Saturday, May 27, 2023

Seamless Creativity

Untitled Lauren Raine  (1970)

"We slowly pull focus, lifting up and away from being embedded in our lives
 until we attain an overview.  This overview empowers us to make valid creative choices."

Julia Cameron, "THE ARTIST'S WAY"*

I have been thinking about the  trans-personal nature of creativity,  the way it can sometimes seem to express dimensions of perception that transcend time or even one's "individuality" as the vision or the poem dips its roots into the collective mind. 

I was recalling a group I used to belong to whose members were mostly practicing and  retired therapists. I often felt somewhat ill at ease in their company, being without the psychological vocabulary or training they possessed. In retrospect, sometimes I felt it was the way they, as therapists, tended to "pathologize" or generalize that  made me uncomfortable. It is, of course, understandable that they should do so, and that they might often  see  others through the lens of their training and practice a standard of mental health and normalcy. And yet..........something was missing for me. Perhaps what I missed was a  larger room, a room big enough for  the "Mystery".   At the time, I did not know how to articulate that.  


                     Untitled (1972)

There is a thin line between trans-personal, trans-formative, "non-ordinary states", and madness. Those separations, of course, can have something to do with the cultural matrix one is living in. But sometimes "madness" is also brilliant insight. Sometimes creativity arises  from a liminal zone that should not be "explained" too comprehensively or dismissed because it is outside of an "acceptable emotional or psychological spectrum". Just because we cannot see ultra-violet with our eyes does not mean it is not there. But we can imagine ultra-violet:  perhaps we could imagine what it sounds like, or how it tastes, or what it "feels" like. 


            Untitled Lauren Raine (1985)

Carl Jung, who formed the concepts of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, had "spirit guides" that he considered a source of  crucial insights. He described them as aspects of his  psyche which he could produce, but which could also produce themselves. Were they "Aspects" that had their own life? Or were they discrete entities themselves?  Among his "guides" were  the archetypal mentor figure Philemon, an ancient Vedic scholar, and Basilides,  an early Gnostic teacher in Alexandria., Egypt. Also one thing about Jung's background that is not well known is that his family was deeply interested in Spiritualism, and included members who were known locally as mediums. This would have pre-disposed Carl Jung to the possibility of "spirit guides" that could communicate with him and advise him.


 untitled Lauren Raine (1985)

 "Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps of sub-consciousness....I wouldn't know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness."........... Aaron Copeland

There is a continuing dialogue within the arts community about  artists as shamans. I both agree and disagree with this comparison. We are a culture that by and large has lost its shamans. I do not mean, of course,  to negate the work of  reclamation and innovation contemporary shamans, such as Sandra Ingerman (Soul Retrieval) or her mentor Michael Harner, who have studied universal traditions and evolved  new forms of contemporary shamanism, have contributed to today's world.

Artists have been marginalized and displaced in the contemporary world and seek meaningful identity and purpose in a society that at best patronizes them, and at worst disregards them altogether. How many times have people asked me what I do, and having told them that I am an artist, their response is "What's your real job?". I do not tell a lot of people I am an artist.  Claiming or seeking a meaningful identity as a contemporary Shaman in the arts is entirely understandable. 

Yet it is presumptuous for many artists to call themselves "shamans", thus co-opting a word and a primal practice associated with it that has a very long lineage indeed.

Traditional shamans, while their practices and symbol systems may vary widely, universally have a great deal of structure within which they work - they have cultural and tribal support within traditional systems that go back through many, many generations. They have  systems of "visioning" and healing, ordeals or initiations, rituals, and practices for cyclical auspicious occasions,  and means of psychic protection that have evolved for hundreds of years. They have visible and "invisible support" that provides a strong container within which their responsibilities and experiences are clear, honored, are  often hereditary, and they are generally expected to be mature and richly experienced before they can  begin practicing as shamanic healers. It is not a random, chaotic process at all (although certainly Heyoka or Trickster Shamans have their place in worldwide cultures). 

