Tuesday, 22 May 2012

New Information and Creative Insults

Well, it's been a couple of weeks. I hope all in the U.K. are as pathetically grateful as i am for this turn to sunshine - on my morning run the grassy verges seem to have grown a foot overnight, and are a-bristle with nettles for the un-suspecting leg.

So, i'm excited to present a new weekend coming up at the school - and a big shout out to all past students to sign up today, we still have some places. I get many e-mails from old faces saying they are hungry for more, well, here it is, jump in. Details below.

And below that is the walk i took from a local Tavistock story some months back. Whilst i can't reveal the story here (too long), you will get a sense of the strangeness of following an ancient tale through a growingly modern town. More soon friends....


Myth as Migration, a Wild Land Dreaming
June 22nd-24th
Bytheswood Hostel, Dartmoor, 180 pounds.
to sign up contact tina.schoolofmyth@yahoo.com

Myths of the slow ground, myths that migrate. What would it be like to absorb and even tell stories from a radius of twenty five miles from your door? In the time of the bio-regional, of attention to local produce and business, we pay the same attention to the notion of local myth and folklore. Over this weekend, we trace several idiosyncratic Devon stories – from the arrival of Brutus of Troy, to a Wassailing story from the hamlet of Scoriton in the early twentieth century. These stories form a kind of myth-line across the mossy landscape of Dartmoor.

On this weekend, we will walk the moors individually - stepping into both out own myth and the story of the wider place. The next day we will find ways to see the deeper significance in our solo time – the river underneath the river – and work into a personal myth line that can continue with deeper study.

The weekend is lead by mythologist and rite-of-passage guide Martin Shaw. An example of his own experience of such a myth-line can be found below. This will be the first time much of this material has been taught and essential for anyone interested in the practice of mythtelling.

Walking the Story
As I crest the high moor, I am surrounded by thick, soaking fog. Fog that obscures the purple and brown scored valleys. The descent down towards Tavistock on the far west side of the moor always takes far longer than memory suggests. As I see a small gate on my right, just off the track with a little turning space for a car, I feel the hairs on my arm stand up. Just a mile or so up that track is Wistman’s Wood – home of the shaggy antlered earth god Dyer, vegetative talisman of a low uddered, pagan, black-blood consciousness that is an undeniable part of the great moor's wheel of display. When that rough god goes riding, it is best to fling yourself into the gorse, and pelt across the bog strewn route home to the twinkle lights of old Ashburton. Get a brace of Jameson’s down the gullet, and a horseshoe above the door. Not demonic, that’s just propaganda, but a fierce and elemental fire storm none-the-less. But it’s not the story of him and his hounds that I am tracing, at least I don’t think so.

Even in this padded white world, the porous bank suddenly breaks open as a whip thin, lycra-clad jogger suddenly lurches from behind a copse and then back into the wintery bank of moisture, with barely a wobble.

After a time I see the small white cement blocks dappling the hillside that tells me I am approaching the housing on the outskirts of Tavistock. I arrive at school run time. Mothers push, with tribal aggression, clusters of red-faced toddlers towards kindergarten, fathers crawl past in kiddie car-seat-loaded volvos, balancing scalding coffees between the steering wheel and their hands. The air is hooting with horns, lots of colour flashes from the luminous cyclists and traffic wardens. After the white, muffled world I have just emerged from, it is doubly lucid. It is always a shock to come down from the mountain.

I loiter around trying to find the remains of the Abbey. Surely there is some raised area where a good citizen can gaze through the railings at a frozen chunk of the past. I seem to be going in circles. I come to a sign listing some of Tavistock’s high moments, including the creation of the abbey in 965, indicating that I am almost standing upon it. But no luck, I just can’t see it. I wander the high street – counting no less then four pasty shops and two soap shops. Tavistock must have a lot of very clean pie eaters. I notice several empty cafes and then the obligatory Costa coffee shop, bearing the legend: “we make it the way you like it”. Well, it’s worked. Through the half shaded window I can dimly make out surely the town's entire collection of over seventies – sucking up hot chocolate from outsize mugs through children’s straws, or nibbling on tiny Italian fancies. In an almost empty street, the one truly corporate emporium brings all the (elderly) chickens home to roost.

