Wednesday, September 28, 2022

"A Shrine for the Lost": The Sixth Extinction

In 2000 I participated in a "Litany for the Lost".  5 people, standing in a circle, recited names of extinct and vanishing Species; the names of our fellow Beings on this inter-dependent, inter-woven planet.  I have thought about that for years, and just received a grant from the Puffin Foundation this past month, for which I am very grateful,  to create a "Shrine for the Lost" We are not the only life forms striving to evolve on our beautiful Planet Earth, and as species are lost, the Balance of ecosystems breaks down, like a tapestry unravelling.  It is the greatest of arrogance to think that humanity is not a part of that tapestry, and that our lives unravel with it.  

My Dia de los Muertos "Shrine for the Lost":  the Sixth Extinction   will consist of 4 panels, each panel 16 inches by 72 inches (6 feet), hung on the wall.  Each panel will have 7 pages like the one above, with Lists of the Lost, and interspersed visuals.  The pages will run together vertically, kind of like the sample to the right, only the panel will be 6 feet long.  I want people to grasp the magnitude of the loss with these long lists.

In addition, the Shrine will have an Audio Component, a recording of a "Litany for the Lost":  5 voices calling the Names of Extinct or Vanishing Species (probably with some kind of musical backdrop as well).  My colleague Kathy Keller will collaborate on this with me.

And the Shrine will include my new book A Shrine for the Lost:  The Sixth Extinction.  

I cannot share here images of the finished Shrine, because it will not be installed until November 1st for the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).   But I am pleased to share a bit of the Work in Progress, and as soon as the Shrine can be made active, I will be sure to share that as well.  

I have made application to create the Shrine at the 2023 Parliament of World Religions as's hoping.

It is my hope and offer to all those who may be interested that this exhibit, when finished, travel as a means of educating others about the magnitude of our loss.  The List........

And the List continues................

* A film produced with Leonardo De Caprio well worth seeing:



Wednesday, September 21, 2022

John Barleycorn and Mabon


It's that time again,  the Autumnal Equinox.  "Equinox" means "equal night", and it is indeed both a very, very ancient Pagan Holy Day,  and an auspicious celestial event!  On this day of Balance, I am wishing as always that humanity come into a realization of the importance of being in Balance with our planet.  

And I wish joy, apples, bread, and of course, beer, to all on this, the Second Harvest Celebration.   I felt like sharing, speaking of beer, something about the mythology of John Barleycorn,  "Little Sir John",  and the cutting of the sheaves.  Once upon a time, the world was much, much more alive and animated and mythologized than it is today, in our mechanical, soul less society.  Corn Dollies were made, the land was thanked, and of course, John Barleycorn's sacrifice was honored.  

John Barleycorn Must Die is a traditional English song - records of its origins go back as far as the 1300s, and it is probably much older than that.    Over time, many variations have arisen, and the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote his own famous version of the story of John Barleycorn. In the 70's, John Renbourne, Traffic, and Steel Eye Span popularized the song, along with many other  folk artists of the time.  John Barleycorn is a very ancient, prime myth indeed  - the Great King who is sacrificed, dies and is reborn in the spring as the wheel of the year's agricultural cycle turns. In many pre-Christian cultures, this motif is found as the Sumarian God Dumuzi, the Shepherd husband of the Goddess Inanna who goes into the underworld for part of the year, and returns to her in the Spring.  The same idea of the  dying and reborn King is found with the Egyptian Osiris, who is reborn in his son,  the Sun God Horus.

John Barleycorn is the personification of the grain, and the life of the grain from planting to harvest, transformation into beer, and then sowing.  After Barleycorn’s first death he is buried, and laid within the ground.  In midsummer he grows a “long golden beard” and “becomes a man”.  The songs of John Barleycorn go on on to describe threshing and harvesting. Barleycorn is bailed and taken to the barn. And then the grain is parceled out. Some is taken to the miller to make flour for bread. And some is saved and brewed in a vat to make ale. And some is planted, so that the whole cycle can begin again.   It is likely that versions of John Barleycorn songs go back to pre-Christian times, the accompaniment of  harvest rituals at Lughnasash, in August, or Mabon, the Autumnal Equinox

