Wednesday, 29 January 2014

John Densmore

Alice Oswald teaching on: "The Green Teeth of the Sea, the Blue Tent of the Sky"

the way home from work


I am having the strange experience of peering out of my office window on campus to see if John Densmore is striding purposefully through the mist clutching drums and coffee. Yep - Doors founder and drummer supremo is stopping by class tonight to talk about myth and rock'n'roll and the soul of an american. Well i hope so. His plane touches down in about forty five minutes and then the wait begins. Being a typical brit abroad i have no cell phone - so have just arranged to meet on a particular bench and wait for his car to roll in to our vast campus. We have a gig in the bay area this weekend but i won't go any further with that because the tickets are sold out i'm afraid.

However - it is a time of collaborations:

Thursday, February 13, 2014, 7:30pm
Cubberley Auditorium, Stanford University
FREE, open to the public

I am also really delighted to say that ALICE OSWALD will be coming to teach on "The Green Teeth of the Sea The Blue Tent of Sky" long course at Schumacher college. Please consider joining us - anyone that has not got onto the School of Myth year programme i would recommend without hesitation thinking about this.

Ok - here comes the blurb:

April to July 2014

With Martin Shaw, Tony Hoagland, John Gouldthorpe, Alice Oswald and Stephan Harding

£1295 All course fees include accommodation, some meals, field trips and all teaching sessions
This course is open for bookings.

A different kind of activism. A different kind of thinking.

If the heart of ecology is mythology, then we can say that in a story we witness a large part of its imagination.

The word ecology derives from a study of relatedness: of oaks, volcanos, large stretches of dark water, and the organisms that teem within them. The majestic roots of many ancient stories illustrate similar connections – also referring to tangled, inner-kingdoms we carry within ourselves.

For thousands of years that sense of the interior effortlessly flooded outwards into the hemlock, gorse and wild flower meadow, till no clear distinction was necessary. This created a kind of cosmos, a generous form of thought to the wider, living world.

So where do we find stories imbued with such imaginative inclusiveness? Why do they matter? How could they deepen the conversations of now?

Nothing like being abroad to make you think of home: Here's some thoughts on that ecstatic Gerrard Winstanley.

The Revolution That Never Happened

“In the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another.”
Gerrard Winstanley

It is tempting to view the 17th Century in England from a view point only of rapid expansion – the American colonies were being founded, the flag was being vigorously plunged into native soils all over the globe. For such a tiny continent, its delusions of grandeur were swiftly becoming realities of grandeur. But when we turn our gaze to the old turf itself, we find all kind of trouble brewing.

Groups like the Grindletonians, Fifth Monarchists, Diggers, Levellers, Seekers, Ranters, Muggletonians, were a strident cry from the people to disassemble the existing social, economic, political even religious order of the day. Their arguments had teeth: these were confident, strident men and women willing to put their very lives on the line. This is not so unusual. As Christopher Hill reminds us (Hill 1972 :13): “popular revolt was for many years an essential feature of the English tradition.”

The historian Hill writes about two revolutions in the era. One is the successful establishing of the ‘sacred rights of property’ – power to parliament and the wealthy, reducing all hindrances to their continued abundance; and secondly, to what he calls “the revolution that never happened”. This is the dissenting dreams of the diggers and all, a dream of communal property, a clear democracy within politics, a sharp examination of religious creed. Some claimed that the church was living far from the ideal of Christ, whilst other radicals claimed indifference to the holy book at all. Although some of the ideas of these groups seem jumbled or obscure, Hill rightly claims that their rebel spirit is unfolding over time: that Digger energy is in the mix of today’s socialism, that the Levellers position gains in clarity as democracy rises in the late Nineteenth Century.

From the north came Gerrard Winstanley, from the good parish of Wigan, sloshed clean with holy water in the year 1609. In his late twenties he moved to London and married the daughter of a surgeon – something we can only imagine as a move upwards. He then watched the English Civil War disrupt, and finally wipe out, his business as an apprentice clothier. Being made destitute, he took refuge with his father-in-law and moved to Cobham in Surrey, where he initially took up work as a cowherd. Bent by labour and pockets emptied by war, Winstanley wrestled his soul daily, staring out over the black fields. The poverty he witnessed, and to an extent endured, shocked him profoundly, and the constant threat of eviction of the poor by landlords appalled him.

