Saturday, 31 December 2011

Walking North Tawton

Morning all. New Year's Eve.

Well, i did cook that goose, but have to admit i think i did a better job on the leg of lamb - goose requires a kind of artistry i may not possess yet - although its fat helped make the best roast potatoes i have ever eaten. Got a veritable treasure chest of esoteric and off the grid books for christmas who's titles and quick reviews i will try and lay out on the blog in the next few weeks. Also gifted a Donegal tweed, one bottle of Balvenie, one brown leather briefcase, one oiled wooden cigar box for my study desk (one heavy duty cigar per draft of a book - not a big smoker) and various other lovely gifts. Never made it to see the play Jerusalem with Mark Rylance in London's west end (regret that but prohibitive prices), but did stand on the south bank of the scat-dark Thames drinking mulled cider with my loved ones, and that softened the blow somewhat. Sad to report that Harris tweeds have gone up madly in price in charity shops, and oddly touched to note a Mod revival on the streets of the capital. Not a big one, but there they are, shuffling about.

Early 2012 offers more work on my new book which i hope will reach a strong draft stage by about April/May. My Parzival manuscript feels cooked (separate book) and i look forward to a five day telling of that genius epic at the Great Mother Conference in Maine, U.S.A. first week of June 2012. I will announce the full line up as soon as i have it.

Been an interesting year - Lot's of travel and teaching in America, completed PhD and got book out, enjoyed teaching alongside Robin Williamson, Gioia Timpanelli, Tony Hoagland, Caroline Casey and Alistair McIntosh, wandered Norway with Coleman Barks, got drunk with Robert Bly and collectively fell into a Minnesotan snowdrift, a weeks collaboration on fairy tales with John Densmore from the Doors, and sharing a stage at the Eden Project in Cornwall with the mighty Martin Carthy. So, whoopsy do. But it was also a hard time - my father's been ill and the school has experienced the same recession squeeze that everyone else is. So behind the scenes it certainly had its tough times. Also reflecting on the passing of James Hillman, Jackie Leven and my beautiful grandmother Christine Gibson, bless her wooly haired, bright eyed Crone-ness.


One rainy later summers day i drove up to North Tawton and wandered Ted Hughes's old haunts. The local pub still smelt of cigarette smoke which was wonderful, the moors felt oppressive and brutal up there in a way the south moor doesn't (north and south moor - i live on south). I sat in the church of his funeral and heard in my mind the reading Seamus Heaney gave. I saw his house in the distance and drove through the drizzle up towards the purple scarred tors that he loved so much. A strange village it was.

To go back in time a little - It’s late summer at the Westcountry Storytelling Festival 2010, up at Embercombe, outside Exeter. I’m in deep discussion with Hugh Lupton, a mesmeric British storyteller about Hughes and his work. He mentions a couple of books I know of but have not got round to. Four months on it’s Christmas Eve in Norfolk, two hundred and forty miles from our discussion. Remembering our chat, when in a old book shop I come across a copy of Hughes’s Moortown, I am delighted, and make a mental note to contact Hugh if I enjoy it. By now it’s starting to snow, so I tuck the book under my coat and head out into the frosty darkness.

Later, at Cara’s parents cottage I settle down by the fire with a pint and the book. I read by lamplight and enjoy greatly what I am reading. After about half and hour, something makes me glance at the inside sleeve of the book, I like to see the scrawl of old owners, and yes, there’s something there. Emblazoned on the page is the old owners name. Hugh Lupton.

Anyway, i digress. So, big, big blessings on all of us in this next passing of the Ravens wing. May your glass be full, belly replete and bed warm.

Here's something from Lightning Tree - some of which i've posted before, but what the hell. New Years resolutions and something on myth tellers and relationship to the land.

See you in 2012!


Become an apprentice to the way Caravaggio handled color and don’t worry about having an original thought for at least five years. Allow yourself to feel strange and slightly magical. Compose poetry that is irritable and fiery, that runs to hundreds of lines, then learn by heart and recite to nearby jackdaws. Write letters again, and find the oldest mail box you can to post them from. Decide that your hips are an altar to old Romanian Goddesses and take up belly dancing. Give out library cards as birthday presents. Run a three- week course from your porch on the relationship between the Aztec temples and Gypsy gambling games from medieval Wales. Don’t go easy on yourself.

A close relative to the Bard and the Poet is the almost extinct figure of the Seanchai, the wandering Storyteller whose very body is a rattling bag of mystery. This is what you might call a Storycarrier rather than teller. Characters like these have walked between settlements in Ireland and Celtic Britain for thousands of years. In Africa they may be called a Griot, in Guatamala a Great Rememberer. The Seanchai had a mystical dimension, and were even seen to have pulled some of the energy from the Filli (High Bards) of ancient Ireland with them. Conveying specifically stories from oral culture—from the campfire to the farmhouse to the Inn to the Great Hall to the campfire—they could move between huge hero cycles, to geographically specific folk tales, to meandering multi-dimensional personal anecdotes, somehow spinning the whole evening into a shimmering cloud that rained ecstatic intimacy on the listeners.

These individuals could conjure: ancestors would roll up behind every listener and lean in to hear stories of their lives once more, willow trees would move through a hundred feet of wet grass to get to the window, a hole would appear in the mythological world and luminous little beings would pour down through the container of the story and fly out into the room, collecting teardrops. This wasn’t so much a performance as an invocation: a ritualized righting of time from the imagined straight line into the circle where the animals, the old ones, weather patterns, and great sagas could suck strong milk from each others’ breasts, and much healing was done in this world. This was almost always carried on at night, when some wyrd energy steals through the camp, cutting our threads to the mortgaged world.

Some contemporary storytelling can appear to be a kind of ice walking; it becomes a layer through which you peer down and de scribe the lives of images moving cold underneath your feet, but you never jump into the story river itself. Burn the script and get wet. That way the story is always being told for the first time, over and over again.

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. Myth telling understands that the voice spoken in this attunement reaches to- wards the harsh thinking of the wind moving over a fissured moor, the excitement of the bat as it senses dusk. So does nature think?

As I write earlier in the chapter, I believe we plant our rickety societies on huge dreaming animals. The whole point of something like a Vision Quest was to create an axis of experience that somehow accommodated the thought-ripples of nature.

The patterning of crows over a winter field is an oracular thought of the mud, sky, and bird; the elegant procession of the reindeer 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 animals are myth-tellers in the way that they are. The hundred ways the otter gleefully crosses a stream is the same way the tellers splash their routes through a story: the same destination but differing currents, details, and varying intensities of stroke. 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.

Copyright White Cloud Press 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011


Well, it's proper cold now. The car is at the garage, clothes are getting shoved into suitcases, bottle of Jura lovingly bought for the visiting of old friends - in a few hours la fam Shaw takes to the high road and a migrational route of London, Norfolk and Lincolnshire for Christmas revels, before arriving back in the mother county Devon for New Year's Eve. I have some one off events for Jan/Feb.

LONDON: 12th January.
At Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 - i along with other performers will be telling a story whilst accompanied utterly in the moment (i.e. absolutely no rehearsal -that's the point). The event is called Tongue Fu and i'm sure can be googled for opening time and door fee.

TOTNES: 26th January.
Liminal Culture: The Genius of the Margins in Story and Initiation.
How Do we Bring the Jewel Back From The Otherworld?
An evening of stories and ideas from 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree', as part of the Consciousness Cafe series. 7.30 door.

DARTINGTON: 4th February
Wood Sisters Storytelling Festival, Steiner School, Dartington.
As part of the third School of Myth year course weekend we will be descending on this wonderful little festival to hear the likes of Katrice Horsley, Veronica Conboy, Clive Fairweather, Chris Salisbury and others. I will be telling 'The Handless Maiden' on the Saturday night. Again, google for details.

So, something on bards, imagination and flat out fakery this week. It's part of a much longer piece in a new book i'm working on - so it begins rather suddenly. It's a brief look at Irish then Welsh Bardic practice (most i am not including in this excerpt). Again it is calling for a kind of re-visioning of the word Bard, and a healthy move of the word between sexes and not just for beardy boys with a penchant for cloaks.

So, wishing you a very lovely, warm, occasionally boozy, always sweet-tempered, broody but not despairy kind of Christmas from all of us at the School of Myth. I will try and sneak one last blog in for 2011 but i may be too busy under the mistletoe or cooking an enormous goose for our Norfolk Christmas day. HO HO HO!


The school was not so much about a geography or grand house (often a hut or home) but focused around the charisma and knowledge of the Ollamh, the big man, chief-poet. Their influence radiated out in all four directions, and when they circuited Ireland amongst kings and nobles, the school, for all intents and purposes, went too. They were intellectually fierce, opinionated and full of the pomp their status conferred. On visiting a dignitary it was not unheard of for an Ollamh to remind their host of their own standing as being like a kind of King or Bishop (Corkery 1998 :32). The word bard was actually used for a lower rank of untrained poet, the word they all aspired to was to be a Fili. A bard in Ireland was more raggle-taggle; a wandering jongleur, teller of tales, maybe, heaven forbid, a singer of songs. There were heavy fines incurred for trained students tarting their gifts in such a way. This naughty underbelly of performing rogues became known as ‘bad fellows’ when they wandered England, or Filous in France.

