Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Ancestral Midwives (2013)
I was thinking of my friend Lorie, who provided the hands for this sculpture.  Lorie retired just a few years ago from a long career as a midwife in Pittsburgh, and when I asked to cast her hands she assumed this pose, which she told me is a hand gesture used to symbolize midwifery.   To have spent so many years bringing new life into the world! 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Numinous".......Personal Icons

She will rust us with blossom
She will seal us with Her seed.

Robin Williamson

The first deities of Rome were agricultural.
Before they became an empire or adopted Greek mythologies, the Romans called their deities  "numen",  which roughly translated meant "spirits of place", the "mind of place". These early deities included Pomona, goddess of the Orchards, and many other local deities concerned with the well being of trees, springs, deer, rivers. and caves.

I've been looking at many of my personal "Icons" lately, and I realize that, like the early Romans, so many of them are about the Numinous in nature, the felt prescence, the the intelligence and conversation experienced in the garden, or at the top of a mountain for that matter as well.  My  personal Icons return always  to the intelligence of nature, the "numinous".  

When I was younger  I remember  conversations I had with beaches and stones and butterflies, the world was full of Talismans to be found and treasured, magical signs and portents.  There are still places I can go, where those  mysterious voices are heard.  The divine is beneath our feet, in the roots, the cracks, the dragon trails of wind and rain moving across the expressive faces of the day.

In the past I was fascinated with the ubiquitous "hand and eye" symbols found among the prehistoric  peoples of early America, the mysterious Mound Builders.  Also exploring in my art the equally ubiquitous stories of the Great Weaver, the Spider Woman, I began making hands with eyes myself, and called my project "Spider Woman's Hands".    The  eyes mean to me that immanent presence and intelligence in nature.  The eye in the hand also means to me, personally, the divine manifesting and creating in this world, through all natural processes, and through the works of our hands as well.  

And the roots are the Web, the sustanence and interdependancy that unites us with all Beings of the Earth.   The Body of the World, our Body.  

16 million tons of rain
are falling every second
on the planet,
an ocean
perpetually falling
and every drop
is your body
every motion, every feather,

 every thought
is your body

time is your body

every leaf, every river,
every animal,
your body

Drew Dellinger

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Questions of Maat

In Ancient Egypt, it was believed that the Goddess Maat waits in the Underworld, before a door all souls who have died must enter to pass into new life. She holds in her hand a scale and a feather. Maat weighs hearts, and none may pass until they have answered her questions, and their hearts are as light as the feather of truth.  How heavy is each heart? 

I find "the questions of Maat" such a significant metaphor, a metaphor about forgiveness and releasing the past to new evolution.  Because to dream a new life, to be born again, one must truly know the life that has been lived, one must forgive and be forgiven, enter into the stream of transformation.

When I turned 60 it was a tremendous passage for me.  Certainly, I felt the "lightening" that came with transit into my 6th decade. I had the urge to get rid of things that weighed me down, weren't relevant, and demanded my attention in some unnecessary way. Old love letters that just made me sad, pretty dresses that no longer fit and probably never will, dusty boxes of mementoes, weary assumptions, heavy handed beliefs, habits of mind that once were useful adaptations to something or other, but now were  boringly repetitious. I went through a period of self-examination, and noticed that very many of my assumptions were erroneous, often blocked my vision, and was probably unfair to somebody somewhere, including myself.  Unused possessions require care, require storage, require energy, require memory.  It was time to light-en up and enter the stream.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book "Writing down the Bones", tells of meeting Meridel le Sueur in her eighties.  A true nomad, Meridel told her that she lived nowhere. She visited people and places, writing wherever she was. The elderly writer asked Natalie if she knew a place to purchase a used typewriter. When she is ready to leave, she said, she will give it away so she doesn't have to take it to her next destination.  Now that I understand. Why should one wish to lug a typewriter around, or a bulky suitcase, or for that matter, an old grudge, a worn out storyline, or an exhausted persona?  Such unexamined baggage surely slows the creative journey of life down, making it difficult to create into the future.  

