Thursday, 31 December 2009

WAITING AT THE DOOR TO THE MYTH-WORLD

The last,wintery, hours of 2009 hang over Tregonning House, and my rather sniffly, gaze peers out at the slate grey sky. I say sniffly, actually it feels like the rarely spotted, burgandy dappled Algerian cough gargoyle has taken up residence in my chest. I'm not 100% i must admit. Several episodes of 'Northern Exposure' later i feel well enough to stroll the soulful corridors of our house, picking books off shelves and watching the pages swim before my hot eyelashes.

So, books. I would like to recommend some-especially for those looking for some theoretical muscle around the myth-world. They are tough at times, but basically quite readable. Its so important to read if you possibly can. These books all benefit from underlining and note-taking.


So, in no particular order:

SACRED NARRATIVE: Readings in the Theory of Myth edit. Alan Dundes, University of California Press.

MASKS,TRANSFORMATION,AND PARADOX
A. David Napier, University of California Press.

THE FLUTES OF DIONYSUS: Daemonic Enthrallment in Literature R.D. Stock, University of Nebraska Press.

MYTHS OF THE DOG MAN David Gordon White, University of Chicago Press.

MYTHOGRAPHY: The Study of Myths and Rituals William G. Doty, University of Alabama Press.

Favourite poetry books are no contest:

WHAT NARCISSISM MEANS TO ME Tony Hoagland, Grey Wolf Press
NORTH OF THE CITIES Louis Jenkins, Will O' The Wisp Books.

None of these books came out in 2009 or even close-but i recommend tracking them down.Time ain't no straight line.

For any second year myth students i would say these are essential texts-we will be referring to them in the next two gatherings.

My own literary irons are in the field this Christmas (view last few blogs for excerpts), but i feel in to befuddled a state to offer any more fiendish speculation.
I have loved this year: the friends made, the many thousands of miles traveled, the conferences, camps, woodsmoke and poetry, the mad howls of emerging Deer Maidens and Piratical Wolf Singers. Love to all at the Westcountry School of Myth, Great Mother Conference,Minnesota Mens Conference,
UK Wilderness guides council, All at Mythsinger (Washington State),the Block Island powerhouses, Brooklyn Myth-Cats Erin and Nick, Carolyn Casey, David Darling, Lisa Starr, brother Coleman and all the many beloveds wandering the hidden tracks of this world-may you have warm moccasins and plenty of soul-vittals in your hunters bag.
Hey, Santa got me some Lagavulin, vintage Levi shirt and a Chess set to name but three. A final reminder that the 'ROAD OF SOLITUDE, ROAD OF VOICE'is NEXT weekend (just over a week) so get in touch today to confirm attendance.
martin@schoolofmyth.com

See you down the road in 2010!

Martin

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The wintery steps inward

Well, it's officially cold. Totnes market was warm at first but WAY too many people, it was like a mini-Glastonbury at times. Still, a spot of freezing drizzle cooled the collective ardor and people soon scattered into the surrounding ditches, brothels and prisons and palaces they normally abide in. Chips on the way home and chauffeur to a car of many twinkled-eye kids.

I am deliberately not thinking about 2010 much as if it is busy as i think it is going to be i would be best off getting some form of rest when i can. Very pleased to be teaching alongside LEWIS HYDE of 'the Gift' and 'Trickster Makes This World' fame at Robert Bly's Great Mother Conference first week in June, over at Maine, U. S. You have just got to get to this conference-the folks who go i carry with me like some anarchic, invisible army of supportive hooligans of all that is truly beautiful. Tear open the piggy-bank and GO.

I'm bringing over stories of the Celtic ecstatic Taliesin and the fact that all countries, underneath the soil,arrowheads, crustations, memories and roots are secretly ANIMALS that require certain coaxing songs to be sung to their limbs and earthy veins before any eco-treaties can fully work. and i know Coleman Barks has some great medieval Welsh translations he could be encouraged to read with just a murmur of encouragement. Caroline Casey will be wrenching befuddlement
from the jaws of slumber and turning it into intensely coloured arrows of whiskery beauty which flies from the tigerish bow of all true and mischievous souls. Phew.

The deepest gift though is the assembled tribe-every conversation is some kind of learning curve of love.

I will be making a big 1-2 month trip over to the states from then onwards (with family)that will certainly take in both coasts and Minnesota. If you know of wonderful spots that might suit the work let me know as i'm putting the plans on the table right now.

Well, i should start wishing us all a merry christmas. Waitrose are doing Lagavulin whisky on special at £33 per bottle rather than £40 so jump-spend the money-its God's own cough medicine. All bottles ecstatically received at Tregonning House.
I wish us all cosy glows and slap and tickle and beautiful old hymnals of shepherds and the moon and the boy with the scent of hay. Stay up late and look for Pan and his piping at the gates of Dawn on Christmas day. I think him and JC are better friends than many of us suspect.

I am saluting the life of RUMI with Sufi mystic Reshad Feild over at St. Johns Church, Bridetown, Totnes at 7.30 on Thurs 17th Dec-its free-love to see you there.


So bless you into the new year and the life you are meant to have. Its wonderful to know that people actually read these animistic mutterings.

I will leave you with something from the poet Bhartrihari

let's discount envy to start with
You high minded men, tell me what
you think. What is best: the sloping
sides of hermit mountain
or the sloping thighs
of a woman fond of lovemaking?

Slange! x

Monday, 7 December 2009

Men at the Edge of the Village:GINSBERG, SNYDER, BLY.

A CULTURE OF WILDNESS

here is a brief segment from this current essay, that in many regards follows on from last weeks section.I would read that section first for this to make some coherance (scroll below). As they gather in Copehagen for the eco- summit this is a belief that something like the below is needed in all these frantic polemics. I am still tinkering with it, so this will only be up for a day or two before i drag the words back into the tool shed and bring out the poetic spark-plugs. Thrashing rain outside here, everyone ill or about to be-Onwards! screamed the Khan.


A Culture of Wildness

Culture…had meant, primarily, ‘the tending of natural growth’, and then, by analogy,a process of human training. But this latter use, which had usually been a culture of something, was changed, in the nineteenth century, to culture as such, a thing in itself.
(12) Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, (The Hogarth Press, 1958) p.xvi

I think that the chymeric posture of the ancient storyteller offered a contribution to William’s ‘tending of natural growth’, in fact amplifies the sense of ‘culture’ past more contemporary anthropocentric connotations, offering a perception that includes the wild-nature, visions, ecstacies, contact with the spirits of whales, owls and the antelope. Initiation rites, which have diminished widely since the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, were an attempt at a culture of wildness.I think that Williams assessment of the current associations of the word ‘culture’ connotes grave damage.

I suggest a reassessment of what constitutes culture is necessary, and the return to the use of a culture ‘of’…its current, rather monolithic status, in the face of ecological issues, appears shaky to say the least. This assumption of culture or wildness (wildness is not chaos), has created a legacy we see daily writ large all around us.

An association of the etymology of the word ‘culture’ is colere, which means ‘to till’ (13). To till is to dig, to sweat, to make contact with the texture of soil, root, and worm; it is a move downwards, towards the subterranean. Its seeks relationship to the information of earth- through a certain labour and discipline- that ultimately flourishes into clear wine for the wider community.

Imaginative Health and the Language of Injury

This broadened perception is also crucial for the health of the imagination: it creates a conduit for un-prescripted image to carry the myth of a person, community or country forward and into uncertain futures, rather than caught in the petrified symbology of the entirely consensual. The stories are again in movement.A desire to return to childhood is often really a desire to be connected again to a free-ranging imagination (the reality of such a return would be untenable to most.) A culture of wildness would seek to engender that associative, curious consciousness in an adult, rather than a regression to childhood. To be child-like in this regard, rather than child-ish.

