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