Change and the River

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Drawing Down the Moon_0003

For our new prompt, Michelle and I are changing our focus from the Moon to rivers. I began with the previous post, which still included a big old full moon.  Writing this I began to wonder about the meaning of that Moon in relation to the subject of compassionate acts. I remembered the way Islam divides charitable deeds in several categories – zakah, which is an obligatory giving incumbent on all Muslims and sadaqah, which is private giving over and beyond one’s obligatory tithe. Sadaqah itself has two components -an open-handed kind where one is seen to be doing good works (inspiring other to do the same) and a secret kind, even more meritorious, in which the gift is given anonymously (so secretly that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”). In my previous collage, no one except the Moon is witness to the monk’s act of compassion. I like the idea of anonymous giving because it seems cleaner, somehow.  On the other hand public acts inspire and inform others.  I think its wise to promote both kinds.

Zakah is derived from the verb zaka, “to thrive,” “to be wholesome,” “to be pure.”  Charitable giving is seen as a way to purify oneself from the pollution of greed.  Which brings us back to rivers and flowing waters. Rivers have long been associated with purification.  Partly, I think, because they represent change. Heraclitus said it many centuries ago, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”

Nothing represents change more than a river. They move constantly undulating across the plains and carving furrows through mountains. A river is by definition moving water, unlike a sea, lake, pond or puddle it cannot be defined as a body because it is polymorphous, continually changing shape. It is change that purifies us and redeems us, for the past can never be erased or changed – all we can do is make the present count.   To do that we need to do it differently.  Even if it was good before,  we must accept that we cannot duplicate it.  Attempts to stop change result in stagnation.  We tend to think of dams as good things, ways to control nature (read “change”), but in fact dams kill ecosystems, reduce the fertility of the land and create the possibility for flooding larger by many degrees of magnitude than nature creates on its own.  We are a metaphor of the river.  Our own emotions and psyche reflect the same phenomena; dammed thought and feelings damn us to all sorts of ills, some long-lasting, some so insidious their effects don’t appear for years.

We go down to the river to pray, to wash, cleanse, refresh, renew.  Stepping into the current we become current, we become relevant.

Standing in the river, I am continuously present to what is, instead of what was or will be.

 

 

Fish Releasing Ceremony of Compassion

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Monk and fishC Series 12-3-2010 1;55;08 PM

The people of Han-tan presented doves to Chao Chien-tzu on New Year’s

morning. He was delighted and richly rewarded them. When a visitor asked the

reason, Chien-tzu explained: ‘We release living things on New Year’s Day as a

gesture of kindness.’ [The visitor replied]: ‘The people know you wish to release

them, so they vie with each other to catch them, and many of the doves die.

If you wish to keep them alive, it would be better to forbid the people to catch

them. When you release doves after catching them, the kindness does not make

up for the mistake.’ ‘You are right,’ said Chien-tzu.

~From the Taoist text, Liezi, dated to the third century CE.

 

The release of fish into a river or birds into the air is a practice common to all schools of Buddhism. Actually it predates Buddhism and seems to be a Chinese practice well established in Taoist practice by its first recorded written mention. Though modern ecologists argue against the practice – introduction of invasive species, trauma and harm to wild animals during their capture for release, pollution spread of disease, etc. – it is easy to understand why the practice caught on and became so widespread. I first encountered it in Thailand where vendors sell birds for small amounts of money so people ca release them. I have a sneaking suspicion the pigeons simply return to their dovecots and are sold repeatedly. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful feeling to release a caged creature and watch it fly away. My own heart fluttered in response and I entered the temple in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving. I can’t help but think it enhanced the sincerity, if not the efficacy on my prayers.

 

In Thailand, many households keep large ceramic jars beside the front door to hold the living fish that will become their supper at some point. In a land without refrigeration this makes perfect sense, especially since the best time to fish is at dawn, before work starts, when fish rise to feed on insects. On special days, particularly on Buddha’s birthday, saffron is added to the water to sanctify it and the fish are released back into the rivers from whence they came.

 

One of the things that rivers represent is “universal potentiality” and the “fluidity of form” and the fish is seen in many cultures as a symbol of death and rebirth; the continuous cycle of life. It makes sense symbolically that to release a fish would be to enhance the effects of one compassionate act giving the consequences of that act a chance to morph and change form and spread in effect.

 

Sacred and magical as rivers may be, they are probably more associated with human endeavor, history, and culture than any other natural phenomenon. They flow through every kind of environment and have been since the beginning humanity’s road to distant places. We settle by rivers, our cities depend on them. They are nature’s highways and we have used them through all the days of being human and before.

