Friday, 24 June 2016

to hell with ordinary

“A victory for ordinary, decent folks” booms Nigel Farage (Brexit), blinking in a sickly dawn light as if he is some kind of jovial Robin Hood figure. As if he had just done us a favour.

Well, forget that. If ever a time required us not to be ordinary, it’s now.

We have just entered deeply mythological time. As we gasp for air, we better get educated quick. We know the facts of the situation, but what about the story?

People sometimes ask me is there a fairytale where nothing much happened? Where everything stayed the same?

Why is it always such high stakes in the old tales?

Because in cultures before literacy we had to retain an enormous amount of information in our mind - no journals or I-pads. Ordinary didn’t cut it. We remember that stuff that matters. Ordinary in the way Farage spins it doesn’t much impress the gods. Let's tease out the word a little.

Ordinary in the mythic is not a by word for decency, upstandingness, imagination, compassion, community-mindedness, not at all. That’s exceptional. That’s high currency.

Ordinary in the old tales usually takes the form of the two false-brothers or sisters - fearful, unthinking, mean spirited. That’s the “ordinary” in a folktale. Ordinary can be very cruel, not good Hobbit folk sipping an ale. That’s what needs to be broken through for soul to enter the situation. It’s the malaise that needs to be overcome.

In the old tales it's the one that bends their head to the Otherly, or the strange, or the outcast that gets led to the water of life and so proves redemptive to culture. I believe Christ did something similar.


And anyway, our life will never be ordinary, actually. Never.
No matter how hard we try.

You are going to be faced with furious giants waving cudgels, nights sobbing raw throated in a hollow tree, sea journeys over vikings waves, padding crisp tundra snow to steal one whisker from a Siberian tiger. You may experience much of this in a small hamlet in western Canada with an ageing population, but it’ll come. It may disguised as divorce, opportunity, illness, depression, solitude, but it’ll come.

Maybe you are reading this on a tea break in a ceramics factory in Lincolnshire, or trying to find a curry house in Surbiton to guzzle your sorrows, but you should know that the mythic is everywhere. “The river beneath the river” as they say in Mexico. The truth that never was and always is.

The less we are privy to this, the more available psychic energy can be swept up by politicians.

As my dear friend Daniel Deardorff says: “Denial is contagious and facts are an addictive substitute for truth”.

Life: you are going to be petrified, enraged, spooked and sometimes despairing, and if you don’t know the mythic ground you stand upon, there’s the chance that Farages words have a heinous seduction. He holds up the hologram of an England that never-really-was, and our small self (tired, frightened, feeling unheard), will take the little truth that is held in every big fat whopping lie.

When we are so starved of beauty, we will take even a toxic nostalgia over nothing at all. I wonder if the image of the Europe Union has felt so conceptual, so brokered in red-tape, so stultifying, so lacking in vibrancy, we cannot help but have created this furious belch of aversion. I wrote recently that nothing much will happen in the west until we see a culture broken open by its own consequence. I wonder if we are at the beginning of such witnessing.

But here’s the thing. Let’s not be ordinary. Or at least not in the way UKIP are selling it.

Make the move that Seamus Heaney used to advocate. from HERD (easily manipulated masses) to HEARD (the discerning ear that keeps you alive to anaesthetic, trance states and seduction).

In the name of Emily Pankhurst, Pablo Neruda, Mother Teresa, Jimi Hendrix, Jo Cox, Buddy Rich, Steve Marriot, W. B. Yeat’s and Georgia O’Keefe please don’t be ordinary. Try and get past the statistics of this situation into the soul of this emerging. Your books matter. Your activism matters. The things that claim purchase on your heart matter. They absolutely do. They are not a whimsy. If we have been wandering in an enchantment then here is an awakening. You are absolutely needed.

There’s nothing “ordinary” about decency, courage under fire, compassion, tenacity, lion-heartedness, and that is what is being called forth in a moment - a deeply mythic moment - like this.

Don’t let Farage co opt that word. When we fall for his hologram rather than true vision, it reveals a great failure of the imagination, a reduction, that actually, underneath all this, shows a huge crisis of the soul. A crisis that has been in free fall for many hundreds of years. That’s for another post.

And to be clear. I love England, I do. I carry it with me when I travel, my heart is forever claimed by this mystical, cramped, eruptive Isle. You can present me with any kind of breathtaking vista - a canyon, tundra, cityscape - and I will likely feel wonder and excitement, but the register of depth my soul experiences as I stroll the lanes and villages and copses is of another gradient altogether.

Even the names are magic to me, like smokey coloured beads on a rosary held in the fist of a great queen no one much remembers anymore: Buckland, Painswick, Ryhall, Ponsworthy. Names with ancient black roots descending into a hundred yards of rich soil.

