Back in the Studio

August 2017

Schoolwork got in the way of writing for pleasure, hence the long break, but now its finished and I’ve returned to life in Vancouver. It is interesting to see how my degree is bubbling through my work as an artist, as well as my magical/meditative practice(s).

One of the constants has been the liontaur from the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. Among the instructions for inviting the image to speak was the admonition to be faithful to one’s image – to return for regular visits and conversation. (The full guidelines are below incase you want to try this at home (and I’d encourage you to do so).) In communicating with him while I was there I came to know him not only as a being bearing blessings, but as a charming and playful being. I think of him often.

Then last spring at a shamanic workshop to find our spirit animals, he came bounding across the clouds, crashed into my chest and entered my heart. Needless to say, this was startling and quite took my breath away. He has asked for a small carving to be made of him from some shed moose antler I had around the studio, so the work has begun.

IMG_4632.JPG

Invite an image to teach following the guidelines of Angelo (2004) and Elkins (2004).

“Seeing is metamorphosis.” (Elkins 1997 p12)

Guidelines

James Elkins in his book, Pictures and Tears, has a list of suggestions for approaching an image, making space within yourself for it, and allowing it to penetrate you. In this exercise, the most important tasks are to allow yourself time, fully engage, and clear one’s mental chatter for listening to the image with attention. (Elkins 2004 p210-12) “Allow yourself the most intimate and naïve encounter, and then dissect it into knowledge of historical value.” (Elkins 2004 p213)

When we invite the image to teach, Marie Angelo suggests that we approach it as a “living presence,” “a great teacher,” (Angelo 2005 p17) or even as an ambassador from “far lands [with a] long ancestry, fabulous costumes, and an intricate, sophisticated culture” and that we participate in “its mythos and cosmos (narrative time and ordered space).” (Angelo 2005 p13 italics in original) She ties this to the Jungian idea of “active imagination.” (ibid) She states:

[I]mage is the substance of our most direct, immediate perceptions, and the characteristic moves of academic thinking; keeping a distance, interrogating, translating or interpreting, need to be recognized as only one style of rhetoric. (Angelo 2005 p15)

This is an active engagement using one’s “psycho-spiritual senses,” (Corbin 1972 p6) and opening to “intuitive revelation,” in order to hear the messages of the mundus imaginalis. (ibid) Thus entering this place and using “active imagination” we can discover that “the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic.” (Cheetham 2012 (quoting Jung) p161)

In working with an image this way we open ourselves to the poetic nature of our consciousness. (Avens 1980 p186) Images may be approached and entered into much as a dream image might be “understood poetically.” (ibid) These images are not to be rationalised or “deciphered” or used as a tool to bolster one’s ego consciousness. “[T]hey are complete in themselves and must be allowed to speak for themselves.” (Avens 1980 p186)

While I struggle with the desire to figure out the meaning and solve the problem or puzzle of the image, I am also aware that I cannot fully enter into the image unless I “wish to serve a mystery rather than to solve and interpret it.” (Angelo 2005 p32) When this happens, Angelo advises us to “…stick to the image,” (Angelo (quoting Hillman) 2005 p21) and Voss urges us to allow a “magical response,” to let space between the observer and the observed be filled with the animating power of the holy and the numinous pointing to a hidden reality permeating the whole cosmos. (Voss 2006 p2) The image can work as both doorway and key to awaken my mind to the subtleties of understanding the “different registers” that lie “between the intuitive imagination and the rational mind.” (Voss 2006 p4) This permission is quite liberating.

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The Heliand (The Being in the Crypt part 2)

One of the many cool, fun, and interesting things about being on this course is some of the texts I stumble upon. For my last paper, one of those was The Heliand.

The Heliand is a great 9th C Saxon epic paraphrase of the gospels. This is not a merely a translation, but an imaginative retelling that is a “contemplative integration” of the Saxon magical worldview and the new religion from the Mediterranean, it melds the older Saxon views of magic with the newer, more acceptable miracles. The evangelists are described as the “word wise warriors” that accompanied the great chieftain, Jesus. Horse guards have replaced the shepherds in the fields, because in Saxon culture a horse guard has much more status than a lowly shepherd. It calls Jesus, among other titles, a great magic worker who taught his disciples “secret magic powers,” and who turned the water into wine with the use of “a secret runic mystery.”

Like the Saxon audience for the Heliand, England had recently been conquered, in this case by the Normans. Anselm, the new archbishop who built the crypt wherein my liontaur lives, was allowing the cults of many of the Anglo-Saxon saints, which had been suppressed by Lanfranc, the previous archbishop, to be revived. So influences of the old and new were mixing and mingling, creating something new. I feel like my liontaur straddles this line.

anselm     lanfranc

Anselm and Lanfranc

I also think it is worth examining The Heliand for traces of old Northern magical practices. The attitudes of the Saxons toward the power of performative words and gestures shines through the text, and it is a fun read.

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Returning (or “The Taxi Driver, the Pigeons, and the Cat”)

For this MA we need to do a creative project and I wanted to do some painting for mine. The red-eye arrived at Heathrow on Sunday afternoon. With me were my two heavy checked bags full of paints and my two heavy carry-on bags, which were full of books. I decided (I think wisely) not to brave the tube from Paddington to St. Pancras, but to take a taxi instead. I bungeed my bags together into two wheeled masses and marched forth into the grey half-light of January.  This was indeed a wise decision. The taxi driver leapt out to assist and we were soon threading our way through London traffic.

He, being a chatty taxi driver, asked what I was here for. I told him I was taking my masters in Myth, Cosmology, and the Sacred. “Ah,” he said, “are you a Wiccan then?” “Yes.” I replied, surprised. We had a delightful conversation and by the time we arrived at St. Pancras, he had a list of books, and three podcasts for him to find out more. He even fetched a trolley for me.

