Monthly Archives: May 2013

Iktome and the Ducks

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Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…

Don’t Advertise

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Iktomi's Duck Feast

Iktomi’s Duck Feast

Iktomi and the Ducks

May Tricksters: Week #4

This Tale is from the Native American Tribes of the Plains, South Western and Western areas of the United States. Ikto’mi is a man with spider-like characteristics and features. He does everything backwards.

 In our tale this week Iktomi says to the gray wolves, “Don’t come and eat my duck feast.” Of course, as soon as the wolves hear that there is a duck feast they promptly arrive to eat his ducks. Iktomi makes the same mistake again by telling the wolves that they hadn’t eaten his buried baking ducks under the coals. So the wolves dig up the ducks and eat them too. By calling to the gray wolves and telling them what they shouldn’t do the wolves quickly react and do it anyway. They come and eat his ducks.

 But, at the beginning of the story when Iktomi tells the ducks they don’t want to know what is in his blanket the ducks stop what they are doing and demand to know what Iktomi has in his blanket. This time his backward speak works in his favor.  He is able to get the ducks inside his straw hut, and get them dancing with their eyes closed.

 He tells them not to  peek, not to open their eyes until he tells them to do so or  their eyes will turn red forever. After the ducks open their eyes and fly away their eyes do turn red … his curse does comes true.

This is trickster magic.  Backward speak, trickery, spells and the unexpected happen all throughout  the trickster encounters.

One message this tale gives  is the same trick doesn’t always bring the desired results.  The Trickster needs to consider the possible outcomes before using the backward speak.  Since the backward speak convinced the ducks to do exactly what Iktomi wants them to do, it worked to his favor. But when he uses the backward speak with the wolves, it doesn’t.  Actually the trick worked the same, but the outcome was not what Iktomi desired. He really did not want the wolves to eat his ducks.

 There is a Blue’s song that speaks to this very situation. The title of the song is … “Don’t advertise your man.”  The message is,  if you tell everyone how great your man is then some other woman will go behind your back and win him away from you.   In the Iktomi tale he advertises his duck feast and the wolves eat all of his dinner.  Next time,  Don’t advertise your duck feast.

Raven Comes Flying

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Raven flies on two wings

riding the winds of change,

beating  zephyr to gust, breeze to tempest

spinning vortices from each pinion,

tumbling tornadoes of transformation

to make and remake this world.

Old men tell Raven tales –

each wing warrants a season

its own time of telling.

The Wing of Making demands respect. Awe

silences young warriors, stifles the giggles of girls.

Creation myths recount beginnings, touch mystery

summon ancestors, First Man, First Woman.

Such stories require gravitas, solemnity, ceremony.

Solstice passes, season shifts

long nights, colder days cry out for laughter;

 fables to fend off boredom, hunger, rage.

Now, old men flap jaws and arms

send shadows soaring ‑ light/dark, dark/light

The Wing of Mischief craves hilarity,

famished for mirth to shake the belly

   leave the strong men sniggering

awash in helpless tears.

.

Raven flies on two wings

riding the winds of change,

beating  zephyr to gust, breeze to tempest

spinning vortices from each pinion,

tumbling tornadoes of transformation

to make and remake this world.

©2013  Christine Irving

I am Raven.

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I am Raven

I Upset Things. It’s my job, it’s what I do!

This story comes from the people of the Pacific Northwest. A people closely linked with the sea. It is a tale that explains the tides.  My favorite parts of the story are when the lines, “It’s my job. It’s what I do!” are said by Fog man, The Man who sits on the Tide, and finally by Raven. Each character knows their part in the over all plan. Each of us also wants to fit in and be part of an over all plan.  For some of us, knowing what our job is isn’t the easiest thing to figure out.

The seagull in my collage symbolizes “not knowing.” He is about to land on top of the head of the giant that sits on the tide. In the Tale, Raven asks Seagull if he knows how to move the water out of the way, but Seagull does not reply because he is busy searching for answers himself.

In some indigenous cultures, you are given a name that explains what you do.  In our Tale, the person who makes fog is called the Fog Man. Early on, many surnames came from what the person did. For an example, Shoemaker,  Schumacher, let us know that the person made shoes. The person named Fletcher was the individual who puts the feathers on arrows so they fly straight. Today, our name rarely represents how we fit in. Today we have to decide for our self. Yet, we are still judged by what we do. Most of us realize that there is more to who we are than how we earn a living.

