Category Archives: Initiation

The White Ibis

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The White Ibis

The White Ibis

 

The White Ibis

We are still exploring “Birds”. I’ve selected this week the White Ibis. Back in the 1980’s I had a retail store called, Ibis gifts and jewelry. The shop was located on the corner of my local shopping village in Oakland, CA. When I decided that I was going to open a retail store it needed a name. I wanted to use the name of an animal or a flower. I briefly considered the flower Trillium. A Trillium is a tri-flower perennial herb that is part of the Lily family. I was looking for a symbol to use as the logo.

I finally chose an Ibis to be my store’s symbol. The logo was two Ibis heads looking into the future. They were framed by an arched window with the words Ibis gifts and jewelry written below. I loved the curved beaks of the bird design. We had wooden exterior  signs made and painted the birds in flight high on the tall long wall of the store. Like cranes, herons and spoonbills the Ibis looks quite graceful in flight.

In my collage I have a white Ibis and the Ibis headed Egyptian god Thoth. Thoth is the god of knowledge, hieroglyphs, wisdom, the moon and magic. In nature the long-legged birds wade in shallow water, their long down-curved beaks searching the mud for food, usually crustaceans through they also eat snails, small lizards, flies, crickets, beetles and grasshoppers.. Most Ibis nest in trees. The word Ibis comes from the Greek/Latin and probably ancient Egypt. There are 28 different species. I took a field trip to the San Francisco Zoo to visit the Ibis that live in Northern California.

In Steven D. Farmer’s book, “Animal Spirit Guides” the Ibis is listed as a bird that reminds you that everything is sacred. Call on Ibis when you want to “Follow your heart and trust in its wisdom.” Ibis seem to know when weather will turn bad. When a storm is brewing, the Ibis are the last to leave the shore-line and the first to return when the worst has passed… If an Ibis is part of your life “Keep your eyes, ears and heart open in order to notice the miracles around you each and every day.

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Groking the Goose

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The Goose girl

As a child, one of my favorite stories was The Goose GirlGruesome as it may seem, the character I loved best and remember most clearly is the faithful horse Falada, whose head gets chopped off.  Even in death he remaines a faithful helpmeet.  Of course, Falada was a magical horse and the magic was always my favorite part.  I also liked stories with blood in them.  I think there may be arcane bits of knowledge we’re born with or are privy to through the collective unconscious.  Or maybe, the deep knowledge of blood mysteries is part of a woman’s heritage, encoded in her DNA from birth.  The magic associated with blood runs like a red thread through fairy tales and myth.  In The Goose Girl the mother pierces her finger and lets three drops of blood fall on a handkerchief which she gives to her departing daughter as a magic talisman.

Then, there’s geese.  Geese have always been great favorites of mine – possibly because I liked this story so much and read it so often.  In ancient Egypt the goose was thought to have laid the primordial cosmic egg, but also to have hatched from it as the sun.  Geb the Earth god was sometimes called The Great Cackler!  (Egyptian mythology is terribly confusing – mostly because we don’t know enough and try to interpret things according to current cultural sensibilities.)  In north Africa it is still (4,500 years later!) customary to sacrifice a solar goose at the solstice.

Egyptian Geese

In Rome a sacred flock of geese lived in the grounds of Juno’s temple.  Their duty was to raise an alarm if and when the city was attacked.  Indeed, in 390 C.E. they did foil a stealthy night raid by enemy Gauls.  To this day people use geese to protect their property.  In my collage a large goose stands behind the girl in a protective stance.  It “has her back.”

Obviously, geese represent return journeys and thus the “heroine/hero’s journey” of Campbell fame.  The journey for the quest of self includes leaving home, descending into the dark, facing one’s demons and returning to the community with a treasure.  The Goose Girl story follows this formula, taking our heroine through an initiation from childhood to adulthood.  Like so many of these stories, this one served me well.  The Goose Girl taught me to value courage, perseverance, and ingenuity.  I wanted to make them my own.

