Sunday, 28 March 2010

Jaunty Love and its Whiplike Roots: Approaching TRISTAN AND ISOLDE

Having emerged from splintered lances and drops of blood in an easter snowfall with PARZIVAL, i now re-enter the Seriously Playful Cave of Joyful Study to prepare for the upcoming telling of TRISTAN AND ISOLDE on the 'Voyaging Heart and the Courted Soul' event on Sat 11th April at Bone Hill House, Dartmoor, 10-5, £60, lunch included. To book email

Places are going briskly, so get in touch pronto for a place. The theme is Love-love in its romantic, ecstatic,woops-gone to hell, haven't seen them for six months and can't concentrate, there's got to be more than, give me something i can feel aspects. Love as enchantment (positive and negative) and the place of longing right in its difficult little centre.It's also about beginnings, spring, intentions, striding out into the brightening morning.

I think this will jump in my travelling crane skin bag for my fairly upcoming U.S. trip - woven into a bigger Dark Chivalry theme. Myself and the dazzling Caroline Casey took Parzival on the road last fall (hello Block Islanders and New Yorkers)which is a true story for these times and we will be reunited at the Great Mother Conference in Maine from May 29th to June 6th. Waste no time and tune into Caroline's show at

She is up to deeply good things in a beautifully troublesome way. Perfect. gets you straight to conference website.

The above pic is from the Great Mother Conference. Note James Hillman in the background, in seemingly relaxed pose but actually about to deliver me a ninja blow to the back of the neck for mispronouncing Dionysus.

Ok, time to shuffle back to Godfrey of Strasbourg and all the other cats. The below is an interview with thats been on the School of Myth website for a few weeks....

An interview with Storyteller and Mythologist Martin Shaw

Q: What would the mythic imagination have to tell us about our current ecological crisis?

An image I have been having recently is that underneath the soil and arrowheads, the countries of the world are really huge,dreaming animals. Maybe the hysteria around climate change-although very real-is too mental, too heady, and we need to take our attention downwards, back to the murmurs these animals may be sending us. It's like we collectively need to put our ear to the earth and get quiet. Quietness like that will always invoke images, because it is always a stimulant to imagination. The power of the image carries a different kind of impact to just a written idea. The eco-conference at Copenhagen recently would have benefited from storytellers from each country attending and sharing culturally specific stories, so the animals underneath the countries had achance for the image-language to speak for them. I think these animals have quite different characters and desires.

I am making a very rash leap here-that certain ancient stories somehow offered a voice for non-human energies that also exist on (or are) the planet. I am appalled at the idea that myth is merely the neurosis of mankind trying to work out its place in the universe. That completely neglects the porosity of mythic intelligence-that no dialogue of consciousness exists past the ends of our fingertips. That is the world of Alexander Pope-and what has got us into this predicament in the first place.

So a great quietening would be useful. At this moment it is snowing outside. Snow is a great opportunity to slow footfall, to walk deliberately -it's a muffled, pregnant universe. Liminal in its way, and open to unusual associations. So winter could be a step towards catching the images coming up through earth. Walk alone more, pay attention to dusk, make work at the very edge of your understanding. Remember you are loved. Allow yourself to feel complicated and slightly magical. Many of our artists are no longer attuned to that process, so its down to all of us, from any walk of life, to be receptive to the edge of imagination that rubs against open meadows and the flank of the leopard.

I feel that we are expecting a straight line of thought to accommodate the very multi-dimensional process that climate change offers: that we are actually animals with vast souls, and to be divorced from that fact creates such acute dislocation we are capable of creating lunatic damage to our very home. This is more than a need for a manipulation of science to 'save us', this also involves a difficult opening in our own psyche. We need to take account, we need to grieve, and we need to muster courage. It's a time to wake up-no one else can quite offer what you have.