However, payment for the more noble strand could prove difficult too, even with the amount of praise they rained down on their employees head. If they arrived en masse they brought with them an enormous cauldron entitled ‘The Pot of Avarice’. With this they grandly emphasised the need for payment in gold and silver, or, at the very least, food. This cauldron was made of pure silver, and supported on the points of nine spears. There they would stand at the entrance to the compound. We can see them now, dusk settling, chill in the air, the great cauldron glowing silver in the gloom, the line of poets standing in the mist. They would pass a poem down the line, man by man, stanza by stanza, to demonstrate their recall and honed poetic tongue. A heavy encouragement for praise, a bed, payment.

Over in Wales – a culture less harried by the phrase bard, and preserved or rediscovered or well, made up, by Iolo Morgannwg (or Edward Williams as his birth name, Welsh antiquarian and occasional forger of mystical texts – 1747-1826), we hear of a bardic astronomy: constellations of stars with names like:

The Circle of Gwydion
The Grove of Blodeuwedd
The Hen Eagle’s Nest
The White Fork
The Woodland Boar
The Conjunction of a Hundred Circles

This is all thrilling material, especially when aligned with Morgannwg’s revealing of the bardic dividing of the seasons, ancient chronologies and descriptions of poetic trials. It is less thrilling when we realise that The Barddas, from where this language arises, is certainly a forgery, a fake, either by Morgannwg or texts he studied that were themselves bogus. It is less thrilling when we realise that he was actually doing jail time in a Welsh prison when he started to gather the fragmentary materials from which his fevered imaginings created the above and far, far more.

This is far from just a calculated and unpleasant attempt to deceive, indeed he and another forger, James Macpherson (the ‘Ossian’ poems), did more to preserve some notion of the bards than anyone since possibly the middle ages. Who knows what was going on in the heads when they wrote this down, certainly much creativity and imagination. The mistake is when the artist tries to place the effervescent results of their producing into a space and time that is not authentic. No matter how much we hunger for union and fullness of exploration in these old fragments, a devised ‘whole’ such as Iolo attempts to provide, tends to a fictitious atmosphere – for obvious reasons. So there is a mixed motivation happening. So is this just straight fakery or are they actually reaching to some resource of imagination that is the well of all mystical image, 'fakey' or otherwise?

These days both men would probably have happy careers as great writers of fantasy, or even regarded as ‘channellers’, and scrape a living that way. When something intensely beautiful has been lost but a residual consciousness remains, we will accept even a mimic of that beauty. What makes the work of Iolo really complicated is that he did copy some authentic documents that are now lost, which means, like any great lie, there are hidden fragments of the real within it.

So much of the New Age follows similar lines to the above, and understandably offers much irritation to the scholar and genuine enthusiast. At the same moment, much these kind of fabrications have intelligence and yearning at their core, they have imagination, what they lack is something rooted in difficult personal ground. The truth of a visceral psychic opening. That experience can be far less whimsical, far rawer and hesitant then the easy prose of armchair-mysticism, but we immediately feel its compulsion. I have sat with 14 year old girls around a fire after their first wilderness fast and heard more genuinely bardic utterances than in many glossy books on spiritual matters. I would suggest this is the primary field rather than comfortable 'studied' language - a secondary, but important resource.

The land has things to whisper before we just start charging out our imaginings. When this is in place we sense heavy dark roots behind the words of the poet or teller.

Get dreamt before we think of dreaming.

I wonder if what many of us long for in the figure of the bard is not the courtly reciter of the post-Norman world but the older, more mystical, nature-connected figure of the primordial earth, a world that by its very nature is, as Robin Williamson says, made of the ‘quality of mist and starlight’, something profoundly druidic, magical, but also hard to access in modernity. This very figure was already being promoted rather clumsily by fourteenth and fifteenth century bards in an attempt to stop a steady decline in interest of the form. Some academics insist that their speculation is the root of what we now regard as ‘fact’ about this earlier stage.

For anyone interested in orality, literature and the wildness inherent in both, the later bardic world is problematic. One, for its frozen quality – wildness and creativity grow steadily more absent after it chief concern becomes the history of court and nobles. We get far less of some ecstatic nature poetry pouring through the compositions (this why we get so excited about Taliesin, although he is another figure underneath fierce debate), and more stodgy praise of dignitaries whilst shaking the money tin for another round of drinks. Poetry is rarely vital when tenured.

Secondly, their diminishing of local dialect in favour of a unified, unwavering elevated tongue is absolutely at loggerheads with the bio-regional flavour of this book. We need more burrs and rasps distinctive in language, not less. It may have been necessary at the time to create a clear Gaelic art form that was internationally recognised, but that time is not this time. The regional voice reveals trails back to the soil. We need to go down and specific – to dirt, twigs, streams, family roots, geographic understanding, the spontaneous and natural, than up and general – honouring wealth, status, stilted poetry, the status quo.

We need to take our praise back to the natural world, not offering it to the ‘land’ owner.

We have been cut from our home ground so many times we eventually find ourselves ‘out of our mind’ – our mind, our wild psyche, extending into lakes, hills and dandelions – not just caught in the skull.

Whilst we honour the early stories of reciting by memory 60,000 lines of verse, the practice of darkness as way towards luminous awakening, the love of language and also it’s use as dark speech – a form of verbal combat, it may be appropriate to return to an original source of the bardic inspiration, the land. When we get caught up entirely in the recreation of flowing robes, badly played harps, and forged histories it all starts to feel like a clumsy theatre, surely we are missing the point. And yet still the word bard has vitality to it, it is still animate, is still charged, and so could respond to a re-visioning with the move back to forest consciousness, moor consciousness, ocean consciousness at its centre.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2011

Thursday, 1 December 2011


Sweet marie, it's december. How has this happened? The leaves are off the trees and i guess we must consider the possibility that it is early winter. Autumn, champion of seasons has been way to short for me this year. Getting my clothes and rugs together, and coaxing the stories into my crane-skin bag of for this weekends 'COYOTE MAN AND THE FOX WOMAN' weekend, has reminded me of earlier, rather more robust gatherings, long before we considered cosy, lovely residential centers and were entirely tent orientated. Remembering those, and also sensing a distinct change of mood in Dartmoor itself, leads me to this weeks offering - a little remembering of a certain ritual etiquette when entering the wild.

So, come december - i enjoy the next few weeks often a little more than christmas itself. So lots of cooking, music - especially medieval, troubadour and a frisson of Arvo Part, red wine, friends, open fires. I am deeply into the writing of my new book and my current draft of my new Parzival book will be out doing the publishing rounds in the new year.

Archaic Gatekeeper
It’s raining as we start up the loose stoned track up onto the moor from the hamlet of Scoriton. My battered (car door savagely booted the night before by a stray cow – it never got fixed) Saab, although low slung, picks her way gingerly over the loose shale and occasional boulder. My black pearl is loaded with a 16ft yurt, wood burning stove, Persian rugs, a trivet to cook over a fire, several Persian rugs for a floor, half a bottle of Jameson’s whisky, local eggs, and a staggering assortment of smoked bacons and sausage from Ashburton’s finest butcher, Rodney Cleave. Stuffed in the pockets of a battered Harris Tweed is enough dark chocolate to barter your way out of the Underworld itself. About half way up the track we pull over onto the glistening long grass of Tony’s field. Tony is a local farmer – whip thin, skin as brown as hazel nut, utterly generous and with an almost aboriginal look in his eye.

It is the beginning of a years study of myth, initiation and both's relationship to the wild. We gingerly lay the thinning black canvas out over the Saab rather than directly on the wet grass. For now the rain is more of an atmosphere rather than direct assault. As I gaze at the patched up canvas and run my hand gently over its thread, my mind leaps.

For four years that tent had been my home, my roof, my ground. We had been nomadic, starting life up near the Welsh border for a couple of years, before the magnetic pull of my old turf, Devon, got too strong and I headed back to the apple-heavy west. With cat in tow I had found good natured folks who didn’t object to a strange bearded man and familiar living down by the tree line of their land. So for a while I lodged just outside Stoke Gabriel, shaded by a Eucalyptus tree. The final destination for this stretch of walkabout was in the ramshackle gardens by the lodgehouse of the grievously haunted Berry Pomeroy Castle.

It had been an elegant and testing time. Many of us sense mystery, what storytellers call the Otherworld, out of the corner of our eye, but lead lives so busy that it remains a brief intuition, rather than a full investigation. There will always be babes to feed, reports to write, pints to drink, bleary eyed school runs to navigate. Well, when I was in my early twenties I had gone up to Snowdonia to undertake a wilderness fast – four days in a wild place, without food, tent or fire. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this process and so will not overlabour it here. The experience had utterly shaken me to the quick, and a protracted change of life style was necessary.

My tent time was an attempt to orientate myself full time towards the mysteries. I had no agility as a practical man but just about got by, I could gather kindling for the burner, keep the tent toasty over a fierce winter, proof the hide, walk the valleys, copses, and summering lanes of the far west. Somewhere in all this I became a storyteller.

And a storyteller who would still be living in that tent on Dartmoor itself were the legal restrictions not so snare-tight! As it was, towards the end of the time I describe, I had fallen in love and a baby was growing in Cara’s belly. So, at the very bottom of that Scoriton track was a lane, Rosemary lane, and on it lived our small family, babe and all.

