Monday, 26 January 2009


Morning folks. Did you see the inauguration? Fascinating that Trickster appeared in the fluffing of the swearing-in lines. That's the moment in European myths when a glass breaks or a dog barks at the wedding at the end of the story, or the one incomplete strand in a persian rug-it's a genuine contribution to the attempted alchemy of the situation, even if it wasn't 'consciously'intended. Good to see something from the Myth-World passing through.

i wanted to write a little something this week about the idea of the Hero. With such despair and hope flying around at the moment it felt interesting to me. Many of my generation have grown up with a complete antipathy around the word-sensing something stiff, generic and even possibly corrupt around it. So i want to poke about a little
and suggest that our negative connotations could be more connected to the words Champion or Defender.I would be a withered little man without my hero's.They contain one of my favourite words; a 'generative' energy-they radiate a sense of challenge, inspiration and possibility. We shouldn't be scared of the term, but aware of what it really means. Due to the tiny size of the blogspot, this is just a murmur in the breeze i'm giving here, much remains incomplete. Still, it's good to hurl shoes at the moon.

Before that some weekly news: it's the Steiner Winter Storytelling Festival in Dartington, Devon this Friday (from 4.30) and Saturday,tickets on door range from £2-£7-the full programme is at I will be telling stories both evenings and giving a talk around the ideas in my upcoming book 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree', Chris Salisbury will be telling tall tales, as well as the brilliant Clive Fairweather reaching into some Irish folktales. It's kid friendly, very cheap and good fun. Come along if you can, it would be good to meet/catch up.

Talking about 'Lightning Tree': The Westcountry School will do a limited initial run of 1000 copies, hopefully out mid-march.The last endorsment is in and the art-work done. It's getting printed over in Oregon but the first boxes will arrive soon. We will get pay-pal/info on the school website for purchasing.

Back in the studio too, to record 'The Birth of Ossian' and commentary, a story i truly love.

Here's some feel-good lines from Yeats;

Begin the preparation for your death
And from the fortieth winter by that thought
Test every work of intellect or faith,
And everything that your own hands have wrought,
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb

W.B Yeats Vacillation

Yeats is calling a grandious tune with a touch of darkness at the end; that we should be explorers, in fact heighten our game as we age. No gentle falling off after forty, but a narrowing and amplifying of our pursuits. That word he uses, 'tomb' is terrifying, it has a finality to it, it puts our emphasis back on life rather than ideas of the beyond. Initiatory process, as we have discovered, is partially to do with drawing closer to death to live more fully. If you have not engaged with that then anyone over the age of sixty is a creaky reminder of something you haven’t even begun to face. The things we grab onto, like life rafts, are rosy glows, full blooms and houses that are only painted white. There appears to be a wilful resistance to the reality of elders because it means looking at another set of values, and beyond that- death.
The religious propensity for gazing backwards at an imagined Eden has transformed into a lust for an imagined luminous, technological future,one where ageing is associated with being ’behind the times’ . Either one of these perspectives is out of balance if it detracts from what is happening right now.Where once was the tragedy of leaving a ‘golden age’ behind, we now have the supposed triumph of the ‘nearly here’ future.

‘If you find nothing now,
You will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire’

The simplified image of the heroic leader has to be challenged.
In the earliest myths we find pursuit of otherworldly treasures, rejuvenating potions, magical animals-all somehow enhancing the wider arch of the community. The symbolic world was activated and abided in the land beyond the village gates. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries some of this energy got caught in the gorgeous vocabulary of the Troubadours and turned inward, cultivating the intimacy of heart knowledge: love and some kind of moral self-improvement.
As the centuries progress we could say that an aspect of this pursuit leaps out again into the flurries of intellectual and empiric expansion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the Quest shifts like sunlight hitting the scales of a fish. In the twenty first century we are dwelling in the debris of this process, and feeling the collapsing legacy of that rapid expansion. It feels appropriate to be looking inward again-psychological and mythological thinking are helpful in this attempt.

The large and difficult question we are left with is 'What am I questing for? What remains just out of view that I long for?'

The image of the hero as a generic defender of cultural sanctions is actually tribalistic slander. It's a kind of Hollywood whitewashing of a much older, rawer picture. In the ancient tale of Gilgamesh, we come across him as the regent of Ur, a champion that wanders society taking what he wants. To temper this, the gods create Enkidu, a wild man conjured from mud to stand up for the women Gilgamesh has violated. When they meet in combat an affinity develops and the champion and the hero become friends. The mundanity of applause has no weight for Enkidu and he refuses to fall into the regulations of society. When he dies Gilgamesh senses the authenticity of Enkidu-that he was not hypnotized by collective cause. He continually refers back to a psychic independence and intimacy with the divine that is not to be bought. Carrying the elemental energies of the woods with them, we find Enkidu's relatives emerge through the centuries; Herne the Hunter, Robin Hood, John Barleycorn. So something of the hero’s independence relies on connection to wildness, to fresh strange ideas and an eye upwards towards god. The champion is the one that rolls out endlessly to battle, not the hero.
The roots of the hero stories are found in pre-literate mother cultures like Herappa in India, Minoan Crete and the Magdalenian area of southern France-they are not wheeled out to support a patriarchal order. Sometimes, like Anga in the Serpent and the Bear, or Cuchullain with Scathach, they serve an initial education with a woman. One of their distinct masculine traits is their desire to achieve mastery over rather than integrate into, certain obstacles, and it is here that the vulnerability lies.
The sorcery of history has the capacity to take this root energy and attempt to separate it from its connection to nature and the feminine. It is a great achievement for bad people when we can't detect the difference between champions and heroes anymore.