I’m desperate for a coffee myself, but won’t go in. I’m turning all this around in my head, when a man in his fifties, somehow bronzed by outdoor work even through this flaccid winter, hands me his credit card. When he speaks, he gives rare treasure – a deep Devonian accent. Clutching his card, I ask him what the card is for. “Well, ees gawt all me savings onnit”, he continues pressing it again into my hand. It takes a moment to realise that this is not a wonderful donation to a wandering storyteller’s wallet, but actually a request for help. He can’t figure out how to use it. We get to a cashpoint, I put the card in and soon he has his money.

His openness is genuinely touching. I can’t imagine being many places where someone places their life savings in your hands and implicitly expects you to help them, rather than cosh and run.

Minutes later, something like it happens again. I have now wandered down the same stretch several times, until a lady in early middle age emerges from next to a book stall, asking me what I am looking for. I explain that I am looking for the abbey and she gives some directions – I am indeed, almost literally on top of it. She then goes off to get me a book about the town. Here we go. Obliged to buy the book because of the favour. An old keeper's trick. But no. She comes back, places the book in my hand and says: “A gift.” A moment later she is gone, back behind her wobbly piles of Dickens, Dartmoor memoirs, and Rupert the Bear children’s books.

The Tavistock abbey situation starts to become clear. It has become rhizomic, a multiplicity, a scattering. Some of the cloisters are across the road in the graveyard, to the left, and up several hundred feet is Betty Grimbal’s tower – originally the west entrance. A few other stumps loiter sullenly by the Tavy – the river coursing dappled and vigorous through the centre of town, direct from the moor.

The Abbey - something that must have seemed a constant, symbolically charged, a tall flame of the godly amongst the blaggard pagan hills, now bashfully peeps up here and there, next to queues of traffic and coffee houses ablaze with geriatrics. We are witnessing the Altamodern – plateus of history talking to each other, rapidly. Moss strewn cloisters, somehow shrunken into the Devon turf, ornately carved, competing with a polyphonic blur of crow caw, exhaust rattle, and radio out of every car window. But before we get too sentimental, isn’t this really a medieval scene? Just add bloated water rats, piles of excrement, hallucinating beggars, and we have the same car crash of sacred and profane. Anyone visiting Delhi will know this vivid montage.

But still, there is a sense of loss. No circling cant of liturgy, no evensong: the centre is in fragments. And tell me, is everything really holy? Was Ginsburg right? As early morning traffic charges like irritable ants over the corpse of the old abbey, it’s hard to feel raised in life’s ecstacies, or bathed in the luminous. It just seems like more of the same.

I end up in the market. There is a working café, just tucked away in a corner. You can be sure their meat ain’t organic. Still, I order the biggest breakfast I can find – eggs, fried bread, black pudding, bacon, sausage, extra bread and butter, and bucketfuls of instant, cheap, bitter black coffee. I feel like a golden god. You won’t get that nibbling on your Costa biscuit.

The café is run by ‘blown ins’ – newcomers to the town, a cheery couple of guys from the east end of London. They and the locals engage in true friendship – by hurling insults at each other. Each local gets and gives their dose, it’s specific and emphatic. Maybe that’s what we are missing in these corporate chains of coffee houses – inventive insults.

I find myself going back to the small gate leading to Wistman's Wood, that remote copse of stunted oak, scattered with occasional rowan and holly. The name is from Wisht-man’s wood, wisht meaning haunted, or fairy led. I’d seen magpies gathered there at the entrance – the ‘devil's bird’, carrying just a drop of old Nick's blood under its tongue. They say at dusk the slate grey rocks and green moss writhe with a host of adders, and that a small dog – named Jumbo – howls for an owner who will never come. Very near is the Lynch Way, the “way of the dead”, where they used to bring corpses for burial at Lydford.

Looking around the strip lit café, ruddy faces slurping hot tea, cut out pictures of eclairs stuck queasily on the wall, the world of the wood seems far distant. But still it persists, gaining an entry point into this other story walk. Ghoulish tendrils curling around the robust food-bricks of the breakfast, the jolly insults, the sound of roadworks. Reluctantly I draw myself back from this otherwordly invasion – and wild Eric and his fairy wife Godda, and ‘Old Crockern’, and all the other antlered and bare breasted gods of the British. But I get a sense of their import, of why they are banging on the thought-shields of my mind. Re-generation.

So many town councils are caught up with the notion of visual regeneration of towns like Tavistock, but all these wild pagan spirits like Dyer are to do with a re-generation of spirit, of vitality, of a good lusting appetite. Without them, with an effective boarding over of wildness, then the village loses its lustre, and the sacred becomes so fragmented that it can no longer gather the spiral energy that this land has drawn upon for millenia. We replace the fairy glows spotted on the moor, or the solitary chapel candle, with the electrical promise of a coffee shop sign. That’s no temple gate.

