Thursday, 26 April 2012

Good reading can be hard to find.

I want to write a little this week about the launch of a new magazine - EARTHLINES - from Two Ravens Press, up, up on the far western coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. This extremely elegant mag is dedicated to what the founders, Sharon Blackie and David Knowles, call 'ecoliterature', something with a few more feathered possibilities than the tamer 'nature writing'. Well, the first issue lives up to its promise, and gallops past some - an exclusive interview with WILD author Jay Griffiths, poetry from Alastair McIntosh, a fine story and emotive illustrations from Dartmoor's own Tom Hirons and Rima Staines, and a gutsy and intelligent piece from Blackie on 'Listening to the Land's Dreaming'. And for all you painters, photographers and wider artists - this is a true mythography, it's beautiful, sometimes startling to look at it. So bravo and huzzah for the first issue. To my amazement, a digital subscription is but 11 pounds for four copies over a year. So lets get behind this excitement and sign up! Check it out at:

I found an interview from a couple of years ago that i did, and hadn't seen since. It's interesting how many ideas spoken here got developed into Lightning Tree.

I am pleased to announce that the book has just won the Nautilus prize for Literature, over in the U.S., which i think will be announced officially next month.

Q: What would the mythic imagination have to tell us about our current ecological crisis?

An image I have been having recently is that underneath the soil and arrowheads, the countries of the world are really huge,dreaming animals. Maybe the hysteria around climate change-although very real-is too mental, too heady, and we need to take our attention downwards, back to the murmurs these animals may be sending us. It's like we collectively need to put our ear to the earth and get quiet. Quietness like that will always invoke images, because it is always a stimulant to imagination. The power of the image carries a different kind of impact to just a written idea. The eco-conference at Copenhagen recently would have benefited from storytellers from each country attending and sharing culturally specific stories, so the animals underneath the countries had achance for the image-language to speak for them. I think these animals have quite different characters and desires.

I am making a very rash leap here-that certain ancient stories somehow offered a voice for non-human energies that also exist on (or are) the planet. I am appalled at the idea that myth is merely the neurosis of mankind trying to work out its place in the universe. That completely neglects the porosity of mythic intelligence-that no dialogue of consciousness exists past the ends of our fingertips. That is the world of Alexander Pope-and what has got us into this predicament in the first place.

So a great quietening would be useful. At this moment it is snowing outside. Snow is a great opportunity to slow footfall, to walk deliberately -it's a muffled, pregnant universe. Liminal in its way, and open to unusual associations. So winter could be a step towards catching the images coming up through earth. Walk alone more, pay attention to dusk, make work at the very edge of your understanding. Remember you are loved. Allow yourself to feel complicated and slightly magical. Many of our artists are no longer attuned to that process, so its down to all of us, from any walk of life, to be receptive to the edge of imagination that rubs against open meadows and the flank of the leopard.

I feel that we are expecting a straight line of thought to accommodate the very multi-dimensional process that climate change offers: that we are actually animals with vast souls, and to be divorced from that fact creates such acute dislocation we are capable of creating lunatic damage to our very home. This is more than a need for a manipulation of science to 'save us', this also involves a difficult opening in our own psyche. We need to take account, we need to grieve, and we need to muster courage. It's a time to wake up-no one else can quite offer what you have.
We also need to reclaim time. It seems to have a harsh, worried, pulse to many people. It is vital to reach back through it to a community of ancestors. I don't mean some vague concept but in the work of vitalising folks down the centuries. It is a travesty for us to claim personal impoverishment when we are connected to the legacy of Emily Dickinson, Taliesin, Vaughn Williams, Mirabai, Black Elk, Wolfram Von Eschenbach, John Coltrane or Georgia O'Keefe. Find a specific soul- teacher from history and follow their lead. Our perception of personal community should move back into history rather than trying to squeeze it into the literal constantly. This will also broaden and deepen time around us, and in the same moment makes us more genuinely present. Their work will actually give us a sense of spaciousness.

So, in all of this anxiety is actually huge opportunity.

Q: So what would this opportunity look like?

I think this is an opportunity to develop some manners. Manners to the earth, stars, and animal powers. We could describe any real movement back to an accord with the earth as 'dark chivalry'. Its darkness is twofold:

It carries the sobriety of living through hard times and crafting deeper, more authentic beauty. By using the word 'dark' it acknowledges the intelligence of night, soil, depth, hidden places. It is a mode of being that one grows towards, that has deep roots in the ground of ones experience. Where do you hold your own night intelligence?