"In the case of the Sami, my Shaman teacher was trained in her culture for thirty-five years before she could practice hearing on people outside of her extended family. When I pondered this, given the fact that she was born into a prestigious lineage of Shamans and that her talents were obvious when she was a child, I wondered why she had to study for so long before treating those outside of her kin group............My Shaman teacher was not only a healer, but she was also a student of folklore. This is important, because she always insisted that the three principal sources of her shamanic knowledge were Sami folklore (tales, legends, and so forth); teachings from the ancestral lineage-from her father, who was her mentor, and from other ancestral spirits, who spoke to her from the spirit world; and teachings from spirit entities (what we might call "spirit aides" or "power animals."


I was once privileged have a conversation with one of the founders of Eco-feminism,  Gloria Orenstein.**  Dr. Orenstein is a Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at USC in Los Angeles.  In the 80's she became friends with, and worked with,  a hereditary  Sami shaman.

I will  always remember the story she told me about the first time she went to visit her mentors' family in Finland. It was winter, very dark, and they had driven for many miles into the countryside, at last arriving at a house where she was given a room to sleep in. She said that she lay in bed wondering if she was crazy,  coming all the way from Los Angeles in the dead of winter. She tried to sleep but was disturbed by  voices speaking  outside the window. They seemed to be calling for  "Caffe, Caffe".  

In the morning she asked her hosts why people were outside in the freezing  night, asking for coffee!  They responded that this was a very good sign:  it meant she would receive help. It seems that in Sami land, like flowers and food offerings in Bali, or whiskey to the Orishas of Cuba, coffee was an offering acceptable to the spirit world.


'St. George and the Dragon" (1970)

Does the creation of truly visionary art make one a shaman? I do not believe so. However, art process - Flow - can be called shamanic within its healing and revelatory  capacity, the way it can reveal the seamlessness and timelessness  of our inner lives, and the way it can touch collective roots that extend far beyond our individual perception. There is a liminal dimension to the creative process one can hardly fail to notice.

Now in my 70's,  I am interested in the synapses and links as I review my long life. Going over some of my very old drawings, I was amazed to see within them a kind of "code" or touchstone that repeated over and over throughout the years. I  found the drawing above,  for example,  which I did when I was about 18 years of age,  of "St. George and the Dragon". I was copying part of the drawing from some old Masters photos - certainly the "St. George" with the sword was from some painting I must have been looking at.  At 18,  I knew nothing  about feminism, the Goddess,  or much about mythology either, although I had looked at various paintings depicting the slaying of dragons by St. George.

And yet I can read what became my life purpose, like hieroglyphics, in this little drawing, now, from the vantage point of age. 

Here is a divine female figure, which I symbolized with wings, who is naked and full breasted. She is no bound or chaste maiden in need of rescue from a dragon. She seems to have a snake around her waist and in her hand, she is turning away from the Hero, and appears to be falling.  As she falls she is merged with the rather tragic, sympathetic  looking figure of the dragon about to be slain by George (who looks nothing at all like a saint to me.  In fact, he looks kind of like my abusive boyfriend of the time.) This is a classic heroic tale - so why did I make "George" so un-noble?

Behind him is a barren, rocky land, in contrast to the depths below the dragon figure, with vegetation bubbling up from the dark earth, and even  something that looks like a dark moon shape as well.

The meanings I can now draw from these symbols represent many years of study and discussion and ritual and growth and collaboration with colleagues and mentors,  as we became feminists, and as we mutually evolved  Eco-feminism and Goddess theology. I have come to see over the years a new meaning of the myth of St. George and the Dragon:   wherein the "dragons" of the ancient pagan earth religions, and the sacred symbols of the ubiquitous snakes of the Goddess, were banished, slain, re-mythed and de-sacralized in the course of patriarchal religion and culture.

In 1970 Merlin Stone was researching and writing about the banished Goddess  and the development of patriarchal religions (her groundbreaking book When God Was A Woman was published in 1976**).  Around that time Marija Gimbutas was shaking up the archeological world with her vision of the World of the Goddess in prehistory.  But I was not exposed to these ideas until much later. Yet when I was, the work of the Goddess truly became my life work.