It’s easy for me to find energy and emotion for the old country.

Farage’s rhetoric, so seductive and hail-fellow and hearty: of honesty, a victory against the feudal, a blow against the banks and big business is a big hit in the pubs, town halls, market squares, and now television centres of our country. Of course it’s a hit. It’s been a big hit for thousands of years when you feel marginalised, frightened and unwitnessed. When you feel exiled.

And, odd as it may sound, there’s many in England that feel exiled in their own country. And the myths tell us whatever is exiled grows hostile, and ultimately dangerous. Even a cursory glance at European history can tell you of the possible consequence of this kind of moment. As Merlin once said; underneath the mud of our consciousness two dragons forever wrestle - one red and one white. Today, here, they have erupted from the soil.

There’s no point at wagging fingers at those who wished to leave; they had their own intelligence at play, and their own convictions. Many are friends of mine. I understand the corruptive elements at play in both positions. I find myself wondering about the conversations long denied that have caused todays raw, calamitous bellow to fill the air. If you feel profoundly unwitnessed then the move to voice will almost always become savage not dignified.


mythic footnote

Television, radio and internet will be able to tell you all the above-ground implications of what’s just taken place. My task here is simple, and something you almost certainly know already.

That when we break with relations to Europe, we also break with our own mythology, with our own story.

What is greatest, and most gallant, in the Arthurian romances we owe in large part to the influence of medieval Islamic culture (see Snowy Tower 2013) and possibly even an earlier influence of the mythology of the Caucasus Mountains brought over by the Roman army (From Scythia to Camelot, Littleton and Malcor, 2000).

Go to Yorkshire to study variants of the folk tale the Lind Wurm and enjoy the moment when you realise you are in the grip of story equally at home in Eastern Europe. Again and again, vivacity and colour dapple the story when they travel a little, not stay entirely in the confines of a particular settlement. It broadens them, deepens, increases tolerance. Myth is promiscuous, and it doesn’t given two hoots for the kind of borders we will now frantically try and erect.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

romanticism as activism


On The Westcountry School of Myth

Why should people attend?

Well, there’s no ‘should’ embedded in the invitation. There’s urgency, there’s beauty, but there’s no ‘should’. For the abstractly curious I recommend giving it a wide birth.

It’s not a training school for storytellers exactly, and it can’t promise you a tribal initiation or the like either. Let’s get clear on that.

I understand entirely the compulsion for those things, but our little school can’t and won’t provide it. I guess we’re interested in the move from that hungry compulsion to healthy desire, and from desire to a position of service to something mightier than ourselves. That we get into the business of making something. That we move from a society of taking to a culture of giving. And I believe that myth has something to say about that.

The perfect position for myth is at a crossroads: its genius radiates out in many different directions. It’s a watering hole for many strange animals: ecologists, mechanics, artists, pastors, philosophers, farmers, puppet makers, professors, wilderness folk, urban sophisticates, scientists, we’ve witnessed an astonishing array of people turn up.

What we are is a learning community. There is something infectious about oral myth telling; its transmission creates a gratitude that is most acutely expressed in the on going study of the scholar into some very particular strand of investigation: ancestral work, tending an orchard, standing firm and loving in the presence of a dying loved one, reading hard, slow texts; for some it means changing their life. There is usually a degree of consequence involved.

As a friend of mine likes to say: what do you love? what will it cost? what are you prepared to pay? That’s part of the ethics of a fairy tale.

This is what I can say: you will most likely be brought into sharp accord with many things you loved when you were young and the world told you were not appropriate or important. And such energies will require you to re-inhabit them not as a child but in the shape of an adult - with eros and rigour in either hand. The old stories have just as much philosophical import, just as much sophistication, just as much straight up magic - probably more - than anything created since.

The future of the school does not depend on endless, exponential growth, rather a deepening into delight, pathos and fellowship. That’s our only barometer.

And what do we see raised up again and again in the students? A form of gallantry actually, a fierce goodness in the face of the detritus of the world.

Being kind is the rarest, and truest, and most valiant of all nutritions. It’s sacred.

So there is some kind of inherent value system? This doesn’t seem very clear.

Yes. We are a Provencal school of courtly love disguised as monastery for elegant pirates disguised as a humble Camelot resting in the orange orchards around Lorca’s Alhambra, whilst sometimes showing up on the wilds of Dartmoor. The doors to many centuries and landscapes are open.

We believe that it is the vocation of becoming an adult to not let go of the notion of goodness, and bravery, and compassion in the complexity of life. That you earn your name. Unfashionable I know.