Raven and Seagull are the main characters in another story. When the great creator created things, he kept them separate in Cedar boxes. The boxes contained such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One of the boxes was given to Seagull who decided not to open his box. All the animals tried to get him to do so but he refused. The animals called upon Raven to get Seagull’s box open. Raven tried reasoning with Seagull, but that didn’t work. Next he tried to trick Seagull into releasing the box, that to failed.  Finally, Raven was so angry that he stuck a thorn in Seagull’s foot.  Seagull dropped the box and the lid fell off. Out came the Sun, the moon and the stars. This brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin.

Raven is an old friend to me.  I wrote a story that had Raven as an important character. He acted as a go between people and the gods.  He is the one that blithely goes forward believing in the  future and his role of happily discovering it.  I loved the trickster.

Trickster as Creator

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Raven MeetsThe Man Who Sits On The tide

Raven Greets The Man Who Sits On The Tide

Unlike the primary gods who make something out of nothing and get the whole shebang rolling, Tricksters create from prima materia – the primary materials of this Earth.  In this role they are the first artists, fast change artists to be exact, for change is what they create.

This story from the Pacific Northwest is full of fog and the sea.  It tells the tale of how Raven created tides.   The surge and ebb of the sea usually occurs four times a day, though some places experience it only twice.  The Moon’s gravitational pull is the principal mover of tides, but the Sun, deep sea tides, the Coriolis effect and varying depths of water near the shore all contribute to different level s and frequencies.   Yet, even with today’s technology accurate tide depths are not easy to predict.   The sea remains a mysterious fascinating force and so does Raven.  His heavy wing beat and raucous cry never fail to send shivers of awe down my backbone, especially on a foggy beach just as the tide begins to turn.

Fog can be a symbol for doubt and confusion but it can also be a warning that some knowledge is best kept hidden.  It can provide a hiding place or refuge, but it can also facilitate loss or conceal lurking danger.  Fog muffles sound and plays tricks with direction and acoustics.  In films, fog is an ominous harbinger of change for the worse and sometimes symbolizes evil itself.   Fog and Trickster make a very good match.

Personally, I love fog.  I like moving in a magic bubble of air; outside of it, I see nothing, but inside all is revealed.  Fog changes the landscape, alters shapes makes every step a surprise as things emerge and disappear.  For me, fog makes magic almost tangible.  I always greet it with little leap of the heart, excitement and frisson of fear.  Now, anything can happen, “there might be giants.”

And in this story there are.  The Man Who Sits On The Tide is gigantic enough to stopper a hole in the seabed that allows the ocean to empty.  It seems like an important job.  Disturbing him could have grave consequences.  Yet raven attacks this giant with impunity.  He employs two natural resources, fog and pain.  Wielding them with wit and determination he trains the giant like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

This is Trickster at his finest, creating profound change for the benefit of all, including him.

Rabbit as Totem

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Rabbit came down from the moon

and entered my life with a vengeance.

 

A cosmic kick-in-the-butt

delivered by strong Jack-rabbit thighs,

sent me flying, head-over-posterior,

across the landscape of my psyche.

 

Even in the midst

of stomach floating

flip-flops, I saw clearly

how my shadow,

tumbling overhead,

should send me

racing towards a burrow,

I froze instead;

quivering nose

my sole response

to imminent disaster.

 

So Rabbit lent

a leveret-skin; soft give-away

of  babies’ bunting, meant

to line moccasins and lie fuzzy

along the soft contours

of school-girls.

 

Disguised,

I danced to March’s mad fandango,

leapt high beneath a Harvest moon

and browsed sweetly on the dew-freshed

Brussels sprouts of Mr. Mc Gregor, forgetting

my fears till his dog Pluto drove me

down a rabbit hole.

 

Trapped within the Earth’s dim warren,

my ego abdicated, leaving behind

its creature heart whose animal eyes

descried a hidden message

among an emblematic mass

of hieroglyphic roots. Intent

upon unearthing that charactery, I

followed my nose into the briar patch, where

seduced by Luna’s luminescent glow,

I left behind the thorn-entangled fur,

sprang upward to embrace the Moon

and found myself.

