INTERVIEW WITH DR. MARTIN SHAW
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Martin Shaw 2016