Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Hit The Road Jack:Leaving the Village



FRIDAY PERFORMANCE: June 18, 8:00 pm at Toby’s Feed Barn
Ticket Price: $20.00
SATURDAY WORKSHOP: June 19, 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Ticket Price: $125.00 (includes Friday and Saturday evening performances)
Ticket Price: $20.00
Kule Loklo Coast Miwok Village, Bear Valley
Point Reyes Station, California
Over two evenings and a day, each artist will perform, teach and collaborate: 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 a feed barn in 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 winning musician, David Darling in a daylong workshop exploring language, landscape and ritual.

Well....the Family Shaw are tattoing passports numbers to our arms, taking one last look at the dismal British weather, taking a nip from the hipflask and start the epic journey to Turtle Island at the end of this week. New York, Vermont, Maine, L.A., San Fran, Point Reyes - a good five weeks on the road - telling the old stories, meeting folks and generally enjoying the mad swathes of culture and staggering beauty of the deserts, forests and lakes.

I have burbled on about most of the events individually (scroll down over the entries below for evidence), but i have to have to give one last shout out for The Great Mother Conference over in Maine, Sat May 29th to Sunday June 6th.

Here's some lines from visting poet Tony Hoagland on Divorce:

divorce is like being born again
ailimony is the placenta one of them will eat:

Loneliness is the name of the wet nurse;
regret is the elementary school
endurance is the graduation,
So do not say they are splattered like dropped Lasagna!

Coleman Barks weighs in with this in his poem Wine Poems;

if i don't do Zen meditation to wipe out deluded thoughts
then i must pace about drunkenly , spouting crazy songs.

Otherwise in the autumn moon, or with these evenings
of spring breeze, how am i to bear the idle
longing for the past that comes through me?

Terrible rumours abounded that Coleman could'nt make it this year -trapped in Africa. The rumours are unfounded. He has hired 16 Black Swans and a small nautical carriage made of mandrake root and french lingerie to charge the oceans in one night and join the tribes gathering in New England. That's not all metaphor. He's coming.

Mr Bly is gathering waistcoats and crevates and casting a wild eye to the conference too: the wood elves insist he is bringing new work and controversial opinions with him.

Music from The Frantzich Bros,and just a huge wealth of talent (most of whom aren't on the teachers list!)

I have never had so many stories in the crane - skin bag to bring over. Northern European Fairy tales, Seneca Trickster stories, Cornish love sagas, and at least one huge Myth, 8 hrs in the telling -if i get straight to the point. No idea when or if they will want to be told but they all want to come -they've got passports from the Otherworld -black leather with emerald green silk and a signature in leaves and ocean foam.

I'm rambling. I'll see you on the road. I'll still be adding entries as the creaky ship rolls from port to port.

Friday, 14 May 2010

BRINGING BACK THE FIRE: The Myth -Tellers Breath (Shaw 2010)

Two entries in one week- is there no end to the madness? Just a couple of moments taken out of a larger essay, putting them together like this they seem to have some sort of relationship. These are just a couple of little nibbles, and need alot more fleshing out. So, something on the breath of the storyteller and the organising currents of the natural world. The phrase 'bridge of breath' was coined by Daniel Deardorff, and very beautiful it is too. Wishing you a great weekend.

WILD STABILISATION: Learning How To Dance on the Tips Of Spears
One of the few unifying factors in the experience of wilderness initiation is a growing awareness that the wild seems to have some kind of rough organizing quality to it; that the gnotted forest and bleak mountain - and the plant, animal and mineral life on it – find some way of surviving, battling for primacy maybe, but appearing less chaotic than may seem at first appearances. Without the keen hand of a human, over time the area takes on a shape and atmosphere all of its own, it dictates its own terms. The hemlock, willow and blackthorn bush are all involved in some epic dance with each other, involving territory and compromise. The specific animals, trees and minerals of that place have been challenging boundaries with each other for thousands of years, without a human voice in the debating chamber.

