Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A Wolfish Yule to Y'all.

Well, after two weeks the headcold has finally packed up its dream-tangle bag and headed back into the tree line.I feel better. Yule is almost upon us. I actually enjoy the december build up, it's the festival itself that can feel a bit of a stretch. The girls have left early for frosty Norfolk, leaving this old bear to work on some literary loose ends and examine some quiet bits of his soul that he hasn't seen for a month or two. Cats for company,great meat from Rodney Cleave butchers, the occasional glass of Shiraz,words to write-it's a good scene.
So no great pearls of wisdom this week,just a wishing of the very best to us all in this time. May all our loneliness wander down to the shed, pull up a chair and drink whisky and play cards with all the lonely bits of other people.May that shed have a wood burning stove, plenty of books, a persian rug and an Irish fiddle player.

Which reminds me: Have you ever heard of Pecker Dunne? Check youtube for footage of this great hunk of Irish Gypsy playing songs of the travelling people.

Just one mythic image to play with. In the not too distant future i will be writing a book with my compadre and fellow mythteller Daniel Deardorff; a large thread to that book is the story 'Ivan and the Grey Wolf'and our accompaning commentary. In it Ivan has to stop riding a Horse and start riding a WOLF-in fact the Wolf kills the Horse. The Horse (in this story) is a image of collected wisdom, caution and preservation; the Wolf offers a thrilling,intelligent, troublesome ride- not offering normal ideas of safety.

What is it like to ride the back of a wolf? Do you remember when your Horse had to die for something new to enter? Let me know.

It feels like wolfish times we're living in-much uncertainty, travelling at speed, never quite sure if the energy we ride isn't going to gobble us up.There are big wolf marks in the economy, but also tremendous possibility-which is partly what the Grey Wolf brings.He also brings a kind of trickster-hope, which is a wild notion.

I'm greatly looking forward to the COYOTE MAN AND THE FOX WOMEN gathering in January,
(see trips to Switzerland and Germany in the new year.For any locals there will be a Steiner Storytelling Festival in Devon last weekend in January that i'll be teaching and telling at.Plenty of U. S. work in the pipeline for spring and summer.I'll be making good trouble with all the american mytho-poets many of you met in the summer, and making new friends.

My Book, A Branch From The Lightning Tree: Wilderness, Myth and the Life Not yet Lived,is practically finished (i thought it was a year ago!). If we can't get a publishing deal sorted by Spring we will do a limited run via the School Press.
More speculation in a week or so,i want to leave with something by Thomas R. Smith, one of our very finest praise Poets-something of a lost art- a very old one.

It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes
So you take your car to the new mechanic
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with a disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers-
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even when
frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

Take care in the frost, walking the lanes and under the blue black night.
Wishing that the storytellers fire stays close this christmas, that you eat loads, carouse,make a bloody fool of yourself and write nimble words to the Moon.

M x

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Promiscuity of Myth,the Emboldenment of Literature

Above is some small evidence that i'm painting again. I thought i'd drop in more of the essay i'm working on (see Boxing with Barthes below for another segment). It's just starting to poke around the ground of myth, storytelling and literature..grab a map,coat, and coffee, its a longish one.

(Side note:knee deep in Heinrich Zimmer at the moment, i would recommend his 'the King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul's Conquest of Evil', especially his defence of the dillettante)

OK, lets have a look

I think that the oral tradition and literature are lively but ultimately complementary bed fellows. They resemble my earlier illustration of the Rhizomic and the Olympian universes’s (jump into Delueze and Guattari for more on the rhizomic);

'The rhizome is a plant root system that grows by accretion rather than any separate or oppositional means. There is no defined center to the structure, it doesn’t relate to any generative model. Each part remains in stems'. (13) Author, Lightning Tree, p 125

The oral tradition has this mischevious spirit, pulling the rug from ‘thou shalt’ every time we think we have the definitive version of a story. Has anyone had the definitive view of a waterfall? Or the red shinned Hawk?

'Coyote’s movement through the worlds is both potent and fractured..he diffuses righteousness, laughs at tribalism, steals fire from the gods and is ever present as circumstance, cultures and weather patterns jostle with the inevitable changes of time. We know that Coyote is a decentralized zone, that his life force exists in the tip of his nose and tail,not the broad central plain. We see he is elusive in texture and not located in geographical location or specific point in history but remains epistemic.Brian Maussmi refers to his footprints as nomadic thought'. (14) author,Ibid, p124.

DIFFERENT MAGICS:Pen as Wand, Voice as Spell.

However, it is almost entirely due to literature that we have these stories at all, so it is an ungenerous and blind alley to attack it too harshly. A tension does arise in the aspiration of both mediums however. Literature has always defined, marked out and emboldend both the author and culture it arises from. In the deliberate assembledge of words an agender appears, an agender that is some how vacumn packed and pristine within the mind of the writer. It raises a story into the air so that its roots dangle self consciously for the mythologist to examine rather than remaining in the tangled understory of its natural habitat.