To not let go of the reality that a grief well curated rides always and forever alongside the snorting pony of delight, that our children's souls are designed to happily gawp askance at adults who grow more tantalisingly wild as they age, people not folded in by societal trance-states and mesmeric, deadening fictions. Folks who know the story they’re in.

We want to bless you and raise you up so you work harder than you ever knew you could to make beauty in the furnace of the world. And that involves not complacency but longing. Profound, lively, holy longing.

Every single being of substance I ever encountered rides a horse of longing. They don't have to be a showboat. But Rumi says you can spot such folks, and your capacity to spot one means you are one, maybe in disguise.

So the school encourages us - in the fraction of heartbeat that we are actually alive at all - to
actually show up for The Wedding, in all our ordinary grandeur. It’s a tremendously brave move to make. I know that. It means being alive to a certain kind of suffering at times. But maybe it’s the only move to make in times like these.

We risk to care for a sophisticated hope that discreetly gleams in the absolute centre of each teardrop of our necessary sorrow. That our very stories could contain the knucklebones of wolves and the sweetness of creek water. That barley and aster-flowers may grow in the fragrant acres of our language. If that’s grand, well, let it be grand. We don’t go easy.

This is what we stand for.

Romanticism as activism.

Is that clear enough for you?


To apply for 2017 dates, please email

Copyright Martin Shaw 2016

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

a counsel of resistance and delight in the face of fear

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”
Jack Gilbert, A Brief For The Defence

Europe is ablaze again. Paris, Brussels. That ancient, ghastly monster has lurched grotesquely up, and shovels terrified parents, families, lovers, down into its maw. And it will never feel sated. It could never be enough. Never. Fundamentalism is, yet again, eating its own young. I mean, to weep for a thousand years wouldn’t be enough.

I am going to say some simple things here as a counsel of delight in the face of fear, and an absolute defence of love. And to keep love as a lintel over head, even as fear shudders its addictive and corrosive and manipulative and damaging way through our communities. Well fuck that. It’s time for a story.


Once upon a time there was a village in the far north. A place of blue snow, hard
thoughts and far distant seal holes.

A man grew angry at his daughter’s refusal to marry. But no suitor flew at her altitude
or could witness her many immensities. He grew ashamed of her. He took her out in his
kayak and chucked her overboard. As she tried to claw her way back on board, he cut her
fingers off, and she sank under black water.

From each finger sprung fish, whales, seals. Down in the coal-black depths, she learnt to live in a different kind of way. A kind of house built around her, she became a Goddess of the sea-beings: all those that know the dark, the cold, and can survive at great pressure.

When travesty to the world above occurred, she would grow furious and the hunting would not be good. The village would starve. A rough cloud of anger would appear around Sedna. She would be obscured from view, but her wrath was everywhere. When the world is on fire, to lose contact with Sedna is a terrible thing. A dangerous thing. So the village would send the shaman down to see her.

The shaman has a seal-hole in their heart where magics rise and fall.
The shaman ghost-dances through history.
The shaman refuses not the perfume of Gethsemane,
The shaman bleak-shudders through strata’s of mucky-water,
Through the world’s own conscience to get to the very bottom.

It is a long journey, sometimes climbing and descending ladders of blades that cut
your feet till blood clouds the waters. Know this: it is not a journey that anyone would
ever want to make. But suddenly, there they are, attending the blurry clouds of Sedna’s
anger. And it is there that the One-Who-Is-A-Light makes a covenant with Sedna, courts
her with drum-thump and the grandeur of their ordinary tears. Such courting causes a
hole to appear in her wall of anger, and the shaman climbs through.

Their sweetness becomes a comb, and there in the dark the shaman combs all the
tangles out of Sednas hair, and gently braids it. Her anger simmers, then settles, and
paths open up again from the deep freeze, move their divine tendrils up and
out over the land. Many hours later the shaman will be pulled half-dead from the black
water, with their arms full of wildflowers.



When we are frightened it can feel like we are trapped under water, under ice. The mythic directive in such a moment is unusual. It says this: go deeper. Attend to the Goddess underneath the unfolding. There’s no restoration without courtship. Don’t smash your nuckles raw on the ice, but dive down further - seemingly the opposite of what everyone on the surface wants you to do. But of course, the diver swims down not just with their terror, but with their stories, their artfulness, their skill. Most importantly, most wonderfully, their love. Ironically, only by diving deeper can the ice melt. In such times, attend to your soul-ground. And that is not some interior - unless everything is interior - it radiates out to a related field of kiddies, sickly elms at the edge of a motorway, the distracted young mum at the food kitchen, the galloping ecosystem of your nightly dreaming.

