Tuesday, 27 October 2009


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!

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

(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.