My reverie is broken by a yelp. My right hand pirate, Jonny Bloor, is walking swiftly towards me with a mouthful of blood. Whilst erecting the trellis for the yurt and stretching what we call Bunji ropes across them to keep them taught, one flies free and the sharp iron hooked end, with lightning speed, lodges itself in the bottom lip of young Jonny. The Bunji is now removed but a gaping hole pissing blood remains. Never one to miss a ritual opening, I suggest that Jonny lets it drip down onto the soil of the moor as we begin our enterprise. Then fill up the hole with chewing gum soaked in vinegar, or tobacco, or maybe even something vaguely sensible. So Jonny parades the borders of the field with his dripping mouth, ever brave, whilst I notice the rain is picking up.

With the help of another good man, the steel eyed David Stevenson, we soon get our creaky home erected. The occasional bucket is produced for sporadic leaks – very occasional I swear, and, praise allah!, the fire is lit, trivet set and the smell of roasting coffee drifts out from the smoke.

Later our tent fills with people. Cars parked at the bottom of the track, they have wobbled up to us with heavy rucksacks and anxious eyes. Jonny has met them in the darkening rain with a lantern and ruptured bottom lip, claiming I had lost my temper with him. Far from it, but they’re not to know. Still, the burner is valiant – providing life giving heat to our assorted bones. All are here for story, for wild adventure, for the night sea journey.

So focused am I on telling the first nights story I only partially register that the temperature has dropped. In fact it’s freezing, even with grandfather fire crackling out his story for all its worth. I glance up. The roof of the yurt has, utterly silently, flown off and down the hill into the indigo night. So completely caught in the stories unfolding, none of us had noticed its departure. A hundred thousand stars twinkle overhead.

Bust-mouth Jonny is first out the door, scampering like Finn’s hounds after the far distant sight of a crimson guy rope disappearing over the tump. This rather introverted group, with some gentle bellowed encouragement from myself, follow him out, grabbing all manner of hand tools and coils of ropes as they go, steel-eyed Dave sweeping them all on, holding up the rear with a large bill hook.

By now the temperature has dropped below freezing – it’s January. Hands have become numb blue bricks as we scamper after this knackered piece of cloth holding our world together. Finally we catch our whimsical shelter, just before it takes a sub-zero drenching in the bottom stream. The wind is now howling so aggressively that the usual technique of throwing a kind of lasso over the top of the yurt and dragging the canvas across is almost impossible. The enraged wind gods are throwing their spit right towards us and are facing the way the canvas needs to go. In the end two participants are splayed like inebriated spiders half way up either side of the trellis as a brick tied to a rope is hurled just over their delicate heads to land, just for a second, on the other side. Like a swarm we slosh through the heaps of dead bracken to get round and heave our shelter back onto the top of the tent. Frozen stumps of hands pass me boulders in the shuddering dark to support the guy ropes and suddenly the wind drops entirely. All is utterly calm. The story picks up perfectly from where we left off.

Later, when our fellow travellers sleep a mildly traumatised sleep (we will be bathing in a local stream at six), Dave, Jonny and I stretch out on the rugs by the blaze and reflect on what a ferocious gatekeeper of its secrets Dartmoor is. It had laid out some ground rules for our work. Like the ornately carved doorway to an Asian temple, its intricately designed images offer caution to those who enter. Be aware, go respectfully or you may taste blood, be aware, go respectfully or you may lose the roof of your house.

copyright martin shaw 2011

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Sea and the Addiction to Disorder

I am moments away from the drive up to Bridport in Dorset, to add an oral storytelling element to their Literary Festival, as well as lean a little in their direction with some of the ideas from 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree'. I look forward to dinner with friends Christine and David, and possibly a mid-afternoon snifter with School of Myth crew man and myth teller Tim Russell - he's currently working on a beguiling Arthurian commentary - involving black lions, a horse sliced in half by a castle gate and a ferocious elemental being with one huge foot - if that gives you enough clues to the story itself, all you folklore detectives. Maybe we can get a little out here on the blog when its cooked.

Here is some more on the Brutus story - on the notion of the great sea voyages that often occur within story, and also habits of personal disruption that some of us perpetually create, i.e. the problem of continually setting off for the wild voyage when the timing is off! I've certainly done it myself. Brutus sets off a great ship, not a leaky raft. Just over a week till our our COYOTE MAN AND THE FOX WOMAN weekend, a few places left - i will be bringing in some extremely gutsy old stories, beautifully laced with paradox. E-mail us today..

The Many Waved Sea Journey
Like the motif of being lost in the forest, the sea journey can indicate difficult inward development, the kind that can only occur when you have lost site of the shore. Rather than a serene meditator, Brutus encounters a variety of weather conditions past the care of the harbour. Nothing has been made secure; he is travelling on instinct not a promise. His world has tumbled down and the only direction he can paddle in is forward, and fast. When we stop and reflect in our own lives, the intensity of the depressions and furies waiting for us can be overwhelming. The savage green waves hit our decks and claim some crew, or weeks of numbness with no wind in the sail. Between here and there is waiting, doubt, exhaustion and occasionally terror. Ask any sailor.

Brutus joins the side of Tristan (of Tristan and Isolde) in his love of the salt-curled garden of the deep. Tristan, when grievously injured, took only his sword and his harp out on a small boat seeking healing for his poison. They seem to be giving us clues about trouble – when you find yourself in it, turn up the heat! But the trouble is not random, without meaning; both reveal the crucible of psychic growth, not just some exterior play of circumstance. Brutus is young to have been marked so severely, and we must remember he is not some wind bruised old sea captain, this is his first journey so far out.

In the fairy tale ‘Faithful John’, a young man similar in age sails out across many thousands of miles to be in the presence of a woman who lives at the edge of the world – he has only seen her image in a painting in a room his father kept locked. What room did our father keep locked?, and what journey did we have to undertake once we got in? In that story we know that the woman responds to gold crafted into delicate expressions of beauty. Gold, especially so refined, always indicates a huge rush of soul development in a story. So that young man took the long inner-journey in pursuit of longing for a woman that loves gold, Tristan went to face either death or healing, Brutus because he has a new life to find, a voyaging.

Three moments showing the great scramble to the waves. What unites them is that they are all events when our internal-radio has received a powerful signal; whether snuffling the grief-ashes or glazed sick with longing, the ocean does not invite mediocre expression. A clear note is struck over the chatter of the market place.

When the nice boy or girl suddenly goes wild, won’t return calls, gets into street brawls, has sex indiscriminately, shuts down entirely, they are pushing for a sea journey. The problem in our time is do they have the Trojans to bring with them, or do they set out alone on a leaky raft with a bottle of brandy and a broken compass?

When the story refers to the ship, the serving men, its general finery, it tells us that this is not a mere boy. Something has been honed, worked out, stretched inside him. There is a focus. Within us is the supporting cast of warriors; they need to be activated, coaxed or positively ordered into putting their muscle to the oar. No doctorate gets finished, no child raised, no language learnt without them. The story tells us something about strategy: that when the time is right to head out it is best to have some skill developed, something that supports us, no matter what hard weather we encounter. The story doesn’t say he ‘merges with the ocean’, or gets pulled under into fierce underswells, he rides the waves. He is neither hypnotised by the ecstatic commingling of nature or so unboundaried by drugs that he can’t stay afloat. The ship isn’t butchered with leaks or drifting in circles. It’s the kind of ship that Ted Hughes sailed when he launched out into a poem: firm, polished and unafraid of storms.

Shaking the Cage: Addiction to Disorder
A shadow of this move is when it becomes addictive; we all know people who become utterly predisposed to turning over the apple cart of their life as a kind of nervous tic – if they cannot taste the brine then they become nervous, afraid of death amongst the dishes and school run. So roll up, new lover, new town, new horizon – a brutal addiction to the act of severance. But as the years roll into decades we find no woman at the edge of the world, no healing in the deep, no kingdom to claim. We are trying to endlessly shake the cage without the deeper message getting through. It’s about timing and a certain internal attention. The intelligence in these stories is the amplification of certain cresting moments - this is the moment to act, not next week not last year. But they also tell of seven years underground adding kindling to a small fire. Accepting wood shavings as payment. Working in the pay of a forest lord. This is all to do with the business of discipline.

The word discipline actually derives from the Roman Goddess Disciplina – a latin noun that indicates training, faithfulness, self-control and determination. Disciplina was especially adored by warriors, and many Roman legions outposted to remote stretches of the empire drew heavily on her qualities of both loyalty and frugality to keep them heart-connected to their mission, and able to adapt to less than luxurious conditions. So to know the moment to set sail, to stay the course, to have warriors at your arm, requires an offering in the temple of Disciplina. Each cramped study with a student up late bent over a difficult text could be said to be a temple to her. Self-knowledge and the ability to be loyal to that knowledge in the crafting of a life that honours it.

Many caught in the addiction to upheaval define their character by their very readiness for movement. We all know the friend who’s face is framed in a bitter disposition, endlessly bringing the conversation around to their endured traumas and their seemingly endless and self-induced changes of circumstances. This temperament can become a prideful scar, no longer appropriate, and regardless of the damage this has caused to those around them. But the stories say that this slower pace, this gifting to Disciplina, leads to sovereignty, a claiming of Queen or Kingship. If you are continually caught in disorder then your aim is off, your boundaries trashed. The call to the ocean journey is not to be made cheap with continual furore. We cannot anchor an inner-kingdom with that kind of hysteria around.

copyright Martin Shaw 2011

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Moon Haired Being

Thank you for so many beautiful notes as i slid into my fortieth year a couple of weeks ago. I may not have been able to reply personally but know that you are in my thoughts and affections.