We are living in a time when every one of us is going to have to make that descent. All of us. Not in some inflated way, but "with the grandeur of our ordinary tears", because it is what defines us as true human beings. It is simply the right way to behave. If we can’t find our mythic ground, then we have little ground. When you swim down to Sedna you are in the business of alchemy: the tributary of your own fears meets the ocean of your artfulness and suddenly you are giving a gift, not seduced by your own wound. It is quite wonderful. We could learn the home-making skills again to welcome such stories back into our lives. We can’t stick plasters over the Fisher Kings wound.



Call out to the whole divine night for what you love. What you stand for. Earn your name. Be kind, and wild, and disciplined, and absolutely generous. It’s the astonishing business of beauty-making, as well as the possibility of victory. Most have glimpsed hells chambers, and the fact is that much real initiatory work is to bear it. To bear the unbearable. To walk though hell. I mean really, that’s what much of it’s about. That’s where most of these elaborate, taxing rituals and three day stories come from. We’re in it. Right now.

When horror sweeps our world, we sometimes risk it cutting the cords to our soulful waters, and the restorative Goddess - Sedna - that lives there. The monsters cause us to lose hope. A huge victory for them is when you no longer look for nourishment. We look around and nothing is growing, the sky is bleak even if blue, secretive animals no longer move to the yellow moon of our heart. Friend: it’s deadly there, be very careful. So when we fight - and sometimes we must - we can carry Sendnas anger as an energy with us. Soul-anger is far, far less brittle than the more superficial kind.

Let no day pass - especially the shattering, scary and super busy ones - where you do not spend a little while combing the lice from her locks. When I am tired, I allow the great soul-criers to do it for me, I read aloud from Anna Akhmatova, Pablo Neruda, Virginia Woolf, Galway Kinnell, Shakespeare. And again, look to the old stories, they’ve turned up perfectly on time.

We do not live myths out as some kind of horrible karma. We don’t brush by them and become infected. But they do have a habit of riding alongside when life turns up the volume. They synch up. But that’s as an aid for deeper understanding, not as a kind of prophetic set of ever tightening knots on your liberty. Just thought I’d mention that.

Ok, and while we’re in deep I’m going to say something else. Become a prayer-maker. Why? Because what you face in your life is bigger than you can handle. It is. Go to a place with shadows and privacy, and just start talking. There is some ancient Friend that wants to hear from you. No more dogma than that. Use your simple, holy, words. Then sit. Listen. Go for a walk. Let in.

Then you fight like a lion for what you can affect, and you surrender the rest. Self-help at its worse will pump you into a kind of Herculean mania of self reliance, and will most likely leave you grievously burnt out.

Be around truth. Here’s why. Mystics claim (especially Sufi), that when we are surrounded by lies it creates so much activity and nervousness in our head in some subtle way we can’t properly enter our own bodies. Hence the need for friends where truth is a given, anything can be said, nothing need ever be concealed. We lose touch with our wingspan when we hunch.

This is a way you comb out the lice from Sednas hair. It’s also a way you don’t get possessed or stuck into one groove - especially anxiety, paranoia, terror, despair. It crashes through you but cannot be a squatter. You have to find the seal-hole in your heart.

You can numb yourself with wealth, or glut yourself empty on sex without love, or illusive and transient strategies of power, but when the door to the firebirds longing closes, all the animals within us turn to stone. My friend, that is too high a price to pay. Way too high. That’s the terrain of the Sorcerer. Have no part it.



Still here? Well, bless you for that.

Here again are things we know, but I’m repeating them:

What I’ve seen on my rounds is that if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to reflect at the end of a life, then love is revealed as the great currency. It’s the thing. The treasury. It’s what mattered. Few gloat on a business success, or property portfolio at that point, how they royally screwed someone over.

How well did I love?, who did I love?, and how was love central to the life that I made for myself? And I have to say, sometimes folks don’t like the insights they receive at that latest of moments.

But if we’re reading this, than anything is possible. It is. The doorway to mercy is still open.

When the lots are counted, when we are gathered in, we will find that it was love that mattered. Love expressed, given, received, fought for. So for those of us fighting right now, I say; keep going. As a culture, as an individual, believe in the full life that is your bequeathed inheritance, not the subterranean half-life that terror and impoverished minded bullies will try and spike your wine with. You are too good for that. Remember Rilke: “wherever I am folded there I am a lie”

Love derails world-weary strategy, loosens cynicism from your heart, laces every single one of your bones with a complete re-boot of wonder. You guide your cattle through the Altai mountains in just one night and arrive at a green, slow-swishing Irish sea with moon-white sand between your toes. It is the greatest thing. Stay away from anyone that tells you otherwise. I mean turn around and walk away.