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Rivers live in our hearts, our poetry, our art and music -Handel’s Water Music , the Hudson River painters, the River Alph. They drain the land so plants may grow and move the waters back to the sea where they become refreshed, cleansed and reusable. They are the veins and arteries of Gaia and carry her lifeblood within their banks. To return life to the rivers is a sacred and profound act when done symbolically and even more so when actually accomplished as the completion of a physical task.

 

Hercules is portrayed in myth as cleansing the Aegean stables by rerouting the beds of the rivers Alpheus and Peneus to wash out the filth. Pete Seeger brought us full circle when he attempted the Herculean task of cleaning the Hudson River which had been receiving the waste of human lives and their factories for hundreds of years. Thanks to his leadership the Hudson once again has sturgeon fish swimming up its rivers and tributaries to breed. I can think of no greater act of compassion.

Lunescence

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Drawing Down the Moon

The Moon has long been linked to women’s mysteries, particularly their menstrual cycles. The twenty-eight days of a woman’s cycle correspond to the Moon’s own waxing and waning. She is mistress of the dark night whose ebony depths are echoed in the wombs of women and the underground caverns of Earth. In our culture and many other’s the Moon is considered feminine with strong links to a host of goddesses – Artemis, Hecate, Áine, Sefkhet, Cerridwen, Selene, Chang-o, Ishtar, Hina Hine, Mama Quilla ‑ the list is long and comes from around the world.

moon worshipper

Most of the moon goddesses are associated with fertility, childbirth or the protection of women. While scientific data assures us the old stories linking moon and madness have no basis in reality; other studies confirm what women have always known – the Moon can affects their production of hormones and the onset of menses.

Little if any scientific research has been devoted to determining if the Moon actually affects the way plants grow but the amount of anecdotal evidence is enormous. There are over five million references on the web to planting by moonlight. Moon gardening continues to have Goddess knows how many hundreds of thousands of adherents as it has for millennia. Fertility is her watchword.

Women have always gathered on the full moon to perform their rites and practice their mysteries. To this day circles of women meet in circles at the full moon to seek sisterhood, counsel and support from each other.

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My collage shows a Mycenae priestess engaged in the rite of drawing Down the Moon, a ritual in which women gather together to focus their attention on invoking the Goddess while their priestess opens herself to the Goddess’s presence and allows Her to speak through her. The priestess holds a snake – powerful symbol of feminine life, renewal and transformation. The snake sheds its skin just as a woman once a month sheds the soft inner lining of her uterine wall.

I can’t mention this rite without pausing to remember Margot Adler who died this year on my birthday.  She is was just my age.  Below you can see a copy of her original well-thumbed and much-loved book. In 1979 we were just beginning to re-member the feminine divine and revive Her mysteries.

Margot Adler 1946-2014 Author of "Drawing Down the Moon"

Margot Adler 1946-2014
Author of “Drawing Down the Moon”

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A small catlike form perches on the priestess’s head. Cats were once considered sacred and revered in their own right. Cats are nocturnal creatures, prowling the night with luminous round eyes. They too have a long association with birth, fecundity, motherhood and milk.

People see different things in the Moon – rabbits, faces, buffalo and sometimes a beautiful woman with long dark hair.  My moon is based on medieval Celtic design. It contains a woman tangled in her own hair and surrounded by ancient symbols. She represents the strange and prophetic nature of dreams, visions and intuitions sent by the Moon to those who seek her counsel.  She also stands for the danger inherent in stepping between worlds to engage with either the numinous  or one’s own unconscious.  The gods can drive you mad if you strive to penetrate their mysteries to vigorously, tangling you in a labyrinth of self-reflecting thoughts and imaginings.

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If you look closely, you will find several flakes of mugwort incorporated in the design of the background. Mugwort is a common name for several species of aromatic plants in the genus Artemisia, named after the moon goddess Artemis. Mugwort can be used as a sacred smoking or smudging herb for protection or divination. Used in a ritual context it may enhance astral projection, lucid dreaming and altered states of consciousness. Keeping mugwort under your pillow or in your bedroom encourages prophetic dreams.

“Driving into the Moon”

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Driving Into the Moon

Driving Into the Moon

 

The Night Owl and Driving into the Moon

I am a card-carrying member of the Night Owl Club… I have been my whole life. Even as a child, I was never one to fall asleep easily or get up early. Getting to school on time was always a challenge. Recently a friend of mine said, “I’m a heavy sleeper and it’s impossible for me to wake up and jump to it.” I don’t know if I’m a heavy sleeper but I know I do not wake up and jump to it.