A reporter once asked the artist Pablo Picasso, at 90 or so, what he thought, after such a long and distinguished career, his greatest work was. He replied "The next one."  This is the lightening of the heart and mind the Goddess Maat weighs. Maat's name meant "truth" in ancient Egyptian. Her questions do not "damn" those who wait before the door....but without answering them, without finding the truth of one's life, no passage to other realms of being is possible.   We are stuck at the station, waiting for the train. 

Maat's questions are questions each soul must answer sooner or later. "Who have I not fore-given?" "What have I done that I cannot fore-give myself for?" "What part of my life story have I not been able to see, or to fore-give?" 

I am always stunned when I examine out of context the language we unconsciously take for granted in daily speech, and humbled further when I consider that each language has its singular depths of meaning unique to its cultural evolution.  In English usage, to "fore-give" is to do just that - to "give the energy forward". To the future, to the unknown, to new possibilities of relationship and creativity, to new responsibilities, endeavors, and perhaps high adventure. To the continual growth of wisdom and compassion. When we don't fore-give we are left with psychic baggage, stories told so many times they have lost any semblance to the truth.

I am not saying that fore-giveness is a simple thing.  Sometimes it involves working through layers of experience, telling our story over and over until it can be truthfully seen, and sometimes we need help from wise or impartial listeners. But ultimately I believe fore-giveness comes from being able to gain a wider perspective, the integral Soul's perspective.  From that perspective, which often requires faith as well, there is a greater landscape that weaves together the ways we were challenged and deepened by our experiences, our betrayals, our failures, our losses, our ignorance, and our blessings.

I remember years ago there was a man I was attracted to. The Eros of my experience fueled enormous creativity in me. His considerable talent inspired me as well.   And because I had a lot of unripe, naive ideas, and did not know how to confront him, he also had a lot of fun manipulating and humiliating me, probably just because he could. He never pretended that he was a kind or conscionable person, and I still cringe when I think about it. 

But until I was able to fore-give him and myself, I was unable to see the gifts in that experience, indeed, unable to get beyond it. Now I realize that had I not met him, I would not have created what I did at that time in my life.   And I probably would not have moved through the well defended "victim" template I was deeply entrenched in and attached to.  I could not assume a "victim" position with this man.  I had to grow and take care of myself, and from that perspective, ultimately he empowered me. That is the paradox of Maat's Truth.

Raukkadessa is a Finnish term a musician friend, Kathy Huhtaluata, used in her Saami inspired music.  She told me it means "beyond love". I find this concept profound - because even love, as we experience it, can be a veil, impenetrable in the present moment, and beyond that momentary experience is something vast, beyond the pairs of opposites, beyond time itself. Beyond love is the soul's love, the greater evolutionary pattern.

A Buddhist once told me that we should cherish all sentient beings, because, from the perspective of reincarnation, any sentient being you meet has at one time or another been your mother, brother, lover, enemy, has been your food, or has devoured you.   
One thing is certain. When we don't fore-give, we are unable to move fore-ward, because we are stuck in the past of phantom hurts and ghostly losses, attempting to keep them alive with our own life energy. 

And from my perspective, one of the wonderful things about having had the privilege of achieving the maturity of 60 some years is that one has the means and experience to finally know just that.   May all hearts be light as Maat's feather.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Quan Yin Mask

Sometimes I find that a mask wants to be made, and it seems that I receive "invisible support" in my quest to make it.  For quite a while now I wished to make a mask for Quan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion in China.  But I lacked a cast of a Chinese woman's face, and also did not have any Chinese aquaintances that I could ask to sit for me.  Then in November (I rent rooms in my home with AIRBNB) no less than three beautiful  Chinese women rented rooms from me!  And with the kind assistance of Irene who modelled for the mask, I at last was able to make the mask for Quan Yin.  Now, it is my hope, dancers will come to perform it.