Love gives us our stories.

So we could prepare well. Wander your oak valleys, linger in ornate chapels at dusk, get thrown out of the tavern at midnight, be kind, kiss the wounded, fight injustice and protect, protect, protect all the trembling bells of delight that you notice out of the corner of your eye when everyone else is oblivious. Value yourself, know yourself, don’t be naive, but don’t be afraid of love. Carry it.

If you are frightened, or tired, or sick in heart,
then let these words hold your hand in the dark.

Happy Easter. It is time to come back to life.

“That’s how we measure out our real respect for people - by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate.”
Ted Hughes, in a letter to his son Nick

For the people of Brussels and the memory of John Moriarty

Copyright Martin Shaw 2016

Friday, 4 March 2016

looking for stories

I be coming
from wistmans wood sir
and I fell into dreaming
under the scrubby trees
till the trees dreamt me sir

Hey there, hello, it's good to see you.
Scatterlings is coming later this year; and here's a small excerpt:

On Mythtelling:

This is weft and the weave of story for me. The endless lyrical emerging of the earths tremendous thinking, and the humbling required to simply bear witness to it. And the extraordinary day, where for an hour or so, you realise that you too are being witnessed. You are part of the big sound. You have pushed the coats aside and walked through the back of the wardrobe.
When my mouth had chewed on enough silence, and my body had located its fragility in the face of winter, when darkness and sorrow had bruised up against solitude, I began to taste, fully, the price of my labour, and slowly I began to speak. And what came what praise.

Inventive speech appears to be a kind of catnip to the living world.Especially prized was the capacity to name, abundantly and gracefully, dozens or even hundreds of secret names for beings you had spent your whole life strutting past, and muttering; “willow” “holly” “bat” “dog-rose”. They are not their names. Not really.

So the first big move was not one of taking anything at all - I’d done that quite successfully my whole life - but actually re-organising the detritus of my speech to formulate clear and subtle praise for the denizen I beheld in front of me. Not “The Goddess of the River”, but “River Goddess”. The moment I squeezed “of the” into the mix, thereby hovered an abstraction, and the fox woman fled the hunters hut.

Green Curve
Udder of the Silver Waters
The Hundred Glittering Teeth
Small Sister, Dawning Foam
On the Old Lime Bank.

This wasn’t even particularly imaginative. It wasn’t flattery. And most of all, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t comparing myself. It was simply describing, acutely, what I witnessed in front of me. Some things I realised I was never going to behold clearly. I wouldn’t have language for butterfly, birch, ivy and clay. There it is, they remained indistinct. Admired, but indistinct. But, grindingly slowly, some beings made themselves known to me, became a lintel overhead, a den in which I could claim a degree of kinship. Not what I would choose, but what chose me.

So the first part of my apprenticeship to story began in a tiny stretch of woodland glade - a corral of about twenty foot - tenderising my own nature until the beings that wished stepped forward, and gave me the slow and halting opportunity to name just a few of the hundred secret ways they have of being themselves. Maybe four thousand years ago they weren't so secret.
It was apprenticeship to the swaying unfolding of the earth’s imagination, an endless permutation of Psyche touching the fire-tips of Eros’s fingers and creating life. The interior was everywhere! Concerned friends would worry that I had travelled too deeply into the tangles of myself, that I wouldn’t find a way out. I would laugh and gesture out towards the valley. That was where I was. I was already out.

I went looking for stories in dark places. In caves, hundreds of feet into the base of Welsh hills, the immensity of tree root and stone suspended above my fragile head. I learnt slow words down there. Words flushed deep with water and boulder-vast. I took myself to dreaming places, forgotten places, places deserving of shrines. I built small shelters in ancient, solitary haunts and sealed myself into the dark for days and nights. It was in those places I learnt many holy names for time. Time as malleable as a concertina, as robust as Irish cattle, as slippery as the trout escaping the hook. Each of the secret words was true wealth for my parched tongue. They required payment in full and I was not sad to give it.

It was in the ebony world that luminosity came. Great stretches of images from a future I was yet to have. Of people, and estuary maps, and animals, of beings we rarely have the names for anymore. It was in that place that I was shown a discarded set of antlers, that I was soon to find in clock-time at a local rubbish dump. Those bone wands were big story for me, and formed the centre of many negotiations and ceremonies with the soulful world. And yet, one day I would have to give them away.