My collage, The Night Owl, shows the big-eyed owl in flight. The moon, the trees and the night sky with thousands and thousands of stars are the owl’s domain. The Owl has binocular vision and can easily estimate the depth of field. His ears are not symmetrical. One ear is lower than the other. This makes it possible for the owl to locate its prey. Their night vision is excellent. Their wings have feathers on the edge that make it very difficult for their prey to hear them coming.

My second collage,” Driving into the Moon”, is about an experience I had a few years back. I was driving across a bridge at night heading east towards the hills. The lights on the bridge were yellow/orange. There were very few cars. The moon was huge. It was huge and orange and it sat at the end of the roadway. As I traveled along, rather alone, encased in an orange cocoon of light, the blackness of the bay and of the darkness of the night carried me into another world. I was driving into the moon. It was the strangest feeling, otherworldly, very cosmic. I kept looking down at my hands on the steering wheel reminding myself that I wasn’t dreaming. My senses told me it wouldn’t be long before I would be off the bridge and I wondered if the Moon would move and let me pass.

I haven’t forgotten those moments of confusion. That enormous orange moon, the night sky, the stars and the sounds in the darkness are both magical and scary. It is a time when the imagination can paint all kinds of pictures in our head. It was the fodder of science fiction stories.

Ancient peoples around the world had many different stories about the moon. Babylonians gave the Moon precedence over the Sun. Oriental nations in general worshipped the Moon before the Sun. In central Asia, it was said the moon is the Goddess’s Mirror reflecting everything in the world. The Sioux Indians called the Moon
“The old woman who never dies.” The Iroquois people called her “The Eternal One.”
The Moon is the “Moon Goddess “who created time, with all its cycles of growth, decline and destruction, which is why ancient calendars were based on phases of the moon…

The Vedas say all souls return to the moon after death, to be devoured by the maternal spirits. Pythagorean sects viewed the Moon as the home of the dead, a gate (yoni) through which souls passed on the way to the paradise-fields of the stars. Greeks often located the Elysian Fields, home of the blessed dead in the moon. In advanced cultures the themes of the moon as the land of the dead or the regenerating receptacle of souls … between reincarnations, it sheltered both the dead and the unborn, which were one and the same. The symbol of the moon is the Crescent shape. The ancient Gaul and the modern day French make moon-cakes … a crescent shaped pastry they call, Croissants. The crescent moon worn by Diana is said to be the ark or vessel of fertility or the container of the Germ of Life. As the Moon governs the sea’s tides so she is supposed to govern the tides of life and death.

Luna’s Hare

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Luna's Hare_NEW_0001“Sometimes, when you’re deep in the countryside, you meet three girls, walking along the hill tracks in the dusk, spinning. They each have a spindle, and on to these they are spinning their wool, milk-white, like the moonlight. In fact, it is the moonlight, the moon itself, which is why they don’t carry a distaff. They’re not Fates, or anything terrible; they don’t affect the lives of men; all they have to do is to see that the world gets its hours of darkness, and they do this by spinning the moon down out of the sky. Night after night, you can see the moon getting less and less, the ball of light waning, while it grown on the spindles of the maidens. Then, at length, the moon is gone, and the world has darkness, and rest…..

…on the darkest night, the maidens take their spindles down to the sea, to wash their wool. And the wool slips from the spindles into the water, and unravels in long ripples of light from the shore to the horizon, and there is the moon again, rising above the sea….Only when all the wool is washed, and wound again into a white ball in the sky, can the moon-spinners start their work once more….”

Mary Stewart, The Moonspinners

Today, we introduce the Moon, as our symbol for the next few weeks. Though some ancient cultures saw the Sun as feminine and the Moon as masculine, in most minds Moon is equated with the feminine. Rightly so, for she governs conception, pregnancy and birth; sowing, sprouting and reaping – all things fecund begin with her blessing. It’s little wonder that in China, Korea, Japan people see a rabbit in the Moon, rather than a man or woman. The Cree nation also associates the rabbit and the moon as did the Aztecs. Of course some rabbits are white and they all like to come out at night, enhancing their association with the most magical, fascinating and unearthly object this world has ever known. Not that the sun doesn’t command respect and worship – it certainly does, but the elements of enchantment and numinosity are sometimes lost in its penetrating, consistent, brilliance. The Moon changes, wanes and waxes. Her gravitational power links us to her as the water that makes up 60% of our flesh moves to her rhythms, captive as the ocean tides. Whatever her phase, she never fails to stir the human imagination, even in her absence.