Something brand new this week - more on the story of Brutus - i put a segment from in on a blog a few weeks ago. He encounters a Goddess who tells him of this far off island, Albion (please scroll down to catch some of it)....

Dark Flowering Under the Bear's Fur

There has been much speculation about the name of the deity Brutus encounters at the temple. Some insist Diana, others Artemis, some, worryingly, make no distinction between the two, or believe that Diana is a late, Roman photocopy of the Greek Artemis (She is certainly far older than either of these names). Diana has an entirely independent origin in Italy, being worshipped on the Aventine Hill in Rome, especially invoked as a protector of the harvest against storms. She was also a Goddess of fertility, but somehow holding the virginal aspect that Artemis is so famed for. As the Greek influence grows ever more pervasive in Roman culture, a fusion seems to start to take place. Both become connected to the moon and the wild. Homer refers to Artemis as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron – “Artemis of the wildland, mistress of animals” As well as the mistress of the animals she is also mistress of the hunt, taking life with as much aggression and swiftness as she puts into preserving it. Endorsed by mighty Pan, he gave her seven bitches and six dogs, whilst she hunted down six golden horned deer to pull her chariot.

Her sanctuary at Brauron was the haunt of adolescent girls who were put into religious service to the Goddess for one year. During their rite-of-passage in the temple they were known as arktoi, meaning little she bears. The origination of this name was a rumoured story of a bear that had wandered into Brauron and been killed. Artemis was furious and insisted that from that moment on there was an atonement for the bears death. The young girls learnt and enacted several sacred dances, whilst disguised as bears themselves. It is an extraordinary image that at just a time in our own society that young girls are being roughly sexualised by a manic push for un-boundaried excitement, these young woman were taught to withdraw under the fur of a bear as their body began to bud and change. Rather than a time of erotic display it was a period to align with a tremendous animal power, to allow this flowering to have some privacy and also some cosmology around it. By the time they left that temple into the harsh marketplace of courting they had some sense of their internal value, what they were aligned to, what reservoir of clawed support they had. Our daughters should be so lucky.

Within mythology, virginity can indicate a kind of truth-teller. One not caught up in the lusty grunt of life’s intoxication’s, but sharp minded, with a hard spiritual clarity. It is often less about abhorrence of sex, more someone or some part of us ‘set apart’; impossible to influence by the things of this world. With their fierce associations to the lunar, to taking and protecting life, their ambivalence to men, their sometimes contrary nature, Brutus is lucky to have shown some etiquette at the entry to the temple.

Rather than tearing too many hairs out over her identity, it feels appropriate to acknowledge her otherworldliness and some generosity displayed to the young man. Much human sacrifice was committed in their name, so it is wrong to assume this is some cuddly figure offering some mentoring over a latte.

This is the being that haunted Robert Graves so much whilst living on the outskirts of Brixham in Devon he felt compelled to write his troubled but wonderful “The White Goddess” whilst experiencing abject horror by potential publishers. It will push us on with descriptions of places so wonderful we have no choice but to pursue. As Goddess of the Hunt she is releasing the ‘Questing Beast’ in Brutus. An animal – part serpent, lion, and goat – that once viewed (normally in the glades around Camelot), makes the hunter helpless to do anything but pursue its maddening trail.

Once we encounter it, we experience a flooding of the nervous system with the intangible but ferocious desire to follow its call. This Being with the Moon in her Hair even suggests to Brutus that this is a place that he is meant to offer stewardship to. A home.

How many of us have ever had a glimpse of the beast, or the moon-radiant being, or the possibility that there is some far off kingdom we are to inherit? Maybe some of our anguish is the deep and pushed away knowledge of this truth, a truth that arises in myth again and again. That we have a vast inner kingdom:

"It was a place of bee and boar, great endlessly stretching oak forest, its western tip heavy with apples, its northern point sprinkled white with hoare-frost. It was always ancient, always a dream of a lonely god, always a ground for lovers to get lost in. Its land was not threadbare with human hand, the burgundy soil remained un-toiled, trees bent forward to share their fruit."

(from story)

This is way too much for most of us. It reminds us of the ‘I AM’ poems of the ancient Celts – poetry where you made vast associations between your temperament and the curlew, the nut heavy branch, the indigo sky of a lightning storm. You take up a lot of space, an awful lot of space. No longer is the head bent in either trained piety or shame, but bent back and roaring loud into the hurricane. You are the swift footed wolf-singer, the mud smeared fish that learns to breathe, a mighty procession of snow tipped mountains, a curly god with a harvest of lovers.

To ensure we don’t get into this kind of disorientating trouble we can try two other methods – one is never to get to the sea journey at all, or two, set off so unprepared we never have the accumulated muscle and experience to get to the island. Society is very good at offering both horizontal possibilities – tranced out domesticity or rootless abandon.

The encounter with The Being with the Moon in her Hair is a root experience of true awakening. William Blake and Marion Woodman have followed her lead ruthlessly. And I mean ruthlessly, she is not about many different options, or Albion as a holiday home, she is painting a picture so magnetic in essence that total pursuit is the only option. Hand your casual flirtations in at the door, this is a marriage proposal.

This being will not be met in sexual ecstasy, or in a commune, but in the quiet solitude of the temple in the forest. If you do not bring the appropriate gifts she will not appear, if you have not encountered storms and fear she will not appear. If you are not comfortable with aloneness she will not appear. The nature of this being is complex, many shaded. She is not the goddess of the dance floor, she does not instigate warm, relational, sexy feelings. She is austere, strange, in service to things we cannot quite see, pristine. A being that could strike deep fear into her followers in the days when her name echoed the hills. They could not be sure what would be handed to them – the knife requiring sacrifice or the ruddy beam of a baby. To arrive inappropriately, like the story of Actaeon, stumbling on her bathing, is to be ripped apart by your own ravenous hounds - your own uncontrollable urges. if you’re not suitably cooked she will act swiftly. She is a vast arc of energy holding many extremes.

But the story tells us that when we go looking for vision, when we hold a subtle ear for holy unfoldings, she may just appear. She is not comfortable exactly, and many of those who have received her visioning have not been the most benign of characters or led the easiest of lives. A Goddess of moonlight has some underworld quality; no longer the bright, single imaged, mono infused tv commercial of today. She gives him the vision, sure, but does she tell him the way? That is for him to find. To follow moonlight is a commitment to waning, waxing and fullness, to a path of silvery movement, to uncertain steps of utter faith when the only sound is the death-hoot of the tawny owl. Moonlight is reflected sunlight, and so far less visible then the indelicate strut of the Sun, blazing all before it. So Brutus, to find this kingdom, is to take lunar steps. To stay active certainly, but sensitive to more than just the casual, brilliant aggression of youth.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2011

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Genius on the Margins (image Howard Gayton)


Just a quick one this week - just back from a splendid and lively first weekend of the year programme. We seemed to catch the last of the sunlight with a mist coming down on sunday. And remember all attendees - the recommended reading between this session and Decembers is: Singing Story, Healing Drum: Shamans and Storytellers of Turkic Siberia (Kira Van Deusen - Mc Gill-Queen's University Press), Teachers of Myth: Interviews on educational and psychological uses of myth with adolescents (Maren Tonder Hansen -spring journal books).

We still have some spaces for the below, so please feast your eyes .....

Friday, December 2 at 7:00pm - December 4 at 4:00pm
Blytheswood Hostel, Steps Bridge, Dunsford, Exeter, Devon EX6 7EQ

The Westcountry School of Myth presents the second weekend in its year long study of myth, initiation and wilderness. This time we jump into the rich and paradoxical area of the sacred trickster - through Raven bringing the light by stealing a luminous box from the Otherworld, to the birth of the storytelling god Hermes, to a Siberian woman who becomes a fox and can never go home, to the epic love story of Tristan and Isolde. Where do these extraordinary stories reside in the folds of our lives today?

The weekends promise a deep jump into the mythic world and the inner, whilst held tight in the mighty, mossy paw of Dartmoor. There are wood burning stoves, hot food, fellowship, laughter and depth, even the chance to tell a story or learn more about the art if so inclined. Why not come and find out what story you are living? Anyone welcome to begin the course at this stage, even if new to the school. E-mail today

I turn 40 next monday - the 24th - So i turn my head towards one of my deepest allies, old Dartmoor itself, to help me cross the threshold. The decade began in a black tent in a hidden valley - very rich indeed - but i feel filled with gratitude to all the friends i've made along the way. Many of these came through the road of the travelling myth-teller, but many also from just sitting still on Dartmoor and meeting all these inspirational characters that roll into the school. A special thanks to Chris, Jonny, Tina, Tim, Dave, Del, Rebeh, William, Scotty, Sue, Sam, and my good friend Lisa over in California, and Maggie and Luke. Please forgive my encroaching years if i have forgotten a name of anyone who has crewed for us, it's quite possible.

In the spirit of the 'I AM' Celtic poetic tradition (that students at the school put into practice) here is my own kind of variant of that as i approach a winter of following this myth-line of 2,000 yrs of story across Dartmoor (see last entry). For all students finding a piece of land to study for the duration of the programme (or longer) you may want to think of some kind of ritual greeting to it.

View from the Study

I am in the hut. Where language is a lovesick horse galloping inky mad across the bone- white page.