The drawing really is a kind of "future memory".
"Skin Shedder Mandala" Lauren Raine (1985)

 *Cameron, Julia:  The Artist's Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,  March 18, 2002, JP Tarcher/Putnam NYNY

**Ornstein, Gloria: "Synchronicity and The Shaman of Sami land" in Uncoiling the Snake:  Ancient Patterns in Contemporary Women's Lives (A Snakepower Reader). Edited by Vicki Noble. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1993

**Stone, Merlin:  When God Was a Woman  265 pages, Hardcover, First published January 1, 1976 Harper & Row, NYNY

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Sixth Extinction: Program by 60 Minutes

I am stunned by how almost all the people I tell about my SHRINE FOR THE LOST: THE SIXTH EXTINCTION (currently on display in Flagstaff) have never heard of the Sixth Extinction.  A vast number of our fellow Beings are vanishing every day.  As they go the complex Ecosystems they are part of become disturbed, then out of balance, and then can begin to fail.  We are a foolish species indeed to imagine that this does not also affect us - that we are not a part of those Ecosystems.  This is one of the most profound tragedies of our time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Telling the World in a Time of Drought: Artists as Myth Makers


An article I wrote shortly after the election of Trump.  Felt like re-visiting it as I continue reflections  on the (endangered) role of the artist in our world, and extending that, the role of all of us as visionaries and story weavers.  

Recently I travelled cross country, joining conversations that always seemed to end with a question. Since many of my friends are artists, and I include writers, performers, ritualists, dancers, storytellers, and a number of shamans in the category as well, the question seemed to come down to “what do we do now?”

How do we, in a time that seems bent on eliminating or diminishing education, free speech, environmental preservation, social ethics, women's rights and possibly even any kind of consensual truth? As practitioners of the arts, increasingly marginalized by society and now "redefined" by AI, how do we find meaningful identity?

My own response is that I believe it’s vital for artists to remember that we are myth makers. Throughout history, artists of all kinds have possessed the imaginal tools to invent and re-invent the myths that were the cultural underpinnings for their time. They have also, from a shamanic stance, often been those who could "walk between the worlds" and return to speak or illustrate what was learned there.   I believe this is a sacred calling. 
Phil Cousineau, author of  Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives (2001) cautioned that if we don’t become aware of both our personal and our cultural myths which “act like gravitational forces on us”  we risk becoming overpowered, overshadowed, and controlled by them. Myths are in many ways the templates of how we compose our societal and personal values, as well as how people organize their religions. As Cousineau commented further, “the stories we tell of ourselves determine who we become, who we are, and what we believe.” 

 “We give our mythic side scant attention these days and so a great deal escapes us and we no longer understand our own actions.  In most cultures, theatre and dance are considered holy rituals, but in the United States, these arts have become strangely secular.”
Leslie  Saxon West,  Choreographer, METAMORPHOSES (The myths of Ovid)
The human mind has a unique ability to abstract. A stone is not always a stone – sometimes it becomes a symbol of something, a manifestation of a deity, or it can also become intentionally invisible, even when it stubs our toes. An interpretation of  God is something that whole nations have lived or died for.  And depending on the aesthetics of a particular culture, foot binding, skull extension, or hair sprayed bouffant hairdos can be experienced as erotic beauty. If the worlds we know are, indeed, experienced through the lens of the stories we tell about them, then how are those stories serving or not serving the crucial time we live in?

          "The World is made of stories, not atoms"
            Muriel Rukeyzer
A renunciate myth of the Earth as  just a "resource" to be exploited, as something "not real", or as a place of sin and suffering to endure until one achieves one's "heavenly reward"...........does not serve the environmental crisis facing a global humanity.  Deeply embedded patriarchal stories that make women lesser  and subservient beings are not only unjust, but also represent an enormous loss to the common well-being of humanity, because they  do not release the vitally needed creative brain power of half the human race. A cultural mythos that celebrates violence and competition, that makes guns a symbol of power,  do not contribute to the nurturance, cooperation,  and sustainability we will need if we are to survive into the future as we confront Climate Change.  Stories of “rugged individualism” may not be as useful in a time when science, sociology, ecology, theology, and even physics are demonstrating that all things are interdependent
  "What is the new mythology to be,  the mythology of this unified earth as of one      harmonious being?"
 Joseph Campbell
So what are the new stories arising that can help us to evolve into a wiser, sustainable world? And further, how can they be brought fully alive in comprehensive ways that have vitality and impact?  This, I affirm again, is the ancient sacred calling of the artist, the poet, the storyteller, the ritualist.  