The Pigeons

I think that St. P’s may be a Disabled Pigeons’ Home. The pigeons I have seen on the street are normal, regular pigeons, but the pigeons at St. P’s are almost all deformed or disabled in some way, mostly to do with their feet. There is one that has only one leg, many with only one foot, and some with strange growths on their feet making them look huge. No doubt the smooth floors of the station are more soothing on their feet than the rough concrete of the city streets. I notice them every time I come through here.

Footless Pigeon

Footless Pigeon

The Cat

Having arrived in Canterbury and bribed the taxi driver to carry the two heaviest bags up the four flights of stairs, I went grocery shopping. On the way back, I noticed that the local pub had Sunday Lunch. I asked if they had any left and was fixed with a plate of roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, and vegetables. As I sat drinking my beer and eating my dinner, the pub cat came and crawled into my hat. I am thrilled to know my local pub (only a block away!) has a cat for when I need a cat fix.

Bakushka, the pub cat

Bakushka, the pub cat

Deplaning, customs, baggage, everything went smoothly. It is good to be back with my fellow pilgrims on our pilgrimage.

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The Being in the Crypt

The rains have come. The Great Stour River has gone from being clear and bubbling to a swift and murky brown. The wind and rain strip the trees of their leaves and the air has turned cold. We had a class in which we went to Canterbury Cathedral with sketching materials. We were here to find an image, and invite it to speak to us. It could be an architectural detail, the building itself, a sculpture, a painting, or anything that grabbed us. I chose this lovely monster being.

Crypt BeingIt took me some time to make a connection. First, because that is the way my mind works, I had to look at him literally, asking things like: So, how does it work having two rib-cages? And two stomachs? How and what do you eat? You have wings on your knees and elbows so how do you even walk? Or fly? What is that other head doing in your groin? Where are your genitals?!  Getting past the logistics of how this being lives, moves and exists is hard for me, because that is a concrete thing that my mind clings to. After a while in the dim light of the crypt, I just have to accept that these things will never be answered and that they simply don’t matter.

Once my mind is relaxed enough, I am able to enter into a conversation with him. He tells me that he is not a monster. He is a force of life and death, bearing the gifts of bread and fish. What comes from his mouth is the air of life and he breathes this into the world. He is power and strength and lets me know that even monsters bear blessings. I feel a sense of holiness there with him in the crypt. Later, I emerge squinting into the late November afternoon. It is the start of a beautiful friendship.

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Samhain – St Martin’s

I know it’s a bit late to be writing about Samhain. On the evening of Samhain I made up a nice dinner, poured rum for my granny (the nasty one) and builder’s tea for my granddad and grandmère, along with the usual offerings of honey, rich cream, and whiskey, and had a dumb supper with my ancestors. A few days earlier I had been scoping out places to leave these offerings. The following morning I walked up to St. Martin’s Church.

St. Martin’s is the oldest church in continuous use in the English-speaking world. The oldest decipherable date in the churchyard is 1686. There is a lovely small circle of yew trees in the centre of the yard.  It was quiet and peaceful as I walked among the grave stones.

St Martin's

St Martin’s

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Yew Grove

Yew Grove

Lots of Celtic Crosses

Lots of Celtic Crosses

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Lovely old flinty stone with Roman bricks on top

Lovely old flinty stone with Roman bricks on top

Other offerings in the churchyard

Other offerings in the churchyard

Today, I got to go inside!  I went for the Remembrance Day service.  One of the nice things about going to just about any church is that people are quite friendly so long as you don’t go on about what you might be up to in the church yard.

Old Roman wall section

Old Roman wall section

 

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Theurgy

I am working on my first essay. Out of the dozen or so topics, I chose to work on one that has me analysing one or two texts using the four fold hermeneutic. Which is a fancy way of saying a four layer method of analysis and interpretation. It is usually used on scripture to talk about the meaning (step 3) behind the allegory (step 2), which is behind the literal (step 1). Where it gets interesting is in step 4 – when you allow yourself to meditate on, or brood over, the text; allowing all three levels of meaning to penetrate you and change how you are in the world. It is a way to know the gods, your own soul, and the relationship between the two. One of the things that is really cool is how much the ancient theurgists have in common with Jungian analysis. The role of the imanginal, rather than the imaginary, as a kind of mesocosm – the place between the world of humanity and the realms of the gods/divine – is a key to both. It is a really interesting thought experiment/meditation to go there in a state of prepared openness and see what comes. Then the task becomes one of sifting and sorting begins – to know which is the content of my own psyche or ego, and what seems to come from the collective or the divine. This is not to say that the realms of the gods are merely a collection of archetypes, but that here, in the mundus imaginalis is a place within me where they may meet. I hope that something fruitful may be born.

Truth

The compass rose embedded in the floor as you walk into the library

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Resources

I arrived in Canterbury, with my life in 2 suitcases. (I do realise that this is very much a first world problem.) I had to sift and sort to decide what it was I really wanted or needed to have with me. Once here in my minimally furnished flat, I needed to decide what I could do without. So, what do I do without my stuff? Shorn of my stuff, what are my resources?

Like many liminal spaces, this is a thrilling, slightly scary, and exciting space to be in. It means turning inward upon myself to discover what I truly own. Instead of arranging my stuff when I got here, I cleaned the house, rearranged what furniture there was, and made offerings to the household spirits here. That helped, but I only truly felt at home once I had made a full moon offering of honey, cream, and whiskey to the spirits of this land.

The tree around which I poured it is an ash tree that I can see from my window. Ash is the World Tree, the axis mundi, and the spine of the universe. She is the tree from which Odin hung to gain wisdom, and the tree of healing and enchantment and of power in the matter of destiny. It is a good connection to have.

Ash

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