Category Archives: Greek

The Three-Way Motif

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The Three Graces

The Three Graces

 

The Three-Way Motif
The Month of April

This month, April, we will be exploring the number three and how it manifests in Story. It seems that in many tales the number three is an integral part of the telling. For an example in the story of Aladdin’s Lamp, the hero gets three wishes from the Genie. In the story of the Lazy Spinner, she gets three rooms of flax to spin. Often there are three main characters in a story, such as The Three Little Pigs. What is it about the number three that repeatedly shows up in story?

Three is a about multiplicity, creative power, growth, forward movement, overcoming duality. Three is the first number to which the word “all” has been appropriated and “The Triad is the number of the whole, inasmuch as it contains a beginning, middle and an end. The power of three is universal and is the tripartite nature of the world as heaven, earth and waters. It is man, as body, soul and spirit. It is birth, life and death. Beginning, middle and end. It is past, present and future. It is the father, mother and son. In folklore, there are three wishes, three tries, three Princes or Princesses and /or three fairies. In the wizard of OZ, there are three witches, two good witches and one bad, there are innumerable trinities of Gods and Goddesses…

The chief symbol of three is the triangle. Other symbols of three are the trident, fleur-de-lis, trigrams, and the trefoil. There are three charities, graces, and sirens. Cerberus is triple-headed; the Chimera has three different animal parts, the head of a goat, a lion, and a serpent. In Christian beliefs, the Magi brought three gifts to baby Jesus. Peter denied Christ three times. There were three crosses at Calvary, and Christ was dead three days before he rose again.

There are many divine deities that have triple aspects; Isis, Osiris, and Horus; Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; In Christianity there is God the father, Jesus the son and the Holy Spirit. From Japan, there are three Treasures, Mirror, Sword, and Jewel. In Mexico, the Trinity is represented by three crosses, one large cross and two smaller ones.

In my collage, “The Three Graces” dance together in celebration of Aphrodite. They celebrate beauty and joy. They bestow beauty, kindness, love tenderness, pleasure, creativity, artistry and sensuality. They dance for the quality greater than faith or hope; they dance for love.

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The Cosmic Egg

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Cosmic Egg2

“This is how the ancients described the egg; some called it the copper stone or the Armenian Stone; others the brain stone; others the stone which is no stone; others the Egyptian stone; and others again the image of the world.”                                                                              ~ Anonymous alchemical manuscript

This week, I wanted to do something with eggs.  Eggs don’t really need their symbolism explained, but some of you might not know that The Cosmic Egg plays a major role in many creations myths.  It occurs as a motif among the Celts, Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Tibetans, Hindus, Vietnamese and Chinese.  The egg is complete and self-contained, holding within itself all things.  It only needs brooding – that is to say, love, tenderness, warmth, attention and recognition.  Something has to want it to hatch.

If I use this collage for self-analysis, I would say there is something in me wanting to be born that needs my attention and desire to bring it forth.

The cultures listed above have vastly different interpretations of how the egg came to be – it may have risen mysteriously from the sea or a white lake; or been vomited up; or laid, or whispered into being by a dragon.  Some say the egg is the Primal Spirit that arises out of the “sounding vibration” of the universe.  How ere it be, the egg is the first differentiation that follows Chaos – everything – earth, air, fire and water; Heaven and Earth, the Sun and Moon, arise from its hatching.

The egg holds within itself the dualities of the feminine masculine and masculine, egg and sperm. Or as The alchemical Axiom of Maria Prophitessa says: One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.

Looking at the collage you could say that out of the one egg arose the masculine and feminine which produced the man-child who became the fourth.  As you can see he is holding three birds.  Of course, that isn’t what I intended at all; my only intention was to begin with an egg.  However, as a student of symbols I am familiar with the language of alchemy.  Who knows what strange amalgam of knowledge and preference made me choose these images, which may have been sitting in my files for years?

The boy reminds me of the images of the Minoan priestess holding snakes with a cat on her head Minoan Snake Priestessand also of the mysterious boy child Zagreus who may have been the son of Persephone and Hades.  It is hinted that he appears as a symbol of rebirth in the Orphic Mysteries.  As the venerable riddle demonstrates, eggs are all about rebirth – “Which came first the chicken or the egg?”

I chose the flower because I wanted to add something lush and beautiful.  I tried a number of images but this one with its trailing sepals seemed chthonic and earthy as well as beautiful and alive.  I liked the funereal tinge it seemed to provide; the reminder that death is part of the mix.