From Journey to the Goddess (

In Chinese tradition, “Kwan Yin (‘She Who Hears the Prayers of the World’) was originally the mother Goddess of China, who proved so popular She was adopted into the Buddhist pantheon as a bodhisattva (much like the Goddess Bridgit was made a saint). A bodhisattva is a person who has attained enlightenment but chooses to forgo Nirvana and remain in the world to help others attain enlightenment.  As the still-popular mother Goddess of China, Kwan Yin is known as a great healer who can cure all ills. She is also a Goddess of fertility, and is often shown holding a child. In this aspect She is known as Sung-tzu niang-niang, “The Lady Who Brings Children”. She is shown holding a crystal vase, pouring out the waters of creation. Simply calling Her name in time of crisis is believed to grant deliverance.

Guanyin is also revered by Chinese Taoists (sometimes called Daoists) as an Immortal. However, in Taoist mythology, Guanyin has other origination stories which are not directly related to AvalokiteĊ›vara.  She is known as the Goddess Tara in Tibet and the Himalayas and Mazu in Her incarnation as the Goddess of the Southern Seas, but She is best known by Her Chinese name, Kwan Yin (also spelled Kuan Yin), the Goddess of Compassion.  


Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin. Guan Yin, Guan Shih Yin, Quan Yin, Guanyin, Kuanin)
Mazu, A-ma, Matsu
Goddess of the Southern Sea
Kwannon (Japan)
the Asian Santa Maria
One Who Hears the Cries of the World
(Lady Who Brings Children)
The Maternal Goddess
The Observer of All Sounds
Bodhisattava of Compassion
The Thousand-hand Kuanyin   ***

***I had to include the following video.  If you’ve not seen this before, be prepared to be amazed.  The performance is called “Thousand-handed Goddess of Mercy” performed by China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe.  They are all deaf and mute.  The amazing leading dancer is Tai Lihua , who is a dance teacher at a deaf-mute school in Hubei, China.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"A Webbed Vision" ~ Reflections on Interdependency and Individualism

"What might we see, how might we act, 
if we saw with a webbed vision?  
The world seen through a web of relationships…
as delicate as spider’s silk, 
yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.”  

Catherine Keller, "From a Broken Web"3

The quote above, from Theologian Catherine Keller, derives from the ancient and original root meaning of the name "Penelope", the "faithful wife of Ulysses".   It is likely that Penelope was originally a Fate or Oracular Goddess before she became demoted in patriarchal Greek mythology, and as such her name meant "with a web on Her face", one who "sees the connections".  I have never forgotten the significance of that.

It's been 5 years since the shooting of beloved Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  Because I lived close to her former office, I saw a candlelit altar develop for her, with so hundreds of  wishes for her recovery and for peace.   Having been witness to this  tragedy in my home town  of Tucson,  which took the lives of 6 people including a child, and remember so many other atrocities committed by men with guns since,  I' ve been  unable to think in terms that are too abstract.  When confronted with the horror of violence, and the heavy pall of grief, the need to experience  inter-dependence, with-in our bodies and with-in the refuge of our imaginations -  is very real and immanent.   We want to know we are not alone, we want to believe we can support each other.

I was struck by  the  way "Together We Thrive" became a  theme echoed throughout Tucson at that time, and a motto that headed healing activities, from President Obama's call for unity, to spontaneous Shrines created throughout Tucson.  Does any of that moment remain?  Congress is trying to end Obama Care, which will end health insurance for millions of people, and one of the most arrogant of exploitative capitalist  billionaires, Donald Trump, is running for President.   As I watch the ongoing corporate greed that is eroding not only our former democracy, but the very life of our planet, and the unreasoned ideology of capitalist "individualism" that in many ways makes that possible in this country.............I don't know.  If I am not my brother's and sister's keeper, and they mine - who is?  Monsanto?  Walmart?  
Altar for Gabrielle Gifford at her office, January 2011, after she was shot 

We urgently need pragmatic ways to create community in today's world.  Could a strong community  have prevented what happened?  Unbalanced individuals will always abound, and lethal weapons are readily available - the American gun culture, and easy access to lethal weapons, ensures the violent deaths continue year after year.  Yet even so, the failure of community speaks to this tragedy.  If we weren't in so many ways a culture of "rugged individualism" where "good fences make good neighbors", and our technology increasingly allows us to insulate ourselves from the so-called "outside world" ... would this young man have received the attention he needed before he erupted in catastrophic violence in 2011?