It is this very capacity that enables us to revision the transgressions and triumphs of our lives, to mythologize our pathologies. This is all symptomatic of the imagination in full health, rather than anchored to a tiny set of ingrained symbolic references. Oddly, it is often a descent from physical lustre that creates that very imagistic freedom-Andre Gide says that illness opens doors to a reality which remains closed to the healthy point of view.

So this re-seeing deepens perception, encourages metaphor and includes attention to marginalised, abandoned, bizarre, troublesome, absurd mythic impulses that arise without permission. When the orchestrated crisis of initiation is abandoned, we are more likely to encounter such heretical visions in the throws of illness than the brightly lit lecture hall. As the discredited, shocking image-language shuffles forward we create accord again with the wisdom of stagnant pools, roadkill and the shovel of the gravedigger. We allow the propulsions of unbidded vision to be accommodated within the wider remit of ‘knowledge’. This propulsion offers linguistic health too; this essay claims that there is a significant passivity in much contemporary language, a disappearance of vital, thoughtful words that match the fast decline of certain animals, forests and stretches of wilderness. I would suggest that words are quietly disappearing from dictionaries daily.

A culture of wildness is accommodating of these rough but subtle images. It does not seek to stagnate but to stay true to its essential mythic promiscuity. If there is no move to the margins, no complicated assignation of rationality and intuition, then myth cannot truly exist.

The etymology of the word ‘wild’ includes associations of ‘astray, bewildered, confused’ which indicates its very genius lies next to vulnerability and the bereft. It is a culture of inclusiveness, and suddenly the Gods are everywhere; implicit in conversation, symptoms of illness, fetish, relationship-we start to possess a vision-language of the deity that stands behind the impulse.This perception is polytheistic , un-literal, and connected to imagination more than belief, at least in its concrete sense.

To function in their deepest vocation, the storyteller must stand in the burning ground of prophetic image, a scarecrow of words, pushed by invisible winds.

As even governments crane their heads towards those very winds, as nations bend once more to strategize some form of ecological recovery, it is this very position of illumination through descent, and openess to what the metaphors as well as the literalness of crisis is informing us with, that suggests a holistic response to our nefarious challenges.

The storyteller in all of us needs to till dark earth, to wander into bewilderment, to allow the cracks of sacred hallucination to broker new images of transformation and dialogue. ‘Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry’ wrote Auden of Yeats. Agender and assignation are only half the task; how do we discern the myth-language being spoken through the depleted ice cap and fatigued bee?

The tangled picture of a statistic needs the balance of imagistic vision for the souls intelligence to be truly roused.

Myth, not history, tells the true story of human identity.

(15) N. J. Giradot, Myth and Meaning in early Taoism; The Themes of Chaos,(University of California, 1983)p.165

Monday, 30 November 2009

TRICKSTER BRINGS FIRE THROUGH SHEETS OF RAIN

What a weekend! a soul combusting, mytho-poetic rampage through the underside of our deeper imaginings-and with a soundtrack!-thanks to Wildcat Dave, Jonny, Christine and others that turned up with sizzling music in frothing mugs of guts and humour. I'm not sure how attractive that actually sounds, but trust me, it was great.
I am referring, of course, to our 'COYOTE MAN AND THE FOX WOMAN' weekend, just past.

The School of Myth Christmas bash/tribal gathering is on Sat 12th Dec up a Tree on Dartmoor (thats not a metaphor), If you are coming write today as places are really limited, being a tree and all.

here's some thoughts on storytelling. The general gist is a push towards an awareness of the deeper undertows possible in myth-telling. That myth is not confined in clipped translations, the ailing memory of a teller, or content to exist as only entertainment. It is not to denegrate the many other textures and approaches to storytelling, but to lay some libation at the feet of the folk i respect-from Wallace Black Elk, to Marion Woodman, to Daniel Deardorff. It pushes story as potentially more than a 'tale well spun' into some great tree growing from the soul of the world. And on that rather overblown note, i will wish you good night.

##It also looks back at the Cunning Man or Woman; an old european term for medicine men or women who used story as a device for psychic healing.


Varients of Teller


"Broadly speaking, in all post-hunter-gatherer cultures, two distinct storytelling traditions have always existed side by side: parallel yet mutually supportive. The first has become known as the ‘fireside’tradition and the second, the ‘professional’ tradition. The fireside tradition refers to the unpaid, informal social telling of tales in the home, in the pub, as a hobby and to shorten the road. This tradition is ‘amateur’ in the original, non-judgemental sense of the word – i.e. it is done with an enthusiasm born of love. It could also be called the folk tradition.

In Europe the professional tradition once had formal titles associated with it, such as Bard, Scop, Skald, Trouvere, Minnesinger, etc. To this day,beyond the borders of Europe (and outside of the Eurocentric ‘box’),terms such as Ashik, Akyn and Griot come into play. This tradition refers to the telling of tales in formal contexts, by (trained) professional artists: entertainers and orators, who receive financial remuneration for their expertise, repertoire and the conscious skill of their craft." Ben Haggerty 14

We see from the storyteller Ben Haggarty a useful discernment between strands of the art form, that distinctions can and should be made. I would suggest that there is a third element that can be present in both traditions that is to do with the interiority of the practice, the animistic tradition of the storyteller, a position far more complex than something defined by financial gain or professional standing. The above description is an informed clarifier, but loses some magical connotation. This emphasis is referring story back to its oldest origins; its relationship to Shamanism.
Haggerty’s associations are valid, and to build on them I would have to suggest a more porous, Tricksterish quality to the Storyteller: to allow the medium of Soul-Teacher into its description.

Stories in their earliest form were vehicles to express localised cosmologies, but also touched beyond the limits of tribal life, and in doing so, created a connection between wider perceptions of community, a community that incorporated nature and certain intense, spiritual energies that abided in it. Folk-lore was a mediation between shared, societal values and electrifying and often very strange information accessed through initiation rites and solitude in the forests, deserts and tundra. The storyteller held that information, and passed knowledge of herbalism, dreams and ritual through the images contained.

With the breakdown of cohesive rites-of-passage, this prophetic connotation has largely left our associations of storytelling. If the teller has not been exposed to the velocity, or even concept of this function, then how could they honestly embody it?

I would wish to mention at this point that the forest and tundra explorations I mentioned (in the twenty first century) could also be seen as profound knowledge of the tangles of ones own psyche, and not entirely literalised. The great psychologist Marion Woodman is an eminent example of this kind of carrier of story.
But still, something lurks out there on the tundra that is nothing to do with our intellect or emotional life, that still seeks relationship. With the climate challenges we face, what could be more important then restablishing that dialogue?
Wild image carries hope, genius and healing in a way statistics never will.

Men and Women of this resonance have the ability to walk between feasting hall and campfire, indeed embody the quality of the Seanchai. I think that the few that are awake in this way are the ones that deserve distinction, far more than whether you sit by a fire or prowl a theatre set ‘projecting one presence’, those are merely gear-changes; the real barometer is the level of interior relationship to the images invoked in the air. Repertoire and location are secondary functions.