By the time I got to the flower I was already thinking about ancient Greeks and Minoans – so this wasn’t as instinctive a choice as the others, but the collage work really starts to get fun for me when both sides of my brain are collaborating and playing off each other.  Of course, my internal symbols librarian had to egg and snakeput her two cents in, demanding a snake.  Eggs and snakes are ancient associates of each other.  The Celtic Cosmic Egg was born of a snake.  Like eggs, snakes are symbols of rebirth.  And, of course, snakes lay eggs themselves.  Who can forget the famous fierce fight to the death between the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and the serpent Nagina in which, with the help of a courageous bird,  he saves the boy Teddy by capturing the cobra’s last egg and taunting her with it …

Yikes!  I’m off on another by-way, into another story; association leads to association, always with a thread of logic connecting them.  Today, the threads seem to be eggs, snakes, death, and the very word ‘mongoose!’

For me, creating a piece of art, crafting a poem or evolving a ritual connects the dots between images, ideas and insights I’ve been filing away for years.   I’m constantly grateful and excited that these miraculous psyches of ours allow for such an exponential expansion of creativity.   Isn’t it amazing we humans come with a built-in entertainment system?

The Auger

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The Auger

… If a bird flying from right to left

disappears, it is favorable; but if it raises

its left wing, flies away and disappears,

it is unfavorable.  If a bird flying from left

to right disappears on a straight course,

it is unfavorable; but if after raising

its right wing and flying away it disappears,

it is favorable …

~translated by Derek Collins from an inscription at Ephesus (late 6th century B.C.E.)

As the above description demonstrates, augury, divination by interpreting the flight, action, song and colors of birds, dates back to ancient days.  One can safely assume with most inscriptions of this kind of lore that the procedure described was in actual practice for many many, years before anyone bothered to write it down.  It’s the same with fairy tales, folk songs or myths – they didn’t appear the moment someone actually decided to record them, instead they are part of a long oral tradition whose original telling disappears into the mist of prehistory.

Birds are descended from dinosaurs, survivors of the great worldwide destruction by comet that marked the end of the Cretaceous period.  They have been around for the entire history of the human race – good fairies at our birth, flying between the worlds of imagination and physical reality to bring us messages from the gods and from our own innermost selves.

Interpreting their messages requires a profound knowledge of bird behavior.  Once upon a time, when most people lived close the land and saw the divine in everything, folks paid much closer attention to the way things work and connect.  But as time passed, many of us moved to cities and our work became so specialized we diverted our attention from the wider world and began to focus on the inner workings of one or two things instead of the interrelationship of the many.  Gradually, we came to rely on prophets, priests, oracles and augers to pay attention in our stead and tell us what meaning the signs, we once interpreted ourselves, held.

My collage depicts just such a person.  She sits  on the edge of a large pot or cauldron symbolizing the primordial womb that contains and sustains, protects and gestates, provides food and gifts and gives birth.  It represents the dark void out of which the universe sparks into being.  Out of  her pots fly seven birds whose flight will inform her answer to the question I have come to ask.  She is a priestess of the night and her rites are conducted in the light of the full moon.  Her special guide is an owl, once sacred to Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom.  tetradrachmOwls have long been symbols of wisdom, sorcery and magic.  The owl was believed to have the power to illuminate Athena’s shadow side, thus enabling her to speak the whole truth.  Ancient Romans believed that an owl’s heart, placed on the breast of a sleeping woman, forced her to tell all her secrets.  Egyptians drew owls, sculpted them and wrote with them.  Egyptian owl 2To this very day, Algerian folklore states that to make a woman tell you everything, put the eye of an owl into her sleeping hand.  Most cultures attach symbolic meaning to the owl, for good or ill they associate it with femininity and magic.  Owls are found in all regions of Earth except Antarctica and some remote islands; their DNA dates back to the very first birds.  Humans have held them in special regard since the beginning.  Witness the cave paintings  of Chauvet, France, which date back 35,000 years, and contain a depiction of an owl, drawn the way today’s children still draw them.

Owl from Chauvet 35,000 BCE

Owl from Chauvet
35,000 BCE

Owls are considered evil omens by some, but I think that dread arises from fear of the dark.  Once one accepts darkness and learns to appreciate its gifts, fear diminishes, though a certain amount of awe and respect is appropriate and necessary to approach the divine in any aspect.

Recently a friend found a small owl dead beside the road.  She is drying the body out in cornmeal and in a month or so we will respectfully and ceremoniously pluck and divide the feathers.  Owls hold special symbolic significance for me and form part of my individual cosmology.  I feel honored that Owl has made its presence known, once again, and am glad for the privilege and opportunity of acknowledging it through art.

