Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Well, i know as a fact that the first boxes of Lightning Tree have left the printers this morning and are heading off to all sorts of destinations. It may take a little while longer via White Cloud, Amazon etc, but we are almost there.

I include two snaps above. One of myself, David Darling, poet laureate Lisa Starr and Coleman Barks mid-story at the first school of myth conference 'The Wild Hawk in the Lovers Garden', back in October 2009, and the great John Densmore and myself (with some kind of little fairy that i just met) outside the legendary McCabe's music store in Los Angeles last June. I Include them for this reason: June 24/25th Coleman, Lisa and myself will be in Norway at the Festival of Silence (they have obviously never heard us when the wine is poured) and teaching myth and poetry near the fjords in the following week, secondly John and I are about to do a collaboration of myth, poetry and percussion, somewhere, soon. Ok, that's enough, you can find the rest out yourselves, but it's all within the next 8 weeks.

Todays excerpt is from my continuing work on Parzival, and the notion of privacy. This may seem weird giving use of facebook etc, but i think most of us understand the balance between useful disclosure and the need to hold certain material back. This isn't a condemnation at large, but trying to hold these tensions within my own life. Magical privacy is holding that tension as the push towards networking grows in intensity. Many good things come out of speedy communication -Hermes is present -this is really a caution against a kind of playground popularity contest and its relationship to the focus so often on the 'outer' life.

HEY, please check out two flyers below todays post - for 'entering the bardic secret' summer school and 'ecology, myth and the notion of hope' with Alastair McIntosh. Please get in touch today if attending - places limited on both.

Magical Privacy: Getting the Lion Back

This Hermit’s hill has always been dear to me,
Also this hedgerow which keeps me hidden
Partially from the gaze of the wide horizon
Giacomo Leopardi

Mise mono ja nai
(‘this is not something we show to people’)
Zen saying

The possibility of low level fame through internet networking or implied media pressure seems to be provoking a kind of epileptic fit of friend making (i suspect i may have to change that phrase), groping madly towards the next addition to our wonderful tribe of complete strangers. It has hit a frantic nerve in modernity to be witnessed, visible, the centre of the wheel. A fame for no other reason than simply being here. The old saying goes, if you aren’t seen clearly by thirty people (a typical size of an old tribal group), then you will try and get the attention of thirty million to compensate. We are addicted to disclosure.

This phenomenon is a ghost memory of the mythic notion that we are designed to live a life of vocation, intensity and a little style. When that instinct gets caught in the slipstream of the need for busyness and the ‘next big thing’ it starts to distort, right down at the root. Our vocation becomes demonstrated by how many demands there are for out time, our intensity by how many new experiences we manage to cram in, and the style gets relegated to our six monthly up date on the latest phone. This is not the life that myth is hinting at.

At the beginning of this section I inserted the phrase “ Mise mono ja nai – this is not something we show people”. It originates from the Zen sentiment of not allowing visitors to a Zen training establishment – it’s simply not appropriate. There is more going on there than the desire to draw in more students and increase the temple coffers. Not everything is available, all the time. What a relief.

I remember as a young boy in bed hearing the front door close as my father strode out on one of his many late night walks. I would gaze up at my rain spattered window and wonder. I had no idea where he would go or when he would be back, criss-crossing the town we lived in and often ending up on the small streets that he had grown up on, twenty five years before. The dark allowed strange thoughts to get space in his head, answers to questions he barely knew he was asking. To my five year old mind the message this intimated was the night was an ally, that certain deep moods could not be met by other people, that part of our life ‘belongs to the wild darkness’ and that part remained private.

A church needs shadowed areas, dappled light, a balance between the lifting burst of the worship and the candle lit soulfulness of silence. We can accommodate the rousing togetherness of spirit, but seem far more unsure with the profound quiet of the soul. Brightly lit churches, meditation centres and yoga studios feature young, breezy teachers in recently swept rooms with no possibility of a crows muddy print on the linoleum. The sermons/sessions connect us to community, light, aspiration, charity works, our ‘highest good’. The problem is that the shadows we carry with us become indistinct, are made to wait in the car or the porn downloaded on our computer. The soul, as different to spirit, seems to be a network of shadows, like dozens of rooks over a winter field.

A window without curtains is a life always on display, the talk shows clamour for private material feels ultimately degraded, too much time by an open door is an insult to many sacred things.

The Dagara of Africa believe that when something from the inner world becomes public it is already in decline. Power at its most potent is private not public, tacit not explicit. Magical consciousness has to accommodate shadows or it has immediately made its potency finite. Some vital energy is drained from us when we disconnect from moon-like rhythms of visibility. Certain thoughts arc out like boomerangs and are not to accomplish themselves in speech – rather to hurtle back into the nourishing dark of our own quiet. We get damaged by too much daylight.

Not so long ago, I had the great honour of being the guest storyteller at the summer solstice celebrations of a north Californian tribe, The Miwok. Entering the longhouse at dusk was like stepping way back in time. The fire at its centre, the smoke billowing upwards, the gnarly columns of wood supporting the structure, the children’s eye’s mischievously peering over the flickers of the embers, it seemed a moment quite outside of normal time. The ritual dances ensued, lead by young boys and girls, secret words got spoken that helped the earth stagger onwards another day. We were all caught in some enormous prayer. But it was a prayer that engaged listening as much as speech.