I start to wonder about the faces and the scene I am in. Have I stepped back in time, am I looking at the strong blond features of an Alan (steppe Iranian), or some Anglo-Saxon from the eastern king's court? The atmosphere is a little coarse but lively, I feel quite at home. Of this book's mythlines, this has been a lingering with the village mind, not the wide epiphany of the forest illumination. And yet it has shown some of its hand, its goodness.

Tavistock has not yet been re-modelled, despite its council’s protestations. I doubt ‘The Guardian’ is flying off the shelves in the local corner shop. It’s gaudy, ancient, friendly, slightly boring. It’s a good mix. From now on I can’t walk this story, there’s no more trackable geography - it flies away, hovers above the squabbling café folk, the chopped up abbey, the tooting motors, and waits for the right pair of ears and tongue to start its telling again. It’s in no kind of rush. I leave with a sense of unexpected trusts and generosities, clear that some nobilities are nothing to do with kings and queens.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012

Friday, 4 May 2012

Great Mother Conference 2012

The Great Mother Conference approaches - just a month away! Unashamed plug right here -

Economies of the Imagination
JUNE 2nd to 10th, Maine, U.S.A.
Gather with us for the 38th Annual Conference on the Great Mother and New Father (founded by Robert Bly in 1975.)

To speak of economy is to acknowledge that we are engaged in many systems - magical, monetary, fluid and fixed, acknowledged and secret. When we consider our unending commerce with the inner life, and the challenge of maintaining relationships, it becomes apparent that each of us is a crossroads of multiple negotiations, that we are in a constant state of barter, gain and retreat.

Economies of the Imagination will be the subject of the 2012 Great Mother Conference. How consciously do we operate within our many systems? How do we sabotage them? In a time of widespread dis-connect, what kind of deal making complements the wider psyche, and what kind causes inner conflict and unease? If, as the old stories suggest, we are filled with many characters , desires, and fears, how do we get them talking to each other?

We will entertain these and other questions playfully, and - with wit and a certain amount of rashness --we will ask: what would be an imaginative economy that we would want to be a part of?

Over nine days we will gather by a lake in Maine and through poetry, discussion, storytelling, astrology, time outdoors, music, movement and private reflection we will go deeper into these questions.

Martin Shaw will conduct a seven day expedition into the Parzival Grail Tale. Caroline Casey will dazzle us with her synthesis of astrological, ecological, spiritual and political possibilities. Stephen and Robin Larsen, Jungian scholars and authors of the monumental authorized biography of Joseph Campbell, "A Fire in the Mind" will share their mythopoetic sense of the world. Doug Von Koss, singing master, will lubricate the collective spirit. The amazing young poet Matthew Dickman will wow your metaphorical hemispheres. And Tony Hoagland, poet and trickster acupuncturist, will be monitoring the scene for signs of spiritual inflation.

Something from the Parzival commentary this week:

Eros and the ‘Minds Eye’.
The ornate rituals around love and courtship so implicit in this part of the story seem at their best asleep in the early 21st century. According to a recent survey by the British Home Office, over 68 million requests a day are made to search engines for pornography, a quarter of all searches made. Why wait for elaborate courtships when you can cut to the chase with the touch of a keyboard? And this is not a static activity. As millions sign away their erotic imagination to a series of hyper explicit and often incredibly generic scenarios, there is a growing brutality in what is being termed ‘horror porn’.

Rape scenes, violence, intimidation – anything to push the voyeur into some new arena of excitement. According to Eleanor Mills, writing in The Sunday Times (Mills 2010 :16), there is even a term, ‘blunting’, to describe the tuning out of that part of the psyche that is appalled by the images. These are kids we meet every day, charming and literate. We now have a generation of young men (and increasingly young women), whose entire sexual education has been informed by internet porn. The time of calling to the moon, of longing, the preciousness of a sweetly won kiss, has hard- core images super-imposed over the top from the very beginning. Many young boys have been using porn daily for up to five years before a first date. What is that doing to their level of expectation? A storyteller friend of mine who sometimes work in Africa described the affect of porn being circulated amongst small townships for the first time; the diminishing of innocence it provoked and the shame it laid on the wives and girlfriends if they refused to go along with this ‘exciting’ new world.