In many indigenous cultures darkness is seen as another kind of light- a light that requires a new way of seeing. The Mongolians actually denote beauty with the word dark.

So to see a situation with new eyes, to carry the whiskery genius of our own lives elegantly, and to create new expressions of dynamic gratitude to existence engenders a chivalrous attitude-that you serve something higher than just the grubbiness of personal ambition. The Troubadours of the 12th century had a feeling for this, as do some Trickster stories from tribal cultures. The Troubadours bring amor, rather than just eros or agape-both slightly impersonal in their way. They bring a kind of heart intoxication. This whole thing is about a big old love affair.

The whole atmosphere of the Troubadours was clear that at the back of your head lives an ecstatic man or woman. To wake them up requires a courtship-both to them and out into the world. A courtship with walled gardens, rare flowers, and love of both eloquence and solitude. This is part of that chivalry-and also opening up to the possibility that to have influence in this world you can also be connected to goodness.

Dark Chivalry is something that would originate from a Culture of Wildness. As soon as you separate the word 'culture' from the image of wildness you begin the process of dislocation, that you are no longer 'making-soul' with the land itself. Here's a quote:

"Culture…had meant, primarily, 'the tending of natural growth', and then, by analogy,a process of human training. But this latter use, which had usually been a culture of something, was changed, in the nineteenth century, to culture as such, a thing in itself." ----Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, (The Hogarth Press, 1958) p.xvi

We could think about what constitutes culture, and the return to the use of a culture 'of'…its current, rather monolithic status, in the face of ecological issues, appears shaky to say the least. This assumption of culture or wildness (wildness is not chaos), has created a legacy we see daily writ large all around us. We could say that we have seen the Culture of Wildness in some very ancient tribal initiations. It would be interesting to look at the root meanings of the words.
An association of the etymology of the word 'culture' is colere, which means 'to till'. To till is to dig, to sweat, to make contact with the texture of soil, root, and worm; it is this move downwards again, towards the subterranean. Its seeks relationship to the information of earth- through a certain labour and discipline- that ultimately flourishes into clear wine for the wider community.

The etymology of the word 'wild' includes associations of 'astray, bewildered, confused' which indicates its very genius lies next to vulnerability and the bereft. It is a culture of inclusiveness, and suddenly the Gods are everywhere; implicit in conversation, symptoms of illness, fetish, relationship-we start to possess a vision-language of the deity that stands behind the impulse. In this way we start to understand the reasons why we do crazy things-personally and societally.

I would say that earth is relaying a lot of information right now, and not all of it is accessible with statistics and logic. I believe it is a call to the prophetic within us-a big word. The pastoral-creative work designed to appeal and comfort mass-civilisation, completely lacks the receptivity for the task.

However, without a process similar to the one I am describing it would be very difficult to engender the psychic readiness required. To be clear: to function in their deepest vocation, the storyteller-or artist-or cunning man or woman should stand in the ground of prophetic image, a scarecrow of words, pushed by the invisible winds.

I am working on a big essay to deepen all these associations, and the Westcountry School of Myth and Story is a place where we try to embody this kind of work.

So if countries are dreaming animals we need at least fifteen storytellers, artists and musicians at any serious ecological conference, and fifteen women and men fasting in the surrounding wildlife-opening to the wild land dreaming. If you combine this with the radical intelligence of many climate-groups you begin to get a relationship between the tacit and the explicit, the rational and the intuitive. This level of attention to listening and beauty is a dark chivalry, something birthed from a culture of wildness. That in itself creates an expression of art that is prophetic and open to the Mysteries to speak through. Simple!

Antonio Machado says, "We make the road by walking" and he's right.

It's time to walk.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012


Barbara Spring said...

Thanks for this wonderful essay. I could not agree more with your understanding of ecology and artists.

My books and art are in accord with your thoughts: Sophia's Lost and Found: Poems of Above and Below; The Wilderness Within and The Dynamic Great Lakes

School of Myth said...

Thanks Barbara!
Will you be at the GMC this year?
Nothing but good things for you and your work,

Barbara Spring said...

Martin, Sorry but no I am not coming this year.