 

 

©2000 Christine Irving

Rabbit Tricksters

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"Good Morning," said Br'er Rabbit.

“Good Morning,” said Br’er Rabbit.

Rabbit Tricksters

May: The Tricksters Week #2

This week we are working with the Trickster Rabbit. The tale we have chosen is from Africa, “‘Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” This beloved story became well-known and popular after Walt Disney made the movie “The Song of the South.” In the story, Brer Rabbit out-smarts Br’er Fox by convincing him that being thrown into the Briar Patch would be the cruelest, meanest, and most horrific death anyone could suffer.

Since Fox despises Br’er Rabbit, he can’t wait to toss him into the brambles. Br’er Fox is caught up in the imagery of sharp thorns and twisted tangles. He has forgotten the fact that Br’er Rabbit was born and raised in the Briar patch. So, in the end Br’er Rabbit is able to out “fox” the fox.

Another very popular Rabbit Trickster we all know and love is Warner Bros. cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. Bugs is a wonderful  Trickster.  He is always out smarting, tricking, and making a fool of Elmer Fudd, who is determined to catch the silly “wabbit” and eat him.

The idea that the obsessive predator ends up hurting himself more than the pry is funny. When the pry out-smarts the predator, it reminds us that life is complicated and not always predictable.  In the Trickster Stories we know that the victim will be in serious danger; a huge rock is falling directly above his head, and we know that somehow, someway the victim will escape unharmed. But how? This is the part I love, at the very last-minute, it happens, the victim escapes danger.  I’m surprised by the interception and the way the story goes  sideways.  I love that danger is foiled. I am delighted that the underdog wins.  I realize that thinking  sideways and outside the expected opens up new possibilities.  I always admire the predator’s perseverance. I love the prey’s cleverness and laugh at the surprise appearance of the unforeseen.

There is a story called “Coyote fights a Lump of Pitch,” told by the White Mountain Apache that is very similar to Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Once again, the prey out-smarts the predator. (You can read the full tales by clicking on them under Monthly Tales shown on the Menu above.)

In my collage, Br’er Rabbit is greeting the Tar Baby. Trickster Rabbit thinks of himself as a sociable fellow, gracious enough to bless others with a kind word or two.  When Tar Baby doesn’t reply, Br’er Rabbit is taken aback.  Doesn’t Tar Baby realize who has greeted him?  Doesn’t he know that he is in the presence of Br’er Rabbit? How dare he be rude.

On the other hand, Br’er Rabbit did put himself out there, sort of extended a hand in friendship, why is the Tar Baby ignoring his greeting?  The message in this exchange is that when you greet someone and they do not respond in kind it may have nothing to do with you.   In a way,  this exchange, or lack there of, is a reminder to us all that you shouldn’t take other peoples rudeness personally, after all, Tar Baby didn’t speak because he was a “Tar Baby”.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced the feeling of being ignored by someone you’ve  reached out to, but I certainly have. It causes negative feelings to rear their ugly heads. When it happened to me I remember feeling both embarrassed and very annoyed.  Br’er Rabbit’s reaction to the Tar Baby feels familiar.  However, what is different about Br’er Rabbit’s reactions and mine are, I would not  punch, kick, sock or head-butt anyone.  I probably would have my feeling hurt and go off pouting while grumbling and carping all the way.

There are many sayings that this folktale embraces. For an example … I have felt tarred and feathered … I  have out foxed a fox … I’ve been in thorny situations …  I can get very stuck and I have come-up with ideas that have saved the day.  How about you?

Tarred!

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Tarred!

Tarred!

Tar baby is one of my favorite stories of all time.  Decades later, “Please, please don’t throw me in the briar patch,” still makes me laugh.  It’s become a stock phrase around our house.  Thinking about the briar patch, I started wondering about mine.  I suppose it consists of the leaves of books and thorny words and ideas supported by stout pragmatic branches; a place where I’m extremely comfortable, but many people aren’t.   We all have our briar patches though, full of hidey holes and escape routes, places to take refuge in even from ourselves.