We abdicate heroism because we don't know what it is, and then we wonder why we don't have the energy to vote.

Actually the old idea of a hero is someone that suffers in full view of the community, that is alive to a certain type of pain.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The exact moment i wished i'd brought another box of cd's

seconds before they turned into fiery butterflies of coy word-song

Ok, it was from December, but take it from me it still lingers in certain Geneva gardens. So it was impacted and surly but it was there, crunching under my Mexican boots. I had a tremendous time over in Switzerland and France at the weekend.Gratitude tenfold to hosts par excellance Karen and Jack, Beth, Susan, assorted husbands, lovers and the 85 wild souls that rolled into 'Metaphor as Key to the Imagination' over the weekend. The Geneva Writing Group are a fiesty bunch of linguistic vagabonds. The picture above captures a small group of them only moments before they burst into a collision of lesser spotted Orkney Butterflies flying on tremulous sonnets of indecent inspiration to a Gaelic table of endless feasting. This means they can write, and man, they can eat.

Lover, Trickster and Smoke Signals from Washington.

(apologies to anyone not not familiar with the story of Lady Ragnel, no apologies for poetic type o's-i'm working on it)

So once the Iron Bird spat me out at Bristol and my sweetheart picked me up, i thought i'd get writing before some of the shimmering died down. On the Sunday (over the border in France)one of the things we explored was the dance between Lover and Trickster in the story of Lady Ragnel.To those that know the story-Gawain, 'the flower of the Court', to save Arthur's bacon, marries the many-tusked Hag O'the Woods Lady Ragnel. One of the strongest Lover figures in the stories, Gawain shows a willingness (as well as loyalty) to get bethrothed, in full public, to the dark, fetted, eyeball twitching, deadly nightshade lactating Ragnel. A women full of interesting tricksterish material.

Trickster encourages a second, deeper viewing, or visioning. The Lover and Trickster are friends because without the Lover we re-see nothing (the heart is closed), without Trickster we destroy ‘childish’ but never become child-like. Trickster's spontaniety and irreverence (think of kids at a wedding service) keep a connection to our ‘wild child’; the one in love with horses and dreams. When do most of us refind our fool? When we fall in love! As the stages of love become more complex, as we experience endings and challenge, Trickster holds some long range experience that has to be connected to The Lover-the wonder, Trickster-the experience of previous trails, snares, deaths and disappointment. The Lover can transmute disappointment into longing, into a path of art rather than a cliff face. Invisible doors will open when there seems to be no way forward.

You cannot have wonder without the presence of the Lover-appreciative consciousness. So The Lover in its fullness is not cynical, and is a link back to a child-like quality that can last a lifetime, in fact transform our experience of reality as it does Ragnel. Can we kiss our darkness and refind the Lover-re-see our darkness? Not by hiding the chapel ala the Queen's suggestion (she wanted a private marriage for Gawain and Ragnel), but by openly embracing it. Ragnel needs Gawain as much as he needs her. He gets bones, she gets transformation; something that can only occur with the chivalrous gesture.

By marrying Gawain, there is an union between forest and court-is she not a Lady of the Forest, under enchantment by her stepmother? To get to beauty we submit to the darkness before dawn, consciously, and in full view of the court. If she is a Goddess of the Forest, Gawain is now marrying the land he was given ‘ownership’ of before. Rather than ‘ownership’ he seeks relationship rather than dominion. There is now integration between King, Forest (Gromer and Ragnel) and Lover.

Rolheiser has a great take on re-opening to wonder, and what happens when its absent;

‘Childishness is destroyed but there is no movement towards childlikeness…(as adults) we fall into the greatest of illusions, the illusion of familiarity’… ‘eros gone lame’, in metaphorical terms we now stand before the burning bush with our shoes on. It is not surprising that it is the child, not adults, who like to go barefoot.
Second naivete is not to be identified with simply being na├»ve…it is not a sticking of ones head into the sand…nor is it anti-intellectual and anti-critical. It is post-critical, post sophsticate, post taboo breaking. It is genuinely agnostic, fully open to wonder’

Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern, Hodder and Stoughton, 1994, p.160-61

So tommorow, at that big party in Washington, here's a toast to wonder, hope and all the other emotions we hardly dare speak of. Let all our Gawain's of the Heart walk with the wild deep eyes of Ragnel out into the Wastelands of 2009, looking for the right kind of Trouble.