There is no longer even the rite-of-passage of approaching the shop keeper with a blue magazine. We used to run the gauntlet of shame and desire, and experience at least some protecting in the form of legal limits to what’s within the pages. Now all that is required is a locked door and a keypad. The internet will keep pace blow by blow with your curiosity, will match the movement between mildly suggestive to hardcore in the click of a mouse. Another gateway disabled. The mildest puff of marijuana to a crack lined hit of DMT in a split second. Those images that pour in sure can be hard to get rid of.

At this point I must be clear. This is not a polemic against the quite natural lusts of the human body. I’m quite the fan. This is an attack on a paralysis of the erotic imagination. Men and women have utilised great skill and thought in indecent, secret expressions of charged images and mad abandon throughout the centuries. Bravo. But I cannot be convinced that, in the brightly lit violence of hard core, this tradition is continuing. Where is that magical, sensuous privacy? There used to be shadowy areas in the imagination that contained passageways for Aphrodite, Dionysus and lusty Pan to emerge through and ignite the sexual experience. However, that requires an imaginal flow, not the oddly passive imprint of negotiated image, downloaded into the mind by some jaded computer techie in silicon valley. When this happens, vast energies that stand behind us and our partner shut down. There is no point of entry as the playful imagination that links the invisible world to ours is eradicated by the viewing of the same images over and over again. No intimacy, no real passion. Pan returns to Arcadia, Aphrodite gathers her maidens and leaves, Dionysus strides into the dark grass, taking the wine with him. The heart is not engaged. And when the heart is not engaged, it is besieged. When the heart is not engaged we fall into the great forgetting, and a great blankness descends. A blankness that can never be satiated.

At a men’s conference several years ago, I finished up by listing ten thoughts on generosity, that being the wider theme. My last thought was generosity to our own sexual imagination, and my challenge to the men was a year without viewing any porn whatsoever. Not a year of sensual abstinence but a year of re-igniting their own imagination. There was no heavy judgement implied, or attempt to limit the scope - rather to refine and dream into their own lusts. I have never received so much mail on one suggestion.

Porn provides the picture, a very limited one, one that short-circuits the entrance of ‘the mind’s eye’ to the erotic imagination. A mind's eye view is very different. Just like the listening to a story in the old tradition, you have to arc out into the narrative to display the image yourself. A filmic picture immediately shuts down that internal awakening. But it is only that internal awakening that reaches back to the lucid world of the mythological. In other words, we fail to develop our own erotic imagery.

There is something passive about porn. Someone that can have clear, insightful, even brilliant opinions in another area of their life, can be happy to sit with their pants round their ankles, sipping on a beer and watching the same small rotation of images, over and over again. For men at least this points towards both a weak inner King and Lover. Let’s not give it up so cheaply boys.
The dis-connect between porn and real love making is well documented – and the sense that porn is ‘never enough’, hence its addictive properties. However, I am not even suggesting a move toward the business of intimacy with another person – although that would be a wonderful result. It’s the business of serving the dynamic constellations that stand behind the erotic. Sex is a wonderful theatre, and I for one grow anxious when there is too much talk of candles, scented oils, extended eye contact, and when the complicated word tantra comes up. It’s not to be made nice. Sex is turbulent as well as tender. It makes it hot.

The sense of ‘never enough’ that porn invokes is a weak mimic of the longing invoked in the world of the troubadours. It is not a worthy substitute, the vertical world is not invoked no matter how craftily we suggest it as, and we, especially women, sense that. Whilst there are essays on the notion of pornography as a root mirror of some need of the soul, that feels too abstract, too conceptual, frankly too creepy, to linger with. ‘Blunting’ is not the business of the soul, only losing the ability to shudder. Power is not a dirty word, and will always be part of the interplays of sex, and this is not a condemnation of display in its many intricate forms. But the key is the word ‘many’- inviting variety and movement. Porn is dull and frequently brutal.

Porn can become a form of ashes that hide vulnerability, is a way of sending someone else entirely into the bed chamber, of not being present. At the same time, in a mimic, we also see an echo. And an echo needs space around it, attention. Are the hundreds of British who gather in car parks or down country lanes to indulge in frantic group sex (known as ‘dogging’) subconsciously invoking the eruptive scent of Pan? If they are, it could be that their prayers land this side of the river. The intention seems a little off. A wooden-loined memory of the joy of the country rut in a wild place. Of course, the ideal breeding ground for this is an overly domesticated society to make the disapproving grunts which make the whole thing feel suitably exciting.

Porn attempts to regulate our internal fantasies. It’s secretly funded by the fundamentalists.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012