Monday, 12 May 2014

Grimms: The Two Brothers

Dark Mountain collaboration + Hillman and Fairy Tales

Busy, busy, busy. I'm sure you know that feeling. Very overrated. We successfully launched the year course: 33 of us braved weather and story up on the moors. Passion, intensity and fellowship. It seemed i was just wiping the mud from my boots when i was hauled off to London to finish the script for the play of PARZIVAL, and then a day of auditions. It seems the team is assembling. Exciting times.

Lots of house-work. Great, undulating acres of the stuff. Turns out the walls of our dartmoor home are Russian wood split by tundra villages of the 19th century and weaved with lime and horsehair. That explains a lot. Workshops a-coming (at bottom of this entry). Music being played at home is courtesy of Martin Simpson, Little Richard, Bessie Smith and Charles Mingus. Lots of roasts, red wine and preparing for this weekends jump into the work of Jim Hillman and the genius of the fairy tale. At the low low price of just £45.

Some rough notes on a wider essay on the move from orality to literature, useful ground for anyone that works with voice i think.

The Intimacy of Reading
With the medieval era, reading becomes elevated to an art form - an energy all of its own - not just accompanying a primary orality. In the monastic tradition, text was originally read out loud to increase meditative intimacy to the words. The early monastic communities sought engagement, not manipulation, of the text. It glowed to their eyes. Through reading out loud, the syntax rooted itself in the memory, thereby increasing its moral potency to the scholar. However, even as far back as the second century there had been concern that reliance on the skill of memory recall compromised associative thought in the moment. This memory resource was the birth of rhetoric, of planning in advance what you are going to say.

Plato speaks of the esoteric skill of creative recall and exoteric skill of learning a written text by heart. It creates argue-mental structure and planned stressed metaphors. Ivan Illich beautifully tracks this progression in his book on Hugh of St Victor; “In the Vineyard of the Text”. To Illich the book contains sounding pages: the line is scooped up into the mouth and given voice, understanding deepens by literature taking occupancy of the breath, “When we read we harvest - we pick berries from the lines” (Illich). Hugh worked out of a monastic community where reading was paramount to the absorption of wisdom and wisdom was a being - Christ. So to seek wisdom was to seek Christ. What Hugh sought to amplify was not memory but his own consciousness.

Most medieval documents were untitled; you cited the first and last line - the incipit and its explicit. Whatever constituted the first line became the title in the way we would understand it.

However, fifty years after Hugh the move from the auditory to silence has begun, and with it an increased level of authorship. Hugh gives us an oral record, but from then on in writing becomes a launching point for the development of the writers thoughts. As Illich reminds us; Hughes spoke to his students - 100 years later Thomas Aquinas lectured to them. Hughes students read his utterances, Thomas’s read his compositions.

By the fourteenth century this level of exegesis was procuring such complexity from lecturers that we see visual aids being created to assist in their apprehension of the teaching. Copyists would write out the lectures outline, soon it was commonly understood that to understand the argument you needed the text in front of you.

This is enormous move - these inky undulations are no longer to assist sounding patterns but are elevated to a symbolic tapestry for imaginative development. A cathedral of language can now be carefully erected, constructed and deconstructed, no longer the mud-huts and fragile erections of the spontaneous documented. There is a whole construction crew moving out of the ink onto the page.

It is also worth remembering that originally there was no break between words - hence the necessity of reading out loud. When paragraphs appear, and space around the words, there seemed even less imperative to read them out loud. They are no longer a herd: fur-flanked and jostled together, but easier to isolate, to corral. The tongue could move through the minute gaps between beasts, discern differences in species, temperament, scent, intensity. In this way, orality offered surprising disclosures to the reader. You experienced the text with a wider holism, a wider sensual range. But by now, your ears and my ears were not tuning to a shared thought, it was the individual eye that was now the primary receiver.

Kindly Reclyning
Medieval man/woman was not generally an ecstatic or dreamer but an organizer. not a wanderer but a codifier - a builder of systems. They loved to separate out, to arrange, to tidy almost to the point of cosmological claustrophobia. Drinking deeply of the eras love of systems and general bookishness, they created a single complex and harmonious model of the universe. This cosmos is a great and finely ordered multiplicity, C.S. Lewis claiming it as a classical rather than gothic sublimity. As a model it was not totally abandoned till the end of the seventeenth century. Lewis claims the model as vertiginous:

“looking out at the night sky with modern eyes is looking out over a sea that fades away into mist - or looking about one in a trackless forest - trees forever and no horizon. To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at a great building. The ‘space’ of modern astronomy may arouse terror or bewilderment or vague reverie; the spheres of the old present us with an object in which the mind can rest overwhelming in its greatness but satisfying in its harmony. That is the sense in which our universe is romantic and theirs was classical.This explains why all sense of the pathless/the baffling and the utterly alien - is so markedly different from medieval poetry when it leads us - so often - into the sky.”