We also need to reclaim time. It seems to have a harsh, worried, pulse to many people. It is vital to reach back through it to a community of ancestors. I don't mean some vague concept but in the work of vitalising folks down the centuries. It is a travesty for us to claim personal impoverishment when we are connected to the legacy of Emily Dickinson, Taliesin, Vaughn Williams, Mirabai, Black Elk, Wolfram Von Eschenbach, John Coltrane or Georgia O'Keefe. Find a specific soul- teacher from history and follow their lead. Our perception of personal community should move back into history rather than trying to squeeze it into the literal constantly. This will also broaden and deepen time around us, and in the same moment makes us more genuinely present. Their work will actually give us a sense of spaciousness.

So, in all of this anxiety is actually huge opportunity.

Q: So what would this opportunity look like?

I think this is an opportunity to develop some manners. Manners to the earth, stars, and animal powers. We could describe any real movement back to an accord with the earth as 'dark chivalry'. Its darkness is twofold:

1.It carries the sobriety of living through hard times and crafting deeper, more authentic beauty. By using the word 'dark' it acknowledges the intelligence of night, soil, depth, hidden places. It is a mode of being that one grows towards, that has deep roots in the ground of ones experience. Where do you hold your own night intelligence?

2.In many indigenous cultures darkness is seen as another kind of light- a light that requires a new way of seeing. The Mongolians actually denote beauty with the word dark.

So to see a situation with new eyes, to carry the whiskery genius of our own lives elegantly, and to create new expressions of dynamic gratitude to existence engenders a chivalrous attitude-that you serve something higher than just the grubbiness of personal ambition. The Troubadours of the 12th century had a feeling for this, as do some Trickster stories from tribal cultures. The Troubadours bring amor, rather than just eros or agape-both slightly impersonal in their way. They bring a kind of heart intoxication. This whole thing is about a big old love affair.

The whole atmosphere of the Troubadours was clear that at the back of your head lives an ecstatic man or woman. To wake them up requires a courtship-both to them and out into the world. A courtship with walled gardens, rare flowers, and love of both eloquence and solitude. This is part of that chivalry-and also opening up to the possibility that to have influence in this world you can also be connected to goodness.

Dark Chivalry is something that would originate from a Culture of Wildness. As soon as you separate the word 'culture' from the image of wildness you begin the process of dislocation, that you are no longer 'making-soul' with the land itself. Here's a quote:

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.

We could think about what constitutes culture, 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. We could say that we have seen the Culture of Wildness in some very ancient tribal initiations. It would be interesting to look at the root meanings of the words.

An association of the etymology of the word 'culture' is colere, which means 'to till'. To till is to dig, to sweat, to make contact with the texture of soil, root, and worm; it is this move downwards again, 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.

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. In this way we start to understand the reasons why we do crazy things-personally and societally.

I would say that earth is relaying a lot of information right now, and not all of it is accessible with statistics and logic. I believe it is a call to the prophetic within us-a big word. The pastoral-creative work designed to appeal and comfort mass-civilisation, completely lacks the receptivity for the task.

However, without a process similar to the one I am describing it would be very difficult to engender the psychic readiness required. To be clear: to function in their deepest vocation, the storyteller-or artist-or cunning man or woman should stand in the ground of prophetic image, a scarecrow of words, pushed by the invisible winds.

So if countries are dreaming animals we need at least fifteen storytellers, artists and musicians at any serious ecological conference, and fifteen women and men fasting in the surrounding wildlife-opening to the wild land dreaming. If you combine this with the radical intelligence of many climate-groups you begin to get a relationship between the tacit and the explicit, the rational and the intuitive. This level of attention to listening and beauty is a dark chivalry, something birthed from a culture of wildness. That in itself creates an expression of art that is prophetic and open to the Mysteries to speak through. Simple!

Antonio Machado say's, "We make the road by walking" and he's right.