Some of these rituals survive to this day in modified form, most famously the sacrifice of the wicker man. These rituals tell the story of the death and eventual  rebirth of the god of the grain."*

  Photo with thanks to  Avalon Revisited

It might be noted that John Barleycorn is, in particular, also a God of Ecstasy - because he provides celebration and ecstasy as the barley becomes the source of beer and the beloved malt whiskey of the Highlands. He shared a style not  unlike the more Mediteranean temperment of Bacchus,  the  Roman God of wine.   The malting and fermentation  of the grains that form his body is also a part of his "life cycle" and divinity. Perhaps one of the most famous "ecstatic"  manifestations of the Wicker Man, his rituals of sacrifice, rebirth, and  celebration is Burning Man, the "harvest" festival that happens in Nevada every fall

It's interesting that in Robert Burn's poem, there are "three kings", similar to the kings from the east in the Nativity story.  Early Christians who came to the British Isles (and elsewhere) often absorbed native pagan mythologies and traditional rituals into Christian theology, and the evolution of the Story of Christ is full of such imagery in order to help the natives accept Christianity. Certainly John Barleycorn shares with the Christ Story the ancient theme of the death and rebirth of the sacrificed agricultural King. 

I am a great admirer of the wisdom traditions of Gnostic and esoteric Christianity, but I also believe it is necessary to separate the spiritual teachings of Christianity from  the mingling (and  literalization) of earlier  mythologies  in the development of the Church. 

For example, I believe the metaphor used to describe Jesus as the "Lamb of God" directly relates to Biblical (and Roman) practices prevalent in his lifetime  of sacrifice of lambs and goats to Yahwah (or, for Romans, their pantheon).  The later development of  the doctrine that Christ   "died for our sins",   may have some of its origins in the important, and quite ancient,  Semitic Scapegoat Rituals.  But observing recently a Catholic "Communion" ritual ("This is my Body, This is my Blood") I was impressed by the many layers of mythologies and archaic cultures inherent in that ceremony, still important to so many people today.  And one of those threads may very well originate in the prime agricultural myth of  the dying and reborn God, a long tradition from which John Barleycorn is yet another God who dies now at Harvest, and arises re-born  every spring.

John Barleycorn
by Robert Burns

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and plough'd him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show'rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris'd them all.
The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong,
His head weel arm'd wi' pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.
The sober Autumn enter'd mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show'd he began to fail.
His coulour sicken'd more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.
They've taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then ty'd him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell'd him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn'd him o'er and o'er.
They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe,
And still, as signs of life appear'd,
They toss'd him to and fro.
They wasted, o'er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a Miller us'd him worst of all,
For he crush'd him between two stones.
And they hae taen his very heart's blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise,
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.
'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy:
'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,
Tho' the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

And last, and so appropriate for the Harvest Time of Mabon, Steve Winwood of Traffic's version of John Barleycorn Must Die.   I love to hear this ancient song sung thus, it brings back to me something I don't see in contemporary music much any more, which is the use of music to tell stories, and through poetry, to continue the teachings of myth, which was traditionally the role of the Bard.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Verity" - Roman Goddess of Truth


I've felt compelled to make this mask (it's also a sculpture in progress).  I hope in time someone will come who wishes to use it, and create a story for it.  It seems to me that we live in a time of such disregard for Truth, for Verity, that it is very hard to move forward, to approach the real collective problems we face as a Global society, which are truly urgent and present.  And it is also hard to be a competent, functioning adult, I do believe, without access to as much as is possible, and a dedicated personal commitment to, the Truth. 

I think of what Jesus said in the New Testament of the Christian Bible: 

                                         "The Truth shall set you free"

That is so right, spiritually and functionally.  Seeking personal truth is a profound, and unending, endeavor, but the rewards of living without delusion, self-deception, false belief systems, and unaccountability are important to moving forward in our evolution.  