He produced a pamphlet entitled The New Laws of Righteousness that was clear in its advocacy of a kind of Christian communism. He drew from Acts, chapter two, vr 44 and 45: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Winstanley fuelled his thinking (as many had before him) by a vigorous reading of biblical texts – especially the book of Samuel’s ambivalence to kingship. The brew was made especially heady when he threw in a large dose of old English radicalism going as far back as Wat Tyler’s Peasants' Revolt of 1381. His pen grew hot: “Seeing the common people of England by joynt consent of person and purse have caste out Charles our Norman oppressour, wee have by this victory recovered ourselves from under his Norman yoake.” This issue of the ‘Norman yoake' we have noted as an crucial for the rise of noblemen involved in greenwood banditry in an earlier chapter. So there is the double rub of society going against the essence of biblical doctrine, and the rich sucking on the sour tit of the oppressors. We can practically see the water start to bubble around this man.

Come 1649, a brief time after his arrival in Cobham, Winstanley had started to put his beliefs into practice. He and his followers started to cultivate common land in four counties – Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Kent. There was an immediate response to his message due to roughly a century of unauthorised squatting in the forests and wastelands due to land shortage. What Winstanley did was give it shape, a certain ecstatic dignity. The ecstatic element came from the trances he claimed brought on his ideas, the dignity from the biblical undertow to his community message. This is another form of English liminal culture – insights drawn from the edge of consciousness and, as usual, causing trouble within the status quo.

As soon as crops grew they were distributed without charge, as his message dictated. This kind of generosity always rattles cages and local landowners got edgy. Only one year later, the colonies were destroyed and all involved endured a beating by hired hard men. Crops were destroyed, houses and tools too.

Lesser men would have taken the kicking and retreated into the mists of time. But Winstanley got busy. Another pamphlet appeared: The Laws of Freedom in a Platform, where he argues that the right and proper Christian basis of right living is to abolish property and wages all together.

“If any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go to the common fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money.”
(Winstanley 1652)

Winstanley pushes the Anabaptist view that all institutions by their very nature corrupt: “nature tells us that if water stands still long enough it corrupts; whereas running water keeps sweet and is fit for common use.” This is just a warm up for then regaling Oliver Cromwell to fulfil the scriptures and hand the land over to the oppressed. It must have been a heartbreak to witness the toppling of royalty and the next devious agenda be hurriedly put in place. In its days, the Law of Freedom was quite the seller, although the Restoration loomed on the horizon to dictate the way society organised itself.

What really stuck in Winstanley’s craw was the notion of private property (specifically land); it is this that he regarded as the true fall of man. He believed that the creator made the world as a “common treasury” and that to divide that by hierarchy was actually a satanic enterprise. Wage labour, buying and selling, all reeked of sulphur. Surely this is the greenwood spirit born anew?

Certainly, much of the clergy got it in the neck too. And for good reason; many had been bought off by William the Conqueror instituting tithes for them to be paid. He rages: “Yet the clergy tell the poor people
to be content with poverty now and heaven hereafter. Why may people not have a comfortable maintenance here and heaven hereafter too. We gave no consent to acknowledge crown and royalist land, our purchased inheritance being sold.”

The later part of his life is obscured. Someone of his name died in 1676 as a Quaker in London. A quiet fame has grown for Winstanley and an admiration, not just for his ideas that continue to unfold, but also for eloquence, his particular style of prose. Many of his beliefs of equality, love for love’s sake, a free medical service, have a very contemporary resonance. His is another kind of Englishness, a kind of pragmatic visionary, a lion at table with sheep. Like Robin Hood, this marginal seer is not oppositional to order, not a representative of chaos, but a reminder of an ancient value system, a glimpse of way back, a myth-line, a walking cosmology. He is a kind of remembering.

And finally some Lorca to sweeten us on our way:

Summer Madrigal
August 1920 (Vega de Zujaira)

Estrella, you gypsy.
Crush your
red mouth
onto mine.

Below noons
corn-bright gold,
i will bite that apple.

In the greeness of
the olive grove,
high on the hill,
there is an ancient
Moorish tower.