I didn’t realize how much she meant to me until years later, well into my fourth decade, I encountered a terracotta sculpture called Gaia Goose Girl.  I wish I knew the name of the sculptress.  Her goose girl was a near life-size figure of a lovely young woman with a face full of strength and character accompanied by a goose.  Seeing it brought back every feeling of identification, love and longing I felt when first reading this tale.  That kind of experience is what makes art so important.  The art piece acts like a catalyst, constellating a host of amorphous feelings and associations in a way that captures both memory and significance, but at the same time, allows new insights to unfold.Goose GirlGöttingen_Gänseliesel_März06

My sculptress is not the only one to find inspiration in the goose girl. In Göttingen town, famous for its old university (Georgia Augusta, or “Georg-August-Universität”), which was founded in 1737 stands a decorative fountain whose main figure is called the Gänseliesel (Goose Girl).  On the day they are awarded their doctorate degrees, students are drawn in handcarts from the Great Hall of the university to the Gänseliesel-Fountain in front of the Old Town Hall.  There they have to climb the fountain and kiss the statue of the Gänseliesel. This practice is actually forbidden, but the law is not enforced. She is considered the most kissed girl in the world.  The students remind me of Little Conrad (Kürdchen) in our story.

Most interesting, in light of the conjunction of horse and geese in our story, is a report by Vasily Vasilievich Radlov that in the Altai mountains (mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together), after the ritual sacrifice of a horse, the shaman ascends on the back of a goose in pursuit of its soul.

All the bits and pieces, hints and allegations are what truly fascinate me about these tales.  This story has everything – wise elders, a nefarious villainess, a faithful spirit guide, a sacrifice, a mistaken identity, importunate young men, a charming prince, restoration and retribution, but other fairy tales are often thin on plot and sometimes appear simplistic on the surface.  However, no matter how simple, the  tale usually contains a detail or two rich in association and resonant with meaning.  For me, it isn’t so much about deciphering that meaning as relishing its presence.  It’s the ambiance of the stories that make them so endlessly fascinating.  The grok is everything.

goosetrack

Three Sisters: A Creation Story

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There were once three sisters, Spring, Summer and Winter, who loved each other very much.  They lived in a turbulent land full of smoking volcanoes and roaring rivers.  The countryside, subject to earthquakes, avalanches and floods, changed constantly.  But they were hardy children, the daughters of Titans – rugged, immortal and wild and they thrived in their tumultuous world.

Alas, their happy idyll could not last.  Unbeknownst to them, epic power struggles, played out on a cosmic scale across the breadth of the universe, were taking place as Titans went to war.  Near the end of the conflict, the three unruly girls, bound, gagged, but still defiant, were dragged before the Olympic high court to learn their fate.

“So you are the infamous nieces I’ve heard so much about,” roared Zeus.  “Your father begged for your lives on his knees.  I licked your mother’s tears from her cheeks as she cried mercy for you.  Look at you! Ragtail hoydens worth nothing, I wonder what they saw in you. “

Truthfully, the girls did resemble little goblins.  Their hair, matted with dirt and leaves had tangled itself into long stiff locks that stuck out from their heads in spikes; their dry chapped lips pulled back from sharp white teeth in feral snarls; rents in their ragged clothes revealed half- healed scratches, fading bruises, and a pattern of old scars that crisscrossed their legs from scabby knees to dirty bare toes.

He hesitated, pondering what to do.  The three girls were immortal, their ancestry divine.  The parents’ strengths had combined to breed true.  None of the girls had inherited the fatal flaws that allowed him to do away with his siblings.

“Since, you love your little planet so much, you will remain there forever!  Each of you will have a third of the year to do with it as you will.  But you can never meet again.  I won’t have you conspiring.  As soon as your time is up you will fall so deeply asleep and nothing will wake you until your turn comes round again.  Now go!”

He pointed a golden finger at the door but the girls sat down on the marble floors and began to wail piteously.  Tears ran down their cheeks in muddy rivulets washing the grime from their fine-textured skin.  As a glimpse of the girls’ true beauty shone through, a gasp of surprise travelled round the throne room.

Instantly, Zeus’s wife stepped between them, gathering the girls into her arms, pressing their wet faces into her ample bosom.

“Couldn’t they have just one day with me to say good-bye?” demanded Hera. “They need baths and supper.  They’ve lost their parents, after all.  Let me cut off this dreadful hair and fit them out with proper clothes.  These are royal children Zeus, blood of your blood.”