In Roman mythology, Verity (Veritus) is the Goddess of truth.  Veritas is also the name given to the Roman virtue of truthfulness, which was considered one of the main virtues any good Roman should possess.  She was the mother of Virtus, from which the word "virtue" comes.  Part of Her myth was that Verity  was elusive, because She  hid in the bottom of a holy well.  That, it seems to me, is a perfect metaphor for the sacred quest for Truth.  Often Truth must be sought in the depths, in dark waters of the self.  And yet, like the waters of a Holy (Wholly) Well (as in Wellness and Welling forth from the depths) that quest is transformative and life sustaining.

Truth (Victoria Memorial)”
 by Sir Thomas Brock
Verity was often shown as a young virgin dressed in white. Veritas was also  depicted nude, representing the "naked truth".  She is shown holding a mirror helping those who seek Her to "Know Thyself" The Goddess holds the mirror before Her,  confronting others with the irrefutable truth of their reflection. Sometimes she is also  shown with scales as well with a sword to cut away lies and deception.  Sometimes she is shown blindfolded. 

In this well known sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock, I find it also fascinating that the Goddess, in a Victorian era sculpture yet,  is shown offering both a mirror and a snake.  As the snake is a very ancient symbol representing the forces of nature, the cycles of life/death/rebirth, and the regenerative power of the Earth Mother,  I can't help but wonder if the sculptor knew this, or at least intuited it when he added his snake.  The story of Verity's roots are ancient indeed, as are pilgrimages to sacred wells, which are places of healing and vision.  

Another, much more recent and contemporary sculpture named Verity is the monumental 2012 stainless steel and bronze statue created by Damien Hirst.

The 66.4 foot tall sculpture stands on the pier at the entrance to the harbour in Ilfracombe, Devon, in the U.K., looking out over the Bristol Channel towards South Wales.   It has been loaned to the town for 20 years. The name of the piece refers to "truth" and Hirst describes his work as a "modern allegory of truth and justice".[1]

 (from Wikipedia)

The statue depicts a pregnant woman holding aloft a sword while carrying the scales of justice and standing on a pile of law books.  The other side of the monumental stature  shows the "skin" peeled away from the figure to reveal the unborn child within.

For me, here again is a truly perfect metaphor for Truth:  because the Truth carries within the birth of a new life, a new evolution, a precious Child to protect and nurture.  

Sunday, September 4, 2022

"The Goddess of the Turning" and Reflections


I made this mask for Nanette,  Director and creatrix of Zuzi's Dance Theatre in Tucson, Arizona.  I've worked with her and her collaborators before and it's a pleasure to create a mask for her.  This mask is for her annual Winter Solstice event, and she requested an image that symbolizes the turning of the year,  Light into Dark,  Dark into Light.  So this mask became "The Goddess of the Turning", or "The Goddess of the Turning Year" to be more precise.

Masks keep turning up in my imagination!  Just when I thought I was done with all that,  the Goddess keeps nudging me with visions of masks and those unknown ones who might dance in them, who might tell their stories.  But I have no such community at present, so all I can do is make the masks.  In some other posts I'll show some of the new ones, including "Verity", which I'm quite proud of.

Artists never retire, although sometimes we get retired whether we like it or not!  But lately I have been ........... reclaiming a few things from the Saga of my life.  One is that a long time ago I went to Bali, and learned about their Temple Mask traditions.  It inspired me and gave me a whole new way to look at mask making (I had a lively business at that time as a mask artist for Renaissance Faires).  When I returned to the U.S. I was invited to make masks for Reclaiming's  20th Annual Spiral Dance at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco as the Invocation of the Goddess.  

And later it occurred to me that I had been given an opportunity thus to create Temple Masks within the American world I lived in.  To create sacred  Temple Masks dedicated to the Divine Feminine, to the Goddess with  all of Her many faces and names.  As the Balinese say, masks are "vessels for the gods".   How blessed I was when I saw the first ritual performance of my first collection of Masks of the Goddess at the Spiral Dance in the form of a Procession of costumed and masked women,  embodying Goddesses from 30 different cultures and times.  And that became a journey of some 20 years, a journey that, it seems, isn't entirely over yet.  

We will see as the Wheel of the Year Turns, and the Lady of the Turning presides overall.