I was at the back of the hut playing an earth drum for the ceremony. This is a crescent of earth that you stand upon whilst beating a pulse with a large, heavy staff. Above your head is the spirit hole, where at a certain point that only god can handle the spirits pour through from the Otherworld into this one. As the hours progressed and we moved deeper into the night it became clear that the Miwok’s relationship to speech and listening is very different to westerners. There was no enthusiastic rallying of the troops, no rousing sermon, rather the quietly spoken Ed, a man who spent large periods of time seemingly in contemplation of the wider picture, working, as we all were, at an entirely different pace to clock-time. When he spoke, the words were carefully chosen, conscious that raven, ocean, long grass and the thin legged Heron were also present to his language. There was tremendous space.

This was nothing to do with English being a second language or a lack of eloquence, quite the opposite, it was an eloquence of the wild, many openings to the living world within it. This way of being gave me time to loosen my psyche out into the wider landscape, it gave me time to settle into place. It was also a clue towards a way that the private and public can meet without this sense of diminishment – but it comes with a big price tag, stepping out of clock-time, the very tick tick tick of modernity.

On my home ground of Dartmoor there is a place I love to walk. I get up to Venford lake and stride out in the general direction of the Dart gorge, past the Bronze age settlement, and several old stone circles. My hope is always a glimpse of the tors –Bench Tor, Bel Tor, Yar Tor, and hidden, surrounded by trees on the other side of the river, Lucky Tor. The air is rich with oxygen and mossy scent. I have spent countless hours walking here alone and with loved ones, camping, leading wilderness fasts, praying. It begins with a panoramic view of the south moor, with just a hint of the bleaker north moor in the far distance, and then the slow path down to the river, with dappled shade from the oaks as you descend. After you pass the old Rowan on your left it gets steeper still, the gorge littered with fox holes and the air loaded with the rush of the rivers roar. You always begin the journey cold but by this point are laden down with jumpers tied around the waist and coats hidden under bushes to pick up on the way back.

I always look at the large incline ruefully, remembering the epic struggle of loading wheelbarrows full of rucksacks, lanterns, tents, supplies and wood and staggering up its ancient curves. After a four day fast just walking up with a staff can be brutal.

On the return journey I sometimes visit Buckfastleigh abbey, on the edge of the moor. Several times a day the monks enter the abbey from a hidden door, walk to the choir stalls with their habits over their heads, and, start to sing in Latin. No collection box, no sermon, no interaction with anyone present. The church is cool, shadowed, understated. But that sound – the chanting that has moved around and around that place, hollowing out some quiet entry point for the presence of holy feeling – that is extraordinary. Again, I move out of clock time. Again I see a hold way to hold privacy and the community. I believe that the circling call of the monks benefits the surrounding area, even for those that never visit the abbey, just in the way that the Dart endlessly churning through the moor towns does, its foam laden cadence splashing blessings on its rough bank.

The abbey is my re-entry point to the human village after alone time on the moor. It is spacious enough to accommodate my wild aura whilst touching my soul very deeply. I don’t worry about arguments about Church-ianty and wilderness, I just enter the truth of the sound. I love the mossy face of Christ. I seem to remember him heading out into the woods on more than one occasion. Born on the margins surrounded by animals, speaks a relentlessly strange doctrine, kicks the corporate bloodsuckers out of a sacred place, fasts in the wild, likes a drink, befriends hairy desert men and dark eyed prostitutes, goes to his death on a donkey, and, just when you think you’ve got him pinned down, starts showing up when he should be in the tomb. Disgraceful behaviour. Is there something we’re not getting here? If you want an image of Trickster behaviour, then you are looking at it. He is a dark fire.

Despite the push towards relentless, slightly glazed networking and rash levels of exposure, many people seem to want a deeper life. There is a dis-connect between what is bring enforced upon us through advertising, and for what we secretly hunger. In Coleman Bark’s work on Rumi he writes on what he calls “Lion Energy”

Each Lion is his own path, and he wants everyone to take total responsibility for himself or herself. The lion in a human being is almost without cowardice, and doesn’t long for, or expect, protection. The Lion is a Knight out in the wilderness by himself…being a lion is not fitting in, only to that which he generates and validates from within.
Coleman Barks. (Barks 1991 :pxi-xii)

The story of Parzival says that there is a Lion is us: a Lion that opens its vast jaw to the feasts of court, the tangles of the forest floor, the intrigues of culture, the thin road of the pilgrim. It has spirit-appetite. This Lion is independent; wilful, focused, sometimes harsh - it cannot be bought. It longs to wrestle with God. The Lion consumes emptiness and space with just the same vigour it settles on fresh meat. Rumi’s lion is in the business of saying no. He will eat desert and tundra, experience all kinds of heavy weather, but will not shoulder the trite, facile or domestic.

Martin Shaw copyright 2011


Tricia said...

"The Dagara of Africa believe that when something from the inner world becomes public it is already in decline.".... so true! when the Unknown is dressed up as the known, it dies.
thank you again for your wonderful observations!
Tricia and Toc

Andreas said...

That is one graceful longship sailing in the minds murky waters.