Tuesday, 19 June 2012

brushing sacred dirt from my boots

(thank you Janice Applegate for photo)

Well, it's been a few weeks. I've been on the road: the Great Mother Conference in Maine was an astonishing display of inventive, creative uprisings - some of which came from a seven day telling of PARZIVAL - as women, men, children, magpies, passing butterflies, all got involved. Just a fantastic experience.

Last weekend of the year programme this weekend, and mythtelling in the tiny moorland town of Mortonhampstead a week wednesday - though i suspect tickets have sold out for that now. So...this is for all those going through Great Mother de-compression as they attempt to hide their feathery bits and swishing tails under beige cardigans and golfing pants. Or not. Something on two Greek deities, Hestia and Hera. Why are they interesting? well, for many reasons, but partially because they reveal the role of loneliness within relationship, and the kind of adventure that can come from just sitting still.

Ok, see you up on the moor this weekend!

The One that Stays

Hestia, goddess of the hearth, eldest daughter of Cronus and Rhea, is not known for adventures. But to be in her presence is to be warmed – they say she cannot be distinguished from the hearth fire itself. Squabbling lovers would make their way to her altar for resolution, her hearth was a place of peacemaking and mercy, she had no time for war, she offered sanctuary, refused any sacrifice involving bloodshed. It was not a travelling temple, you had to come to her – she would not and could not leave her hearth. She was immune to the beguilements of Aphrodite, and even Eros's arrows fell lame at her feet. The lady was not for turning.

Ovid claims her as “nothing but a living flame”; in fact she is more elemental than most of the other deities. It is Hestia who draws you not to a voyaging out there, but in, in to that delicious stilling that arises from time by the fire. No heroics, no grand claims, but a limited rather than limitless horizon. But a horizon that encourages strange, quiet awakenings. You don’t come to her for a human reflection, you won’t find it, she’s not a giddy friend, but an eternal principle, a light that never goes out. Why would something like that need to travel?

Hestia is a refuge that some have found when enforced: by prison walls or a body that refuses to work. As hearth fire she is public, available to all, but her inducement is to go within. Hestia has a link to our story; it was a kindled fire that would be taken from her embers that would serve as talisman when Greek colonists wandered into the wilderness. When they reached or founded a new village, Hestia’s embers forged the new fire. So while she herself does not travel, she carries a boon for those who do.

In our lives, Hestia is a soul bridge - the turn inward. The delight of padding the empty house in early morning light as all busyness seems to be bustling along some place outside. The joy of locking the door. A constantly open door is an insult to many sacred things. She is a great settling, a room dappled by firelight not bulb, deep reflectiveness, immune to erotic trance, a stationary constant in the squabbling hysterics of the gods.

And for those who cannot take the voyage, then maybe they gather by her hearth and dream alongside – intricate and boisterous dreams. Of course, stories get told by hearthsides, it is the natural seat for any mythteller. There is a joy in staying back sometimes.

Marriage and Vision
Now we come to a new temple, the temple of Hera, wife of Zeus. She holds marriage in a deathly firm grip. Hera is less about the ideal partner, or romantic love as such, more about the constant, sometimes frantic desire for coupling – to be part of a couple. Bearing in mind that Zeus is actually her brother, it is hard to imagine a more intimate, intense, weirdly tangled familiarity than a Hera marriage offers.

The absent husband will be met with wrath. Men and women staring woefully into their coffee, desperate for a mate, any mate, are in the thrall of Hera. When the coupling occurs, magical gifts at her altar are the labour of making house together – picking colours, choosing curtains, cleaning drains, fitting washing machines. You are bound together in murderous proximity.

In the case of say William Blake and Marion Woodman, this is not a marriage to a human but to an art. The desire for a meaningful work can descend on us just as strongly as romantic love as we age. The soul reveals the desire for significance, for heft, for some psychic resonance over and over, and will crash our lives against the rocks until we take notice.

Hera is not a mother figure but three faced – Hebe: a young girl, light loving, full of laughter. Then there is the Matron: the strident, powerful matriarch, established and in the midst of life. Then finally Chera: the most mysterious of the three. Why? Not because she is old, but because she is left, alone, all to herself, a distant figure. A Queen of Swords, a Sigune in Parzival, the Grail story.

Within Hera's realm of marriage, these three do not play out in historical progression but in a sporadic bursts, maybe all in one day. The part that is left, that floats lonely by the side of the dance floor, will always be in the mix, always add poignancy, distance and questions to the wider binding that Hera insists upon. It is a useful loneliness, and would benefit us all to understand its part in our own marriages.

For those who experience the binding through art, it is the intimacy of the studio, the careful selecting of oil paints, the refusal of party invitations, that serve as Hera’s altar gifts. You meet Chera in the times you are distant from your work, suffering writers' block, can’t find connection to the engine you are fixing, house you are painting, literature course you are completing. In truth, it is this dance of distance and intimacy that gives the relationship its longevity.

The seriousness of Hera’s binding instigates resolution to the leap of innovation, it roots it down into investment, monthly payments, regularity, even boringness. Books can’t get written without slog, albums recorded without repetition, Rome doesn’t get built in a day. Hera extends loyalty to the vision, to the making of house, past immediate personal happiness. So there is some relationship between Artemis and Hera – Artemis opens our eyes to the possible, Hera grips us tight in the resilient form required to see that possibility through.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012

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