The Pastoral and the Prophetic


Without this push to the edge of our understanding, the storyteller merely recites the pastoral; tales over-polished to assure and titillate the human community, lacking a Blake-ian edge to allow the truly visionary to push at the boundaries. The pastoral offers a salve, an affirmation of old, shared values, a reiteration of the power of the herd. The prophetic almost always brings some conflict with it- it disarms, awakens, challenges and deepens. It is far less to do with ‘enchantment’ and much more to do with ‘waking up’.
The prophetic engages the intelligence of the adult, is suffused in paradox, carries perceptive weight from unusual angles, is not designed to reassure. The prophetic is rarely the guest at the children’s birthday party, but by its very nature moves swiftly from group to group. Communities rarely grow around its rain soaked words. It is not designed purely for stability, but for growth. It seeks not to destroy old forms for the sake of it, but rather to reanimate their propensity for holy thought. In this regard, Trickster is truly its totem.
When the emphasis is too pastoral, otherness is not touched, and myth becomes merely a defensive cluster of societal anecdotes. To allow precedent for the anthropocentric is to deny the contrary tensions of the truly bardic. This very crossroads is the highest gift that story can offer, and implicit in its performance is incantation, a kind of efficacious opening, something only possible by an interior awakening in the myth-teller. One could argue it is the difference between a craft and an art.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

INITIATION IS A BUSH OF GHOSTS

Just back from a week in windy Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and lovely it was too.

Books currently reading are: TIMES ALONE: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, OWLS: Their Natural and Unnatural History-John Sparks and Tony Soper,THE GOLDEN TREASURY OF ENGLISH SONGS AND LYRICS-Francis Turner Plagrave, TALIESIN: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland-John Matthews.

I recommend earlier work by John Matthews, although i don't enjoy his conveyor belt of Arthurian books (over 90!) thrashing the last pennies out of an exhausted market. You can trust his scholarship and his steady writing. Not many animals living in the ink, but a reliable resource.

I recommend Coleman Barks newish book of poems, 'Scrapwood Man' for some great new translations of Medieval Welsh Poems, some of which you probably know well. Freeing birds from their cages as usual.

I am adding a look at three stages of initiation today-what follows is a slightly amplified version of certain points in 'Lightning Tree'-so you may have read a varient here before. I apologise if it is depressing reading, in the next few weeks i will add a succession of additions that lift the picture somewhat! if you are already conversant with these thoughts please skip- but i'm still getting alot of letters asking about the below:

STAGES OF INITIATION AND ITS CURRENT FORMS

SEVERANCE: In western culture we are actually experiencing an addiction to severance. We sever from relationships, jobs, friendships, towns, ideas about our societal identity. What was once seen as reassuring permanence can often been seen as potential stagnation. The once heavily ritualised act now seems an oddly contemporary form of dislocation, almost familiar, accepted.
Whether an at-risk youth or CEO, this stage has often created less distress than anticipated. Whilst loss of status still appears to disarm, the process of walking away from the established has often appeared less dramatic then one might assume. At first.
In everyday society, the genuine grief attached to severance can be deflected in many ways; in a bottle, new relationship, application for job, keeping those eyes firmly fixed on a new horizon. When we think of attention deficit disorder we see an illustration of this fractured nature, an inability to sustain long, unbroken, committed concentration.
However, when you experience Severance in the context of a rite-of-passage, this deflection is not encouraged. Even in the days before the wilderness fast, an initiate would sit fully in the emotional impact of having left the familiar-to have actually ‘died’ to a former stage. The common thread between participants is actually a tangible grief that, a grief that is often curtailed or suppressed in their everyday life. At this stage there is often a desire to make ‘right’ some element of their life that had ignored. Often letters are written (even on the side of a mountain), and sent to an ex-lover or employer, teacher, friend or enemy. So a rite-of-passage such as a Vision Quest involves a ‘dropping down’ into emotional terrain connected to severance that generally society is uncomfortable with: ‘pull yourself together!’.
The dazzling speed in which information is now presented to us engenders this sense of rapid movement . The days of watching a band develop of several albums or even decades is usually over; we are deluged by wave after wave of new contenders eager to grab our attention. There is little to be loyal to, except the alter of progress.
So culturally our experience of Severance is radically different to how it was one hundred and fifty years ago. You will not be ostracized till death; it is now generally financially possible to dwell in a very contemporary form of isolation. This is not a luddite cry for a return to tribe mind, but awareness of the darker side of the search for individuation. When there seems to be so little to hold on to, when religion has collapsed or frozen into fundamentalism, when previous generations are viewed with suspicion, when our main point of reference is our peer group, then there seems to be little incentive to stay with anything for long. So fundamentally the shock of Severance is gone-for many it has become habitual.

THRESHOLD: Practical experience of this process has shown that it is still possible to have a profound opening in nature; relationship to tribe or so-called primitive societies are not essential for this part of the process. Any individual, deprived of certain staples and put into a ritually held disorientation, can open up to the time honoured fruits of the experience. With Vision Quests, the focus is not on cultural costume or mythic inflation but a whittling away, a search for a certain ‘core’ of you. It is kept empty of any ethnic affectations, but seeks some universal ground of being that is ageless.
At some point in this period of liminality, perceptions of community are radically expanded; personal mirrors are held in moss and rock formations as well as the family and marketplace. The experience of separation from earth diminishes, it has information for you, you are related. This has huge implications in an era of climate change and global warming. It is from the edge of things that wisdom originates-the hope is that the edges of our imagination are porous enough for such dialogue to take place.
So this part of the process seems possible, viable, even crucial for re-negotiating (or re-membering) our relationship to wild nature. The emphasis has to be on the core spiritual and psychological opening initiation offers, rather than a self conscious aping of cultural costume.

RETURN: Hostility and Indifference. That most crucial of stages-the need for blessing and witnessing. In a related move to the addiction to severance, the return ‘home’ is more hazardess and fraught with peril than the movement into wilderness. There is rarely a long term container of support for the returning initiate. By definition, they have gone where the community held back, therefore they return carrying an ‘otherness’. When the ceremony is taken out of the context of a wider cycle of community what happens? The potentency remains but the whole process shifts emphasis. The fragility of vision is in a process of stages-it needs protection and nurture. No matter the ephinany on the mountain, without profound support the chance of it withering on the vine are high.
So another reversal. No dancing elders but a society often indifferent or actively hostile to your experience. In initiation, the Return is not an afterthought, a full stop tacked on the end of the adventure, it is crucial. ‘Live the Vision so the People can See’. The initiate represents a process at odds with their culture.

In the 21st century, the greatest stage of disorientation is not the Threshold but the Return.

The seeds of this are sewn with our resolve to sever, our distance from grief and our love of the ascendant. Initiation is a process dependent on grief and focus’s on a de-cent, a pulling away, a going down. When we refuse to go down, we run the risk of anaesthetising ourselves. Cultural anaesthetics could be described as engendering a subtle trance, and so the shining and uncertain face of the returning initiate carries a kind of beauty that society is trying to defend itself from- the implications are simply too challenging.
Over a decade of both living through and witnessing this process in others, I have gradually refocused my perception of it. The attention, if rites-of-passage are to continue, surely has to be on the establishing of a coherent community to return and blossom in, even if they don’t live in the immediate geography. My concern is not whether we can ‘create’ an experience that feels authentic enough to facilitate real change, I believe we can, it is the acknowledgement that the process continues and changes shape on the return.

This is not ‘after-care’, we are still fully in the experience-what we need is support and tools.

Tools? The ability to incubate and create some expression that animates the journey we are on, that is of use to others. That often involves amplifying the fragility of that relationship to the earth, to animals, to weather.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

THE SCHOOL TAVERN: Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home

The first hints of winter are moving through Ashburton, and the need for rest, incubation, nourishment, hot baths,lamb shank-all the good stuff. Here's what i imagine is the final of that Pig Poem i have been working on for the Pig Poetry anthology (out spring 2010). Its language is cramped and strange, but what else is new?


THE BRINY TUSK
(for the Boar and the Gut)

The briny tusk doesn't live on plates!
It curls its legacy around
Its fur-bellied apostle
My gut
That powerjut of defiance
Taunting the mirror
But oddly joyful

The high squeal and lust-salt of its flesh
Belong to the rain soaked God of the Greeks,
Y'know that one, clutching his grapes and leopard,
Born from the thigh of the Thunderbolt.
So the pig is rich in rank, rutting the Olympians,
causing voracious nibbles at English fayres.