Rabbit happens to be my totem animal. She has many many attributes ranging from shameless trickster in her male guise to nourishing mother. Like the Moon, and all of us, Rabbit has a shadow side that complements her brighter aspects. For instance she is fearful and tends to freeze in the face of danger, her escape is swift and erratic and sometimes much too quickly triggered. She has always had much to teach me.

Rabbit also links us to the number three forming a bridge from our study of the last few weeks to this new, not so unrelated topic. Below you see some examples of the three rabbit or three hare motif. The first known representation of this symbol comes from some Chinese Buddhist temples along the Silk Road dating from about 600 B.C.E (obviously, it was already a commonly recognized image or it wouldn’t have been used as a temple decoration). Three rabbits form a lunar circle to share three ears, though each appears to have two. This optical illusion is created by arranging the three ears in a triangle, allowing each pair of adjacent hares to share an ear. In some ways it thus becomes a visual koan.

Buddhist Cave Painting, Silk Road circa 640 B.C.E.

Buddhist Cave Painting, Silk Road, China ca. 640 B.C.E.

Egyptian or Syrian 1200 C.E.

Egyptian or Syrian pottery fragment ca. 1200 C.E.

three hares Paderborn Cathedral

Church window, Paderborn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany ca.1600

 

 

 

The design must have struck some deep chord in people because it spread through China, and the Middle East and then across Europe, making the transition into Islam and Christianity without losing an iota of its original pattern.

Whichever of Rabbit’s facets we focus on, her long ears and soft fur speak to humans on some deep primal level – that same deep pool of unknowing through which the Moon moves, trailing our psyches behind her.

 

 

 

 

 

Hittite Priest

Hittite Priest Moon Priest

Ring Seal ca. 1600 B.C.E.

Ancient Trinity

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Ancient Trinity

One plus one equals three. In my collage there are three stone carvings representing father, mother and child.  The figures are the three travelers or the three wise men. The burled wood shape combined with the distant tree on the left and the stone figure creates  a visual triangle framing the stone carvings.  The triangle is an ancient symbol for the feminine.

In the background of the collage, there is a slope of  Bristle cone Pines.  These trees grow at the very top of the tree line where very few plants can survive. High in the mountains of Utah, Nevada and the eastern slopes of the California Sierra Nevada live the Bristle cone pines. These trees are long living. One member of the species is 5,063 years old and is one of the oldest known living non-clonal organisms on Earth.

Even after one of these trees dies, the skeleton survives for centuries because the wood is very dense and resinous and does not rot. The tree wears away like stone. It is the wind, rain and freezing that sculpts away at the tree making its shape twisted and gnarled.

When older religious images are supplanted or discredited by later forms, the elder symbolism passes into the realm of the occult or of magic. Hence, in Christianized Europe anything repeated three times becomes magical.  Fairy tales and folk traditions produce nearly everything in triplicate … three wishes, three trails, three sisters, three princesses, three tests or three characters. In the Christian world it is the Father, Son and Holy spirit.

Like the Bristle cone pine, the trinity is ancient, dating back to the pagan faith of the Goddess who with her three personae, Virgin, Mother and Crone personify the Ancient Trinity.

Loosening the Literal

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This year the work for me is to try and dislodge the firm hold of the literal.

lit•er•al (lĭt′ər-əl) adj.:
1. a. according with the letter of the scriptures
b. adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression
c. free from exaggeration or embellishment
d. characterized by a concern mainly with facts
2. of, relating to, or expressed in letters
3. reproduced word for word: exact, verbatim

At one time I prided myself on not being a person who took things literally, but honesty eventually compelled me to admit I am bound as tightly as any to adhering to facts.  The problem is that the more we know about the factual the more we discover that there ain’t no such thing.  Of course, that’s actually a double negative and so does not “really” mean what it purports to mean. Catch my drift?

 
Which brings us to the third eye or as Hindu’s call it “Shiva’s eye. Eastern thought places the third eye in the middle of the forehead, slightly above brow level.  Western Theosophists associate it with the pineal gland at the back of the head.  In either case this eye is said to open upon a different reality or possibly more of reality than we perceive with normal vision.  It is the eye of non-duality, the place of perception from which we recognize the unity of all things. It allows us to see visions and pierce the veil of time.   New Age thought associates the third eye with enlightenment; a word which could meant ‘to bring light to’ but, I like to think of it as ‘to make lighter’  as in less heavy, as in feather-light on the scales of Ma’at.

 
I really love symbols, love the idea that a (literal) object can provide entrance to a whole field of dynamic tangible and intangible associations and meanings, but when it comes to depicting such abstractions artistically I find it incredibly difficult to jump the tracks and toot around in Rumi’s field.