This is a story about the Trickster getting tricked!  Tricksters, as the stories never hesitate to point out, are particularly susceptible to getting gulled.  Br’er Rabbit is shadow boxing with the Tar Baby.   Cockiness and self-righteousness have landed him in this pickle and pride gets him more deeply enmeshed by the second.  Sound familiar?  It does to me.  The Jungians say annoyance with the character traits of someone else occurs because suddenly we find ourselves staring in a mirror and disliking what we see.  The stubborn intractability of the Tar Baby is a part of Br’er Rabbit he doesn’t want to acknowledge.  Being a Trickster he wants to be cool, suave and flexible, able to shuck and jive his way out of any situation with insouciant aplomb!  Heaven forbid he should be seen to be stuck in his own shit, like all the other marks.  But that’s exactly what happens.  Nevertheless, our wily rabbit has at least one more trick up his sleeve and escapes into his first last and best defense – his childhood refuge – the place where he was “born and bred.”

This collage grew out of this picture of a tar-covered rabbit sent to me by a friend.  It took me a while to track down the artist’s name.  When I found Darla Jackson’s site, I fell in love/awe with her ability to render animals so faithfully.  It’s obvious to me that she observes them carefully them, with deep respect and eyes of love.  Isn’t it interesting how influenced we are by everything around us?  Working with a picture of a sculpture, I unconsciously created a three-dimensional collage.  I sliced up an old champagne cork and raided the button box to make Tar Baby’s eyes and ears.  Adding a dimension to the collage made me think about layers.  This story is layered in meaning – On the surface we’re shown the value and pitfalls of an elaborate social system of greet and respond that allows people to safely establish who exactly they are talking to and how far they can trust them (kinsfolk being more reliable in theory than strangers).  Then there’s a lesson in the futility of emotion-based argument.  At bottom we hit perennial wisdom “Know Thyself.”

In the same way I figured out what my briar patch consists of, it behooves me to ruminate a bit on the nature of my Tar Baby.

COYOTE

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coyote1Coyote might have gone

the way of buffalo or beaver

but  he learned to smell

strychnine in the snares,

taught himself not to eat

the trappers’ tainted meat.

 

Shifting his boundaries

he followed bulldozers

east through razed woodlands,

skulking into clearings,

foraging the up-turned earth

for insect eggs and baby mice

until he wound up on a truck

farm in New Jersey

gulping down blackberries,

stripping the savory bushes

till his chin ran red.

 

Now he ranges around Boston

Pensacola, and Poughkeepsie

lured into a maze of safe sidewalks

by the pull of painted T-shirts

and carved fetishes of thread-wrapped stone.

 

People should consider who they conjure:

dung-eater, prophet-with-no-honor,

liar, iconoclast, thief; Trickster Coyote

casting moon shadows,

haunting suburban hedges,

beating the odds.

©2000 Christine Irving

Coyote as Trickster

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Coyote says, “RUN!”

In this story of Coyote, we discover that he does not understand the cultural rules about gift giving. When he returns and demands the Rock, Iya, give his blanket back Coyote has disregarded the cultural belief that what is given is given forever.  He is reminded that the blanket is no longer his by Iktome who says, “It is Iya’s blanket now!” Coyote still thinks of the blanket as being his.

When Iya tells Coyote “NO” because he likes having the blanket.” Coyote explains that it is cold out and he needs HIS blanket back. He tells Iya he doesn’t want to catch a cold.  Yet,  Iya still says “NO!” This makes Coyote angry. Coyote just takes the blanket and leaves.  Iya warns him that it is not over.

There have been times in my life when I have not understood the rules or the person I’m dealing with seems to have a different set of rules that I don’t understand.  The whole idea of etiquette or manners is to make social interchanges comfortable and pleasant.

The newspaper columnist Dear Abby or the writer Emily Post are often asked about what manners and/or etiquette rules apply in very specific social situations. Not all rules are written down. In addition, as our society becomes more and more complex new rules have to be established.

My collage this week shows the Rock chasing Iktome and Coyote through the river. Coyote has his blanket flapping behind him. The over all collage depicts a patchwork broader suggesting that the entire piece is a blanket. The reason for the dispute.

Despite the fact that rocks don’t need blankets and Coyote did make the mistake of giving his away, Coyote cannot be an “Indian Giver”.  He cannot expect the Rock to give the blanket back. As the Rock explained, “What is given, is given.”