Monday, 30 November 2009


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


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:


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?

(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!


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 .

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

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.

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


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.