Of course the issue of ownership arises, the compartmentalising of wild image, the aspiration of empire. We have the strange thought of the upheaval and then preservation of oral stories in the literary tradition of the conquerors. We feel the grief but also a gratitude that we are able to enjoy them at all, even if it feels we are peering through glass.

Myth offers secret histories; the geographical and political developments of a particular region; even when we encounter effectively the same story in a variety of regions, certain moments will rise and fall in emphasis, which offer valuable perspectives on the concerns and desires of that culture, as opposed to their neighbours.

We sense the strongly muscled history of literature losing these inflections; There is only one version of'The Serpent and the Bear', this is its only interpretation. The story now bears the ambition of the writer, often without others in the
communuity who have held the story most of their lives. Stories can get awfully cold when held up in this way.

Living in the air
I was a storyteller a long time before I was a writer or mythologist. Stories have always felt warm and robust; the rule being, rather like cooking, you can add one element to the receipe, nomally something subtle. I never memorise stories like a script, but describe the moving images I see. This rule of possible addition is not something I would apply to great sagas like the Upanishads or Beowulf, but in more local stories and told over time, some strange fiery detail floats up from the unconscious and adds itself to your telling of the story. A storyteller needs something of the loyal, monkish transcriber and the nimble pirate, singing at the moon.

There is an inherent relationship in actually telling the stories that changes your dialogue entirely,the whole affair becomes less precious but more sacred. A triad of possibility opens up between you, the story and the listener that is different to the hermetic intimacy of reading. When you read it is a journey entirely inwards, moved downwards on the winds of the authors ideas blowing the sails of your imagination. Much of the work has already been done; many novels will carry much description of the characters, the authors thoughts distilled to a polished tip of eloquence.

We want silence, some internal stretching, comfort, any number of things.With storytelling the experience is different. For a start it is communal; even if we don’t know the person next to us we are aware of bodies, opinions, mass. The room is full of histories.

I have often told stories on the sides of mountains, by fires, with dogs loping around and cats peering in, in Yurts with rain thrashing the canvas,in lecture theatres, in deserts, by oceans, in deep, bear laden forests, in a Brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Always people, animals, tears, conjecture, animation- the weather of the room won’t allow ‘the one true version’.I’ve told stories to the dying, the rich, world leaders, medicine people and at risk-youth, Pueblo, Welsh, African, Lakota, Tibetan, English, Russian, Mayan, Scottish, Romanian and Irish. No one has ever failed to enter the story or been anything but delighted when they found an element from their own culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve told stories badly plenty of times, but what I do trust is this enherently triadic relationship between the teller, the myth world and the listener. Something happens.

For a start the listener has to work harder, to push further with their imagination. The story will give less descriptive details of the characters, especially when we are in the realm of dieties. So the visual perception of the audience is pronounced, if called upon all know the shade of the wild third daughters hair, the exact part of the chest the spear entered, the colour of Finns tunic. Their eyes may sometimes be closed but they are extremely active. So the story as Coyote ambles through the many cultures present and offers each a glimpse of the living story; one saw the brush of tail, another a flash of teeth, another a row of nipples, another a laughing eye.

In the racous, poingnant and often intense conversing that follows the story it serves as container, better still a cauldron, for all the inner worlds awoken.The myth is unshakled and prowling, wary of the snares of dry analysis but fed by the visioning of the one-night communitas.

The storyteller will be awash with the images that arise from the audience,they are like waves coming back at you, with seaweed rope that comes from the depths of that individual. The ritual question is normally simple; ‘What caught you? Where are you in the story right now? Did you ever pick a thorn from your fathers hand?

This is is no way an attempt to diminish or make entirely personal a story;that is not their sole function, but it is a part. I have never encountered a group that had much problem with the idea that the myths both referred to them and had some elemental life that was entirely their own. The psyche seems to settle into that quickly, and jumps happily between its differing emphasis. So, to clarify:

1. By not learning a story as a script you enable it psychic movement, it is in relationship to the environment, the fire, the audience. It will never be told in quite the same way and is in lively accord with the moment. The moment is not Barthes’s ‘time of sarcasm’, but the eternal ‘once upon, beside and underneath a time’. This invocational quality should not be mere rhetoric but a stepping beyond our normal frame of reference and receptivity.

What you lose in polish you can gain authentic dialogue; and this is something also sensed in the listener-this is not acting. This is ancient image coming of the tongue in a new and sometime uncertain expressions.It is far more connected to the inner life of the storyteller than the cluster of techniques they may have aqquired to hold an audiences attention. The words should feel at home in the atmosphere of the teller, that some integration is present.

At the same time we are looking to feel more than personality: we are looking to see who or what stands behind them. What powers will step into the room?

This all is implicit of receptivity in the storyteller; we sense not a braggard but a limping visionary. The receptivity lives in the story that chose to be told in the first place, the awareness of atmosphere and audience, the openess to the wild insights and emotions of the participants, the honouring of all the men and women who have told this story long before you and will after you.