I am sometimes a bird - too often the skalded crow with blood-mouth, or the partridge, fat for deaths pot. My hobbled pedigree ruptures the brittle roof of reeds and eats stars, galloping down their ice language, their hope systems for the stranded hunter. As I gobble the sky I hurl light into soil.

The geese that flew for Parzival I love. The hawk that claimed three drops of their blood I love. The snow it fell to I love.

The hut is a kind of singing. It’s a loose gnotted story, my ramble-bag of low words, sweet feathery intensities. The floor is rutted Devon soil, ochre red, erotic dirt, good to stand upon in bare feet. The walls are big trees – Grimm’s trees, Russian, enormous Irish voyaging stories. The bark shines wet and dark, the roots are rough and deep. Where they hit soil all the flowers of Persia breathe. My fragile roof, patched so many times with my uprisings, threaded with an old woman’s hair, carries tribal rains that drip berry large onto the peaty fire. Water and flame.

The dust on Mirabai’s feet I love. The heavy horse alone in the orchard I love. The woman that lives at the edge of the world I love.

My grasses hum with beehive. I break chunks of honeycomb and offer them up to great Dartmoor. The hut shudders with foamy energy, reaching northwards to coax the rivers – the Tavy, the Plym, the Erme, the Avon, the Dart, and the Teign. I have shells from the green sea threaded in my belt, generous beer in a bronze cup for the spit-wind. I come in the old way. I leave a hollowed out hoof filled with apple-blossom on the turf, I haunch the dream path of the adder up to Hay Tor, Lucky Tor, Hound Tor, Benji Tor, Yal Tor.

The dry-stone wall I love. The moon over corn I love. Branwen of the white breast I love.

At forty years old I bend my head. I come in my fathers boots, and Alec’s, and Leonard’s, and Bryan’s. I carry dark bundles of my mothers hair, and Christine’s, and Monica’s, and Jennies. The blood holds Shaw, Gibson, Causer, Thackery. I come to walk the boundaries. I come to find a myth-line. The territory is the moor – once a desert, a tropical island, a red wood forest. So, shape-mover, what stories do you want to tell? What veins of charge ripple your flank? Where do I place my shoulder, ear and eye? My middle finger taps the tortoise shell that leads us home, I lace granite with whisky and milk. Within the stag’s bone there is a hawkish wine, in the glisten-steps of the morning hare lies the old singing.

Let the tusks of Dermot’s Boar get soaked in the wine of your education,
Let your milk heavy udders splash hot into our story-parched mouth,
Let the wild swan at dawn rise to meet Christ’s dark fire

I ask protection from the good power.

Let all stories hold, heal and nourish my small family. Let they be salmon and hazels for our mouths. Nothing but goodness – no envy, no meaness, no smallness.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2011

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Just 3 days to the beginning of the year programme up at Heathercombe, residential centre on Dartmoor! Surely even as we speak you are packing sheep-skins to sit upon, Persian goblets from which to drink wine, parchment from which to draw images emerging from the story. Friday evening at 8pm (get there 7 for supper) the ship sets out onto the myth seas. Hope to see you at the harbour gates, just as night settles....we have never been told at the school before stories of queens with three drops of poison in their breast, hunters telling stories for the pelt of a black fox, faithful guides turned to stone, witches who keep a whip hidden underneath their pillow, one door that a father keeps locked to his son.....get in touch with Tina today!!!!at-

in a perfectly unashamed attempt to give you a taste of the school, i am dropping in an excerpt this week of a segment from a new book i am working on. I want to keep the main ideas under wraps for now - but i can say that it is a kind of myth-line of stories set across Dartmoor's great flank over about 2,000 years. A kind of local 'song-line' for those familiar with the aboriginal world. It's from the earliest story in the book - that of Brutus of Troy (Britain is named after him). Brutus has set sail for adventure, but with a troubled heart. ...come find us this weekend for more of the story!

Brutus and the Woman with the Moon in her Hair
Many seas came to meet him – the salt wall of the storm, the flat blue when no breeze creeps the sail, the jaunty push of the curling wave. All was an education in water. Silence he knew about. The ship was magnificent, two sheafs of oars on either side that almost skimmed the waves. A hundred men, fifty on each side, rowed hard. Their boy leader always gazed ahead – crow like in his focus, but golden in aura. Inside is a storm however, inside is a storm.

After a time they found themselves led by a swift wind to a deserted island. The men contented themselves by feasting and resting on the pearl white beaches, whilst Brutus wandered in past the tree line.

He came to the ruins of an old temple. It could have been a temple for Artemis, or Diana, or some great mistress of the Hunt who’s name is kept safe by badgers. Having been steeped in ritual etiquette, Brutus wasted no time. At the ivy clad entrance he lit three fires, then caught and sacrificed a white hart. He mingled its blood with wine and poured his offering onto the broken altar. The emerald glade protected Brutus from the harsh sun as he muttered his heart felt prayers for guidance. Afterwards he skinned the deer, lay on its white skin and fell into a visionary rest.

Soon a sweet breeze came through the boughs of the green wood. A young woman stood before him, small birds of dazzling colour hummed around her shoulders, the new moon was in her hair and she carried a sceptre with the morning star shining at its very point. On her back was an ornate bow and quiver of ebony coloured arrows, each with a differing star constellation carved delicately onto its stem.

When she spoke her breath was like honeysuckle and her tone strong but calm. She told him of an Island, far to the west, over nine waves. She spoke of it as a place where he would reign and establish a culture.

It was a place of bee and boar, great endlessly stretching oak forest, its western tip heavy with apples, its northern point sprinkled white with hoare-frost. It was always ancient, always a dream of a lonely god, always a ground for lovers to get lost in. Its land was not threadbare with human hand, the burgundy soil remained un-toiled, trees bent forward to share their fruit.

The river water alone was fit for the goblet of a queen, the sows udders was rich with milk, gold glittered in shingle, the stream was fat with pike. She spoke of a place where you could hunt for a thousand years with hawk, horse and hound and not dint the wild harvest. The stag would cross the lonely loch for a hunter who sang at dusk. In spring the meadows were ablaze with wild flower, like cups of honey. In winter the forest gave its seasoned timber to fires that never went out. In that snowy time the cup warmed with mead, belly filled with smoked meats and the tongue uncurled all the stories that bound weather, tribe and place together.

For the roe-deer there was the succulent tip of hazel shoots to nibble on, for fallow deer the ash, elm and hawthorn. Even the rook sang love songs to the worm – their gutterbrawl caw was somehow sweeter on this island. It becomes an incant, a hedgerow ballad, a raised lament. The animals powers were hot here, around, charged.

The young woman had sisters and brothers there. Divinities. Arianrhod – owl faced, ebony skinned, hair like a corn flood. Spider webs pour from her hands as she decides fates webs in our lives, ivy flanks her thighs and rump. She can forgive, and she can be Holy Terror. Cernunnos, moon-lover, horned radiance, dweller of the grove, strong-loined seed giver.
Utterly beloved by the people.

In a land like that, men eyes were firm and untroubled, in a land like that a woman’s mind arched out a hundred miles and knew she a hawk, or a defender of the waterfall. And the name? The name was Albion.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2011

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Well the train finally landed me in deepest Devon earlier today - after a commute from San Francisco to New York to Heathrow to Paddington to Newton Abbot - whilst carrying a full bag of 27 books and luggage. All is green and red and moist and the lanes are misty and the air is scented like a taste of heaven. Autumn.

So the turn inward begins - the Cinderbiting time. I had a last burst of sunshine by spending an intensely busy weekend in California's Indian Summer, teaching at Dominican and Sonoma State universities, alongside a wonderful night presenting 'The Culture of Wildness' for the Numina Center (thanks especially friends Jon and Liza). Jon Jackson also hosted me for a very rich two hours on his 'Sound Mind' radio show - expect archive link soon. Friday night was a packed house in Point Reyes for an evening that included my dear friend Daniel Deardorff. We then all headed off to the wilds for the final weekend of the myth and wilderness course - 30 students strong plus supporting crew. I will remember it for a long time, and especially the guts and heart of one Lisa Doron who put a huge amount in to making it happen. So anyone involved with setting these events up (including radio)- THANK YOU.

High points involved tending a fire for six days up in the yurt by Lake Sturgeon Minnesota as fall settled in, being presented with a bottle of Lagavulin sixteen year old single malt by the side of a hot Californian road (you know who you are!) and delivered with proper bardic incant, flying over Manhattan at dusk just over from LEE SCRATCH PERRY - who was resplendent in glass covered pyth helmet, enormous badges and blood red beard. And the hundreds of new faces and opinions and blessings encountered.

I made a new friend during the trip (of several), Jacob Needleman (Jacob Needleman (b. October 6, 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American philosopher and best selling author. He is professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University. He has published many books, some of which draw from G. I. Gurdjieff.) Jacob and i spoke for an hour on 'POINT REYES DIALOGUES' -his radio show on philosophy and the the soul, which really was a delight. A great connection.

As soon as it is on air (next week)i will set up a link on the main page of . I am hopeful we will work together again.

I strongly suggest reading him, a very bright, deep and unpretentious thinker. I promised students that have just finished the first year a fall/winter reading list - here it is. Some old, some new.