The more sentimental gods nodded in agreement.  A murmur of sympathy swept through the court.

“Fine,” growled the king.  He waved his hand negligently and Hera hurried off stage, dragging the girls along still clutched tight in her strong grip.

Once outside, she shoved them into the arms of her waiting maids.  “Take them away, shave their heads, clean them up, outfit them with sturdy sandals and cloaks and set them outside the gates at dawn.

Never return,” she whispered fiercely in each girl’s ear.

As it happened, their last night together fell on the winter solstice. Taking advantage of the reprieve granted by Hera’s jealous nature, the girls sat up all night, pooling their wisdom and weaving it into the inherent magic of the longest night.  They had many skills learned during their long sojourn on Earth; growing up they played with fire, water, earth and air.  They knew how to whistle the wind and tie it up in knots.  They knew how to speak the language of the birds, and they knew how to shape-shift, taking on the form of every living being that inhabited their home.

The next morning they were pushed off Olympus.  Shod in servant’s sandals, wearing cast-off clothes, they tumbled head over heels down the sacred mountain.  At the bottom they embraced for a long moment.  Thunder rumbled, lightening flashed.  Flipping defiant fingers at the mountaintop, each set out in a different direction; two of them hunting caves in which to pass the long months of enchanted sleep.

Winter trudged on alone.  She had a plan to follow; soil to prepare.  The days would be lonely, the nights lonelier, but with all three working diligently at their allotted tasks, eventually the Earth would bloom, life would flourish, humanity would arise.  And every solstice night, the magic they had woven and the disguise each had chosen would shield them from Zeus’s oversight.   Spring would appear as a young human; Summer, as an apple tree; Winter, as a white hare.  Every turn of the year, on the longest night, they would meet to celebrate their sisterhood and tell the stories of their season.  Together they would roam their world, consider all they had wrought, and call it good.

The Frog and The Princess – First Encounter

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First Encounter - Frog Prince

Here we see that a privileged princess with a huge sense of entitlement has carelessly dropped her golden ball down the well. The frog, on hearing her piteous tears, has struck a bargain – bed and board with the Princess for the return of the ball.  The Princess, who has no intention of honoring her promise, is lying through her teeth.

On the one hand, this is a story about how power and privilege, carelessly handled, can corrupt decency and erode compassion.  The princess has forgotten that with power comes responsibility – the ability to respond – to stay fully present in each moment, giving one’s full attention to the person(s) and events at hand.  If she had remembered, she would have thought carefully about the consequences of any promises and lies she might make.  She might have considered alternative ways to retrieve the ball, or perhaps just left it down the well.  Instead her power has bestowed a false sense of superiority, not only towards others, but also to the normal rules of decency, respect, integrity and courtesy governing relationships.

The frog is just as deceitful as the Princess.  He has seen an opportunity to advance his own agenda and seized it.  In a culture supporting a more equitable distribution of wealth and power, the frog might have performed a random act of kindness and simply returned the ball.  But deprivation and the princess’s callous behavior have hardened his heart.  With no other resources to fall back on, desperation has made him manipulative and sly, ready to take advantage of any weakness to exploit another and further his own ends.

Coded in fairy tale form, we find the base cause of social unrest and incipient rebellion.  Because it was dangerous to discuss such matters, people’s concern, fear and rage were folded in to the tales and disguised as simple set-ups for happy endings.  Despite pretty descriptions of beautiful girlish princesses and faithful servants, dark feelings imbue these tales and often include brutal acts of violence on the way to resolution.  Vicious episodes, such as the step-sisters mutilation of their feet in Cinderella, the streak of fish blood in The Fisherman and His Wife or the devouring wolf in Little Red Riding Hood speak to a time as turbulent, chancy and violent as our own.  They warn of the dangers of extreme polarization and hint at the possibility of revolution.

On the other hand there is always another, more personal way to read the story.  Water symbolizes both the emotional life of our surface personas and also the inaccessible depths of the personal and collective unconscious.  The Princess, that young, naïve, immature Queen-to-be, represents the un-individuated self.  She has lost her golden ball.  Gold represents fertility, life, dominion, warmth and generosity, it is pure and incorruptible.  So far, the Princess possesses none of these qualities and thus cannot keep hold of her treasure.