We see an echo in this quote from Robert Bringhurst;
” the order of the garden may be easier to see, but it is fragile and superficial. It is artificial and unnatural in a very convincing way: it cannot take care of itself. The order of the wild is self-sustaining, flexible and deep” (Bringhurst 2008 :275)

For some this creates a fresh perspective on tangled and fierce moments in their own evolution: our garden years (tranquility, pruning, afternoon tea) may be more fragile than the strange, quick moments when the wild (abrupt change of circumstance, uncertainty) steps in, and with it some deep part of our own psyche that knows how to negociate its rapid currents. Without those moments we are unlikely to encounter our own capacity for wild stabilisation.That stabilisation may appear to be a frantic juggling act to those still doing garden work, but encoutering the wild brings a visual otherness with it - the terms are stranger, the stakes higher.The stabilisation may look like coyote running around with his paws on fire, but that liminal orientation is what the old Irish sagas call 'learning how to dance on the tips of spears'


When you watch the magician at work…then you realise how serious is the belief that the magic is in the breath and that the breath is the magic (Malinowski 1983 :109)

In the widest association you can compare storytelling to an act of magic. As Malinowski indicates the breath is crucial - no breath, no story, no breath, no spell, no breath, no life for any of us. The breath is the incantational core, the primordial seed that binds every living being in the room; to be unaware of breath in such a moment is to build your story house on sand. It is useful to regard the indigenous practices of breath control –faster and slower – to alter consciouness.

The breath also forms a contrary landing strip for the memory of the story and the spontaneous images and reflections of the teller. In a splt second the two negotiate territory on the tongue, a wild terrain not wrestled into a ‘garden’ by use of a recited script, but kept fluid, reflexive and curious by honouring the convergence of the two streams. Just as we detect a powerful self-regulating principle in the organizing of the natural world, the storyteller can facilliate an in - the- moment confluence of energies in the power of a true oral telling. When this has already been hoed, planted and weeded into shape by unswerving repetition of language, then this convergance, and thus relationship to wild nature, is lost. Although the practioner may claim this is an act of oral narrative, its deepest gift - its relationship to spontaneity and the living world - has gone.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Well another year programme at the School comes to it's end. I always experience a mixture of emotion - sadness as for sure there are some faces i won't see again, but also the delight at a memory-bank of robust and glorious windswept moments this last year has offered -salty tears and raucous soul laughter. I will see you all the Westcountry Storytelling Festival if not before!

news just in; there is to be a conference on;
'Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious' to be held at The University of Essex, UK, 2-4 September 2010

I am giving a paper on 'storytelling and the ecstatic image' and the conference as a whole looks very interesting. I will post more details when i get them, in the meantime i suggest going direct to the university for details.

I hope you are enjoying the coyote ride of government intrigues this week brings us-takes my mind off that biting north eastern wind.

Deposits for the next WHEEL OF STORY day workshop are now being taken. We will be studying the gnarly old Northern English tale 'The Lind Wurm'. What shadowy twin sister or brother was thrown out by the mid - wife the day we were born? At what stage in our our lives do we meet that dark sibling on the road bellowing 'Eldest Marries First!!'- and lo, soul trouble begins. The ancients say we approach that shadow being with ritual, story and understanding, lest it devour all our best laid plans (plans that involve finding just what it is we want to quest for).

I begin an extensive U.S.teaching programme from the end of next week (around the 22 May) and so am asking for a prompt response if you are planning to attend -Sam and I would appreciate getting a clear picture of numbers before i leave as i return only a few days before the event. Please make cheques for £20 to Martin Shaw at: Tregonning House, 27 Eastern rd, Ashburton, Devon, TQ13 7AP

A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE is in negotiation for a re-release in early 2011 with an American publisher and world wide distribution. Here's a taster of some new material that will appearing in the new, revised addition - you may notice words and phrases from old blog entries, so please, just chant along with it.

New Words

The patterning of crows over a winter field is an oracular thought of the mud, sky and bird; the elegant procession of the raindeer across a spring meadow is part of some epic train of imagination that has been running for tens of thousands of years. The swift dive of the killer whale is a new vision from an ancient sea. Thought is not just contained in language, not even for us humans. But it is all story. The hundred ways the otter gleefully crosses a stream is the same way the storyteller splashes their route through a story: the same destination but differing currents, details and varying intensities of stroke. The animals are myth – tellers in the way that they are. These images are more than just metaphors for our ‘own’ condition but, entered respectfully, offer a glimpse of the great, muscled thoughts of the living world. It is always thinking.

