Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Coleman and Martin, Feb 15th, Stanford Memorial Chapel

Santa Rosa March 9th -

Year Course 2013: Just 3 places left

Early morning in California. Frost on the ground, but spring just over the hill. The heating in this old red-wood apartment has given up the ghost, so the woodburner has taken its rightful position of main heat source. As a brit i am astonished at the dryness of the logs - so different to the ingrained moisture that hangs willfully around in a good Devon log. So i sip French roast coffee and feed in the big fellas to the iron mouth of the burner.

We have but 3 places left till the School of Myth UK course is full - to the brim - no room for more. So here is probably the last shout out about it. Please send on to anyone you think is ready for such high adventure.

The Rattle-House of Sound, The Stag-Boned Hut that is a Poacher's Chapel, The Den of Smoky Language…
The weekends revolve around the telling and exploration of several myths. Implicit in these vivid expeditions is attention to the age old relationship with civilisation and the wild, animal-lore, philosophy, poetry and ritual practice. For 2013 onwards, Shaw is re-visioning much of the programme, with accompanying work on radical, wild-infused ideas through British history – from the Bardic schools, to medieval dream-poetry, to the Cunning Man and Woman to the ideas of the radical Leveller, Gerard Winstanley. These will be given as optional lectures late on the Saturday afternoon.

Writes Martin;
“ Myth in the way that I am thinking about it is
an echo location emanating from the earth itself ”

In the animal world, when a wild call collides with another being, it sends a subtle echo back to the caller, giving even an almost blind creature a sense of what is in their surrounding field. I think the earth has always done something similar.

It transmits certain pulses, coded information, arresting images, and then sits back, like the toothed whale, or the shrew, or the megachiroptera bat, to see what echo's return from its messaging. Occasionally a child, or a wandering tramp, or a woman sitting alone in garden at dusk will experience one of these sonorous emerging's. These pulses tell us something about how to live. Tribal cultures have been far more advanced at honouring this messaging, and gradually crafting art around it till it becomes a two-ways-looking form of mytho-natural beauty that creates deep relationship between wolf and caribou, granite and moss, gaudy rowan and demure willow. This mystical Morse code is the true underlying pattern of any myth deserving of the name. It is the sound of the earth and its inhabitants thinking about itself.

The school attracts a diverse set of students: from storytellers to surgeons to racing car drivers to artists. No one is too experienced or too new to myth to not find their way into this groundbreaking programme. All are assured a very warm welcome by Martin and the team. The success rate of the programme can be noted by the wonderfully diverse and idiosyncratic way that students of the school have taking their own way of relating and expressing the mythic imagination out into the wider world.

Most weekends are held in cosy residential centres on the moors-hot water, bed, wood burning stove, great company, wild story.
Although it is possible to join the course at any point, there is an understood commitment to attending the remaining weekends.

DATES £200 per weekend, £250 non refundable deposit for entire course.

April 26th to 28th 2013
June 28th to 30th 2013
August 2nd to 4th 2013
October 4th to 6th 2013
December 6th to 8th 2013

Leaving the Village Finding the Forest
April 26th - 28th
Initiation myths – how do they relate to bustling modernity? ‘The Return to Greece’ – Greek mythology and its relationship to European fairy tales. Over the weekend we will study and hear told epics from the Greek and Fairy worlds – ‘Psyche and Eros’, ‘The Gnome’ 'Tatterhood' and more. We will explore how certain splits have occurred in the Western psyche, and how myth, especially initiatory myths, speak to possible ways of re-aligning these two dragons – logos and mythos. There will also be solo time in the startling beauty of Dartmoor, “walking the stories” – reflecting, engaging and creating directly from the myths. This weekend is primarily about finding your mythic ground.

Coyote Man and the Fox Woman
June 28th - 30th
Trickster stories – How does myth engage with paradox? From tribal stories to Gypsy and Eastern European wonder tales, we enjoy tricky, shifty, snuffle-heavy, abrasive, oddly tender, hilarious stories that tell us much about the survival of soul in a world seemingly fragmented and lurching into ever deeper trouble. The psychologists say this is a ‘Proteus (shape-shifting) era, the artists say we have entered the ‘altermodern’– a time of rapid change, cultural diversity becoming globalisation, no clear centre. We suggest it is not a Zeus time, not a Goddess time, but a Trickster moment. But for Trickster to thrive, it needs boundaries and a strong sovereign centre to bump up against. Trickster needs relationship with other deities. So we ally ourselves with stories that are far from the Hollywood ending this weekend.

Tasting the Milk of Eagles
August 2nd - 4th
Stories that migrate. A weekend on stories from the dark Caucasus mountains: The Nart Sagas. These little known but brilliantly vibrant stories may hold all kinds of keys to the roots of the Arthurian canon. Over a weekends telling we explore how stories, like herds of animals, travel from place to place – making cultural claims of these no-author stories complicated to a modern mind. Many are nomads. We will hear of Lady Setenaya and her magical apples, or brave Wazermeg entranced by a black witch into a starving dog. These stories will seem both strange and oddly familiar, as if something is stirred, just underneath the conscious imagination. Most will never have been told in the United Kingdom before. Sometimes, but not always, the Seneca story 'The Listener' rides alongside.

October 4th - 6th
The centre of Western mythology: the Grail Quest. We will tell this far-ranging epic over a full two and half days, paying particular attention to the role of Parzival’s Magpie Brother and Cundrie, the fierce-tusked Crone of the Woods, as crucial elements to him getting to the Grail castle after many years wandering in the wasteland. Accompanying the story is associative information: of the world of the Twelfth century Troubadour (and their little known female counterparts, the Troubaritz), the significance of Persian poetry on the story, it's Gnostic mysteries and the rise of a kind of divine feminine in the medieval era.

Myth as Migration, a Wild Land Dreaming
December 6th - 8th
After the migratory, the local. 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 final weekend, we trace seven 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.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Wilderness, Myth, and the Life Not Yet Lived - Santa Rosa Sat March 9th

Encountering Fairy: Time With the 'Other Crowd'

This week an excerpt from from my far-but-upcoming book 'The Bird-Spirit King: Myth as Migration, a Wild Land Dreaming'. This is a section from a commentary on an old Dartmoor story about a mid-wife being called into a storm to help birth a fairy child.

Looking forward to telling stories and sharing ideas this Friday night in Point Reyes (check Point Reyes Books for details) - an evening in the local Presbyterian church begins at 7. Also a happy return to the folks at Numina in Santa Rosa early next month (see above). Time is flying over here in the sunshine state. It was great to collaborate with Coleman last week - and plenty of time to talk poetry, gossip, music and the state of the nation (not clear at 2am in a Palo Alto hotel room). We are cooking ideas for the future.....Anyway, onwards....

ps- We have just 4 places left for this years UK School of Myth year course - get in touch with Tina today at
www.schoolofmyth.com for the high adventure.

Night as Invitation, Night as Taboo
Faerie culture in Britain – that is the belief in supernatural beings who inhabit eerie recesses of the countryside – has remained strong for many thousands of years. Although in modernity these stories seem to be whimsical - a kind of metaphor for the poet’s imagination - it wasn’t always this way. As recently as the 19th Century, hair raising accounts of encounters on lonely lanes with such entities were common place. For a recent account of such beings, read Malidome Some’s “Of Water and the Spirit”; a startling account of initiation within the Dagara people of West Africa. It quickly becomes apparent that to tribal cultures world wide (and in pockets of English rural life) that there are windows to immense energies that have been knocking around on the earth for as long as we have. It’s a crowded scene.

Earlier in this book, we addressed the notion of Gaston Bachelard that inside every house there is a hut, hidden in the consciousness of the dweller. Houses are thick with memory: teeming constructs of family time, rarely named loneliness, felt securities, reveries that grow more pronounced, habitual, by the stability of the surroundings. Our house can help us forget about fascism, or starving Ethiopians, or birds falling stone dead out of the sky. We clunk around down below in the cellar of reflection, our memories often dry of emotion but the scenes still vivid. Or we wander the circular stairs at night, with candle and nightcap, to our celestial dream tower. Fairy tales tell us that in such a tower - which lives within us - is a tiny old women, ancient, who weaves on a spindle by moonlight. All little girls understand this. But these dream ascensions or sooty cellar reveries are familiar, daily. It is quite another thing to have the courage to suddenly open the door to the bright rain and the fairy rider.

The Fay Ones, Seelie Court, Gentry, Other Crowd, whatever name we give them, arouse many different opinions about what they could be. Some claim them as the dead walking, some a kind of earthed angel, others, spurred on by Puritanism, claimed they can only be demonic in origin - but probably the widest claim is that they are an independent energy that has abided in and around the natural world for as long as anyone can remember. Within any community there will often be one or more sensitives who appear to have some contact with them.

Victorian drawings of quaint little creatures with wings do not always prepare people for either the wider folklore, or indeed the experience, of meeting one of these beings. Seneca Indian medicine men and Tungus shamans take that realm extremely seriously. Indeed, their doctoring skills are often reliant on bartering and assistance from those very areas.

Certain types of vision quests are specifically designed to make direct contact with the elemental powers. The results of which can be hair raising and intensely testing. Unless it seemed entirely appropriate, this is not normally the focus of a wilderness fast, in fact could seem something of a distraction. Spook has its unhelpful glamour.

Humans are not the only ones with song-lines. In Ireland, an old cottage may have a corner knocked out if it is thought to interfere with one of the fairy procession lines. It’s simply not worth the ensuing trouble.Folk lore insists they will nip babies away and place changelings in the cot, leave gold that is worthless, draw you into endless revelry whilst you gradually lose your senses. But much of this is village talk, not forest wisdom, and comes not necessarily from those with direct experience.

Our story begins at night. Night always carries its liminal invitation. Edge become blurred, routes home we swore we knew blind in the daylight, suddenly lead our feet some other way. Many of us have experienced this up on the moor. We remember that night used to be regarded as the ending of clock time altogether – it was another kind of thing completely. A time for storytelling, a time for ritual, a time when the spirits took full advantage of those blurred edges and created all sorts of mischief. To wander alone at night in Tuscan culture indicated you were either a sorcerer or a prostitute.

In their farming communities, even into the 20th Century, the world of clock and minute time was a distant notion. Time was dictated by the village bell, heard in the distant fields; at noon for lunch, or a ringing the hour before sundown to bring all home to the hearthfire. To linger would have been “Chi va di notte cerca la morte - who goes out at night looks for death”. Although the family would often leave for work at different times, as darkness arrived the group would almost always be placed around the table for supper. This ‘hinge’ time, with its strange texture, would be met by the dishing out of food, drink and general conversation. When night's grip became inescapable, the desire for human companionship became even more pronounced with the veglia, the gathering by the fire, the telling of stories, the singing of songs, the setting of riddles. Whilst family cleaned the dishes and emptied the table, the grandmother would be flattered and coaxed into telling a story, even though mildly protesting at first. This is good protocol as all storytellers like to be asked. As the folklorist Alessandro Falassi reminds us, no one wants a reputation as the kind of storyteller who “needs a coin to start, and ten to stop” - that moment when an invitation becomes an imposition.

But the whole ritual of the busyness of table, the pleading with the elderly storyteller, the stoking of the fire, the collective settling for the tale, all were partially protective devices, familiar and loved rhythms, to ward off the swift shadowing of the corn field, the stables, the courtyard. Out just beyond the farm were sometimes abandoned fields or pig pens in disrepair; these were soon seen to have fallen into the atmosphere of the forest and also not to be lingered in.

The whole situation with darkness was much edgier than we often imagine. There was not the whole hearted exorcism of the dark that a strip light offers; the storytelling time by lantern or candle was dappled, shaded, a back and forth. The real brightness was to be held in the liveliness of the table and the warmth of the assembled group. There were still dark corners. Whether in Tuscon or a village off the Norwich Road, occasionally an eye would nervously go to the chimney – an entry point for witches. Often the hearth fire was loaded with secret magic devices to keep such beings out, the story being such a device. The hearth and the scene I described, seen in variety all over the world, was truly an axis-mundi for the small group surrounding it.

An opening into the otherly dimensions of darkness began when I was little more than a child. At around thirteen, I made my way home down a small path next to a stagnant stream, overhung occasionally by willow trees. The name of this old pathway was Melancholy Walk. At night it was not a walk I enjoyed, but I was keen to visit my friend Oliver Hibble whose family lived at the end of it. This night was particularly dark. As I walked I looked firmly ahead at the first distant street lamp and clearly remember singing songs under my breath to keep my nerves at bay.

I had just reached the part where willows overhung the path and dangled into the still, brown waters of the stream. The wet branches blocked out the distant light. What I remember next was a kind of low gurgling laugh right in both my ears, and then being lifted by my shoulders several inches – so I was on the balls of my feet. The grip was crazy strong. I knew for certain there was no one else on that desolate path. I shot forward faster than I have ever run, was instantly out of the grip of whatever it was, past that first street light, up the cobbled hill, past St. Gilbert's primary school, past the Green Man pub, like a streak of lightning up the narrow alley that led onto Radcliffe road and up to home. Oddly, I don’t think I spoke to them about it at the time. I just couldn’t bear it. To speak it was to incant it all over again. To keep making it real.

At that young age I became aware that things occasionally happened when the day darkened. The movement from imaginings into a genuine psychic experience is very real, very tangible, for those who experience it. It didn’t feel like something was out there, there was something out there, and I got nailed by it. It is an odd strand of Western arrogance to believe that everything ‘unnatural’ that occurs is somehow a psychological response to some shift in the mind, as if that was the centre of all consciousness.

It is an illuminating detail that the Faerie requires a human midwife. We hear from many cultures the idea that the Otherworld is as interested in us as we are in it, and we detect something of that here - that we have a skill that is of use to them. And what a skill: to guide a being from the watery realm of the belly out into spluttering life. We often pray for a celestial or divine intervention, could it be that we occupy the dreams and concerns of the gods, spirits and devas? Do we have something to offer them? Are we a dream of the gods?

So this is a sweet scene of the traffic going the other way. Rather than the image of the artist suddenly lifted by magical inspiration (the source of which could be a spirit) and birthing a great play or painting, we see a woman helping one of these otherly beings birth a most precious arrival, a faerie baby.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2013

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Collaborations: Coleman Barks and David Abram

News of collaborations - This Friday at the eye wateringly grand Memorial Church at Stanford University in Northern California with Coleman Barks (see flyer above) - two travellers tell of their dreams - poetry, stories, reflections, music, jokes. This event is FREE, so please spread the word and bring friends. Coleman's new poetry (as well as his Rumi translations) is deep, playful and very brilliant, so take to this opportunity to see a master at work. I would hope to see us in Devon later this year, so hold out UK compadres.

I'm deep into leading the Oral Traditions program at Stanford, and also excited about some upcoming work in March on the Depth Psychology M.A. at Sonoma State - they are doing great things there. Apologies if i have not responded to emails, each day brings some new kind of challenge (mostly good), that happily keeps me away from the computer screen! Underneath the Schumacher note is part of the epilogue to SNOWY TOWER, the upcoming new book on Parzival - this is to with place, story, and the arising of value. For such a book lover as myself, please don't confuse this as a diatribe against literature, it is more to do with shaking loose the habit for some storytellers of learning stories line by line from the page. That has its elegance to be sure, but i suspect the land itself is trying to tell us something if we can get our furry, winged ear down to its emanations. Which brings me to:

A Wild Land Dreaming: Living Language and the Erotics of Place

1-7 July 2013


With David Abram and Martin Shaw

This course is open for bookings.

Reality shapeshifts. Underneath our definitions, prior to all our ready explanations, the world disclosed by our animal senses is a breathing cosmos — tranced, animate and trickster-struck. David Abram

This is the earthy fulcrum where stories of a place emerge – about that cave, that estuary, that Rowan tree. Not in the clipped tempo of a written sentence, but a galloping, roaming, rampant language that tears into the soul like the vivid colors of a jungle bird. Martin Shaw

Join renowned geophilosopher David Abram and master storyteller Martin Shaw for a venture into the heart of the ecological imagination.

Says David: “We’ll awaken our creaturely senses from their screen-dazzled slumber, calling upon the powers of story and word magic to stir the ancient eros between the human animal and the animate earth. And we’ll engage, too, the wordless silence of real encounter – listening close to the elemental energies surging around us and even through us, to the thudding of wings as they paddle the wind, to the gushing waters and the lichen-encrusted rocks”.

Over the course of a week, working both indoors and out in the many-voiced terrain, David and Martin promise to “delve deep into the forgotten intimacy between language and land, between oral poetics and the powers of place. We’ll explore our intense conviction that the psyche is not inside us, but rather that we live within the psyche; indeed that we dwell within a broad intelligence that is not ours, but is rather the earth’s. We’ll explore the conviction that our lives and our actions unfold in the depths of a material imagination that far exceeds all our human designs, and that with sufficient time and attention, an enchanted rapport can arise between one’s body and the breathing terrain — between a person and a place — such that we find ourselves in the grip of what tribal and bardic cultures might call a ‘wild land dreaming’.”

“This is hardly a new practice; for many millennia humans understood that it was necessary, now and then, to seek a fresh exchange with the living cosmos, and to craft from that exchange something so beautiful it feeds the stars and coaxes the hunkered moon up through the tangle of branches to launch itself across the pool of night.”

“In our own time, it’s the biosphere itself that needs the nourishment of both our fierce longing and our tawny panache. Modern humankind’s long estrangement from the land has brought forth monsters, and many still more dangerous are a’borning. The gathering storm staggers our imagination: reason alone will not get us out of this morass. But a keen sense for the shadowed magic that’s afoot – a story-sense tuned to the difficult wonder of the real – is a mighty useful compass for finding our way through, and a powerful tool for metamorphosis.”

Place and the Arising of Value
We could pull ourselves back from the page (or the computer screen) into the immediacy of where we actually live. Re- consecrate a relationship to the living landscape in front of us. You may want to give this boundaries for awhile. Say five miles. Anyone can find wild nature within five miles of their door if they are prepared to go small as well as big – probably five yards.

Maybe decide you are going to be like the archaic Seannachai, that you are going to be a cultural historian for the mythologies of place. Be like young Parzival, or Finn, or Mimmi le Blanc the wild girl, and sit under trees and by ghostly stretches of water and listen and watch. Get up close and personal again – face to face encounters, don’t rely on any book, including this one, to be a substitute.

When you start to absorb these revealing images – these stories of the waterhole, elder tree or visiting jay – don’t write them down. If you need to remember, walk them into your body, chant them in, dance them in. If a pencil hits paper then use it to draw the story, not to write it. Make a map of events. At small gatherings tell them, and remember, those gatherings don’t have to be for humans. Some of the most joyous tellings can be for hedgehog, wind or swamp.

As soon as the ink hits the line you have altered your relationship to the story. When you tell it you could end up groping for the memory of the linear arrangement of ink on paper rather than the bodily impulses of a truly impacted story. Another esoteric detail – use green ink for the map. Lorca claimed that black scares the little spirit-animals that want to burst through onto the page.

If you are another kind of animal then how does that get communicated in the telling of a story? Is that voice of yours a generous gurgle or thin and sharp like a buzzard's beak? Do you lope like a jackal or stay very still like a cat in a sun spot? Follow the energies of your own body in that regard, stay authentic.
As a wide-eyed romantic little kid, I liked nothing more than to follow my dad around on one of his long walks. He’s a big walker. So, much of my education in understanding stories relationship to place come from these walks. In a way we were beating the boundaries, establishing that five mile radius I’m talking about. He would show me an old stone archway, or a particular stretch of lonely beech trees or occasionally, with a long finger, point at far off Dartmoor.