And he's low, an erotic rustle through dark grass,
A preacher waving a gun,
A midnight reprieve from a vegan jail,
his flesh stiff leather round our all-to-tender bones.

They tell us to eat it is to play with death,
To jump three steps towards the slippery curb,
A throbbing stumble to indecent joys, snuffling ankles,
and Sundays counting the hard cards of grief.

Wonderful! Where do I sign?

A pig killed an Irish hero
Made sails of his guts
And rode him out into the ebony curls
of an irritable splendour and a foamy repentance.

See? He is tusking my words even now.

So this is no wastrel's flab on me
but a sash of devotion
to the horny, swagger-toothed,
curl-pricked genius of
the fecundant woods.

Other than teaching at the school i will be on a writing sabbatical mostly now till June 2010 when i re-emerge for Robert Bly's Great Mother Conference in New England and a fairly extensive U.S. trip. It's been a very 'out in the world' year, and the need for soul-time- the study, the moors, writing, music,is fairly clamouring at my heart. The great birds of winter are sealing off the tracks to the market place and leading me back to the seeds and dark earth-to incubate and recharge. Delight, delight.There is a book to be written, and the completion of an 120,000 wrd essay five years in the making.

Anyone seen the movie 'The Proposition'? Nick Cave was involved. Up my alley and no mistake-although yet to see the ending-i regret to admit my little lashes flutter downwards after midnight at the moment.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Ecstatic Hooligans invade Totnes!

CONFERENCE PROVIDES MUDDY GOLD

Well last weekend there were reports that even Dartmoor Rowan Trees inched forward in the soil half a foot to catch a poem or two from Coleman and Lisa, the wind itself curled around St. Lawrences chapel to catch the refrain of David's cello. Several hundred souls joined us at various points of the weekend to make the very first Westcountry School of Myth and Story conference a heart-busting, soul leapin' success!

Even the Totnes Times described 'Colemans hypnotic drawl..just loving the words of Rumi..David Darlings dexterity..the delicacy of Lisa Starrs poems and the splendid tales of Martin Shaw'.

We had the rare luxury of two days time together before the conference. Whisky was uncorked, steak and stilton pie was consumed in the Rugglestone Inn in deepest Dartmoor. Once the armwrestling, tattoing and bardic battles subsided, we even slept a little, in a mythopoetic heap under a sympathetic Hawthorn bush. They are a great caravan of inspiration to travel with, and i suspect this is only the beginning. If you'd like to see us in your town then send beguiling love messages, used £10 notes and a game plan to martin@schoolofmyth.com .

So, a big thank you to all swaggering Magpie Queens and Punch-drunk Hermits that rolled through our doors. See you on the Year course! I also want to call attention to a wonderful new retreat centre on the Moor, BONE HILL HOUSE

http://www.living-spirit.co.uk

more information abides at the above website. Not only did it provide nuturing and restful accomodation for Coleman, David and Lisa, its doors are open for facinating retreats and personal journeys of many kinds. The views are staggering, food wonderful, with hosts like something from the old stories (no, not Baba Yaga). A very exciting find-great allies of the School of Myth.

Jay Leeming is at St lawrences chapel this saturday-7.30 £4, with me and Chris Salisbury telling stories at Embercombe this Friday from 8.00pm.

http://www.embercombe.co.uk/

I'll leave you with one of Jay's-see you at the front on Saturday night. Must rest now.....
M x

Rowboat

An oar is a paddle with a home. This arrangement seems awkward at first, as if it were wrong; the wood knocks in the oarlock, and would much rather be a church steeple, or the propeller of an old airplane in France. Yet as it bites deep into the wave it settles down, deciding that the axe and the carpenter were right. And you, too, are supposed to be sitting this way, back turned to what you want, watching your history unravel across the waves as your legs brush against the gunnels. Your feet are restless, wanting to be more involved. But your back is what gets you there, closer to what finally surprises you from behind: waves lapping at the shore, the soft nuzzle of sand.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

YEATS WAS A WYLD MONGREL ROVER

Well, it's a late October morning. My favourite month, partially because it's my birthday month, but also because of the sharp but moist air, the sash of orange and brown the trees parade, and the general move downwards-to dens, slumber, introspection, dreams and little sips of 16yr old Lagavulin single malt-gods own tipple.
I pick up wild eyed Coleman Barks and tribe from the station later today, and we begin five days of wanderings in the shimmer-groves of archaic story, music and poetry. Are you coming? Surely, surely-the details are below, although i think we are looking like a sell out for Ashburton, so run quick.

Happy Celtic New Year approaching and Juicy Samhain boogy too!


CONFERENCE TIMES & DATES
Totnes Civic Hall, Fri 30th Oct, 7.30pm. (evening ticket, £10 in advance from Arcturus bookshop, £12 on door)
St. Lawrences Chapel, Ashburton, Sat 31st Oct, 10-10pm. (evening ticket £10 on door)

For conference ticket holders (£100) -all above is included. For individual
evening ticket holders, both events begin at 7.30pm.

So below is just a little fragment from the big essay that had a section i posted a couple of weeks back. It will, in the end, be whittled into a very different shape, but here's something 'in the raw' as they say. Right, better roast some more Wild Boar and procure more Scrumpy for my southern guest. That Blake (2) quote is
important to me-if it wasn't for that experience i wouldn't have ever started engaging in this kind of work.

Storyteller as Cunning Woman or Heretical Pony in Service to Great Showers of Earthy Beauty



The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities.
Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which
God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.”

(1) Jose Ortega y Gasset

I write when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have written
I see words flying about the room in all directions.

(2) William Blake, Ibid, p.21

Metaphor is always a linguistic turn of the head. Done well it provides a form of relief. Some green shape soars overhead and for a second the literalist in us scrambles for breath, a delicious martial blow to the heart winds us. But winds bring associations; seeds, dust, the tang of the ocean. Metaphor is a way of allowing fresh air into the page or room or conversation.In the terminology of this essay it is ‘forest language’; unwieldy sometimes, noisy, tangled, but offers dialogue with deep waters. But it also longs for its dancing partner of discernment, logos, to help affirm and hone its shape.
Something happens in the movement from similie to metaphor. When someone is no longer ‘like’ a troubled Lion but IS a troubled Lion, some kind of un-truth is rolled back , the imagistic power is clearer, truer. In the inclusive universe of metaphor could there also be a desire to reach out to certain sensed energies at the edge of our vision?; that by offering associative incantation we
attempt an accord with the occult, the river beneath the river. Is metaphors inclusiveness a kind of nervous twitch towards attempted control of ungovernable beings?

Art, no matter how minimalist, is never simply design. It is a ritualistic
reordering of reality. The enterprise of art, in a stable collective era
or an unsettled individualistic one, is inspired by anxiety. Every subject
localised and honoured by art is endangered by its opposite. Art is a
shutting in in order to shut out. Art is a ritualistic binding of the
perpetual motion machine that is nature….Contemplation is a magical
act.

(3) Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily
Dickinson, Penguin, 1990, p.29

In this light, myth-telling becomes a warding off, an attempt to define
community agendas, to designate dance steps to all our shaggy fears. Are gatherings like the one in the Minnesota woods (ref to Minnesota Mens Conference) a collective attempt to shape a place for the unwieldy machinations of our terror-spots? Are
we merely (as tellers) reassuring the crowd, standing sentry duty at the edge of the village?

I think Paglia is partially correct, but what she misses is the ecstatic, the leap,the joyous quality in arts propulsive mutterings. She lingers too long in paranoia. Art is not always an attempt to neuter nature, but sometimes an offering honestly given. The assumption also that Art is somehow devoid of impulses from the wild is artificial also, it’s not simply one-way traffic.