It’s walls are
the hue of your
peasant flesh,
which tastes of honey
and the dawn.

This tempest feast
of your sunburnt body,
flowers the river bed,
gives stars to the wind.

Brown light -
why do you give yourself
to me?

Your sway-heavy love,
your womanhood,
the darkling murmur
of your breasts?

Is it because i look glum?
Did my life’s
drought of singing
blaze you with pity?

How can it be that
you have settled for my laments
over the strong thighs
of a peasant Saint Christopher,
handsome and steady in love?

You are Goddess of the Forest.
Your bones smell of wheat
parched in summer sun.

Confound my eyes
with your song,
your hair is a thick
cloak of shadow
on the meadows
sweet grasses.

Your mouth
is filled with blood.
Spit me a new sky,
a star of pain
in its
fleshy depths.

My wild, Andalucian horse -
my Pegasus,
is blissed by your eyes,
his flight will be of desolation
when their light dims.

I know you never loved me.
But i loved you - for your
serious gaze,
like the lark loves a new day
if only for the dew.

Estrella you gypsy.
Bite your mouth to mine.
Under clear noon
let me ravage
that apple.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2014

Thursday, 9 January 2014

When wild becomes feral

England in flood, east coast blizzards, delayed flights, losing my hat on the journey (payment to the crosswinds): it was a trip but we made it. Our brave ally John Gouldthorpe swooped us up in the middle of the night and drove us north after twenty four hours straight travel. It's a delight to be back on the west coast, and to be leading "The Mythic Life" course at Stanford.
A quick note and then onto a piece on feral children. Oh and some agile Lorca on the duende of the guitar:

Escaping the
round mouth
of the guitar
is the bellied-sob
of roaming souls:

It is a sound that
halts even dreams,
they remove their hats
and begin to weep.

A tarantula,
she weaves a
great star
to float in
the guts of her

A rare Bay Area mythtelling evening: as part of the wider Great Mother Westcoast Weekend.

January 31 at 6:00pm; The Center for Living Wisdom - 11270 Sun Valley Dr., Oakland, CA, 94605, Oakland, CA.
"Martin will be telling the archaic fairy tale “Faithful John”: a story of a young king, a red horse of desire, an ecstatic woman, a shirt of grandeur, a locked door and the three drops of poison in a brides breast. This extraordinary initiation story tells us much about living well in difficult times" Is the link to getting tickets. There are very few places!

“Feral” children, children raised independently of any human parents or society, are rare but do exist. Back in the eighteenth century, a wild girl came to the edge of a French village. She was around nine or ten, barefoot, a dress of skins and face and hands as “black as a Negroes.”2 The villagers set a raging bulldog on the girl, but she held her ground and struck him one mighty blow on its head with a club and it fell dead to the floor. She did a strange victory dance and ran back into the open countryside, climbed a tree, and fell asleep.

A visiting dignitary, the Viscount d’Epinoy, took an interest in the case of the feral girl, and had her captured and brought to him. She spoke no French, and loved to eat raw meat; any attempt to cook it, or add other delicacies, led her to have terrible abdominal pains. Turned out she wasn’t black either—when scrubbed down, her upper arms and chest were white. She had unusual hands; palms as small as a girl of her age but enlarged fingers and thumbs—from clutching branches they guessed as she swung around her favorite trees. She had a necklace and small pouch that contained her little club and knife. She was amazingly keen in her eyesight—they say she could see from all sides at the same time, could imitate birdsong, and using just her thumb and forefinger, she could dig deep holes.

When they fed her wine and salty food, her teeth and nails fell out. In a panic that she would die they baptized her on 16th June, 1732. When the Viscount died, she was put into the care of a convent where they kept her away from climbing trees, catching and eating frogs, imitating bird song, and anything else she loved to do. She learned to sew, and, from a beginning when she was afraid to be touched, grew passive and directed all attention at whoever was the most tactile. They say her voice was shrill and uncommon, just the odd broken word.

As she grew older she became semi-famous for her history and ended up in Paris, peddling books about her life. She ended up owning most of the copies, piles filling around her small bed. She consciously tried to be a curiosity, a freak, in Paris’s Rue St Antoine, but grew steadily more private, her health permanently ruined by the savage change of diet that had been forced upon her.