 
I think it may be related to the extreme near-sightedness that afflicted my eyes most of my life (till laser surgery in my fifties).  Nobody noticed until I was six years old and started school.  I still remember the amazing clarity of that first pair of glasses and how quickly I became frightened of losing them.  I think that fear has made me hold tight to the “facts “of what I see.  Now, I want to loosen that grip a bit.  I once had a mentor who told me “we teach what we need to learn.”  My husband and I teach each other many things.  I taught him to “soften his gaze.”  It took a while for me to explain it clearly and him to understand what I meant.  Now, he has incorporated it so thoroughly he uses it as a teaching tool professionally.  Meanwhile, I am still struggling to learn  the difference between discernment and judgement, to soften the gaze of my inner critic while pulling the veil from in front of that lidless third eye.

 
So here is my depiction of it – the third eye set in an energetic field of non-being.  I don’t really like it.  It doesn’t fit my aesthetic and feels raw and unfinished to me.  I’m uncomfortable with it.  But isn’t that the point?

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

 

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

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"This Chair is Just Right!"

“This Chair is Just Right!”

 

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

As we move into May, we continue to work with the motif of three.

When Robert Southey published in 1837, his story of the Three Bears the Tale had a long oral history. In Southey’s version, the intruder was an elderly woman and the three bears were bachelors. In the modern version, the story is about the Bear family, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear.
The old woman has morphed into a young girl with golden locks of hair.

The ending of the story has changed as well. In the earlier versions of the story, the Old Woman was impaled on the Church Steeple or was sent to prison. In the current telling Goldilocks is so frightened by the sight of three bears that she leaps up out of baby bear’s bed and runs home never again daring to enter a house without being invited.

The story uses repetition to hold the listeners attention. There are three bears, three bowls of porridge, three chairs, three beds. This is similar to the telling of the three little Pigs. These are cautionary tales. Goldilocks has been told not to wander into the woods. It discourages the listener not to leave personal things unattended. It shows that taking things without asking can be hurtful and selfish.

In my collage I show Goldilocks as a young woman who feels entitled to help herself to whatever she finds. The three bears, especially baby bear are upset. There is an intruder who has eaten his porridge. Goldilocks should be frightened. Bears can be very dangerous. They are powerful animals that are very quick and fierce. The Bear is a symbol of the unconscious, bravery, inner strength, and anger. Mother bears are very protective of their young. Goldilocks is lucky to escape the encounter with the Bear Family unhurt and in one piece.

The bear is a symbol of strength. He is associated with Diana and the moon. Ursus Major, the Great Bear constellation is easily recognized in the Northern Hemisphere’s sky. Bears are often considered among Native American Peoples as kin to humans because, like birds, they can stand and walk upon two legs. The bear and the wolf are the last true symbols of the primal, natural world. When bears hibernate they live on their stored-up fat. The bear can teach us to draw upon all of our inner stores of energy and wisdom.

The Egg and I

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Egg and I 2

 

I can’t seem to get birds off my mind. Thinking of the number three in conjunction with them, I realized how closely connected the symbolism of the number three and the egg have in common. The egg like many triple deities found cross-culturally and across time represents birth-death-rebirth.
The Cosmic Egg like the number three is a symbol of wholeness. Of course both egg and three carry multiple meanings The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols devotes four and a half pages of densely packed definitions to both of them. Even within their own categories some of those meanings are very similar, some differ widely, but all agree that both carry attributes of the sacred, the mystical and the magical.
This blog has resulted for me in lots of intentionally created collages, in which the theme drove my choices and composition. This one is almost entirely intuitive. The image of an egg came immediately to mind when I started thinking about a collage inspired by three. It was only as I was wondering why that it occurred to me an egg come in three parts – shell, albumen and yolk.
Maria Prophetissa, a legendary alchemist whose reputation for sagacity and intelligence remains current to this day gave us a famous axiom: “One becomes two; two becomes three; out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” She could well have been speaking of a fertilized egg. Perhaps, Maria kept chickens!
Karl Jung saw Maria’s axiom as a mirror image of the individuation process expressed in alchemical terms. This kind of reversal fits right in with Hermetic wisdom, which tells us “as above so below.” In other words the laws of the universe apply equally to all elements thereof. We all know all things at our deepest level which is why the great masters and teachers all say that to know yourself is to know God/Spirit/Source/etc.
Intuitive expressions of “scientific” facts began long ago with the first creation stories i.e. the Cosmic Egg. Science, as it prods deeper into time and space, is rapidly verifying those ancient intuitions and insights. We are, as we thought, made of stardust.
What all this has to do with this collage, I don’t exactly know- call it a grok.