Todays entry was inspired by a great photo of my friend Anna Molitor's niece happily riding the shiny black back of model spider with a tentative expression on her wildish face. She seems in on some little secret that the rest of us have forgotten. The commentary i am working on comes from a moment early in the story of Parzival (only two and a half weeks away for the myth weekend -we need final deposits now!). The boys mother, devastated by her husbands death and the grandiosity of court, takes him off to the forest, where he is not to know of his noble past. When he falls in love with the sound of jubilant bird song, she orders the birds to be strangled. She senses the call to glory and adventure in them. The wider commentary makes clear sympathies with the mother, not an outright condemnation - it's a very complicated situation.
When a Bird is Strangled
There is a wisdom to the White Queen’s turning away from Courtly life. A clawed hand has thrown another good man onto the ritual flames. We feel her grief and her compulsion to save her son from going the same way. Accordingly he receives an austere upbringing. Limited views, restricted diet, cold water thrown on the old, wily stories of adventure and trouble.
On the other hand he grows up in abrupt proximity to the living world. Some vital part of him is free – not to be whittled into courtly shape – but to expand into the murmuring of the dappled forest. With this, his mother has given him a great gift. Still, as he arrives at adolescence, he cannot help but turn his gaze upwards. What beautiful song first caught our ears, made us dream of wider views and growing wings?
We strangle a bird when we give a child no stability, little attention, no cohesive advice, no boundaries, no love. Children need to be children for sure – some mystical teachings say it takes seven years for the soul to land fully in a child’s body, but they also rejoice in elegant language, elevated questions and mythic image, it helps the brain develop. The access to pornography from a young age takes a beautiful, many voiced firebird from the upper branches and strangles it in dark hands.
Recall the story of Hansel and Gretel.
Once upon a time a wood cutter and his wife grew so hungry that that decided to ‘lose’ their children in the great forest, - so they could keep all the food. The children wandered lost. They came to a cottage made of gingerbread, sweets and sugary things and they were very excited, and hoped this would give them the nourishment they craved. An old woman let them in, with a promise of the softest of beds and most delicous of foods. She was both a Witch and a cannibal.
She locks Hansel in an iron cage and keeps Gretel as a slave. Hansel stays alive by pushing a bone through the bars, and, as the Witch is shortsighted, she thinks it’s a finger, that he is too skinny to eat. Finally she trys to push them both into the oven, but Gretel will not go easy, she adopts a strange position and claims she can’t fit. The Witch peers in to check the width and that it is hot enough, from where Gretel appears from behind and shoves the Witch right in and locks the oven door. The children finally escape on the back of a swan across a vast expanse of water and live well on the Witch’s riches.
Gretel’s wit is inspiring; how do we show our children to ‘not go easy’ into the Witch’s oven?, to use Hansel’s cunning to fool the dark one. What is the oven? It is whatever deadens young souls, what rots value by chewing on sugary nothingness, what makes children feral not wild, what annhilates goodness and passion into horizontal, carniverous, deadining want. What encourages betrayal, deceit and ultimately disappointment. Herod stands nearby the Witch, poised with the order to kill the babies.
There has to be a fight back.
Against a multitudinous assault of ghastly sweet lures lain in wait on the internet, television and veritable empire of technology aimed for young minds. The forest does not have to be a place of rigidity, retreat and cold, demonic presence’s.
It is a domain of rapture, of wider fellowship with the box-elder and the robin, of secret camps and high branches that open onto honeyed sunlight. It is a place of the ancient ebony beetle and the scat strewn track of the roe buck, silvery rivers and steep muddy banks filled with fleshy worms and overhanging oaks with slumbering owls in its archaic branches. It is a place of a poachers fire and soil smudged kids gathered round it, Cumberland sausages groaning on sharp sticks above the embers. It is a place for myth telling; when a story leaps from a grandmothers mouth then up into the nest of a Goshawk roosting her eggs, gets wonderfully enmeshed and then lands like soul-water in the thirsty mouths of the little vagabonds.
It is a place where a young boy, face daubed with charcoal patterns is just telling the story of his first trip to the stream all on his own, and of a sudden a stag breaks from a clearing in the far distance – in a porous, eternal eruption, the little lads story joins with the mythology of the animal powers, both are blessed by each other and enter one galloping rhythm, for an everlasting dream they are hairy brothers.
Forest schools place birds back on trees. What seemed dead can reassemble, re-constitute, can start to sing again. This is one of the deepest secrets of myth. What seems dead in ourselves is often just in exile, hibernating or entranced. The startling intelligence of the forest is a great place for a young cub to see an infinitely deeper mirror of their own dignity and strength than the thin, radiating box of a computer. To my delight, schools like this are appearing at speed all over the United Kingdom.
Originally developed in Sweden, it is specifically aimed at the under sevens. So all that time that the child’s soul is slowly assembling in their raw boned frame, they are exposed daily to beech trees, fresh air, practical skills – the ability to track, listen and attune to the forests earthy spluttering’s and conversational raptures. It becomes home.
Statistically the kids are seen to be less stressed and with a far greater ability to concentrate – they have become, like the story, ‘listeners.’ When removed from the speedy edited, primary coloured world of kid’s television, some agitation seems to remove itself. They can go at their own shambling, magical little pace. A friend and colleague of mine, Chris Salisbury, with his organisation Wildwise, is continuing to transform hundreds of children’s lives by this opening of the young soul. Some of these kids turn up carrying bags of strangled birds. When a gathering with them ends, the branches are filled with the jubilant cries of chicks, just hatched.
copyright Martin Shaw 2011