The Cunning Man or Woman does not go into the wild to dictate terms, but to hold the efficacy of the tribe in dialogue with the majestic and troubling mirror of the living world. Levels of surrender are paramount to the experience. Whilst holding certain truths, in this instance Paglia still feels too anthropocentric. Blakes’s being ‘commanded by the spirits’ hardly indicates dominion.

This is not to deny the libational quality of the experience, but also to re-emphasise the un-scripted process described in chapter one. As tellers we are not trying to unduly wrestle a shape onto the moment but to stay honestly curious to the vaguries of the stories movement through the hut, psyche and community. We don’t seek a homegenized picture, but many image-centres opening in the body, jostling for position.

As Yeats’ says;

A symbol is a metaphor which does not have a restrictive first term and
which consequently has an indefinite number of meanings.

(4) W.B. Yeats, Poet as Mythmaker, Morton Irving Seiden , Michigan State University Press, 1962, p 4.

It is also vital to re-emphasise the element of impurity in the process. This isn’t an aspiration towards some imagined ‘right way of doing things’, a Saturnian return to some by-gone era. It is wrong to start hacking away completely at the street-savvy 21st century individual you also carry with you. The point is that’s it’s not all you are. The Peur and the Senex find a troublesome accord in the mythworld. The Peur carries the ambitious leaps of the imagination, the Senex is activated by both the connection to history and the repetitive quality of storytelling. Too much Senex and the story feels prescriptive, too much Peur and there is no archetypal resonance.
So as tellers we are mongrels, anti the pure-strain, beset with contradiction.

Yet Yeats’ poems are not in the strictest sense true to their ancient
prototypes. If he was primarily an Irish poet, he was also an author
writing in English and studying and being influenced by the masters
of English literature. The country of his birth may have given to his
muse her loveliest robes and the pedestal on which she stood; but
the jewels she wore came from across the Irish Sea. When he grew
past middle age, Yeats gave her a crown of flowers, the leaves and petals
of which he had gathered in the gardens of Europe and the Orient. His
muse was Irish but his pose was international.
(5) Morton Irving Seiden, Ibid, p.7

Monday, 12 October 2009

THE FIREBIRD FLIES AGAIN: School of Myth opens its doors

As i sit in the brilliant light of a crisp October afternoon, i find myself reflecting on the weekend just gone. Yes, last friday, despite the recession and doom-mongers, the Westcountry School of Myth and Story was proud to open its doors to a new influx of students: some having travelled over 6,000 miles to get there, or endured 15 hrs on a Bus, weaving slowy into the mythic pulses of the Westcountries many lanes. Intense it was too-with images pouring from the tongue-firebirds over forests, bears playing with golden wreaths, nights in hollow trees, encountering Baba Yaga and meeting a Maiden of the Flowers. We ate well, wandered lush valleys in light rain, gathered round a brightening fire, laughed alot, wept some. Souls were watered, brains exercised!

We still have a few openings for 'Coyote Man and the Fox Woman'our next weekend at the end of November. Support the school and get in touch TODAY.01364 653723

I am dropping in a piece i pasted up just under a year ago. It simply talks about the paradox of story TELLING and WRITING and suggests they make a kind of interesting crossroads. Forgive the quoting from my own book (oh, the vanity), it comes from a larger essay; 'Metaphor as Magical Practice', of which the book is connected.

So cheers! huzzar! slainge! to the new year and wild students crowding the fire again, and an equal mozzletof! to the YEAR 2 students when we meet this friday up on the moors. Can't wait. Mx

The Promiscuity of Myth,the Emboldenment of Literature

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, poignant 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, 15 September 2009

NEW YORK EVENT!! MYTHS IN THE BIG APPLE

OK folks check out the details below! we are promising a true feast of linguistic sparkle and archaic eloquence as we move into the equinox time-the fires are hot, the poetry gathered, the night sky consulted-lets make this a night of 1000 stars! NOT TO BE MISSED!!!!!



pertinent info:

Wolf & Bear Traveling Medicine Show
Autumnal Equinox MythoPoetic Storytelling

Tuesday, September 22 7:30 PM

HERE Arts Center
145 6th Ave (enter on Dominick, 1 block south of Spring)

Tickets & Information @ www.coyotenetworknews.com

Box Office: 212.352.3101



see you there!

Martin (on the road in the U. S.-(fresh from eating roasted Elk for the first time)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

WOLF-BEAR MEDICINE SHOW

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Well,it's come around very quickly. Bags almost packed, passport waving, hipflask full, mayan gold dark chocolate in pocket, battered copy of Kerouac in jacket. Tommorow i start the journey up to Oxford University to give a lecture for the Desmond Tutu leadership gathering and then off, off on the iron horse to the great lakes and reddening leaves of Minnesota for the 25 Minnesota Mens Conference telling IRON JOHN with Robert Bly and Daniel Deardorff. What an honor. If i could flip back in time and inform my 23 year old self of this event he would not be entirely displeased, i can assure you.

However, the metaphors will still be hanging in those beloved forests while i am on the plane/ferry to Block Island to begin the WOLF-BEAR MEDICINE SHOW tour with Caroline Casey. Several days on Parzival no less, while she breathes all kinds of dazzling and heart-felt commentary around the planets, the big story, and all the little ones that scamper around in our imagination, looking for the run-way of art to pop out on. We end up in NEW YORK for an equinox show at the KRAINE THEATER-can you get there? I hope so, the waters hot.Google it and Caroline Casey for details.

So another wild and glorious run around Turtle Island. Still, i notice the tang of autumn coming which makes it hard to leave the beloved moors of Devon, and especially my girls. Still Dulcie knows i am consistent with my gifts and she has already put her request in for 'something pink' although Mum has vetoed anything plastic.

Hope to see you on the road or on my return-especially at our first conference

THE WILD HAWK AND THE LOVER'S GARDEN: exploring the Soul in Poetry, Myth, and Music.
OCT 30/31ST. COLEMAN BARKS!-IN ASHBURTON! Hard to believe.

Watch this blog for posts on the road.

M x

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

MYTH SCHOOL CONFERENCE OCT30/31ST

Ok folks-this is the big one-listen up! The Westcountry School of Myth and Story is proud to announce its very first Conference of the Arts from friday evening Oct 30th through to Sat the 31st,'THE WILD HAWK IN THE LOVERS GARDEN: exploring the soul in poetry, myth and music'. We have a frankly steller line up-Coleman Barks-world famous poet and translator of RUMI, David Darling-grammy nominated musician and collaborator with Joseph Campbell, Lisa Starr-Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, and some british guy telling stories and talking bout the myth-world.

There will be two evening events and an intimate day gathering. The price is an unbeatable £100 so no concessions.Non-residential and based in the South Hams area. Tickets are first come, first served, and are strictly limited-so send cheques payable to Martin Shaw at:

Tregonning House
27 eastern rd,
Ashburton
Devon
TQ13 7AP

Pawn the silver, grab a begging bowl, peel potatoes, lap dance-whatever it takes,
but get to this event-it will be a rare and precious thing.


'Myth is the place where music and poetry are yet to diverge' Robert Bringhurst

Friday, 21 August 2009

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

METAPHOR AS MAGICAL PRACTICE

Having just glided in from some snarly, humming but glorious Otherworld (i.e. leading a Vision Quest group up on Dartmoor), and removing the final burning embers from my tangled locks, i realise that is only weeks before i take the iron bird to Turtle Island to teach with Robert Bly and Daniel Deardorff the story of IRON JOHN over in Minnesota. My modest notes have swelled over the summer into a commentary on several of the stories un-chewed details. What i wanted to drop in here was a small section on metaphor i'm working on-as a kind of afterthought to the main essay. It's not finished, and twists around like a startled fish. I always fish with a straight hook anyway.