I remember years ago participating in a week long intensive with the Earth Spirit Community of New England. The event took place in October, in celebration of the closing of the year, the time of  going into the darkness of winter. The closing ritual occurred at twilight. Bearing candles, different groups wove through the woods toward a distant lodge from which the sound of heartbeat drums issued. Slowly the lodge filled, illuminated with candles.
As we sat on the floor, lights gradually went out, we were blindfolded and the drums abruptly stopped. We felt bodies rush by us as hands turned us. The sounds of wind, and half understood voices, someone calling, someone crying, or a bit of music came from all directions. As we lost any sense of direction or time we became uncomfortable, frightened and disoriented. I felt as if I was in a vast chamber, the very halls of Hades, listening to echoing voices of the lost. And when it felt like the formless dark would never stop: silence. And the quiet sound of the heartbeat drum returned, re-connecting us to the heart of the Earth. As blindfolds were removed I found myself in a room warmly illuminated with candles. On a central platform sat a woman enthroned in brilliant white, illuminated with candles and flowers. At her feet were baskets of bread. Slowly we rose, took bread and fruit, and left the  Temple. And as we left, on each side of the entrance, stood a figure in a black cape. Each had a mirror over his or her face – mirror masks, reflecting our own faces. 
Now that was a potent ritual telling of the myth! We had entered mythic space, we had participated together in the Great Round of death and return to the light – and none of us would ever forget it.

People think that stories are shaped by people.


In fact, it’s the other way around.  — Terry Pratchett

I am here suggesting that artists, troubled as my friends and I have been, step away for a while from the complex questions of identity so beloved by the art world, cast aside as well the dismissiveness, even hostility, of the current anti-intellectual environment.  Instead, let us view ourselves as engaged in a sacred profession, "midwives" (that includes men) who are bringing in the new stories, the new myths that are needed now.

We are pollinators of the imagination,  holding  threads in  a great weaving of myth, threads that extend into a time yet to come, and far back into a barely glimpsed past. If as the poet Muriel Rukeyser famously said, “the world is made of stories, not atoms” (Rukeyser, 1978) the only real question for us now is:  What kinds of stories are we weaving?  

Lauren Raine (2017)

Keller, Catherine.  From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and Self,  Beacon Press  (1988)
Baring, Anne.  A New Vision of Reality” from her website
Cousineau, Phil. Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Modern Times,  Conori Press (2001)
The Earthspirit CommunityTwilight Covening (1993)
Rukeyser, Muriel.  The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser McGraw (1978)



by Denise Levertov

We live our lives of human passions,

cruelties, dreams, concepts,

crimes and the exercise of virtue

in and beside a world

devoid of our preoccupations, free

from apprehension—though affected,

certainly, by our actions.

A world parallel to our own though overlapping.

We call it “Nature”; only reluctantly

admitting ourselves to be “Nature” too.

Whenever we lose track of our own obsessions,

our self-concerns, because we drift for a minute,

an hour even, of pure (almost pure)

response to that insouciant life:

cloud, bird, fox, the flow of light, the dancing

pilgrimage of water home to Ocean, 

vast stillness of spellbound ephemerae on a lit windowpane,

animal voices, mineral hum, wind

conversing with rain, ocean with rock, 

stuttering of fire to coal—then something tethered

in us, hobbled like a donkey on its patch

of gnawed grass and thistles, 

breaks free.

No one discovers

just where we’ve been, 

when we’re caught up again

into our own sphere (where we must

return, indeed, to evolve our destinies)

—but we have changed, a little.