The joy of an oral culture is the old bones of story reconnecting to the inflamed tissue of spontaneous language. It is a specific kind of animation, an incantational convergence of narrative tracks worn smooth by the ancestors and giddy new vistas of linguistic image that are only glimpsed in that telling in that moment. Oral culture understands that the voice spoken in this attunement reaches towards the harsh thinking of the wind moving over a fissured moor, the excitement of the bat as it senses dusk. So does nature think? The ancients thought so. The whole point of something like a Vision Quest was to create an axis of experience that somehow accommodated the thought – ripples of nature.

This is a complicated business; the ‘thinking’ of nature could well seem inexpressible; to truly encounter it involves a coming adrift from entirely village centered ambition. What we are left with is a strange image - language that seems to have hawk feathers and the tough, green scales of the alligator in it. Poetry is the natural result of any mythic experience. The myth teller somehow articulates the story from many positions; its empathies are generous, its community oceanically wide. To hold rigidly to the script is a western plague, to deny what Finn Mac Cool call’s ‘the music of what is’, to concrete over the entrance to the badgers den. The more defended we are, the more ‘in dominion’, the more wildness shrinks from us.

We could 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 – teacher - poet, should stand in the ground of prophetic image, a scarecrow of words, pushed by invisible winds. There’s a great deal of grandeur in that statement, and all sorts of problems, but I’m sticking with it.

I thought i'd finish today's entry with a poem i'd forgotten that i'd written and just found in a draw whilst looking for my passport. its dedicated to all parents and those 4 am trips to the hospital, whilst trying to remember if the child is allowed to doze or not after a banged head.

A Fall From The Bed

We love the little head
Never more so than when we pace the minor injuries reception
Dulcie’s eyes incomplete and sleepy
Ready for some purplish dream we can’t follow
So we throw nettle lines of question
to keep her hovering above the swamp of rest

Oddly, the nurse is a gate-keeper of night
And recommends twenty minutes dives
Providing we assemble our anxious tools
To unchain the ivy every now and then
But she doesn’t want to rise from the ink-mouth,
Too many Dragons are cleaning her blood
Golden mice are tingling her elbows

These Healers are underground powers
Surging up from Guinea into our local views
Indecent energies throng our daughters muscle
Waves crash, continents rise and fall as she lies under
my tweed coat,
Whole empires pour like lemmings over ruddy cliffs
The black priests sing a Madrigal
While we sit by the edge of her ocean, feet in the foam,


Tuesday, 4 May 2010


This week I wanted to dredge up from old, salty waters an interview with Clarissa Pinkola Estes from the early nineties. As the old adage goes, the views contained within are not necessarily the views of this author, but i recognize some interesting thinking when i read it. I think she has some new writing coming out later this year and i look forward to reading it. I must have met hundreds of folks in the last five years who claim 'Women That Run With The Wolves' as a landmark work for them.

I still have my yellowed, well thumbed copy brought from Watkins Esoteric Book Shop on Charing Cross Rd, London from what seems like about one hundred and fifty years ago. I scurried back to my tiny room above a garage on Richmond rd in Twickenham and opened its pages; i swear that fifty loose footed Bear-Maidens with Owlish Faces leapt straight out of the pages and went looking for Pizza.

So here's to all the raven-tongued, lightning haired storytellers writing flaming words in freezing garrets to imaginary audiences, (she claimed her book took 20 years and alot of trouble to get published - i wonder if it would get published today?)

(regarding the below-mythopoetic was not
a word invented by James Hillman, in fact you can find it in the letters between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis amongst others, which i think is charming. It's not a word Bly likes either, he tried to use the phrase 'expressive' instead, which feels
rather dull.Anyone got any ideas for some new phrase? Anyway, on with the interview.)

Bert: What is the "wild woman"?

Dr. Estés: She is ... God.