Metaphor as Magical Practice-
The Power of Imaginative Leaps



The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities.
Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which
God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.

(1) Jose Ortega y Gasset

I write when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have
Written I see words flying about the room in all directions.

(2) William Blake, Ibid, p.21

Metaphor is always a linguistic turn of the head. Done well it provides a form of relief. Some green shape soars overhead and for a second the literalist in us scrambles for breath, a delicious blow to the heart winds us. But winds bring associations; venision, dust, the tang of the ocean. Metaphor is a way of allowing fresh air into the page or room or conversation.

In the terminology of this essay it is ‘forest language’; unwieldy sometimes, noisy, tangled, but offers dialogue with deep waters. But it also longs for its dancing partner of discernment and logos, to help affirm and hone its shape. I am suggesting metaphor as a gateway to the eternal,as a discipline to be practised, as a way of getting near the Wildmans spring with the golden fishes.

Something happens in the movement from simile to metaphor. When someone is no longer ‘like’ a troubled Lion but IS a troubled Lion, some kind of un-truth is rolled back , the imagistic power is clearer, truer. In the inclusive universe of metaphor could there also be a desire to reach out to certain sensed energies at the edge of our vision; that by offering associative incantation we attempt an accord with the occult, the river beneath the river. Is metaphors inclusiveness a kind of nervous twitch towards attempted control of ungovernable beings?


Art, no matter how minimalist, is never simply design. It is a ritualistic
reordering of reality. The enterprise of art, in a stable collective era
or an unsettled individualistic one, is inspired by anxiety.
Every subject localised and honoured by art is endangered by its opposite.
Art is a shutting in in order to shut out. Art is a ritualistic binding
of the perpetual motion machine that is nature….Contemplation is
a magical act.

(3) Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily
Dickinson, Penguin, 1990, p.29

In this light, myth-telling becomes a warding off, an attempt to define community agendas, to designate dance steps to all our shaggy fears. Are gatherings like the one in the Minnesota woods a collective attempt to shape a place for the unwieldy machinations of our terror-spots? Are we merely(as tellers) reassuring the crowd, standing sentry duty at the edge of the village?

I think Paglia is partially correct, but what she misses is the ecstatic, the leap, the joyous quality in arts propulsive mutterings. She lingers too long in paranoia. Art is not always an attempt to neuter nature, but sometimes an offering honestly given. The assumption also that Art is somehow devoid of impulses from the wild is artificial also, it’s not simply one-way traffic.

The Cunning Man or Woman does not go into the wild to dictate terms, but to hold the efficacy of the tribe in dialogue with the majestic and troubling mirror of the living world. Levels of surrender are paramount to the experience. Whilst holding certain truths, in this instance Paglia still feels too anthropocentric. Blakes’s being ‘commanded by the spirits’ hardly indicates dominion.

This is not to deny the libational quality of the experience, but also to re-emphasise the un-scripted process described in chapter one. As tellers we are not trying to unduly wrestle a shape onto the moment but to stay honestly curious to the vaguries of the stories movement through the hut, psyche and community. We don’t seek a homegenized picture, but many image-centres opening in the body, jostling for position. As Yeats’ says;

A symbol is a metaphor which does not have a restrictive first
term and which consequently has an indefinite number of meanings.

(4) W.B. Yeats, Poet as Mythmaker, Morton Irving Seiden , Michigan State University Press, 1962, p 4.


It is also vital to re-emphasise the element of impurity in the process. This isn’t an aspiration towards some imagined ‘right way of doing things’, a Saturnian return to some by-gone era. It is wrong to start hacking away completely at the street-savvy 21st century individual you also carry with you. The point is that’s it’s not all you are. The Peur and the Senex find a troublesome accord in the mythworld. The Peur carries the ambitious leaps of the imagination, the Senex is activated by both the connection to history and the repetitive quality of storytelling. Too much Senex and the story feels prescriptive, too much Peur and there is no archetypal resonance.

So as tellers we are mongrels, anti the pure-strain, beset with contradiction.

Yet Yeats’ poems are not in the strictest sense true to their ancient
prototypes. If he was primarily an Irish poet, he was also an author
writing in English and studying and being influenced by the masters
of English literature. The country of his birth may have given to his
muse her loveliest robes and the pedestal on which she stood; but
the jewels she wore came from across the Irish Sea. When he grew
past middle age, Yeats gave her a crown of flowers, the leaves and
petals of which he had gathered in the gardens of Europe and
the Orient. His muse was Irish but his pose was international.
(5 ) Morton Irving Seiden, Ibid, p.7

So as three tellers we come to the story not naïve to its history but also open to its present. Constellations of ideas formed around it may break off like exhausted crustations. On the other hand the community telling may mean that certain folks hold rigidly to old perceptions of the tale. In some ways this event is a microcosm of the relationship men and women have had with myth for thousands of years. Will the story breathe or will attempts be made to hold it frozen, becoming concrete, or ‘iron’, before our very eyes? A heavy religion.

Art is suggestive rather than explicit: it makes no attempt to persuade into a general agreement or provide mediocre levels of explanation. And the whole value of all culture disciplines is in this objective statement of vision.

(6) Northrop Fyre, Fearful Symmentry: A Study of William Blake, Princeton Paperback, 1947, p.87.

The artist does not seek unity; he seeks to unite various things, and the divine imagination of God is similarly a unity of varieties. “Exuberance is Beauty” says Blake: no one ever has enough imagination until he has too much, just as a volcano is never active until it spills over.
(5) Ibid, p.99.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Tony Hoagland Dances on the Tips of Spears While Speaking With Silverish Grace.

Some tufty bird is cawing at the edge of the kingdom. He has a boombox playing Fugazi covering that difficult third album by Blly Ray Cyrus. He has a cigar rolled on the cheerful thighs of a Tasmanian astronomer,he holds one claw to an indistinct sky and mutters something about the Norman Invasion. Should we let him in the castle gates? But of course! More on Mr.Hoagland later....

On a more sober note:
Well, School may be out, but it looks like the first year course may well be full by the end of this month, we only have a few places left. the website will get a little update next week, with new info and photos, but in the meantime here are the dates for both the first and second year courses:

Westcountry School of Myth Year Programmes 2009/10

All Weekends £165 (limited concessions availible).
We have tried to keep all price increases minimal.



THE FIRST YEAR PROGRAMME


9-11th Oct Blytheswood

27-29th Nov Blytheswood

8-10th Jan Heathercombe

12-14th March Heathercombe

7-9th May Wildwood


THE SECOND YEAR PROGRAMME

16-18th Oct Blytheswood

19-21 Feb Heathercombe

11-13th June Wildwood

ALL WEEKENDS RESIDENTIAL CENTRES AND HELD ON DARTMOOR, DEVON.
No, the wood isn't named after Robert Bly. My hands are clean.

Myself and five others are preparing to venture up to the moors next weekend to begin a week long rite-of-passage: for four of those days they will be completely alone, without food or fire, just a tarp and water. Rumour is that the weather may be lively too....

The summer is moving along at dazzling speed it seems. I've noticed the surreal site of leaves starting to curl and brown-i havn't even made it to the beach yet. Well, not quite true. Me and the girls ended up in Whitstable last weekend, and a hip little place it was too.An Oyster and Beer festival, a gallery selling proper paintings (this is a rare, rare thing) and a great breakfast joint. They even had something called a 'reggae roast' at Sunday lunchtime-the mind boggles.