Everywhere Being is Dancing - Robert Bringhurst
Towards Psychologies of Liberation - Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman
Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry - Edited Leonard Lewisohn
From Scythia to Camelot - C. Scott Littleton, Linda A. Malcor.
Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children - Michael Newton
The Achievement of Ted Hughes - Edited Keith Sagar
Soil and Soul: People vrs Corporate Power - Alastair McIntosh
Robert Bly In This World - Edited Thomas R. Smith
Medieval Dream Poetry - A.C. Spearing
Singing Story, Healing Drum: Shamans and Storytellers of Turkic Siberia - Kira Van Deusen
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - Translation Simon Armitage

That should get you through till christmas if read well. get a Cinderbiter group together and bring books you love to the pub and the roaring fire. Get an old harris tweed with pockets full of hipflasks and chorizo and mayan gold. See last autumns post for all the skinny on the Cinderbiters - the School of Myth wild readers group.


A new essay piece on the issue of shame - working with the old Knightly notion of 'never lose your sense of shame!' - a controversial idea in modern times. Expect a reference or two to Parzival as it's coming from that wider work.

Shame’s Rough Music

The old belief is that a shame culture keeps us in check by claiming “ we have our eyes on you! We see what you do, so behave!” (a society of curtain-twitchers), which then develops into a guilt culture; when you have internalised that pressure so successfully that you no longer need external forces to create that behaviour, so you carry that accountability within yourself.

There is an old British shaming tradition, known all over the isle as ‘Rough Music’. In specific areas it was also called Sherriking, Riding the Stang, Stag Hunting. If an affair was going in the village, a case of suspected incest, wife or husband abuse taking place, then a mob would gather outside the homestead bashing tin pots or iron sheets; anything that made an infernal racket. It was often reserved for suspicions of a sexual nature. The suspects would literally be drummed out of the district. For wife beaters, a bag of chaff was laid on the door leading up to the house. Chaff comes from the thrashing of corn, hence the implication.

Some commentaries on Rough Music imply that it arises from the old pagan belief (at the heart of this story) that when relationship fails between two people then the crop struggles, animals die, and the land withers. It’s a protective warding off. George Ewart Evans reminds us of the story of an old Swiss tradition where a farmer and his wife would lie in the ploughed furrows of the field and make love, to ensure that the seeds would sink deep into the fertile earth.

The root of shame lies in sudden unexpected exposure. We stand revealed as lesser, painfully diminished in our own eyes and the eyes of others as well. Such a loss of face is inherent to shame. Binding self-consciousness along with deepening self-doubt follow quickly…Shame is without parallel a sickness of the soul. (Kaufman 1980 :11)

The psychologist Gershen Kaufman tells the story of Maggie, a young woman returning home late one night, whilst her parents have been up worrying about her. In the middle of a conversation with her mother her father appears with a pair of scissors and cuts her long hair off. This is a horrendous image. There is also a tie into Herzaloydes’s ‘fooling’ of the son. The difference is Parzivals naivete, he does not at first experience the shame, but Maggie is a young women living in a secular world, she knows full well the implication of the haircutting. Young buds of sexuality, connections to roots of trees, ruddy follicles on the back of the roe buck, fragments of stars all live within her hair. And in one fell swoop of panic, the father attempts to eradicate all relationship, all grounding to that ecstatic world for the daughter.

In my final year at secondary school the headmaster insisted my own hair was cut a total of seven times, as a signal to younger pupils not to attempt the grandiosity of growing their hair. So I was now a mascot for shame, his rules imprinted over my own for all the world to see. Shame inflicted publicly often has a particularly deep resonance.

My own experience was one of profound diminishment, I could barely make eye contact or raise my head to look forward for some time afterward. This was, of course, gradually replaced by a kind of lunatic optimism and hysterical cheeriness. However, It does not take much for an echo of that experience to ‘seemingly’ recreate itself , and the old facial tics of shame return. I somehow seek it out.

There is a cautious arc of trust that exists between us and the deeper friendships we develop, but with that trust comes vulnerability. When that trust is seemingly betrayed, we experience what Kaufman call’s “the breaking of the interpersonal bridge” – we feel isolated, impudent, melancholic – who were we to think we ever deserved friendship anyway?

There is also the possibility of an addiction to shame.

Ghastly as it sounds, it is possible to be drawn into a toxic, addictive shame. We actually engender situations that inflame the old patterns. We are so familiar with the emotions we enter when shamed – it gradually dictates our whole word view – that it becomes a macabre confirmation of the social standing we have elected for ourselves. It becomes a form of hiding. In old Norse stories we have the image of the Cinderbiter – one who lies hidden in the ashes of a fire. Whilst these stories have many positive associations for that role, in this instance it is worth asking; what are my ashes that hide me from the world? What shame keeps me from emerging? For many of us addiction to all that glorious food – which then becomes layers of fat – becomes a way of staying hidden in the ashes.

At the same time, Lewis Hyde (Hyde 1998 :187) reminds us that the Greek term for shame is Aidos, a word that contains wider associations of reverence and modesty. To lack Aidos is to take a chainsaw to an old oak grove, to snub an invitation to Odin’s feast, to leave the venue as Neruda reads. It means no sense of the vertical road, no awareness of the rugged powers that infuse the tusk of the boar. Ultimately it gives permission for the most extraordinary abuse of the earth’s resources.

Martin Shaw Copyright 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Home Away From Home: US Autumn 2011

We Make the Road by Walking

It's 6 am ish and i cradle black coffee and coax the woodburner in my yurt by lake Sturgeon = all this can only mean i am at the Minnesota Mens Conference. Old friends and new are flooding into Camp Miller. The Great Mother Planning Meeting in Vermont was terrific - keep posted for a wonderful and diverse bill of teachers emerging for next June up in Maine. Tony Hoagland read poems, we drank wine and drove gingerly (not at same time) around the huge fissures that the recent floods have left in many Vermont roads. I hope those communities heal quickly.

PARZIVAL AND RADIO: I will be on Caroline Casey's show this Thursday afternoon (evening 10pm in UK) - to listen simply go to:

and click on to the live stream or later podcast. We will discuss Parzival and all sorts of mythic and cosmological delights. Always a pleasure to collaborate on air with this generous host. Here are my on the road traveling engagements over the next 2 weeks. Many don't have direct phone numbers but in these days of fancy-pants technology, i'm sure you can track down said venues/people. I am very much looking forward to speaking with Jon Jackson next Tuesday on KOS FM and at for the Numina Center in Santa Rosa in Thursday night (see below). The Myth and Wilderness weekend in Point Reyes has long since sold out, but the friday night event in the town itself has a few seats left. Come! Ok, more soon, i need a feeder log for this fire to tick over while Danny and I go tell fairy tales in the lodge.

Tues 13th - Sun 18th
Minnesota Mens Conference, When the Waters Rise: Men and the Work of
John Lee, Malidoma Some, Martin Shaw, Robert Bly, Daniel Deardorff, Ed Tick

Tues 20th Sept - 7.00pm
'Sound Mind' radio show KOS
FM with Jon Jackson, Santa Rosa, California

Wens 21st
Sept- Dominican University,
7-9pm, An evening of myth, storytelling and

Thurs 22nd
Sept - (daytime) 12.00pm Interviewed by philosopher
Jacob Needleman,

(evening) 'The Culture of Wildness' - myth,
poetics and conversation, 7.30 pm Numina center, Santa Rosa (Church of
the Incarnation)

Friday 23rd Sept - (daytime) 10 -1 , Sonoma State
University, leading session for MA Depth psychology students.

(evening) 7.00pm, Point Reyes Presbyterian Church, The Six Swans fairy tale

Sat/Sun 24/25th
Sept - Weekend
gathering on Myth and Wilderness,
Point Reyes (waiting list only)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Sign up: Year Program begins Next Month!

Bags packed, red leaves coming down from old trees, passport in Levis, hipflask in jacket - it's time for my early autumn wanderings abroad - friends to meet, forests to wander, lakes to swim, old stories to tell. Leaving my little family for even a little while is a tight hit to the heart, but means there will be traveling bags of exotic treasures on my return.

The year program begins next month up on Dartmoor - there is much excitement between me and the crew about all sorts of new elements arriving whilst the strong initiatory skeleton holds strong. We need to hear from you TODAY to get your place at the fire. Visit and get in touch with nimble Tina as soon as is possible. We would hate you to be disappointed.Seriously, it happens, last minute won't cut it, get to that email!

Today is from my continuing work on the story of Parzival - the boys first encounter with Camelot - even without maybe knowing the story well i'm sure you can get what you need from the below and forget what you don't.

The Shield of Swift Insight

He encounters the Red Knight. Lust, grief and now anger (Jeschute, Sigurne, Ithir) – an astonishing trio of introductions on such a brief trip. Maybe in our lives it takes many years for this succession of encounters. The knight is a mirror of display, ferocity and skill. Parzival wants what he has. He is like the three knights in the forest but with even greater flamboyance. In our time, Parzival is in the front row at a rock gig, staring up at the brooding lead guitarist, he is in an empty movie theatre thrilled by the action hero. We all understand what this feels like. The Knights indigence and fury has created a hole in the psyche of Camelot that allows someone from the very edge, a fool, to stroll into its very centre. The boy does not find cosmos but chaos.

In the early examples of kingship, some Kings were never allowed to leave the tribal hut in case they witnessed the Sun, something that to their people they actually appeared to be. If the King was to behold its radiance, he would feel diminished, and the crop would fail. What an agricultural kingdom cherished above all was repetition and order, a defence against the seemingly random waxing and waning of crops, deer heavy forest, drought. It was crucial to have a consistent, vigorous sovereign at the very centre of the kingdom to mediate between celestial and earthy currents. It was clear that the universe was an antagonistic, unruly spirit, and it was the ritual of sovereignty that wrestled it into a cosmos.