So we are not impacting a story in concrete, but bearing witness; allowing the wingtips of our imagination to brush the hoofs and cloak of the Otherworld-this is the place of beaches-between the ocean and the soil.

2. Rather than attempting to wrestle a shape on the story let in live in the room. Let it find a wider body in the intesity of the audiences response,their passion or annoyance. The storyteller has every right to offer insights, should indeed be encouraged to do so, but the story needs a larger confluence. In the triad configuration some surprise waits that the story, teller or participant could never have anticipated! This surprise-an observation or insight-is all part of the life preserving aspect of myth, that it is once again living right in the heart of things.

Without these two elements that loosen the grip of control, we risk (as is often the case) word perfect ‘preservations’ of story, with a fixed destination and an uncomfortable sense of excavated ground-like peering into a Pharoahs tomb as the guide shines his flashlight. In this world the storyteller nervously fingers their script as they try not to offend the anthropologists.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


Interesting week; at least half of it spent in a wild, feverish and headachey state.Intense dreams- i met C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther King at various stages,i'm pleased to report they are both in good shape-Lewis especially; he was in a prussian blue short sleeve shirt and says he's teaching on 'sundays'. Try and catch a lecture in the backdoor of your dreams sometime.
Funnily enough, my vacation from lifes steady road came in the middle of deep research for the next section of the year programe, 'Coyote Man and the Fox Woman'-it was a tricksterish descent into new approaches to the stories and ideas about this archaic energy we call Trickster: Raven,Hermes,Eshu,Guizer.Trying to keep to my research schedule while drifting in and out of visionary rupture was most useful-Coyotes paws bashed my slumbering brick of a brain into something a little more lucid.
I don't know if any of you caught the documentary on Joe Strummer on Channel 4 last week. Gotta love the man that he became. Oddly not 'famous Joe', the James Dean of Punk, but the Joe after 10 years without a record deal,out in the wilderness.Sweet,ferocious and musically open. His Coyote carried him away from the dead genericism that Punk had become into whole other strange areas, even though it was Coyote that stole in with Punk in the first place to scare the shit out of everyone.He stole Punk from the Gods (from hell some would say) and brought it to earth, just like he stole fire many thousands of years before.Anything that shakes, alerts or challenges the Status Quo can have a paw print or a raven feather in it.The possibility of new growth.The oldest Trickster stories show the sacrality of the context though-the school bully flushing your head down the toilet is not Trickster-but he could live in what you do with the experience.
So i love Joe for following the spirit rather than form, that's inspirational.I met him when i lived in the woods, only eight weeks before he died-he was low key, kind, funny, gypsy-like, wore biker boots and knew his Lorca-what the fuck else could you want from a man? he was ready to go and freak the gods and goddesses down there in
heaven, playing troubadour african blues to dancing Tibetans drinking Tequila.He had a tequila bar in his house, full of Mexican hats, did i mention that?
So i Love Joe, and loving Joe makes me think of some one else i love, Patti Smith.
The many tusked, moon laden underworld/ overworld beauty that she is. I saw her play in the Villa Borghese in Rome one night.5,000 lunatic Italians in an ancient park, dusk, warm, huge bunches of incense wafting out from the stage,cold beer,massive PA, introducing her with Hendix-VOODOO CHILE.She was, as the hip hoppers say-The Bomb.
I sacrificed an entire Peronni Nastro (best summer beer) to the four winds and became my 11 year old self again, down in that ancient seat of brusing alchemy-the mosh pit.Patti knows so much about Trickster her Tour T-shirts should just have a picture of Reynard the Fox and Emily Dickinson making out whilst riding an Old Truimph bike into the mouth of Allen Ginsberg. Wow. Thats a good image-we should save that for the School.
So, no myth debating this week (see Boxing with Barthes)i'm too high, but i would recommend to track down James Hillmans essay 'Peaks and Vales'-you should be able to find this in 'A Blue Fire: selected writings of...'when you find it you'll know what its about.
I'll finish with something by the Prose Poet Louis Jenkins. A great, gnarly, troubled american who dissaproves any transport but feet.

The best anyone can say about you is that you are a disappointment. We had higher expectations of you.We had hoped that you would finish your schooling.We had hoped that you would have kept your job at the plant. We had hoped you would have been a better son and a better father. We hoped and fully expected you would have finished reading Moby Dick. I wish that when i am talking to you, you would at least raise your head off the table and look at me. There are people who, without your gifts, have accomplished so much in this life. I am truly disappointed. Your parents, your wife and children, your entire family, in fact, everyone you know is dissapointed, deeply disappointed.

Sheesh, Jenkins. Do NOT let him babysit your kids.

Well this little flurry of consciousness has made me realise that Pan is still coursing my blood stream: i must take my swan feather cloak and await his shaggy instruction.

M x