Bert: Are you talking about finding a god within?

Dr. Estés: I would say it in a little different way. I would say that if you look in a woman's face, the god shows in her face. You see this furred criatura right behind her visage, right behind her eyes. If you are an intelligent person, you will be respectful. If you are not an intelligent person and the woman is in her biting instinctual nature, she may bite you. Or if she is afraid of you, she may run away and never come back to you again. If you are respectful of her, she will come around and find out who you are. She will develop a relationship with you.

Bert: How does the wild woman compare to the wild man in Robert Bly's Iron John?

Dr. Estés: My sensibility is that what is wild is nature. We need to see and understand that whatever stands behind nature is what is god. Nature itself, it is the manifestation. We see things about nature that are beautiful, like your blue sky outside today, and it fills us with almost a prayerful excitement. When I look at it, I feel still. I have seen this sky every day of my life and I am still in awed by it. That is what the wild is -- this intense medicinal beauty. To look at it makes you feel whole. To hear it, if it is ocean or water running in a stream, is to feel made whole again. To see a thunderstorm or a lightning storm is to somehow be energized by it. Even tornadoes and earthquakes -- to be rocked to your very foundations by the power made in all these things. If that is the wild and if that is in every human being, then a man and a woman would essentially be no different from one another at the very elemental core.

But the personality and the culture that grow up around each, then of course, makes things more problematical because there are extreme differences in the way that the personality is developed. And I think personality has a different tone for men and women, period, regardless of culture, any culture. I have lived with at least 17 different native tribes. In many of them there is not too much differentiation in feeling tone between the young women and the young men, although some of their duties are different.

Bert: Do you think it's important for men to read you book?

Dr. Estés: Yes, I do. Sam Keen and I had a conversation about this. I also received a very nice letter from Robert Bly a couple of weeks ago, saying that he really liked the book very much. People were recommending it to him, and he was recommending it back.

I feel that men are as much of a mystery as women. Once we get past a certain amount of self-consciousness and protection of certain sacred cows by each gender, we could have a real conversation, maybe, for the first time ever in the universe, in this century. What is our common concern? Why are we here with one another? What is the reason for being with a person of the opposite gender? Whether it is in a love relationship, or a brother and sister relationship, or a father/daughter relationship, or a friend/friend platonic relationship does not matter. But what could be the, you may say, the chemical catalyst in a relationship with "The Other?"

I would like men to read it, and men do. They not only read the book, they buy it for their lovers and read it together. Whether that lover is their wife or their anamarata for the moment. I have also received some letters from men saying, "Do not say that you wrote this book for a women. I read it and it applies to me." It makes me smile, because of course it would. It would apply to their feminine nature, very much.

Bert: You talk in your book about the animus, wondering whether some feminists have gone too far in saying that the animus is culturally induced. You talk about women developing a masculine side.

Dr. Estés: One of the things that I see much more of in the younger generation of women is that they do not have to struggle as much for their right to be free within the family. But they still have to struggle in the outer world. Even though the family may have changed, there are plenty of people who have not. So they're struggling to avoid things in the outer world that would be efforts to diminish them.

It seems to me that what we call masculine development is the ability to take ideas from one's inner life and implement them in the outer world. That's how I understand masculine development within. Their ability to manifest in the outer world; to speak up for themselves about things that matter that are important. To be able to take their book, their art, the products of their imagination into manifest form in the outer world. To be able to rouse themselves from comfortable situations. To see what is needed out in the world and to attend to it. Those are manifestations of adequate animus development.

Some men as you know, have much more feminine nature than others. Jung drew a circle and divided it into four parts, and said a man is three-quarters masculine and one quarter feminine. A woman is three-quarters feminine and one quarter masculine. And that's a good start. The problem is that he says this is the way it should be, and that's not the way it is. It is too rigid a form. Some men I have met are three-quarters feminine and one-quarter masculine, and the one-quarter masculine they are -- jump back -- very strong, fuerte, strong! But they have tremendous feminine development because it is who they are. It is from the souls, not an overlay from cultural family. Gloria Steinem is a great example of a woman who has far more masculine development then she has feminine development. Although now her feminine development appears as though it is coming now. She is 55 -60 years old and now it is coming. So whatever we have, as you know, the role in life is to develop it to its fullness. But also the challenges is to develop its balance, which is also its opposite.