And it was into the sky that the people viewed their impulse systems writ-large. The spheres transmitted what was called influences - the planets effected our psychology, our plants, our minerals. With their night-literacy they saw and were confirmed by what they beheld above them. They were contained and in relation.

Even theologians claimed that the influence of the spheres was unquestioned - but rallied against 1. lucrative astrology 2. astrological determinism - something that excludes free will; ‘the wise man can over-rule the stars’. 3. Anything that encouraged worship of the planets. We locate a kind of Christian nod to animism at work - and not for the first time. The mythological commingled with the celestial with the divine naming of the spheres: Saturn, Pluto and the roaming hoard.

Where as now we stare out incontinent with awe at the unimaginable miles above us, Lewis persists that to the medieval model you would have felt that you were looking in, your inner-fates scattered above you.

This ordered cosmos understood it needed its areas of ambiguity, and mystery to complement the whole, otherwise we were bolted down too tight. So surviving from the pagan imagination came the Fairy, the Long-Livers, the Gentry, the Benji, to keep a door - albeit a small one - to an otherworld that was not just celestial. This small nod to porosity blessedly allows many stories to crawl though.

(further reading: Lewis, "The Discarded Image", Illich, "In the Vineyard of the Text")


The Disguises of the Heart and the Soul of the World:
Image, Hillman, and the Road of Story

16 & 17 May 2014

With Martin Shaw and John Gouldthorpe

The ancients knew something that we’ve forgotten. That such a thing as a world-soul exists, and a key to its relationship is through apprehension of beauty. Fidelity to images that rouse our heart has been a powerful road to breaking open the often numbing strains of modern living. But when we say heart what do we mean? Poetic associations of the heart reveal a nuanced and educated state. Can thought dwell there?

Through story, discussion, and the challenging work of psychologist James Hillman, we will explore relationship to heart, the experience of beauty and an animate earth. Martin Shaw will be telling the lengthiest and most complex of the Grimm’s brothers tales – “The Two Brothers”, from the Friday evening to the close, whilst John Gouldthorpe will be our guide through some of the intricate revelations of Hillman.

This will be a lively and concentrated gathering, with Shaw and Gouldthorpe providing a way of seeing in which to apprehend our relationship to ourselves and a wider world.

£45 contact schumacher college for places.

Prophets of Rock and Wave - led by Martin Shaw and Paul Kingsnorth.

November 14th -16th November, Dartmoor. For the third year, we’re offering this popular writing and wilderness retreat, on the wilds of Dartmoor.

Whilst promising the Earth, civilisation divorces us from it. But the stories our civilisation tells about itself are now unravelling. The intensity of that unravelling propels us into even greater disconnection from the wild. The Dark Mountain Project and the Westcountry School of Myth and Story are collaborating for this unique writing, myth-making and wilderness workshop in the winter of 2014. It will pose a simple question: can we stand outside the wires and lights of modern living and, however briefly, re-forge a visceral engagement with the intelligence of the wild? Can we look at the human story, as it were, from outside?

Over a weekend spent in remote cabins, around fires and in the woods, we will explore what it means to un-civilise our writing and our selves. We will seek the place beyond the solitary intellect, where rather than dreaming we get dreamt. We will look to the creation of stories, poems, narratives and worldviews that are startling in their freshness, by walking beyond the usual dustbowls of the civilised world. Weather patterns, badger trails, and deep pools of water will serve as teachers. Bring your dancing shoes. And waterproofs.

The course is led by Martin Shaw, Director of the Westcountry School of Myth and Story (, and Paul Kingsnorth, Director of the Dark Mountain project ( The weekend will combine writing workshops and exercises with moorland walks and fireside explorations. It will be active, outdoors and full of surprises. There will be no wifi connection or urban comforts.

The cost for the weekend is £200. No experience necessary – just enthusiasm. To reserve your place or find out more, email

copyright Martin Shaw 2014