I'm back over in Minnesota this September with Robert Bly and Daniel Deardorff telling the story of IRON JOHN at the Minnesota Mens Conference 25th Anniversary
and then onto Providence, Block Island, and an Equinox show in New York with Coyote yelper Caroline Casey-which should be going out on her radio show, so please grab a swanfeather cloak and tune in. Easy to google. We havn't quite dotted the I's on these last dates but i will get them out there asap. I am also incubating some news about a MYTH SCHOOL FEST of workshops and events the very end of October and beginning of November. This is hugely exciting with some wildly brilliant international teachers, coming-some big hitters and new tigers. Scratch that week in your diary NOW Oct 30th-Nov 8th ish.

I wanted to throw in some Tony Hoagland. One of our great poets and a man who tickles the nose of certain mythic energies that live in the rims of spectacles, lunatic dance moves, unexpected forgiveness and black, heavy birds that sometimes sweep through a picnic.

Lucky

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.

Tony Hoagland

Leap over the irritable nay-sayer that lives in your wallet and buy this mans work today! Taliesin himself will slip a coin under your pillow to get you started.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

SCHOOLS OUT AT MYTH-WOOD HIGH

They say a picture tells a thousand words so i will throw in some pictures from
THE HOPE OF THE WEST weekend (thanks Lisa)-the last weekend of the year course at the Westcountry School of Myth and Story. Wild, brilliant, eternal times. If you havn't booked a place for the next one i suggest you get to www.schoolofmyth.today ! places are being hoovered up.

Ok-i said something about a pig poem and an anthology-it got accepted! So here's a rough draft.

THE BRINY TUSK

(for the Boar and the Gut)

The briny tusk doesnt live on plates,
But curls its legacy around
its fur-bellied apostle
My gut
That powerjut of defiance
Taunting the mirror
But oddly joyful

The high squeal and the lust-salt of its flesh
seem to belong to the rain soaked God of Arcadia,
Y'know that one, clutching his grapes and leopard
born from the thigh of the Thunderbolt

He is an erotic rustle through dark grass,
A preacher waving a gun,
A midnight reprieve from a vegan jail,
His flesh but heady words round our all too tender bones.

A pig killed an Irish hero
Made sails of his guts
And rode him out into the ebony curls
of an irritable splendour and a foamy repentance

See? He is tusking my words even now.

So this is no wastrel's flab on me
but a sash of devotion
to the horny, swagger-toothed,
curl-pricked genius of
the fecundant woods


It needs a lil tweak but i'll keep snuffling on.
More soon x

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

\painting and vagrant about to be removed from premises,

A BODY OF SMOKE AND RAVENS: Painting Show this week Totnes

well, i have to admit it has been a week or two since my last update.There was that raging hot weather, paintings for this show (some of which are still wet) and the invitation to write a poem about a pig for a US poetry anthology-how can one resist? It's been busy, i'm not going to lie to you. I may share the pig poem if it shapes up.

I'm enjoying sitting in for the paintings, drop by if you can. This weekend we make one last leap into the myth-world for the very last weekend of the year course-wow-it has flown by. It's nature is secret but they say to keep the best till last.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Visionary Fires: Book Launch Next Week-Stories, Poetry, and Wolfish Speculation. Bring a friend.!

Rain as Old Magician

So the worst of the jetlag has been shaken off, and some blissful rain is pattering on the study window. My little un has a raspy throat so she's around too, sipping Margaritas and playing pool with her old man. Actually that last bits not quite accurate-she's 4 and is deep into Rapunzel as i write.

One of the many pleasures of the US trip was watching Galway Kinnell read again-a man who wins 'handsomest man' award, especially at 82. Damn his cheekbones. I'll stick a photo up so you can make your own mind up. Here's one of his;


After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

He's also responsible for possibly my favourite line ever, which go 'something' like:

'I know i belong only half to this world, half of me belongs to the wild darkness'

Holy moly. The boys not messing around, he ain't firing blanks.

Lovely week back in the StudyCave. 18,000 wrds (not all good i'm sure) into a brand new essay and the title of the next book i'm working on has jumped effortlesly out of the ether. And will remain a secret for now- but its a hot coal in the hand, i tell you. A book about Love arrived from a New York store this morning. Surrounded by gifts-a piece of a branch of a tree struck by Lightning (given by a man who once stalked and was stalked by a Wolverine), drawings, letters and assorted leaves, shells and even skulls folks gave me on the recent travels.We are now approaching half way through the original pressing of 'Lightning Tree', sales have been brisk which is a lovely and startling thing. We have the UK book launch next week (please see above) and i will be putting year course dates on the www.schoolofmyth.com very soon.

I hope some of you caught the Caroline Casey interview-she's very gifted-and we are hopeful to work as allies in September back in the states. I'll send the details as they come.

I'll finish with a little Jim Lenfestey. May you be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you're gone.
M x

BANANAS HALF BROWN
Once i threw away bananas half brown
Now i find them delicious, syrupy sweet.
So too the old coats and jeans i patch
at elbow and knee: More life! More life!
I was never a slave to fashion,
Nor chained to a daily job.
the cave where my ancestors began
feels warm to me now, this mansion cold.

Friday, 12 June 2009

US RADIO INTERVIEW AVAILIBLE ON WEB

http://www.coyotenetworknews.com/productcart/pc/radioshow.htm

is the link to Caroline Casey's 'visionary activist'show out of the U.S

There's an hour of wild thoughts flickering to and fro on that show between Caroline and myself. Surreal at times, but in a good way!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Dragon Trails from US>

Steam rising from back, passport in tatters, eyebrows as lightning, i finally came to roost back in Devon yesterday. What a trip. Many thousands of miles traversed and hundreds of faces encountered. Memorable moments? My bus not turning up after three hours on the side of the road, getting dark and a stretch limo appearing out of nowhere and driving me (after stopping for beer and nachos) the 100 miles to my hotel before disappearing into the mist again, wild dancing and Irish/Appalacian singing on the porch with Coleman Barks, the dark brillance of James Hillman, Bly reading his poems down the phone (he bust his hip and couldn't come to the Great Mother Conference), impromtu public discussion on Mercury with Astrologer Caroline Casey and nights around fires, by lakes and with friends.

Thank you to everyone says, as Ol'Rumi says, i 'felt the Shoulder of the Lion'.
More photos and gathered thoughts after some more sleep.
M XX

last day: Turning into Gypsy Hippie attempting to help facilitate 100 + of us through ceremony with Caroline Casey

Jim Hillman and Coleman Barks having beautiful, complicated thoughts

Martin and Danny discussing arcane matters

Friday, 29 May 2009

Tasting the Milk of Eagles:US Road Trip

In Vermont, rain sluicing the window and just hours from catching a bus up to Maine and the Great Mother Conference. Word just in is that Galway Kinnell himself, the great poet, has thrown his hat in the ring and is coming up from NY too-alongside James Hillman, Coleman Barks, Gioia Timpanelli, Caroline Casey, Fran Quinn and many other great and startling teachers. I'm teaching 4 workshops from 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree' and Gioia and i are telling the conference story over 7 days-a big Irish epic of romance, aging and betrayal. I'm going to teach it on year two of the Westcountry School of Myth and Story programme, so won't say too much more about it for now.

Hours of flights, buses and ferrys-hopping coast to coast this past week. Strangest moment was when i met a bus driver who turned out to be a fan of the book and had come to see me teach 3 days before-lovely bloke and helpful with the luggage. First stop was Seattle with the Mythologist and storyteller Daniel Deardorff-a book launch and workshop. Good crowds-lovely to see a roomful of people clutching the book after 3 years writing it in complete hermitude.( Is that a new word?). Danny was brilliant as usual and we were joined by John Densmore, author and founding member of The Doors, another feral skin pounding drummer.