It's time to walk

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

THE MAGIC BRIDGE: Crossing Over From Achievement to Surrender-Herbert Barks

I want to drop in news of a new book by Mr. Barks this week. No, not our friend Coleman, but his brother Herbert-who has just written a beautiful new commentary on the old Russian tale, "The Hunter and the Horse of Power", elegantly but grittily woven through certain scenes and challenges from his own life, which are no less interesting i must say. His book reminds me of the old story Joe Campbell used to tell, that it was the female students at Sarah Lawrence College that took his high flying mythological ideas and ground them in the business of our everyday love affairs, low down depressions and side ways swipes at God. Herb's book does just that-spacious, uncomplicated prose handling fierce ideas. I must have told and taught that story dozens of times and he is unearthing all kinds of muddy gold that never knocked on my door. The business of an elder no less, it's a wonderful thing he has been generous enough to write it for the rest of us hungry crows to slowly gobble.

Get a copy today from maypop books at

Get two, it will be christmas soon enough. Finally, someone unafraid to wrote mythopoetically again.

Ahh, but i can't have one Barks without a joyful yelp of the other. Please spend careful savings, gamble aunties ring, take up bare-knuckle boxing for chump change, lap dance for angry welshmen, offer tea cup divination to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but get to California and join us for,,,drum roll maestro...




exploring the soul and the land in poetry, myth and music

Over two evenings and a day each artist will perform, teach and collaborate from their specific discipline, a cello taking flight, the refrain from some old stories, the call and response of ancient words. Starting with an evening performance in the sweetness of the village and ending the following evening round a fire out in the forest, this is a rare opportunity to join world renowned poet and translator of Rumi, Coleman Barks, award-winning British storyteller, Martin Shaw, Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, Lisa Starr, and Grammy Award nominated musician, David Darling in a daylong workshop exploring language, landscape and ritual at the Pt Reyes National Seashore's exquisite Kule Loklo.

June 18th and 19th 2010
Toby’s Feed Barn
Kule Loklo Coast Miwok Village
Point Reyes, California

For details and registration:

Thank you for all that came to PARZIVAL last weekend. I have just about got the lance splinters out of my coat, i have cleaned my armor of rust, and have quietly replaced the Grail to Anfortas. More soon compadres,
M x

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Moon Comes Gliding: It's all about the Trobairitz

It's been too long. I have been burning midnight, early morning and midday candles on a variety of writings-much on research for my next book-a fresh look at Parzival no less, and the preperation for this weekends two and a half day telling of it. Think of me around sunday lunchtime, that can be when i start to wobble.Still the spirit-birds of the feathery 12th C keep me upright if i leave enough words for them to feast on.

The research has brought me back to the amazing Trobairitz, heroines of mine. Plucky, fiesty, almost unimaginable in the era. I suggest you get a copy of Meg Bogin's book (below), all about this tiny (scattered) group of female troubadours. Written in 1980, and with the full flush of 70's feminism in her sails it is an interesting read. Concise. Also reading George Steiner's 'After Babel' which so far is good,unruly thinking.So i am throwing in some of my notes on the two areas-they are just personal so lacking much flair-but may lead to further reading.

Hey-please join us over at:


it's like a mythic facebook. The School of Myth has its own group and its a chance to exchange ideas, arguements and any thoughts on how to create a small moonshine whisky distillery.That last bit is quite serious.

There is also a 4 page interview with myself in Kindred Spirit magazine(google will get you to them)this month.

So notes below-see you next week with some more on metaphor.
M x


George Steiner makes an explicit link between language and the erotic;

Eros and language mesh at every point…are there affinities between
pathological erotic compulsions and the search, obsessive in certain poets
and logicians, for a ‘private language’, for a linguistic system unique to the needs and perceptions of the user? (Steiner, G (After Babel, Oxford University press),1975,p38-40)

In the context of my own writing,i'm not seeking a specifically ‘private language’, otherwise its very contribution would be rendered void by its unintelligibility to all but the author (although folks tell me this on occasion). However, I would suggest that with the use of metaphor,the prose certainly seeks to encourage the imagination, and where can the erotic begin except with imagination?

