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 www.schoolofmyth.com . 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

www.schoolofmyth.com 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