...... of being. I can engage with my ever evolving, personal, and yet archetypal, symbol system, the emergent place.  Sometimes (like with the "Prayers for the Dying" series I did for my brother) it helps me to understand grief, to heal emotional losses or conflicts. Increasingly, I am interested in sharing the creative process with others, finding ways to connect with others in creative community; in this light, it becomes a form of entrainment, of ritual, of prayer.

 Rachel Rosenthal: "It’s easier for people to anthropomorphize something abstract. That is where the metaphor of Gaia comes in - it is easier to think of a mother, a nurturing parent. By giving a name to it, you can talk to Her. That’s the purpose. Otherwise, you are lost in abstractions, and lose the emotional content of the issue."
LR: In that sense, there is a degree of hope?
Rachel Rosenthal:  " There is a degree of hope, if we hurry."

I take the liberty of quoting myself, the introduction to the (unpublished) book I wrote for it in 1990.  Perhaps I've mellowed, and understood things more comprehensively since, still, not much has changed in my perception since. It's good to revisit.........
"The Sacred Mirrors" Alex Grey
"Everything was made for the greater meaning and use of the the tribe. A spoon was more than a spoon, and a sacred pot was also used to store grain in - because they understood that there had to be a weaving between the material world and the other worlds in order to live right and well. An artist was one of those who did the weaving." ...... Sarah Mertz
 It was my privilege, in the late 1980's, to share conversations about art, spirituality, and cultural transformation with some extraordinary artists. Travelling across the country to meet some of them in New York City, in Arkansas, or in California, not long after graduate school, I realize now I was really trying to understand my own reasons for making art. "Your work is about your life" painter Kathleen Holder told me, "and if you are fortunate enough to do great work, it not only is about your life but it transcends your life and touches many others. "

As a student of art history, I find it ironic that spirituality was a significant impulse in the early development of Modernism. Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, Anthrosophy, as well as Einstein's new physics, enormously inspired the work of such innovators as Mondrian, Kupka, Kandinsky, Arthur Dove, and many others. But by the 1950's, spirituality, indeed, the idea of context itself, had become a kind of heresy among the institutions that defined what "high" art was. I'm not sure that has changed very much today.  

In the 1970's, Tom Wolfe argued in The Painted Word that art was becoming literature, more a media creation of art critics than the artists themselves, who were (and still are) floundering about at the edges of society seeking any kind of identity, even one invented for them. Social context, works created for political, therapeutic, or functional means - or as spiritual revelation - were suspect. The quest was for "pure" aesthetics, celebrated by influential critics like Harold Rosenberg, who wrote, in 1952, 

"The turning point of Abstract Expressionism occured when its artists abandoned trying to paint Art (Cubism, Post-Impressionism), and decided to paint - just PAINT. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation from Value - political, aesthetic, moral."

But to liberate art from aesthetic or moral value is to render it meaningless. It becomes a dissociative intellectual exercise, a lonely endeavor isolated from any larger social or cosmic context, isolated, often, from even personal significance. Performance artist Rafael Montanez Ortiz believes our aesthetics reflect a greater issue. "We can objectify" he said, "at the drop of a hat. We have no problem making an object of anyone or anything. If the logic of a culture permits you to abstract to that extent, it then permits you to live without conscience."

If we're to affirm an art with conscience, it must be, by definition, an art that provides an experience of context, of relationships of every kind. Social, ecological, spiritual, external and internal, visible and invisible. That's what transformative art is to me - artists who are reclaiming the roles of visionary, healer, community activist, and prophet within a grand context, an experience of communion that penetrates our lives on many dimensions of being. In traditional cultures, a shaman is one who "retrieves souls." That can also mean the collective retrieval of "soul", the redemption of imagination, beauty, and most importantly, a sustaining vision of the mystery and sanctity of life.

from "A Moving Point of Balance" by Beth Ames Swartz

"Vision that responds to the cries of the world and is truly engaged with what it sees is not the same as the disembodied eye that observes and reports,that objectifies and enframes. The ability to enter into another's emotions, or to share another's plight, to make their conditions our own, characterizes art in the partnership mode. You cannot define it as self-expression - it is more like relational dynamics.......Partnership demands a willingness to conceive of art in more living terms.

It is a way of seeing others as part of ourselves."

.........Suzi Gablick (The Re-Enchantment of Art) (1989)

"Between Land and Sea", Installation by Caroline Beasley Baker

 "I like the Aboriginal idea of "Singing the world into existence".  I once had a wonderful dream. I dreamed I was riding across the Australian desert at night. I was on a bus, and everyone was asleep. I looked out, across the dark, and saw, rising up out of the desert floor, these incredibly beautiful murals, in huge caverns lit by firelight. I knew they had been made by some consciousness predating humanity, that they had been here for millennia. They had never been seen in the world before, and were now rising up to the surface of the Earth.  Those paintings were more glorious than anything I've ever seen in my life! At the end of the dream, a voice said to me, "Caroline, that's the Earth dreaming".

 Caroline Beasley Baker (Interview, 1989)