I was with many graduating students in Vermont yesterday, for a day on rites-of-passage and myth-today i have a few moments to catch my breath-which means shopping for presents for the girls-i got at least one gem, and one horribly awful breakfast in a local diner. America is immense-the land feels intimate to me in some way, but what's often stuck on the top of it seems disconnected (although i admire the wooden houses and the culture of The Porch-what a great invention). the UK is probably the same, i'm just more used to it. Folks are universally friendly (even when i lost my passport-that was fun), with many wisdoms and opinions.

Opened local paper to read today and found ad that said ' i need to pee. would you like to watch? please get in touch on.....'

I'm not in Devon anymore.

More musings soon, and snaps. (not of the peeing person......)
Blessings from Turtle island.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

BOOK LAUNCH AND INTERVIEW: PLEASE PRINT FLYER AND SPREAD WORD

THE CRISIS IN TRIADIC VISION: An inteview with Martin Shaw, author of 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness'(Ragnell Press 2009)

Q: What is the book about?
Shaw: Wild thinking, wild places and wild story are its root position. As we watch Coyote-like chunks disappear out of both our economy and eco-system it feels desperately important to re-vision our relationship to wild nature-both in landscape and ourselves. Many of us are aware that in both initiatory rites and the structure of many myths there appears to be a three-fold pattern-a severing from community, a period of trial and revelation and then a return to society where the visionary nature of the expulsion is confirmed and integrated into the whole.

After well over a decade of leading rites-of-passage work (frequently involving a four day and night fast in the wilds of Snowdonia in Wales), I’ve become convinced that in the 21st century the moment of greatest peril is now the return to a society indifferent or actively hostile to the individual having had such an experience. The period of trial and all it’s mystical implications are not, I believe, as under extreme a threat.

Personal vision requires these three stages to flourish; a severing, an opening of the soul,a return- in some subtle way it has to be witnessed-to remain on the fringes after the initiatory experience is to create a marginal life out of a marginal experience-not the aim at all.

Defending against our own Beauty


So an initial idea in the book is that this time honoured process is psychically turning on its head; the whole dynamic is in flux. Without great focus being attended to the process of integration, this process will cease to have a transformative quality. There is a level of beauty in this transformation that makes society at large very uncomfortable-I would say that we are generally trying to defend against a sense of our own beauty most of the time. Not vanity, but the real leathery, nimble, ferocious and delighted being that we are. This has nothing to do with lip-o-suction and anything we can buy, but a connection to what most of us call soul. Soul not so much as a particular religious idea, but as a way of experiencing life, a kind of inner-atmosphere we cultivate.

The Currency of Longing and the Malignancy of Disappointment


I think we are becoming societally addicted to the act of severance. We sever from relationships, jobs, communities, even countries with ever alarming speed.Bands rarely get a chance to develop for more than one record before they've been replaced, along with the phone, trainer or car. I myself have lived in fourteen parts of the UK. I have found myself asking why?
When we undergo profane severance (i.e. outside of a ritual setting)in our lives we often do so with an avoidance of the grief that entails, and a hypnotic desire to ‘move on’ to the next situation. This very avoidance short circuits any capacity for longing, ‘vertical attention’ or yearning that exists in the deeper story of the experience. When longing is replaced in a society of satiated want we are likely, ultimately, to fall into disappointment. Prolonged disappointment is then a place where the ability to praise, nurture, challenge and bless-in short create community-becomes almost impossible. Hence the three-fold process described by Van Gennup and Campbell’s ‘Heroes Quest’, starts to malfunction. As an Archetypal pattern it won’t disappear, but there is a growing dissonance between this Initiatory triad and the societal wants of the 21st century.

Black Elk said ‘you have to live the vision so the people can see’ without some performative gesture it just won’t be birthed.

Without longing beauty becomes hard to locate- satiated want won’t offer its bittersweet complexity, and so, as we said, in some way society is defending us against an experience of our own beauty. If we located our own beauty, our own sovereignty, there would be a far greater sense of personal accountability.

We are also at sea when confronted with our personal shadow material and are uneasy with the Trickster paradoxes that help us live in our divine murk. So we are occupying a weedy middle road between both clear perception of beauty and shadow-also the place they join-Initiation is the tool that brings both into focus-through ritual, myth and a sense of the sacrality of living.

Dark Chivalry: Honouring the Sovereign and the Trickster


We need to be paying particular attention to the Trickster and the King or Queen right now-especially of sovereignty in profound service to the land. So we are personally galvanised but looking into the shadows and margins of culture and our psyche to see the steps to take. I have recently been calling this the emergence of a kind of ‘dark chivalry’. This is not an easy tension-hence the emphasis on both on paradox and excess in the book-it is not a moderate road. The chivalry now needs to be directed to the earth, rather a woman in a far off castle. Chivalry requires poetry as well as statistics, mythic etiquette that wakes all the sleeping warriors that live in the secret heart of any decent hill.

Mythology is the Heart of Ecology-We have the facts but do we have the story?

Genius in crisis always comes from the margins and can wear the costume of the fool or Positive Trickster (see Parzival arriving and the court in chaos). We should be looking for stories of relationship with the animal powers and the earth-shapeshifting stories-rather than expecting the Greek Gaia image to hold it all- it won’t.I feel we need to look towards energies outside 'classical' myth,whist not denying its brilliance. We need a word-hoard of complex variety- vision can be killed by over simplification.

When a Culture Shape Shifts

We are in huge cultural 'leaping of shape'right now, so we need the stories of how to make the leap well, how to flourish as well as survive-climate change,the economy, at-risk youth, all are pointing towards a re-visioning of the old stories-How did Taliesin move from a salmon,to a hen to a grain of wheat? How do we break from our lethargy, old patterns and disappointments?

Many Visonary fires: the book offers four major initiatory stories that show huge diversity within the classic three-fold motif. That many myriad of experiences exist within that framework.This is followed by three different faces of longing.

It also suggests a re-visioning of the Hero through the energies of the Grief Man/Woman and Crone, an attempt to re-open but also honour the phrase-to not 'throw the baby out with the bath water’. We freeze a great deal of personal energy when we try and deny the need for the authentically heroic. I would call this the difference between Grandiosity and Greatness.

Q: How do you view the book now it’s finished?
Shaw: Well, I think as a ‘10 easy stages to a soulful life.com’ type of thing it’s a disaster-it’s wilfully obtuse at times-almost gnostic, the language is carried on the back of the many tusked owl of metaphor and it’s not for the purist academic either. Much of the writing has little sheltered areas for animals and spirits to live in, many of the sentences seem to bound along like the tempo of antelope hooves. You can’t write about wildness and not move to the edge of your thinking, you have to let in some furry shapes and night dreams into the sentences.

Much of the dream/thinking came when I was living in a black tent on the side of a hill for four years, so it seems to have secreted endless days of rain across the valley and twittering bird song. is also emphatic in its praise for long dead poets and thinkers, so my attention is partially towards them as well-I’m trying to offer a kind of libation. Unless the reader is really curious, prepared to study or on-fire for some interior relationship to wildness I suggest they buy something else. At the same time it is a rallying call-that mythology is the heart of ecology, that both longing and grief can lead to a strange kind of vocation in this world. It’s honestly trying to articulate something that feels important right now.

It is calling towards a value system that has a level of integrity but is also not naïve, that is a paradoxical crossroads between a delight in solitude and the fiery horse of the tongue-a way to express desire and passion. It carries grief and hope in either hand.

Whilst writing it I also came to believe that a third of the idea of community should live in the imagination; that opens the door to all the long dead poets, animal powers and dreams that we’re all so interested in. We shouldn’t always look to a human hand for a confirmation, or believe we’d all be better off living on tiny stretches of land grimacing at our neighbour over breakfast and a sweatlodge. So it’s pointing to imaginative leaps around what could constitute the returned–to-community.

Lightning Tree is available at www.schoolofmyth.com