During her life she attracted the attention of wealthy patrons and even royalty. The great mystery was where she came from—an Inuit? a Norwegian? This seemed to be answered by her account to James Burnett. She talked of a sea journey from a long distant land, being painted black to be sold on as a slave, before ending up in France and living entirely wild for ten years. There is convincing evidence that she started life into the Fox tribe of Wisconsin—then a French colony—before being sold to a Madame de Courtemanche, arriving in Marseille just as a plague descended. It was then she escaped to the woods of Provence, to be discovered a decade later, wild as they come. In the end, the girl from the forest, now known as Memmie Le Blanc, died alone at the age of sixty-three.

Memmie’s story reveals a society at odds with otherness, and the slow acting poison enacted when she is taken from the wild into the domestic without due support. She had fallen out of some other story that we have forgotten. A horrible irony is when, in the wider cases of children raised by animals, some speculate that the children would never recover from the “lack of love.”Lack of love? While I acknowledge that love from a wolf or monkey would have a profoundly different quality to that of a human, to state there is no love displayed is an anathema.

The love of tending, feeding, and protecting something as profoundly other as a human child is a huge demonstration of love. They could have just as easily become dinner. This disconnect is not forged in the wild, but the damage abundant in the mindset of the domestic. What are called feral children are not, these days, rummaging around in the un- dergrowth of the forest, but in the estates and projects of Birmingham, Detroit, and East London. I’ve worked alongside multitudes of them, and the real wild is exactly where they need to go.

Another story. The reverend Singh was a missionary to the tribes around Midnapore, a town roughly eighty miles southwest of Calcutta. He ran an orphanage. Stopping for a night in a local village, the villagers urged him to perform an exorcism in the forest—they were seeing ghosts. He agreed and they made their way to an enormous anthill, as high as a house. At dusk, a wolf stole out from one of its many tunnels, then three more and some cubs. And then, behind the cubs came the ghosts, two of them.

Singh realized in an instant that they were children, despite running on all fours with their heads down. The reports are that they were terribly ugly, with matted hair from their heads covering their faces, with just glittering eyes peering out. They were “rescued” and briefly placed in the local’s care while the reverend continued on his travels for another few days. On his return the girls were half starved, soiled, and covered in sores on his return—and tied up. He took control and had them taken back to the orphanage.

They stalked, ate, and drank like wolves. They adored darkness and would wander the compound on all fours at night. They pissed where they wanted, and lay bunched up tight together when sleeping. They seemed fearless to many things that terrorize the psyche of the civilized. Apart from briefly befriending a child and then suddenly attacking him, they remained wildly aloof, seeming to have no interest in others. They were all to themselves. They didn’t laugh and only showed distress when one of the girls —Amala (they were both now named Amala and Kamala) sickened and died.

Kamala went into profound grief and pulled entirely back from contact with other humans. She would smell Amala’s clothes and wander the gardens, as if looking for her. The orphanage was worried she would literally die of loneliness. In the end it was Mrs. Singh who started to give the wolf-girl massages and talk lovingly and softly to the girl, and that brought her back from the very edge. For eight more years she lived at the orphanage, and received love and care. But, like most children brought out from the care of the wild, did not live a long life, and in 1929 she died.

The village as herd mentality wanted to starve, abuse, and ultimately kill the girls, full in the knowledge that they were children. Rumors from that region abound that girl babies were often left in the forest to die. These dark children, the truly exiled, shunned, cursed, driven mad not by the forest but by the return, have a champion in Cundrie, a hundred thousand just like Amala and Kamala are gathered under her cloak of fierce language.

Daniel Deardorff states: “The Genius of Deformity is much more than a vantage afforded by alterity, nor is it a mere capacity of human intelligence—it is the extra-human agent of the imagination. It is the lost and longed for twin...”3 So, mesmeric as the images of the wolf-girls are, and heartbreaking as their story goes, we are faced by a mirror of how we generally react to otherness. But Deardoff also touches on the area of longing for the lost children of the woods. We weep for them because somewhere in our befuddlement we recognize that we are they. It is not enough to just ladle wild perception onto these remote figures in place of our own, or accept them as intellectual propositions. We are really in the business of profound recognition. It is what makes the divide between the court and the forest so very painful.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2014