I went looking for stories in the palace of the birds. The pastoral murmur of the wood pigeon, the thrilling blue call of the tawny owl in their midnight kingdoms. I learnt feathered words up there. Sounds that whittled a new and fragrant shape to my jaw. For a little while, I was a boy of the moonlight, cloaked and rooted by the base of great trees. It is no great brag to say that a part of me is still there.

If I’d believed the propaganda of our times, I would have seen England as too farmed, too crushed-tight with humans and their history, soil too poisoned, forest too hurt and impoverished for such an education - better to turn to the vastness of Siberia or some other pristine wilderness. Thank god I didn’t. The eye of the needle is everywhere, abiding patiently for you to quilt your life to the Otherworld, which is really our deeply natural function anyway. Small pockets of absolute aliveness, greeness, riven-deep mystery are all over our strange and bullishly magnificent isle.

So my first move towards story was to give one up. The slow move from a society of take to a culture of giving. The living world was not there for my temporary edification, or a transitory back drop for my ‘healing’, it was home. A home that scared me, rattled me, soothed me, shaped me. Without the investment of time and focus, the words I longed to speak would simply be phony on my tongue. The worst aspect of storytelling is when you hear the words spoke but you know the teller never took the journey to get them. They just squatted by the well and stole them when one that did crawled out of the Underworld. Well, I sure wasn’t much of a teller at that point, but I knew I had river-mud on my boots and green vines in the wine of my blood.


Praise for Scatterlings

“The heart has a true-north, says Martin Shaw. He uses it. His work combines a magnificence of soul with a deft acuity of intellect, portraying a quintessential comprehension of the human spirit in its mythic path. He writes in a rare register of an earthy seer and I am in awe.”

Jay Griffiths, author of Wild: An Elemental Journey and Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape.

“Martin Shaw is, without exaggeration, the most powerful writer of prose that I have read. In Scatterlings Martin casts off the domesticated language with which we have been inundated since our birth and something wild, ancient, intelligent, and incredibly strong enters his words. And as those meaning-filled words penetrate us, deeply sleeping parts of the self begin to awaken. We see again with luminous eyes, hear again the shimmer of Earth in language; a portal opens and the power of out there begins moving through the in here. A wild light begins to gleam in our eyes, our hair grows long, our language begins to shift, and in some inexplicable way, as humans long ago understood we could, we begin to become old growth ourselves.”

Stephen Harrod Buhner, award winning author of Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.

“I can still remember the first time I heard Martin Shaw tell a story. The tale that emerged was like a living thing, bounding around, throwing itself at all of us there listening. I had never heard anything like it before. Shaw is a one-off, his work is urgent and necessary, and Scatterlings is his testament. Scatterlings is told in a way that makes it unlike any other book I have read.”

Paul Kingsnorth, author of The Wake

“I will say this about Mr. Martin Shaw: I wish him protection from the saints and something like a pardon from the Lucid Gods. He is now as much and as good a teller as there probably is among those of us adorned and afflicted by the English tongue, and he has lingered a while in the old caves, as he says. He knows that things can happen when the word is nailed to a tree, to be read. Things do happen.

And yet he's done it, and done it so very well, and so much in thrall to the chant that you can hear him. It may be wisdom he's done here. It may be something wiser.

I know that if I had to choose kinship, Mr. Shaw the dowser and scribe on my left or the Old Gods of Song who have granted me my tongue and my days on my right, I'd be pressed. Hard pressed. Probably I am.

So hail this Scatterlings, this treasure. Barley and love for its burdened, heathen son, the one who's come down from the hills with this Relic From the World Tree and from it has carved his plume and a way home. Would that this this plea for a better day and its maker be granted not the cliff face but the long road, and peace for his earned, learned days. Now, homeward”

Stephen Jenkinson, author of Die Wise.

“One of our most gifted oral tellers is paying necessary homage, offering his attention and capacious intelligence to the Devonshire land of his begetting…quietly tracking earth’s own imagination, the dreaming of the high moor and the meandering river, the edge where the cliffs meet the strand and both are washed clean by the tides” 

David Abram, author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.

“A great work of imagination: Scatterlings will nourish the soul of those who read it. Shaw’s wonderful book weaves together the history, mystery and mythology of Dartmoor. The magic of the moor and spell-binding stories told from the heart is a delightful combination.”

Satish Kumar, Editor-in-chief, Resurgence, and author of Earth Pilgrim.

“Shaw has a poet's sensibility and a poet's voice.”

Ann Skea, author of Ted Hughes: The Poetic Quest

“Scatterlings connects us with the land under our feet, and stories to take us to the home we have forgotten about. It is time to remember where we have come from, where we belong, and these words speak the spirit of place. Listen to them, hear the call to remember, to come home, back to the soil, back to soul. Allow the magic of Martin’s words to reach deep into you, into your gut and your heart.”