M x

Tuesday, 13 January 2009




Just a short one this week. A great and memorable weekend with a genius bunch of brigands up on the moor. Frosty nights, wild dancing, deep myth and the place where the psyche, the stories and the nature powers start to rub up against each other.
Steaming Lightning Horses with sexy tails rushed through our camp quoting Lorca before turning, suddenly, into ancient gateposts and shy smiles.You had to see it.
Anyone feeling a little unusual or in the thrall of strange dreams or oddly tired, worry not, it won't last long-it's the Soul breaking its oceanic stillness to send a wave to the cawing of the buzzard we saw overhead-if one is caught in the middle that can feel a little wyrd in the old sense of the word.
Off to teach in Switzerland and France, flapping the myth-wings; i'll have something more coherent to mutter next week. Actually, i do have news. Re: Lagavulin. The £20 dram Finlaggen is actually secret Lagavulin without an age on the bottle. Not as subtle; rougher,but £20 cheaper.Shhh...

Now that i love you, winter
has become an elegant man
sipping latte. he has the eyes
of a robin and with him we
float from springtime to springtime.

let them talk foolishly
of the greenhouse effect.
When there is a love like ours in the world
the tropics move closer.

King of the Love Poets, Fran Quinn.

Friday, 2 January 2009


"The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough. Nothing else really counts at all. It was a saying about noble figures in old Irish poems-he would give his hawk to any man that asked for it, yet he loved his hawk better than men nowadays love their bride of tommorow. He would mourn a dog with more grief than men nowadays mourn their fathers.

Ted Hughes (letter to son, Nicholas Hughes)

Strong words as we warily eye up another year i think.I hope most of us survived the birthing tunnel into 2009. RIP Harold Pinter, you cantankerous and beautiful Lion.

Best record of 2008: 'Snow has Fallen' By Timothy Young and Yata Peinovich. This brave piece of work can be heard and bought at

Don't get me started on best books-actually, most of what i'm reading is about 1500 years old, so i may not be the best up-to the minute judge. I loved Blys Hauge translations 'The Dream We Carry: Selected and last Poems of Olav H. Hauge', and am belatedly checking out 'District and Circle' by Seamus Heaney (2006). I loved his Beowulf translation, although Thomas R. Smith reckons it is a little over laboured and clunky. Heinrich Zimmer was also a joy- a playful introduction to mythological thinking-not heavy handed. I'm hoping that we get the second offering by that rapscalion of humming ink Jay Leeming in 2009.

In a Minnesotan cabin back in October, Daniel Deardorff produced a 16 yr old bottle of Lagavulin, therby ruining me for any other whisky. The double barrel Balvenie is forgotten, even the mighty Laphroaig has retreated into the shadows.At £38 a bottle, it's a little rich for my purse, but anyone that can get it at trade please drop me a line. Tipple of the year, any year in fact-ideal surroundings the Pub in Holne (local reference)in that dark, woodlined corner by the fire, or the Toby Norris hostelry in Stamford, Lincolnshire.£5 a glass at christmas! I almost fell off my stool.

Before i fly woefully off subject, i thought i'd just throw in an image from the old country. I just sketch it out-please bulk it out with your own visioning and see where it takes you.

The Sow, The Meat, The Bard, The Eagle.
Nestled into the Mabinogion is a story that involves a sow snuffling for nourishment. She finds scraps of meat at the bottom of a Oak tree, dropped there by a wounded eagle that is in its higher branches. Gwydion of the magic harp, following the sows trail, suspects that this eagle is in fact Lleu Llaw Gyffes, a semi-mystical character in another shape. When Gwydion incantates magical verse, sure enough, the eagle descends, is healed by Gwydion and takes on his rightful form as Lleu, and leaves as a King. So one simple association from this extraordinary scene is this: nourishment is available between this world and the myth-world if we get to a tree of knowledge, what I would call a 'Lightning Tree'. At this axis, meat falls from God-claws into the hungry mouth of the human. But there is a further step. Something in the Otherworld requires healing from this one, that there is an exchange. The word-magic of Gwydion calls healing into the Otherworld, tends wounds, smoothes feathers, creates a transformation. I doubt bellowing up at the tree for the eagle to 'come down this instant! reveal yourself!' would have much affect. There is implication of relationship and the poetic tongue as a two lane highway between worlds. This is the tongue to cultivate to really drink down the moon.
An alarming detail is that the meat is rotten, that there is a sickness in it. The milk we offer up in exchange can be just as curdled. Gwydions poetic tongue is a restorer of this festering situation, a two lane highway between worlds-and from that we take both hope and education. What sickening meat are our wounded inner Gods and Goddesses dropping to get our attention? How do we make strong milk?

The photo above was taken on the North West Coast 18 months ago-the area where they used to film 'Northern Exposure'. Quite a road trip-teaching all the way from New Mexico to just below Canada. So here's to 2009-its outstanding views, peaks and vales, spirit and soul.
M x