"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.
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