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi teacher and author: Spiritual Ecology, The Cry of the Earth.

“This book will tear away the veil that has separated us from our past and our future. It will rekindle hope and an infinite trust in our being and becoming.”

Anne Bearing, author of The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for Soul

“With great skill, agility and elegance  Martin Shaw takes us deeply to the mythic life-blood of his beloved Dartmoor – Scatterlings word-magic will embed you ever more powerfully in the soul of your own land, wherever on Earth you happen to be.” 

Dr. Stephan Harding, author of Animate Earth.

copyright Martin Shaw 2016

Monday, 1 February 2016

the nail, the star, the soul

February. And not a moment too soon. I glimpse around and see work that needs completing - one of which is the Lorca poems i've been working on these last few years with Stefan Harding. Lorca’s so tremendous. He tells the story of an old woman who once glimpsed Santiago and was blessed by him.

She tells the children:
As he passed he looked at me smiling,
And left me a star right in here.
Where have you kept that star?
A cheeky cub asks her.
Has it left you, has it gone away?
Like a thing of enchantment?
No, my children, the star still shines bright,
For I carry it nailed to my soul.

There’s such nourishment in those lines, and a toughness, and a glimpse of how love can be carried well. That nail: sometimes people try and crucify you, not realising they are accidentally nailing the star of all you love directly into your soul. The opposite of what they want to happen. The beauty that just won’t shift. You become magnificent because of your soul-star.

It’s a fine thing to serve in the temple of Lorca. It glitters and hums, with smoky copal and dark red dapples of sunlight on the archaic walls. There’s leopards prowling, kids giggling, and elegant saddle bags flung in a corner, filled with olives, gold coins and salty chocolate wrapped in lush green jungle leaves. There is a mass being said somewhere, and a sword fight just outside. Frida and Diego call for each other through the long grasses, and dawn takes the trembling shape of a kingfisher emerging from the spray of a dark waterfall.

In all his brilliance, his supernatural leaps of image, I feel Lorca pushing his animal body way out into the drama of the world. I feel all the darkness of the ages sucking on the teats of his wild theatre. I’m not surprised he didn’t live very long, his house is somehow collapsing the second it is erected, and he wails beautifully and deliberately at the debris. His companion is so often the moon:

When the moon sails out
church bells desist
And furry paths
of the impenetrable appear.

I must admit, I’m quite pleased with those lines. His loyalty again and again is to her and the darkness; ”Through my window extends an arm of night, a vast brown arm with bracelets of water”. So often moisture, water, ocean.

Lorca loved the sea; “there is no greater pleasure in life than the contemplation and enjoyment of this happy mystery.” I think we all have to get our sea legs to be in the presence of his genius. After a few hours work yesterday, me and my daughter went down to the beach - She likes Lorca - think’s he’s lively - but alway leads me by the hand back to Shakespeare. She’s not convinced he’d be punctual at the school gates. But does it get much better than this?

A thousand little Persian horses slept
on the moonlit square of your brow.

I took hundreds of lines like that slowly into my heart in the years I lived alone in the tent. The tip of your tongue may become holy through such repetition.

When they shot Lorca, he was only a few hundred feet away from Fuente Grande, the eleventh century Arab reservoir, 'Ainadamar' in Arabic, “The Fountain of Tears”. Its water supplied the city of Granada. It’s clear he is still supplying us.

Mother, grandmother, where is Santiago?
Over there he strolls with his cortege
His head brimming with feathers
On his body the finest pearls
With the round moon on his face
With the sun hidden in his breast.

I wonder what Lorca would have written as an older man. Whether he would have taken delight in the loving home as well as the disrupting wind. I hope so. In some other life I wish that for him. I love all his flashing language and pathos, but I search for other reflections on love from those who understood the long game, the hand-made life, calm, as well as those brilliant, brief ascendancies. Those will be my labours. But, when you know where to look, Lorca laces his work with lovely, delicate blessings. So I send one to you.

The wings of the nightingale
Are glittered with dew
Clear drops of the moon
made firm by her hopes.

copyright Martin Shaw 2016

Friday, 1 January 2016

the hermits candle

All hundred and fifty psalms
roar hallelujah

Yehuda Amichai

I have described the weather of Devon in different ways, but the binding agent is usually rain. Buckets of the stuff. How I love it. Sky is sheet metal grey, the wintered trees have their skinny pale arms raised and imploring, but it looks like all mercy will be denied, that the sun will never return, that the trembling buds of spring will never surface. How deceptive life can be. I will watch from the door a little longer, till it is time to plunge the coffee, light the low lamp, take to my desk and write to you.