The frog, an amphibian, can live and breathe in two realms.  This makes him a spirit guide, or psychopomp – a being who can travel back and forth between worlds.  The word for frog in Japanese is kaeru which also means “to return”.  Traditional beliefs state that however far you may transport a frog, it will always return to the place of departure.  Another meaning ascribed to frogs by the Japanese is “stand-ins.”  Some people carry lucky frog charms and believe that when something threatens them, the frog may “stand-in” and face danger in their place.  In this story the frog displays all these attributes as he dives into the well to rescue the Princess’s best qualities, which she has shoved into the shadows and neglected.  The story reminds me that we can ignore talent and nobility as deliberately as we deny less desirable attributes.  It asks me to consider how I sometimes denigrate or reject my own abilities.

Like with dream work,  one may read a collage or a fairy tale as if every character and object represents a part of oneself.  Taking this approach I’m working with the idea of deception.    If everything in the story represents myself,  what lies do I tell myself and why? What have I lost and how may I retrieve it?

Another Possibility re Sacrifice of Isaac

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Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

Last night, it occurred to me that the child Isaac’s story could also be interpreted as an initiation ritual.  Initiation rituals among tribal societies often include a passage where initiates go through a death simulation in order to be reborn into their new adult status.  This marks the end of childhood and, in the case of boys, often the end of their time of living with their mother.  She has taught her boy child how to be “of the people” by understanding the basic mores, beliefs and taboos of the tribe.  It is now the turn of a father or uncle to guide the boy and teach him what manhood entails.  In such societies, men and women often have their own secret ceremonies of initiation for bringing children into adulthood. The timing is also a secret, ensuring the child will be caught unawares by his/her rite of passage.  The surprise adds the altered state of consciousness necessary for the success of the ritual.  These practices are dangerous and sometimes result in the real death of a child.

Such rites seem to be inherent in human culture.

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Australian Tribesmen

 

Groups within our own society practice initiation rites.

Initiation  by  Martina Hoffman

Initiation
by
Martina Hoffman

Social organizations, such as fraternities, sororities and clubs of various ilks; street gangs; churches and religious societies are some examples.

Homer Simpson

Homer Simpson

Embrace Our Differences

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Uglyduckling#2 Embrace Our Differences

Don’t judge a Duck by its Early Plumage.

 In this collage I am showing a variety of poultry. I’ve got a large beautiful Swan, two swans flying over head, a gaggle of geese, a turkey, a mother duck, ( she’s in the water behind the swan), ducklings and one large oversized cygnet.  One of the things l love about the word birds is the large range of animals the term embraces. There are birds that are tiny, such as the hummingbird, birds that swim but can’t fly, Penguins, a bird that can run fast, the Ostrich, diving birds, wading birds, small wings, huge winds, no wings at all. It’s all quite interesting and wonderful.

 In my collage mother duck has taken her babies down to the pond to teach them to swim. She is in the water telling them to jump in. When my son was little, maybe 30 months old we were on a small boat dock looking at some ducks. When I turned around my son had stepped off the dock and was underwater. I reach down and pulled him back up onto the dock. He wiped his eyes and smiled. It scared me. It hadn’t scared him. Two things happened without delay. I bought a life vest and he had to wear it any time we were near water. As soon as we got home I searched around for swimming lessons. As it turned out he loved to swim and decided to join a swim team. He became a competitive swimmer and worked for several years as a life guard. He, like the ducklings and the cygnet took to the water immediately.

 This story is about personal transformation and was one of Hans Christian Andersen’s favorites. He considered it his biography. As a child Hans was picked on by the other children. He had a big nose and very large feet. When he grew up it turned out that he had a beautiful singing voice and was talented in the theater. Before he wrote this story he discovered that he was the illegitimate son of the King of Denmark, Prince Christian Frederick. To Hans, the Ugly Duckling is a story about inner beauty and talent but also about secret lineage. He may have been ugly, like the ugly duckling, but like the duckling that turned into a swan, the most beautiful of all, Hans turned out to be a member of the royal family far superior then the local barnyard rabble that had been so verbally and physically abusive not so long ago.

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.