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

No comments: