Hey compadres -
i find myself back wandering the green lanes of mighty Devon after a wonderful nine days having a visceral encounter with 'Psyche and Eros' at the Great Mother Conference in Maine. Alongside the poets Alicia Ostriker, Tony Hoagland and many other valid, brilliant contributions. We went through the story a few scenes a day, and in my telling we had moments amplified into a kind of ritual theatre, with a group of inventive players that deepened the visual experience in ways i could never have contemplated! Thank you to their directors too - Anna, Erin and Jonah. It is a colorful and vibrant conference - celebrating year number 40 next June.
I arrive home to many happenings - most immediate is a collaboration with Satish Kumar next week on the 'Earth Pilgrim' program at Schumacher College. As well as a conversation around soul, philosophy and myth, i will be leading a group of us up onto the wind-rattling moors to tell the local story of 'The Grey Wether Stones'. I include part of my working commentary on the story below - due out sometime in my 'The Bird-Spirit King: Myth as Migration, a Wild Land Dreaming' book.
We still have a couple of places on the Coyote Man and the Fox Woman weekend (last weekend in June, Dartmoor) with myself and visiting teacher David Abram. If you couldn't get into our week long retreat, then this is your only chance to grab a place - Email Tina today! when they are gone, they are gone.
So, The Grey Wethers. The below refers to the story of a Dartmoor man, Zorac, who grows lazy in his worship of the sun god Belus and pays a hard price. His great herd of sheep are turned to stone (hence the stone circles up there). Years later, a visiting turf digger to the moor, Lynhur, hears Zoracs story and the possibility of great wealth if he digs up his bones. What could possibly go wrong?.....
O Light im schlafenden Haus!
O Light in the sleeping House!
Richard von Schaukal
It is worth taking a moment to examine the place where Lynhur hears the story. He is not at home, but in a new landscape, something unfamiliar.
He is already lifted out of his normal frame of reference – there will be the sharp edges of newness for his imagination to push against. It is this sense of openness that is part of the initiatory process, of being deliberately exposed to a frame of reference beyond the pressured traditions of the immediate social memory. From one way of looking at it, Lynhur is a young aboriginal, sitting in the brujo hut with the elders, hearing of what lies out in the un-trodden bush: the spirits, the tangled dangers.
(This witnessing in a wild place has become a Dartmoor tradition – Crockern Tor has served as a gathering point for representatives of the four moorland towns. Strange opinions would pop out that maybe would be too obscure, too clawed, for the waxed floors and grand paintings of Ashburton Town Hall.)
In my tent years, I would enjoy tufts of grass sticking out from between the faded canvas and the trellis. Robins would fly round the tent roof ribs then out again. There were always drafts; no feather could ever fall straight.
In summer months, you could sleep with the tent ajar to the night's dreaming, the roe buck trail nearby, the badger discovering last night’s dishes in the grass, old seasonal spirits shuffling about. Winter required muscle: canvas frozen on the inside, endless scouring for kindling, sleeping under a leathered mass of skin and blanket, throat creeky with sudden temperature drop, only mouth revealed from the dark pile, gasping wintered air. The place, the circled hut, was a conjunction, a polyphonic murmuring, a den of natured languages. It was psychoactive. All this made visitors, sometimes even other yurt dwellers, uneasy. “Why not do away with that tent entirely and have done with this?” muttered one. But I needed the tent. The tent was the ritual marking out; the frontier inn that invited all the chattering denizens in for a drink and a gossip.
Gaston Bachelard knew well that all of us have such a hut; that a house, flat or apartment contains a kind of Russian doll set of other containments. The further down we go into ourselves we finally get to our own hut. All it takes is a lit candle, or a snowflake at the window, or rain a blissful-clatter on the roof, and the hermit wakes, with its immense ‘in’-ness, from behind our daily face.
Bachelard reminds us that the hut is not social in the normal sense of the word, it offers solitude. He also poses the challenge of interiorisation, that the spaciousness of the imagination rather than a literal change of location is key. We all know what it is like to end up on a foreign beach and to your horror, you realise that you have brought yourself with you.
So, you can put this book down, light a candle, lie under a blanket and find the hut anytime you want. What a relief. The hut is an image of poetic reverie, it seems utterly alive - the spluttering peat fire, the coming storms, the story as axis-mundi in volatile weather. Bachelard rightly loves the image of the lamp in the window of the hermit’s hut as a symbol of the vigil and the diligent mystic, that someone is keeping watch, studying hard, a friend to the night, while we sleep on.
Our image in the story is even shaggier; it is the gasp of relief when a stranded walker sees a distant light in the mist and knows their life is saved. The madness of the fog increases ten fold the warmth of the fire.
Rilke describes the experience of seeing a lit hut at night from a distance with three friends, as so powerful it could not but separate and isolate the experience for the friends, as their individual interior worlds all leapt up and went “see, see!”. The inner-life, so long brooding in the embers of such an image, could not share it around like a common item.
The Favoured Grow Lazy
What does it mean to worship the sun? Svarog (Slavic), Helios (Greek), Shamash (Mesopotamian), Ra (Egypt), Awondo (Africa), Tonatiuh (Aztec), Amaterasu (Japan) are just a tiny fraction of the many sun deities across the world, some male in character, some female. Belus himself drags Babylonian, Greek, Egyptian and Roman culture with him – all having slight variants on his name.
The sun, with many mythologies, can broadly indicate will, success, radiance, the outer world, strength, the fullness of midday. In a time when nuanced religious consciousness is at a low, it is the sun deities' temple, more than any other, that brings in the worshippers, because it appears to hold what we all want – wealth, warmth, strength, clarity of vision. We flood the temple and direct our lives to its attributes.
Some say that those who work in the great banks and wall streets of this world are sun worshippers. Addicted to its golden rays, its vastness, its beaming and favoured heat. None of the moon's murky ambiguities, the sun is good news for the hard worker, the ambitious young buck, the power-shouldered business woman.
But the story tells us that lusting alone does not cut it with the sun. That these great banks, these lazy vats of hoarded gains, irritate the Yellow One as it gazes down on Manhattan and the fat cats toasting the common people from high balconies with champagne. As the Occupy movements indicate, cavalier and profane attitude to other people’s money will bring consequences.
Consequences because the Sun is not a profane altar, a refuge for the greasy handed. The sun bring warmth to the sick and skinny boned, a sophisticated hand to the turning of the seasons and every animal, plant and ocean that responds to it. Without its generous distribution of light, we have no Shakespeare, no Dickinson, no Goya. It is a gift almost above all others for us air-gulping wanderers. Old Belus and his other dimensions were not about making Zorac, or the bankers, or us, fat cats.
Belus is a death bringer and life provider, delicately balanced, and aggravated when his favours are exploited. When the mythological layer to life collapses, when the ceremonies become toxic (end of year bonuses at the tax players' expense) then does something inside the lost worshippers not turn to stone? When we see the flat gaze of the corporate wealth-monger staring at us on the evening news, it is probable that something inside them – their sheep, their animal nature, have turned hard and unfeeling.
Then the solar man is arrogant and proud…domineering; a mere vapour, expensive, foolish, endued with no gravity of words, or soberness in actions, a spendthrift…(Lilly 1647 65:68)
Copyright Martin Shaw 2013