Steiner goes onto suggest; “womens speech is richer than men’s in those shadings of desire and futurity known in Greek and Sanskrit as optiative; women seem to verbalise a wider range of qualified resolve and masked promise” (ibid,p41)

When writing 'Lightning Tree' one passion was (and is) the poetry of the twelfth century poets of southern France, the Troubadours. Whilst predominantly male, a small group, around twenty, were female, often referred to as the ‘Trobairitz’. The writer Meg Bogin, in her book, The Women Troubadours, claims that far from Steiner’s, “shadings of desire”, the women troubadours were far more direct and less disposed to symbology than that of their male counterparts.

She adds; “the language is direct, unambigious and personal…unlike the men who created a complex poetic vision, the women wrote about their own intimate feelings” (Bogin, M, The Women Troubadours, W.W. Norton, 1980, p67-68)

When shall I have you in my power?
If only I could lie beside you for an hour
And embrace you lovingly-
Know this, that I’d give almost anything
To have you in my husband’s place,
but only under the condition
That you swear to do my bidding

The Countess of Dia, (Ibid, p89)

The Countess of Dia sounds pretty clear. It is worth noting that all of the Trobairitz, came from aristocratic backgrounds, and would have experienced ad infinitum the intricacies of their male counterparts verse, often having being the very object of their affections (within the restrictions of verse and courtly love at least). I would speculate that the women, enjoying a far more respected role (within the confines of court at least-if not the wider era), would have have felt freer to explore a more literal,gritty approach when surrounded by men constructing verse laden with mysticism and double-meaning, (when not weeping, kissing feet and offering Shiatsu and Jasmine tea- ok,i made the last bit up)

This again illustrates the oldish Jungian belief that that we contain both masculine and feminine elements within, in fact to approach myth in the way this writer suggests, this association is vital.(and Wolfish elements, wild storm elements and Kingfisher elements)

So it may be that Steiner would regard the “shadings of desire” hopefully imbued in the metaphor of any decent writing as the feminine aspect of the author communicating itself. Steiner continues his associations of the feminine with loquacity; “The alleged outpourings of a women’s speech, the rank flow of words,
may be a symbolic restatement of men’s apprehensive, often ignorant awareness of the menstrual cycle.” (Steiner, G. 1975, p42)

To think mythically around Steiner’s idea,we would now associate verbosity (rather, I suggest, eloquence), with the passage of the Moon.

The medieval phrase, ‘to drink down the moon’ suddenly becomes the chant of all storytellers in this light. However, as i wrote in the aformentioned book;

The word “moon” actually derives from the German der mond, connected to the word “Man”. We find male moon deities frequently, Tecciztecatl of the Aztecs, Mani of the Germanic tribes, Thoth of the Egyptians, Tskuyumi of the Japanese and Rahko of the Finns are just a small selection. (Author, ibid, p200)

However, when you get to 'La Luna' it takes off in another direction again...

It could be said that to know the moon is to be connected to thievery. Even his glow is stolen sunlight, reduced 500,000 times. Not content with stealing sunlight, the moon also has a penchant for pilfering colour. The gold of a cornfield or the crimson of a rose are quietly replaced by greys and blues, when moonlight's fingers fall on them. A lover of letters, he steals into books read at dusk-as we read in the gloom, words become indistinct as he scoops them up and carries them off. Night is the time of break-ins, affairs, slow time-ruptures to the agitated clock of light. At the same time however, we know that Moon replaces everything the next day, just as we left it-so he appears a cheeky thief rather than a savage robber. The Moon is also a friend to lovers, his inky sky covers them as a blanket, but his light offers a tiny trail to the sweethearts door. So to draw down the Moon brings a certain wiliness, a kind of cunning. (Author, ibid, p233)

Whatever cultural associations we have with the Moon, or which gender we regard as the most subtle in verbal nuance, the mythological certainly places metaphor as its key tool. In some respect we are returning to connotation not denotation. Metaphor contains generosity towards the reader’s imagination. It is a set of open doors impacted within the text, It is an offering from the storyteller to the reader.