The Language of the Birds

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Lakshi Listened

The language of the birds has a venerable history dating back to the ancient Greek world.  Aesop was supposed to have understood it, as did Tiresias.  The figurehead of Jason’s ship, the Argo, carved of wood from a sacred grove of trees at the oracle site of Dodona, could speak with birds.  The priestesses of Dodona received their prophecies from the rustling leaves of the oak.  Herodotus reported that:

“… two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine …”  

Sacred trees and birds naturally share a long association, one I am sure will reveal itself in artwork to come.  Meanwhile, we can’t leave Greece without mentioning Aristophanes and his satirical play The Birds, in which two men conspire with a hoopoe bird to try and overthrow Olympus.

The hoopoehoopoe was valued for his virtue by Persians, but seen as a harbinger of death in Scandinavia.  He introduced King Solomon to Sheba.  In Egypt they painted his sacred image into the walls of their tombs.  Jumping ahead two thousand years to the work of the Sufi mystic poet, Farid al-Din Attar, we find the hoopoe leading a Conference of Birds on a quest for enlightenment.  About the same time, on the other side of Europe, troubadours were thought to write poetry and sing in the language of birds, while alchemists claimed that same avian lexicon as an arcane mystical language holding the secrets of the universe.  Others considered the language of the birds another name for angel-speak.

As you can see, it’s a fascinating topic.  There are even some fairy tales written about it, giving me enough material to inspire several weeks of work.  This week I started out as usual to create a collage, beginning by digging out my bird file and cutting images for a couple of hours.  However, I couldn’t make them coalesce into anything interesting.  Instead, I wrote a poem, Lakshmi* Listens, and illustrated it with a power point slide.  I then saved the image as a jpeg and posted it here.  I am still not as “outside the box” as I would like to be, but already the chains feel a bit looser…

* Lakshmi – the Hindu goddess of spiritual and material prosperity, wealth, purity, generosity, and the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm.

MADRE LAKSHMI

  Lakshmi Listens

Living alone

she learns to listen

distinguishing tweet from chirp

 chitter from squawk, constricting

 tongue and throat, rasping 0ut

syllables harsh enough to splinter ice;

whistling refrains so sweetly pitched

Lakshmi stoops to overhear, dripping

nectar tears

into the dimpled lake.

©2014 Christine Irving

“Rumpelstiltskin Is My Name”

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Straw into Gold_0001

In this collage I portray Rumpelstiltskin as an aspect of the wild and randy god Pan, ancient guardian of the wild.  We find him here creating the magic that will allow the miller’s daughter to spin the king’s straw into gold.

Pan was a god of woodlands and meadows, guardian of both wild animals and flocks with the torso of a man and the hind legs and horns of a goat.  His worship spread far and wide spanning a millennium that we know of and probably stretching back far beyond his first archaeological appearance in the 6th century BCE.

There is a story from the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37) that purports to report the death of Pan.

One day a ship piloted by a sailor named Thamus lay becalmed off the Echinades islands.  Suddenly a great voice sounded from the shore.  It called his name three times.  When he replied the voice shouted, “Tell them that great Pan is dead.”  As he sailed along the shore, the pilot shouted to the people on land that the god was dead, whereupon arose the sound of great weeping.  The news spread fast and when he arrived in Italy the emperor summoned him to be questioned by a committee of scholars.  The learned ones interpreting the event decided that the Pan in question was not the god, but a demon of the same name.  

Early Christians believed this story and took comfort in it, confident that it marked the beginning of the end of the pagan era, but in fact, well into the 4th century B.C.E. coins were being minted bearing the face of the god.  It takes more than a decree to banish a god or to convince people, especially those living close to the land, nature spirits don’t exist.  The spirit of Pan lived on in the tales of the fey, the ‘little folk’, fairies, brownies and gnomes and wood sprites such as Rumpelstiltskin.  Push them into the shadows as we will, such tales still leak past the borders we set; the lines of logic we impose on both our physical and imaginative landscapes._The_Wind_in_the_Willows

Maybe, Rumpelstiltskin wanted a child to raise in the old pagan ways and thus ensure their continuation.  Perhaps, it is belief that keeps gods alive – maybe they do need someone to clap for them.  Thanks to Kenneth Grahame I’ve been a lifelong believer in Pan.  His depiction of the god as the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in his beloved book Wind in the Willows* continues to be the only description of the masculine divine that’s ever truly moved me.

In same way that humans cheated Rumpelstiltskin, I think we cheat Nature – the carbon emissions, the methane, the GMO’s, the dams, the pesticides etc., etc., etc. are all ways we break the pact of reciprocity which is part of the evolutionary cycle.  It grieves me.  It breaks my heart.  If I can help restore balance by creating an image of a powerful Earth elemental at the height of his power, I’m glad to do so.  It’s the sound of two hands clapping – loud and long.