It seems popular at the moment to stress the importance of the darkness. It’s a wise thought.
To, in these early, short days of 2016, both observe the shifting weather outside and also that interior turbulence that can arrive in these first few days of the year. It is a salient council to be unavailable awhile, to be a seed under the dark, heavy body of the earth.

But i’m going to break with my own tradition here today. Or at least tune it up a little.
I want to think about light. The truth is, i’ve become a little skilled at the move into darkness, charged with fertility as it may be. And I say darkness, not necessarily depression, or melancholy or despair. Through they are sometimes the purple flowers brocading its door. You could think of it as walking the road to the Hermits hut. If you read these little notes I send, you probably know all about it in your own life, and your own way. I think of Rilke;

Strange violin, are you following me?
In how many distant cities already
has your lonely night spoke to mine?

The Neighbour

I love the idea of lonely nights speaking to each other. I lean into it. It’s very dignified. It’s a marvellous image, what Gaston Bachelard calls a “counsel of resistance”. I’ve been gripped by Bachelard for at least twenty years, and he writes beautifully about the Hermits hut: “Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb “to inhabit”. So we are being called to a concentrated solitude, and as we walk through the storm we glimpse the light of the Hermits distant candle from the window. More intense, more holy than a thousand lightbulbs.

We’ve walked many miles through the dark. The hut is small and warm. There is dry wood stacked, a bookcase, chairs and a fire. It is a place of absolute privacy. A place of shelter. The woods outside creak and groan to the mid-winter storm, but here, in this little den, is a place to rest. Let’s gather ourselves and look into the fire. Witness the bed of embers that’s been building over the last few hours. It’s in those embers that we first detect the slow return of the light. Each ember begins with attending to the Hermits candle.

We may not get many clues from the outwards appearance of things today: the rutted tracks and sopping byres of Devon spume rain from every crevice and gully - it seems that all greenness has gone from the land. But it hasn’t. There’s a secret afoot. In the wine-red earth and the spindle branches of the elm, those embers are starting to begin their journey of stirring. Incrementally, but stirring. Over these next weeks, even when we may feel caught in the vice grip of winter, some immense breath is starting to blow patiently on these little hidden embers of vitality. Pay attention to them when you walk in nature, there are clues everywhere. These are simple things i’m saying, but brook seasonal repetition.

And so it is with us. No matter what the catalogue of triumph or betrayal or nothing-much-at-all that this year invoked, there is a biological imperative to synch up the pure animal of your body with the wider seasonal progression. Just as there is a time for disarray, there is also a time for gathering in, for repair, for even - using a big word - for healing. So the council is simple, attend to the embers. Even if your fireplace feels only an ash pile, I know there is one, robin-red little glint in the dark. One is all you need. You can rebuild culture from one ember.

Old people say that only a little of your soul lives in your body, most of it is outside, and then a fair splash way out in eternity. This work down in the cinders - so very ancient mythologically - both honours psyche as deeply felt experience but opens it up into the fellowship of a wider cosmology. What you face is bigger than you can handle. It is. It is for all of us. Self-reliance can become an isolating and desperate habit. Remember prayer, and the fact that history is not a distant thing; it’s greatest attributes are a wild and snorting horse riding alongside us. Rub flanks with your ancestors. Get claimed by Delacroix, or Cezanne or Agnes Martin or Roger Hilton, visit art galleries and libraries: they are filled with gnostic information for your eyes only.

Show up to the miracle of your life as well as its ocean-bright tears until you realise they are in fact a braided knot: an ivory comb to untangle Sednas locks, the long arduous steps over tundra to steal a whisker from a Siberian tiger, a moment when you whisper an errant thought into your childs ear and they burst out with surprised wonder for the first time in months. I’m suggesting you keep going. Who has god blessed more than you?

This last year I have sometimes been close to people dying or terribly sick. Story has been a breath tenderly whispered into an ear as a soul moved like blue smoke from a body, or a confirming shoulder as we scattered the ashes of another, or as a staff of absolute heart-shuddering grief for a bewildered little boy as he chocked out a goodbye to his mother. All of this was correct to test and break me. What I learnt was something very simple. When Death the mid-wife comes, those gathered spoke absolutely from the heart. Certain useless sophistications fell away. Things were suddenly far less ambiguous. Don’t wait till the end to reach out in this manner. Don’t. Don’t. Find out what you love, and communicate it, shelter it, give it fidelity at the centre of your life. You have time. Be it. Speak it. That’s what I learnt. Much of the rest is mirage and cruelty. Have no part in it.

…I know there is room in me
for a second huge and timeless life.


Happy New Year.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2016