At the same time this primeval consciousness understood that the fluid assemblage of boundaries between order and chaos was a crucial element for the nature of renewal, something absolutely essential to the nature of sovereignty, Arthur’s Knights are continually heading out into the forest. There is always a door to wild adventure at Camelot, Arthur often refusing to feast until an adventure arrives. This incanting between the Court and Forest plants a cosmology over the simply geographical, a mythology of relationship.

If it is true that myth is a collision of ruptures, then this image of Camelot amok can be seen on an immediate level as when our own foundational stones – health, identity, job, family are challenged. It is extraordinary how we build our castles in the sand, one sweep of the briny wave and over they go. It is another moment in the story telling us that the only sense of security we have is a false sense of security. As we realise that there is something red, angry and heavily armed waiting just outside the front door for us, the story suggests that it is only some marginal energy in us that can arise and take it on. Maybe the Parzival in us can only be born in the very second the wine is poured on Ginover’s dress.

Some problems are way beyond our storehouse of knowledge or lived experience. There’s nothing in our assorted memory’s that can prepare us for it. A world inflamed by climate change. As I write this a tsunami is dominating all news as it breaks off the coast of Japan. It is times like these that we look to the edges, the otherly borders, and the genius that abides there. It is from there that the 'fool' comes, like David with his sling, on the back of a donkey, green as grass.

Some things in our lives cannot be solved by looking at them directly. By always following a literal thread.This is again a problem with Western forms of addressing challenge. We need a shield from where we see around corners, not staring directly into the face of Medusa less we be turned to stone. Myth gifts us this. The answer that is a slow opening spiral rather than a rapid arrow. Otherness is our guide.

The shield of swift insight is the drop out of the rational altogether. It is catching the story of the peregrine and the breeze, the myriad interplay between constantly erupting mythic forms, the erupting bricolage that chaos and cosmos breed when thoroughly tangled at the boundary line of the kingdom. Brilliance abides there. It is the lucidity of rupture, mesmeric threads of leafy illumination and loamy cunning.

Many of the lasting images in myth come from this granary of otherness. They were not rattled off by an act of will, but land un-bidded when we drop down and underneath ‘normal’ thought and language altogether. At some point they break up and into the dry plain of vocabulary, shaking the syntax with sparkling drops of morning dew. These are the images, the stories, the insights that last. The words that have roots attached, or that leap, like rash ponies towards stars at the very edge of our vision. This is why the poets matter.

We court chaos when we brick up a wall between Court and Forest, establish a fictitious divide between wildness and discipline. The greater our ‘forgetting’, the more immersed in the literal, then the shields insights become harder to access. Like any muscle or sense, it requires daily exercising, stretching, expanding.

Allowing yourself time to settle into a Russian fairy tale is to help that muscle memory establish itself. Figuring out, on a daily basis, who’s temple do we most frequently visit? We’re all worshipping something. What stands behind my compulsions, my work, my home arrangements? This is the beginning of developing a slyer eye for the big picture. The next time you are roused to argument check out what is speaking through you, what collision of deity and imagined hurt are colluding to provoke you? These are all blurry images on the shield of swift insight. The more it’s polished, exercised, the clearer the scene.

A poetical imagination is not really about writing anything down, or composing sonnets. It is a way of seeing, and the most natural result of any truly mythic experience. The greater the challenge, the more crucial its sideways, underneath, round the back view. Big hitters like Jesus and Buddha seem to take themselves to trees and deserts to really get soaked in this.

Martin Shaw Copyright 2011

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Kettles Ready


So i hear the earth is moving in the U.S., safe and good things wished to all friends (and otherwise) over there. I have spent a more sedate and very wonderful week with my daughter being outlaws and learning to cook outlaw food on outlaw fires, watching fireworks over Plymouth hoe (bay), eating way to much popcorn at yes, the Smurfs movie (she wanted Kurosawa but i insisted), wandering the woodland trail and lots of story. Story, that, on the rare occasion that she slept, led me back to my own reading of old classics like Bruno Bettelheim's 'The Uses of Enchantment', Heinrich Zimmer's 'The King and The Corpse', and Marie Louise Von - Franz's 'Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales'. I look forward to some autumnal (sorry, that word again) study specifically with fairy tales, and some group work out of it - how does that information sit thirty years (or more) later? Whilst i don't go along with every word there is some true gold in all three of those books for anyone interested in the business of exegesis of story - a tricky ground.

An excerpt this week from chapter seven of 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree - 'Deer Woman and the Velvet Antlered Moon'. In this Siberian story the Moon falls in love with a young woman who looks after a remote herd of Deer. When he charges down on his chariot from the night sky she changes shape into many different objects until he is worn down enough (and tied up) for a slightly less intense conversation to begin between them. This is a little of the commentary that i would hope can be enlarged to a wider thought on love and courtship.

It is a genius clue that when the gift comes, the Deer Woman hides. The myth-world’s frequency is different from that of the human, and much tearing and thunder can commence when the two worlds square up to each other. Destiny is an awesome thing. James Hillman tells the story of the great Spanish bullfighter Manolete (1917- 1947), who as a boy “clung so tightly to his mother’s apron strings that his sisters and other children used to tease him”4

His clinging was an attempt to jump down the hole, to buy himself time until he had developed a container strong enough to bear the gift offered. Come adolescence, he ran towards his gifting, and towards his death. Gored by the bull Islero at age thirty, he died, his funeral the largest Spain has ever seen.

It could be that Manolete sensed his destiny, the glory and the sobriety of it, and bought all the time he could before the pulse became too persistent to ignore. For others, the price of relationship to the moon is that they are unable to reenter the village, its light grows dim around other people. An artist’s studio can be seen to be an attempt to “catch beams.”

Of course, when we are overwhelmed, we attempt to return to safe ground—when the Deer Woman is confronted by the Moon, she runs back to her father’s tent. However, as in many initiatory stories, he’s not there. The father and the tent represent her grounding in her community, her childhood, and her humanity. The container remains, but this time she has to be the negotiator, the elder, the one with wit. Sometimes, when making a painting, I will occasionally slip into ground so new and unexpected to me that I panic and paint over it, calming myself with more “negotiated” gestures. Like the surface of the moon, I don’t recognize the landmarks, I can’t see any footprints. So I try to drag the Moon back into my black tent of tradition, comfort, and warmth. I too will try to familiarize the otherness of the experience into something that can gradually be integrated into a body of work. Try as I might, I’m not an astronaut yet.

The Deer Woman stays safe by a kind of mimicry, an invisibility that preserves us in all sorts of situations—at school we imitate the teacher and his or her “light of knowledge,” and gradually learn to hide our own peculiar, idiosyncratic opinions. If they should pop out, we would become visible and vulnerable, so better to ape what is bigger and brighter than us.

This kind of activity, while potentially life-saving as we grow, can become a castrating and unconscious habit if carried into adulthood. Of course the Moon is looking for her, not an imitation of himself. But in this case, she bides her time and wears him out.

Of course, there could also be a straight avoidance of intimacy in her hiding. Better to munch a lettuce leaf and practice detachment than get down into the muck of relationship and have to deal with its unwieldy shadow.

The Great Thief
It could be said that to know the moon is to be connected to thievery. Even the Moon’s glow is stolen sunlight, reduced 500,000 times. Not content with stealing sunlight, the moon also has a penchant for pilfering color. 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, the Moon 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, we know that the 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 slender trail to the sweetheart’s door. So to draw down the Moon brings a certain wiliness.

All this talk of thievery could have scared the Deer Woman: would she want her own color, her essence, so consumed? We see a strong reaction to the bluster of the potential suitor. Can you remember being with someone who cast so much light that your own couldn’t be seen? Like a hip-hop star covered in bling jewelry, the moon so far offers no real relationship, only adoration. The Deer Woman has been alone long enough to know that she doesn’t want that. And so it begins. She refuses calls, rain-checks dates, and has always just left the party when you arrive. This just intrigues and frustrates you more, until, like the moon, you find yourself frantic and sweating, searching under animal skins and through friends’ address books trying to track her down.

Just when you are finally turning away, you hear her voice from the top floor of a crowded restaurant, and there you go, charging in among the tables again. Her faint voice is a tiny clue that this is a courting rather than a flat refusal. Once the Moon’s grandiosity is lessened, and he is wrapped in the cords of the world, when he even faces something approaching mortality, he and the Deer Woman really start to communicate.

How can she trust such an energy? Surely better to stay in her glorious isolation. But the Moon Man also offers an image of largeness, flamboyance. His arrival has broken the steady rhythm of the animals and the frost: he offers an outwards expression, to be seen. In the tangle of our own relationships, the rambunctious partner offers a challenge to our inwardness—we despise but are attracted to this rambunctiousness. In the myth-world, all these characters reside in us, and so we could say that the Deer Woman—solitude loving wilderness being—and the Moon Man— mighty, galaxy-shining, tide-altering—are trying to reach an accord with each other. The Road of Solitude and the Road of Voice have found a crossroads.