"The Rugged Individualist" writes sociologist Philip Slater,1 "cheers when needy people are deprived of food, battered women are deprived of protection from brutal husbands, children are deprived of education, because this is "getting government off our backs. "   

This kind of thinking fails in every way to communicate that we live within a vast web of human and environmental inter-dependency, a web that is also very intimate. This is my ultimate Iconic Image, the Great Web of Gaia, the "Webbed Vision" that sees and recognizes the sacred links, the archetype of Spider Woman.  I know my art seems obscure to many, but that is what it derives from, in one image after another.  I can't seem to stop making them, because the Web underlies every aspect of our life.   A successful adult is so because of parents, teachers, community resources, and distant ancestors  that enabled him or her to mature.  And without a sense of belonging and contributing to that continuum as it reaches into future generations,  human beings end up feeling alienated and ultimately without a sense of purpose. They feel disposable, and perceive others as equally disposible.

Which is what an unsustainable, insatiable corporate consumer system, as a placebo for the pain of spiritual and communal isolation, feeds on.  And by the way, local free enterprise is not the same as the kind of souless capitalism we now have.  Within a healthy free enterprise system the wealth circulates within the community - if the baker does well, the   pharmacy does well, if the dressmaker does well, so does the restaurant, and so on.  In what we now have the wealth is removed from the heart of the community to the mega stores, like Walmart, on the outskirts, and all the jobs imported to slave labor overseas, to the loss of all except the very, very wealthy exploiting the situation.  

In tribal societies, survival depended utterly on cooperation, as well as the collective ability to  adapt continually to new environmental challenges, be it drought, invaders, or the exhaustion of resources.  The mythic foundation of any tribe (or civilization) is the template upon which they stand;  a culture with a rigid mythos that cannot adapt and change is doomed to collapse. Without a theology of co-dependency, which we have lost in the advent of mega global capitalism and its "individualism" which benefits only a very, very few individuals, that collapse is apparent.  Because the system, ultimately, cannot adapt, cannot become sustainable, cannot become viable.

"We live in a world today in which the problems we face are all planetary..........." Philip Slater  commented in his last book The Chrysalis Effect,  "the polarization and chaos we see in the world are the effect of a global cultural metamorphosis".   But that metamorphosis, I believe, is based up the profound realization of our inter-dependency in every single way, the "Great Web", a Webbed Vision.  We need this vision, updated and evolving for the challenges of our time.  
I call on artists and other "cultural creatives" to help to make a new mythology for the global tribe

Renunciate theologies (and mythologies) that teach us to renounce the world, the body, and the demands of relationships of every kind, either in service of some abstract "better place" (be it heaven, paradise, enlightenment or nirvana) or in reaction to teachings that degrade earthly life as "impure" or "unreality"..............will not help us, or those who must come after us.  If we're going to speak of "oneness", we need myths that include tremendous, creative diversity within that "oneness", that can include many gods and goddesses, many voices and languages, and many ways to the truth instead of simply eliminating the competition.  Further, our world myth can no longer be simply a human world myth - it must include many evolutions, many other beings within the intimacy of ecosystems.  If we're to survive into sustainability.

"The culture that is holistic is holistic because its reasoning structure is holistic." wrote artist Rafael Montanez Ortiz"The problem we have with holism is that our reasoning is fragmentary, dissectionist, it removes us from relating things, it structures things in separate compartments in order  to "have control".2  Ortiz maintains that if the logic of one's society is relational, you are in a construct that places you in  relation to all things, and thus, develop an  empathic response to all things.   In earlier societies, he believes,  the entire world mythos was about a living world, alive, entangled, conscious, animistic and full of Anima Mundi, the World Soul.  It's no coincidence that this "primitive"  worldview is very close to what science, from Gaia Theory to Quantum Entanglement, is discovering.