*I’m in good company.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote Grahame a fan letter saying that he had “read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends.”

The Color of Hope

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Color of Hope

The Color of Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

So says Emily Dickinson.  Knowing Emily as I do (she’s an old favorite of mine), I’m inclined to go along with the traditional rainbow-at-the-end-of–the-flood interpretation of her poem.  Nevertheless, she was well versed in irony and used it to alleviate bouts of frustration, bitterness and despair.  It’s possible “Never stops at all” means “Oh PLEASE, shut the Hell up!”

Do you ever get a tune in your head that won’t quit, just keeps replaying, again and again, no matter what?  Hope can sound like that – a repetitious melody that disallows any other thought and won’t let you rest.

Hope can be regarded as a delusion that keeps reality at bay; a dangerous illusion that can prevent introspection, delight in present pleasure or engagement with the world. Emily’s last line speaks to this when she says hope never “asked a crumb of me.”  In other words, Hope precludes relationship, give and take, mutuality. It can be a lonely pastime. Henry Miller would agree. He said, “Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions.”

Of course there’s no definitive answer to whether or not hope is a blessing.  It remains a word of many colors – some somber, some bright.  Speaking of color, April’s prompt  from Leah Piken Kolidas at Creative Every Day is color.  Rainbow seemed an appropriate association for both color and hope.  Among my Pandora related collage images I found a rainbow-colored box and a rainbow-colored bird and although Michelle had already appropriated Emily’s poem, I wanted to use it, too.

My last collage for this story, leaves the ending as ambiguous as ever .  It answers none of our questions.  Who sent the storm that rained for forty days and nights – and why?  Why must girls be raised in ignorance to be exploited, manipulated and used?  Who profits from promises?  Who does Hope serve?  What lies beneath the surface of this tale built on deceptions?

The Box

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On Opening the Box

 

This week, I embrace the most accepted meaning (in our culture) of negativity – bad, evil, yucky, eech, nasty, unpleasant, dirty, harmful, damaging etc.  These are the attributes normally attributed to the evils Pandora let loose on mankind.  These are also  qualities often associated with women. (Yes, Virginia there is a misogynist.)

To this day, many forms of Christianity blame Eve for expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  Furthermore, any child born of woman gets stained, tainted, indelibly marked with sin as he/she slides through the birth canal.  These negative notions manifest in all sorts of ways in our society – you, no doubt, can easily name a dozen or so.  For example, women have a plethora of ugly sobriquets, which don’t bear repeating, so do their genitalia.  The mis-translation of Pandora’s jar to Pandora’s box doesn’t surprise me.  As Freud said, “There are no accidents without intentions.”

Jars, cauldrons, and pots are archetypal symbols of the great and holy mystery of the womb.  Even without vulgarization, the association is obvious but why does this ancient story connect women’s sexuality with ill?

We don’t know what exactly what changed during the 3rd and 4th millennia B.C.E. to subvert the worship throughout southern Europe of the Great Mother as a primary deity, but I tend to agree with Marija Gimbutas that a widespread invasion from the north took place by a people with superior technology whose primary deity was masculine.  Since human psychology is based in our mammalian brains, it has continued pretty much the same for thousands of millennia.  We were as susceptible to a good smear campaign in 4,000 B.C.E. as we are today and just as capable of manufacturing propaganda, mis-information and lies.  It isn’t difficult  to imagine a new religion dissing the old in order to replace one god with another.  We can find many historical examples of this in our  history, it’s not a stretch to imagine pre-historic predecessors engaged in the same activity.

How ere it came to be, modern twenty-first century women still suffer from it, as we have for generations. This collage is a picture of that lie.  It shows evils in the form of insects (other beings suffering a bad rap) emanating from Pandora’s “box”.  The vulture and the bronze representation of a liver are elements from the related Prometheus myth and denote the cruelty of Zeus (depicted at the lower right).  The liver also stands for the art of hepatoscopy, a kind of divination based on reading the liver.  It’s a reminder to search for the meaning below the meaning (see previous posting).

The vulture is one of the oldest known symbols associated with a goddess.  Even before Isis, with whom it became closely linked, the vulture belonged to Nekhbet whose oracle shrine is the oldest yet discovered in Egypt. (3100 B.C.E.)  Her priestesses were called muu (mothers) and wore robes of Egyptian vulture feathers.  The vulture stands for regeneration, maternity and the mystic cycle of birth, death and rebirth.  In my collage she represents the lost power and sanctity of the feminine.   However, the vulture’s wing encircles Pandora like a mother’s arm; the power, beauty and sanctity of the feminine are still Pandora’s to call upon if she will waken and remember.