All of us sense that many types of love exist. There is that first burst when we feel immortal and beloved in the eye of our sweetheart, huge and extraordinary. It is as if this sensation is propping up some fantastical posture of our own importance. The love is really about what we are experiencing—a sense of connection, support, and ardor—still centered around the self in some way. A relationship based on this pattern seems to have roughly a three-year life span. The crunch time is the possibility of a less self-centered love emerging, one rooted in compassion. Instead of trying to frantically draw your self-esteem from your partner, you instead, like the Deer Woman and the Moon Man, start to appreciate the other’s separateness, the intense beauty that is theirs alone—that they have desires, dreams, and idiosyncrasies that are not about you. This mystery can be so daunting that we allow the other to pass out of view forever. The Deer Woman never seems to be caught in the former, that instinct body is always pushing for a place of real appreciation, she’s not looking for props.

Copyright White Cloud Press 2011

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Come and Study with Us: THE YEAR PROGRAMME

Please see above Californian friends - Thurs 22nd sept, NUMINA CENTER, Santa Rosa, alongside events at Dominican and Sonoma universities, various radio interviews and Point Reyes open evening on the 23rd. The final weekend of the myth course is entirely filled, but contact Point Reyes Bookstore (the wonderful Lisa Doron) if you'd like to be on the waiting list.

Thank you for the very warm response to last weeks entry. Over 400 'shares' on Facebook, and many e-mails of support. Please keep sending it along to anyone it would benefit.

Down here in Devon rain is sloughing in from the high moor. We appear to have gathered in the last of the potatoes from the soil in our tiny (really tiny) garden, but are forming ambitious. if folly-led expansion ideas for a positive eden of veg appearing in various dustbins and wound round fences for 2012. The land feels as if it is gearing up for the move into early autumn. I find it all impossibly beautiful but i know that irritates all the summer people who are quire rightly hanging onto every last moment of sunlight before the move into mulch, mist, long walks and red beer. So i won't say more on it till late September at least.

I'm off for an early meeting this afternoon with friends the storytellers Chris Salisbury and Sue Charman (and directors of...) regarding the Westcountry Storytelling Festival 2012, for August next year. Interesting plans afoot. I'll also be over in Vermont in three weeks having similar meetings with Caroline Casey, Tony Hoagland and other esteemed colleagues for the shape and beauty that will become the Great Mother Conference 2012. It's great to see in this era of utterly slashed creative fundings wonderful uprisings of fiery language and powerful art.

So i want to offer an invitation to consider coming to study with us at the school for the up coming year programme. A chance to do something vital, occasionally troubling, sometimes hilarious and always engaging. It's a step outside normal, tick-tock time and into something robust and eternal. It will serve you well. Contact Tina at, and she can put you in contact with me for a chat if you'd like a first hand account of what the great adventure offers. Jump in, jump in. Wake up that sweet pirate hurling coins at the moon.

It's always a true boon to get a sense of sign up early, the whole 'last minute' thing is a total drag for balancing the books.

Some of what it offers is laid out below.

The dates below are for the Westcountry School of Myth year programme beginning in October. Underneath that is an excerpt from a new interview - all of which can be found at:

Oct 14th to 16th 2011

Dec 2nd to 4th 2011

Feb 3rd to 5th 2012

April 6th to 8th 2012

June 22nd to 24th 2012


What does the School of Myth offer?

Let me just say what a huge variety of student we get - from professors to artists to surgeons to street musicians. As long as you have a love of story and nature than this is a good place to come - regardless of experience.

What makes the school unique in Britain is a very developed relationship between rites-of-passage and the myths that we believe are linked to that process. So if we experience many initiations in our life, then these are stories that we need, regardless of age, to orientate ourselves in challenging times. For those that want to experience a wilderness fast then we offer that (from summer 2012), and then those who would rather take a more gradual pace can experience the year programme without the fast in Snowdonia. We ask: what myths speak to you? Why? How can they be carried and expressed?
So here’s some of what we provide -

Foundational Stones:

A spacious exploration of the relationship between myth, wilderness and the psyche. We also reclaim the artificial divide between ‘culture’ and ‘wildness’ - all decent initiatory practice is a culture of wildness. We believe that discipline is the dance partner of wildness. We are based on residential centres within Dartmoor National Park, and under canvas when the weather is good. We offer what I would call foundational stones to becoming a storycarrier. Each weekend is one of these stones - with plenty of study between sessions to deepen your practice. How you integrate and express the stories is up to you - this is not a course entirely about storytelling remember-but the old belief is that find some way of communicating the radiance and murk of your own walk through life. Areas around story we explore are:

Story is a Sharp Knife:

Story not as allegory, repertoire or form of psychology but as an independent energy. How do we nurture it if it decides to be told by us? Recognition of your inner- eco system, your own weather patterns, your character, and how they relate to the grand characters that radiate through these stories like jaunty tigers. So we develop an appropriate relationship with story. Some would say a very old one.

From the Comparative to the Associative:

Not just the comparison of one myth to another but a move into a much more varied eruption of information - the condition of our souls, the wider history of culture, the sweet intelligence of the wren. We are less interested in the notion of harmony - that all myths are telling the same story - and far more engaged with the pursuit of polyphony, independent bursts of multiple insight, from both teacher and student alike. Harmony is a western pre-occupation, useful sometimes but not at the expense of certain unique insights. So we are very engaged in a constant emerging conversation. We bring in some myth theory - Eliade, Segal, Zimmer, Hyde, Von-Franz, Kane, but are very tuned to what is actually revealing itself right there, in the moment. For those that read we provide an exhaustive reading list, but for those that don’t we have other means. I’ve worked extensively with folks with dyslexia and autism too, giving their situation a mythic as well as diagnostic appraisal. From my way of seeing they are in the realm of the Magician - those that see in a different way, and need to be approached appropriately.

Myth is Nothing to Do with a Long Time Ago:

It’s about a place that you can inhabit at almost any time - Blake’s ‘eternity in a grain of sand’. It’s why a story seemingly three thousand years old can seem to be speaking to the nature of our lives today. It is! They are partially referring to inner realities that are ageless, hence their impact right this very second. At the same time I offer a caution for making stories entirely personal - the anthropocentric can become a form of brutality to stories - i believe there are little dark nests within them that are entirely for the pleasure of the gods, not just about our nutty love lives. It’s a fine line the mythteller treads.

Myth is also promiscuous, not dogmatic. It’s a bed hopper. It’s not designed for tablets of stone in my opinion, but moves through history with fluidity, catching but also challenging the mood of the times. When it becomes too dogmatic it becomes toxic - but I think that’s an anxious human response to the stories rather than the origination point of the stories themselves. I don’t even think many stories arrive from a human point of view. Many of the stories I love are when you are suddenly seeing through the eyes of Raven, or caught in the foamy curls of Irish sea.

The Pastoral and Prophetic:

At the school we study what we call prophetic rather than pastoral stories. These are stories that hold paradox and grit equally, that have hard material within them. Romanian Gypsy, Siberian, Gaelic and onto Arthurian Romances - it’s that enquiry that links them. They are certainly all initiatory stories, that’s a great focus to the year.
In that huge question that frequently gets asked: “what stories do we need now?” we say, “the prophetic!” Stories of shape-shifting, relationship to crafty animals and lonely stretches of river, the emergence of the feminine, stories with both the Trickster and the absolute simplicity of love for the earth at their core.

Place and the Arising of Value:

Re-consecrating a relationship to five miles around where you actually live. Walk its boundaries, become an apprentice to its mythologies. When you find its stories - either a local folktale or a personal experience, don’t write it down with words but by image - a kind of visual map. That’s how I learn all stories; not by script. Offer libations, beat the boundaries, get into walking. Blake found all of this in the east end of London. What are the songs of stewarding this place down through time?, the ploughing, market, crofting, ferrier songs? The songs of the fisherman leaving before dawn from Brixham? Cities have their deep histories too.

So we ground ourselves as well as leap into the imagination - what is the story of that watering hole, that rowan tree, that stretch of grass between two abandoned buildings. We encourage a little grandiosity - become the resident storycarrier of your milage - as Gary Snyder say’s “be famous for five miles” These are bio-regional times we are moving into - we care about eating local food, being connected to our surroundings. Well, what about the stories? Local folklore? Grimms and the Russian fairy tale world are great to jump into, but not at the expense of a localised experience. Seek both.

Magical Privacy:

In an era of frantic networking and frankly too much information about things that are actually not that important we offer space to carve out some interior time. To cook in your own images, feelings, compulsions. To wander the moors, to get wet, to warm by the fire sipping hot tea, to have fellowship with us but also some delicious solitude.

The Dagara of Africa believe that when something is made public it is already in decline - so all really potent acts of magic are done in private. That thought has impacted me a great deal. I think we are in danger of becoming addicted to disclosure. So we like to assign projects to students that are never revealed to each other! Never shared to the human community - only buzzards and long grass - to them you can talk all day.

I am working into this idea a great deal at the moment. I think many people are longing for a deeper life.
So that’s a taster of what we get up to. Lots of time in nature, lots of time by the fireside, great fellowship with your fellow travelers - it’s one hell of an experience, truly. You won’t get a diploma worth a damn in commercial terms but you may just get a swan feather cloak of story, culture and deep belonging placed around your worthy shoulders. What would you say is of the most value?

It’s a place of study and transformation. Many of our students have gone off and become wonderfully authentic storytellers, almost all are causing some kind of trouble in the world. This makes us very happy. Some fall so mad in love with our nomad life they become part of the school crew - visionaries, cooks, musicians, poets - it’s unbelievably sweet at times.

Martin Shaw copyright 2011