Myths, as the "narrative foundation" for  societies, become more meaningful through embodiment, through an actual enactment - through ritual that is engaging and potent.   Culturally in the West we have, by and large, lost our rituals, or they have become weakened through commercialism - witness the sad transformation of Solstice rituals into the meaningless commercialism of Christmas, or the diminishment of the important days of honoring the ancestors into "scary Halloween". 

Our minds aren't just in our skulls, but in  the entire body, which includes the aura and the etheric networks that exist between us and the rest of life.    Whether we're talking about a forest, or another person, abstractions can remove us from the  experience of communion, the immanent ability to sense what is going on.  Abstractions become what is going on.  I have experienced, and helped to create, rituals that were profoundly transformative.  My experiences of the Spiral Dance with Reclaiming, or with the Earth Spirit Community's Twilight Covening, or the Lighting of the Labyrinth at Sirius Rising......will always energize me when I remember them.  Within those magical circles, I entered mythic time and mythic space and mythic mind, and experienced, as Joseph Campbell put it, the "Thou" realm of existence.  That  does not end when you leave the circle.

In 2004, I directed "Restoring the Balance", a non-denominational event devoted to cross-cultural stories of the Great Mother.  Our cast wished to dramatize the need for healing the great Earth Mother.  We chose as our centerpiece the Inuit legend of Sedna, and the rituals of atonement and reciprocity the Inuit perform with their shaman when they believe they have fallen from balance with the life giving Ocean Mother.   Artist Katherine Josten (founder of the Global Art Project) danced the role of  Sedna.  In bringing up the event, she  observed that:

"The work of our group is not to re-enact the ancient goddess myths, but to take those myths to their next level of evolutionary unfolding.  Artists are the myth makers."
In this same spirit, another member of the cast chose to weave a web with the audience as  Grandmother Spider Woman.   Morgana Canady wove a web with 300 people.  In this performance biodegradable cords from “Spider Woman’s Web” were later distributed among cast members, and scattered throughout the desert, symbolically "extending our web".  As part of the Global Art Project an exchange was made with the AFEG-NEH-MABANG Traditional Dance Company, in Cameroon - a part of the weaving.  

 Among the Navajo, infant girls often have a bit of spider web rubbed into their hands so they will "become good weavers".  

May we all now rub a bit of spider web into our hands for the work ahead of us ..........and, like Penelope, may we all now see "with a web on our faces".

1) Phillip Slater, The Chrysalis Effectt (2007)
2) Rafael Montanez Ortiz Ph.D., interview with Lauren Raine for unpublished manuscript (1989)
3) Katherine Keller Ph.D., "From a Broken Web" (1989)
4) Katherine Josten M.F.A., The Global Art Project

Monday, January 4, 2016

The True Cost - a very Important Movie

I will never again buy new clothing, not unless I know where it was made (and that must be local, or guaranteed fair trade by an ethical producer) and what it was made from as well.  Never.

This is a film recently released that's so well done, and so moving, I believe everyone should see it.  It is about the incredible wake of destruction in today's "fast fashion" - to the virtually enslaved workers who make those endlessly disposible, and ever "cheaper" clothes, the horrific waste and decimation of the environment (they present good figures that the clothing industry is second only to the oil industry in environmental impact), and the decimation of our own Western economies, as everyone becomes poorer as a small corporate elite gleans unheard of profits, and yet is fed the illusion that because we can "afford" cheap clothing, we are not.

If we cannot find ways to understand, in every way possible, that we are all connected to each other, that the clothing we wear, the air we breath, the food we eat is all part of the the common good....if we cannot arrive at a true vision and theology of interdependency, truly we are doomed.

My great appreciation for this important, eloquent, disturbing documentary.


*** Below, just because I remembered, I share some photos of garments I saw at the Renaissance Faire last year, all "upcycled" from old sweaters or socks.  Now that is not only creative reuse, but sheer art.