Bert: That brings to mind something you said about Jung and the soul being masculine. I had a problem with Robert A. Johnson's view that for the man, the soul is the feminine. To me, it makes more sense to think of the feminine as the gateway and the portal, that which one must pass through in order to find the soul.

Dr. Estés: We cripple ourselves to say the soul is always masculine or the soul is always feminine, or it's always three-quarters this way and one quarter that way, or it's always 50/50. It never is any of those. It is ineffable and you cannot really talk about it. We make pictures and diagrams and we say, "well, if you could talk about it, this is what it would look like." But in reality, we are reaching into a dark bag and we are feeling what is in there, and we're saying, "I think it must be this or I think it must be that." And we are trying, hopefully, in a poetic way, because we can never describe in common words, what it is that we feel and see. But there is no, there cannot be.

I say also this about the concept of soul-making that my colleague James Hillman talks about. I do not agree with soul making, because the soul is, the soul is complete. It is never doubted, it is never lost. A chink in the transmission may occur or someone may sever the conduits to the soul, but the soul remains here, it never goes The ego may go. The ego becomes injured. The spirit may also become injured, but the soul remains. I don't think there is soul making. I think there is consciousness-making. But I think the soul is incredibly ineffable. It's an interesting idea, soul making, but I think ultimately, it may not describe the process.

And yet, for people like Hillman, Bly, Robert Johnson, Gillette and Moore and myself, we must have the ability, like all poets, to move through different images as we develop an idea. So that the idea Johnson had 10 years ago, he could move away from and develop a new idea, the more clarity he has. Jung did it all the time. If you read Jung's works you will see him constantly contradict himself because he is developing as he goes along. So I always think that, whatever metaphors we use, it will be very interesting to see if we still believe them, or if we have not found better ones in 10 or 20 years.

Bert: That process you describe of reaching in a bag and trying to describe the soul brings to my mind theologians trying to describe God.

Dr. Estés: Yes! Yes! There is a story in my book, "The Four Rabbinim." They all wish to see God. The story evolves around the sacred wheel of Ezekiel. They are taken by angels to the seventh vault of the seventh heaven, and each has an experience of God. And the experience is shattering for three of them. Not because they are bad people, but because their fantasy of what God is, was shattered. There is a saying, do not come too close to the inevitable. Ultimately, it is such a phenomenally vast force that it's like what Baba Yaga says to Vasalisa in one of my stories, "but remember, too much knowledge can make a person old too soon." It is dangerous. You just have to wait. You cannot always pursue it like you would climb a mountain. Sometimes you must just wait until something of it comes to you and fills you, and then you begin to understand.

Bert: What do you think about the mythopoetic men's movement?

Dr. Estés: You know, I have never understood the phrase "mythopoetic." Many people have asked me in interviews what I think of the men's movement, and I continue to say, "I have not met the men's movement. The men's movement has not come to my door and said 'we would like to introduce ourselves to you.'" But I do know men who are in groups with other men, who are there trying to learn about life and their own deep well of being.

Mythopoetic is, I think, James Hillman's word again. It is for me an intellectual word I do not understand. I understand mythology. I understand stories. I understand poetry. I understand that they cut close to the bone. I am a poet who became a psychoanalyst. That is my background. I am a cantadora. I am a storyteller. It comes from my feet, upward, not from my brain, downward. So I think that "mythopoetic" means that you use mythology to try to understand something about deep aspects of your nature.

I interviewed Robert Bly in 1990. I can remember saying to him, "Now, what about the men's movement?" And he said, "No, it's not men's movement." And I said, "Well, what will you call it?" "Men's work, just work with men, that's all." And, I really like that. I like that he called it work with men. Mythopoetic is too big a word. It is better to have simpler words.

I would like the men's movement to come see me. I would like to meet them. It, them, all of it. I would! I would! I feel that they are hidden, somehow, from me. That they do not come where I am. They go away by themselves.