To this day I could walk you the same route down tiny Devonshire lanes, and point out haunted Victorian lamposts, old tribal settlements beneath car parks, hidden trails down to the sea at Babbacombe and the very bench he and my mother sat on when he proposed marriage. There was an assemblage of the mythic and the anecdotal on these walks that were appropriately intermingled. It was a good mix up between wild nature and the intricacies of human culture.

Now as a father, I walk with my little daughter through the ancient stannery town of Ashburton to the river Ashburn. We drop coins under the bridge for the spirit Kutty Dyer who lives in its most shadowed recess. Or, as a family we hike up behind the town to the bottom of the south moor. As we gaze up at a pattern of fields and then open moor, stories race down to meet us. All the tapestry of local folklore encircle – women riding in bone carriages, snowy hoof prints way up on the roof of Widdicombe church, elves scaring away property developers.

We arch out and see the rutted tracks that monks took between the four abbeys, the ewes on the lower hills birthing lambs under sullen yellow clouds, honey suckle on the banks of the summering lanes, the tractor sweating hard and pulling trailers mad with hay, fist-freezing snow across a corrugated iron shelter filled with mud flecked goats. And underneath it all, the great animal Dartmoor dreams, and sends us its muscled stories. We, gazing from behind the farmer's gate, glimpse our inheritance and are silenced.

So something like that waits for all of us - Blake found it in the east end of London. Get into walking. For my first year outdoors, I would often cover ten to twelve miles a day. It was always interesting. Being unable to drive really helped. Beat your boundary lines, offer your libations. Imagine that we are all going to turn up at your door sometime soon. Take us for a walk, show us the inner-story of the place you live in. All myth tellers know that there will come a point in an evening of celebration and story when the hosts will turn to the stranger and ask them to sing a song from their home place. For the English this can provoke an embarrassed rendition of Monty Python's “always look on the bright side of life”. We turn the loss into a joke. But what is soaked in the labour of stewarding your place – the ploughing, thatching, crofting, ferrier songs? The songs of the fishermen, leaving before dawn from Brixham harbor? That could be a rich grounding.

Where is all this leading? Ultimately, slowly, it may set us in a very authentic set of values. Not enforced by government or chapel, but by a revolution of the heart. The heart opens through investment – through tender feeling and hard work brought into relationship with a landscape of story and place entwined.

A little warning. To take all this on can initially create a rather worthy type of character. Wandering around in a jacket made of nettles, shirts dyed in vats of their own urine and muttering songs about Widdicombe fair to passing cars. A little unreal. It doesn’t have to be that way. That gets polished down over time.

So let’s not give up ambition, or that nutty part of us which loves the smile of another human's eyes. A little conflict is sexy. But, as Gary Snyder says, be famous for five miles. Be famous to thin stretches of grass between abandoned buildings, be famous to that nest of starlings just over the hill. That’s a kind of feathery heroism, and is a sweet gesture to our desire to be witnessed in this world.

There is no quick route into any of this, and few clear steps. It’s a job for life however, and in times like these how often do you hear that? As the elders say: “If you haven’t been fed become bread”.

Sometimes this rooting in place has to be less physical and more imaginative. Some places are the last place we should be. Life is often rough. If that’s the case, then look for the “hidden country” – the dream time. This is a place of snowy tundra, Irish fishing villages and turbaned magicians, dark eyed girls living in hollow trees, chanting leopards, and Tibetan astrologers wandering the dragon lines of an ancient Scottish glen. Till you find your physical ground, then abide there when you can. I lived there for years and years.

In the old country they say that next to this earth is the Land of the Sidhe – the fairy. To get there you will have to cross clay. Beyond that is the Many-Colored Land. There you cross water. Next is the Land of Wonder, for this fire. But beyond all of those is the Land of Promise. To get there you travel on the sweet breath of story. I will meet you there.

copyright martin shaw 2013