Category Archives: Night sky

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.

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Kwan Yin and the Fox

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Kwan Yin and the Fox

One foggy night, long long ago, Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion, was passing through the narrow streets of a small rural town on the banks of the river Mu. Smoke from cooking fires combined with the damp cold air to produce fevers and loud hacking coughs that shook the thin paper walls of the houses and caused the entire population to toss and turn in fretful sleep.  Kwan Yin moved tirelessly from house to house laying cool fingers on hot foreheads, dripping her sweet balm onto the parched lips of sick children.  With so much human misery voicing discomfort and fear it was astonishing that her ears picked up the faint whine of a distressed animal.

It was coming from beneath an old overturned rowboat on the banks of the river.  A bent oarlock kept one side barely raised above the mud, while the other lay half-buried in muck.  Bending down to peer beneath the boat, Kwan Yin spied two emerald green eyes glowering from a far corner.  The smell of blood and urine and the sharp musk of fox told her all she needed to know.  The animal had become trapped, who knows how many days ago; faced with starvation, unable to extricate itself, it had begun to gnaw at its own paw in a last desperate attempt at freedom.

“Hush,” she hummed. “Hush, now.  Lie very still.”

Grasping the edge of the splintering wooden boat, the goddess heaved with all her strength, but he boat refused to budge.  Dropping to her knees, she dug a small hole in the dirt.  Placing her lips close to the ground she called softly, “Izanami, Sister Earth, can you hear me?”

The ground trembled beneath her knees.

“Please, dear sister. Grant your unworthy little sister this one small favor.  You hold a rowboat, old and crumbling, painted blue, half-buried beside the River Mu.  It holds one of your living creatures captive.  I beg you to release the fox into my care.”

The sound of tumbling rocks grinding against each other rose out of the hole.  Kwan Yin listened patiently to the familiar grumble.  She knew the lecture by heart – “Stop interfering, taking every disaster to heart, attempting to change the natural course of things …”Finally, the lengthy tirade ground to a stop.  The hole snapped shut as the river bank gave a convulsive twitch and flipped the row boat up in the air.  It landed with a splash, half in and half out of the water, drenching Kwan Yin’s white kimono.

She shook out her wet robes and tore a strip off the bottom of her underskirt.  The fox bared its teeth as her hand approached the mangled paw, but the fight went out of him at her touch.  His heavy sigh, sounded like a sob, like giving up, and for a moment she thought him expired.  Then his pink tongue, rough as a cat’s, licked feebly, twice across her fingers.

At that moment lights appeared at the end of the cobbled lane.  Gongs sounded, men shouted, and cymbals clanged.  A shaman’s voice rose above the crowd, exhorting the angry mob to search out the fox spirit who had brought sickness to their village.  Scooping the fox up in her arms, Kwan Yin stepped quickly into the rowboat.  The sudden redistribution of weight dislodged the boat from its loose mooring.  A moment later a strong current seized them in its grip and bore them away.

Muffled in darkness with nothing to see or do, the unlikely companions soon fell fast asleep.  They awoke in the midst of a snow-covered forest.  The boat drifted along more slowly now, closer to the banks.  Once or twice, Kwan Yin managed to snatch a branch of frozen berries from an overhanging bush.  She fed them one by one to the fox along with mouthfuls of snow, melted in her cupped palms.

The fog had dissipated and though the days remained overcast, at night the skies cleared to reveal a strange star burning large, low and bright on the western horizon.  The beautiful compelling light seemed to be guiding them. The two companions took to sleeping during the day and sitting awake at night to sing and yelp at the beautiful sight.

As the fox recovered, his red fur began to shine and his nose gleamed shiny and black. The green eyes sparkled with mischief and his scraggly tail fluffed out into a glorious bush.  One day he spoke.  “Tonight is the longest night,” he said conversationally,

Kwan Yin glanced at him, “You needed have bothered pretending not to talk.  I can read minds and I speak the tongue of every sentient creature.”

The fox looked crestfallen for a second.  “I knew there was something funny about you – you never eat or drink.”

“What do you mean – the longest night?”

“You mean you don’t know everything?”

She shook her head.

“It means the year is changing.  Winter is coming, but at the same time the light returns, the days get longer.  Tonight is a magical time of transition. Anything could happen.  Perhaps, our journey will finally come to an end”

No sooner where the words out of the fox’s mouth when the boat bumped into the bank and stuck fast in a tangle of roots.

“It’s almost midnight, “whispered the fox.

“Somewhere, a baby’s being born, a radiant child, a special child.  I can sense the mother’s labor pains and feel her joy,” replied Kwan Yin.

Above them the star flared.  It shone on the snow shrouded trees where one bare branch burst into flower.

“Time to go,” said the fox.  He jumped into Kwan Yin’s arms, licked her face and jumped.  The snow flew up in flurries, sparkling in the moonlight.  She blinked and he was gone.

 

 

The Fearsome Wild Hag

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Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga flies away

Baba Yaga

The Fearsome Wild Hag

     Baba Yaga is a Slavic folklore supernatural being, one of 3 sisters with the same name who appear as deformed and/or ferocious-looking women. Baba Yaga flies around in a cauldron shaped like a mortar, dwells, deep in the forest in a hut, usually described as standing on scaly yellow chicken legs, that walks about all by itself, sometimes twirls around and around like an ecstatic dancer. Her fence is usually decorated with human skulls. As she travels, she rows her vehicle with an oar shaped like a pestle. All the while she sweeps out the tracks of where she has been with a broom made from the hair of a person long dead.

 Baba Yaga is fearsome, for she represents the power of annihilation and the power of the life force at the same time. Even through Baba Yaga threatens, she is just. She does not hurt anyone as long as they treat her with dignity and respect. She expects honesty, courageous and straight talk. You must be able to accept her as she is warts, wisdom, and all. Respect in the face of great power is a crucial lesson. So many of her feminine attributes and forces are vast, all are formidable. It is understandable that the first time we come face-to-face with the Old Wild Powers, both men and women take one anxious look and make tracks.

She may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out. At times Baba Yaga plays a maternal role. She is closely association with forest wild life. She sometimes frights a hero, (promises to eat him,) but helps him if he is courageous. According to Vladimir Propp’s folk tale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, Villain or maybe altogether ambiguous. A donor in a fairy tale is a character that tests the hero, or heroine and provides magical assistance to them when he/she succeeds. In many folktales she kidnaps and eats naughty children (usually roasts them in the oven.) She has her familiars, the three horsemen, red, white and black.  And of course, she has at least one black cat and crow.

Baba means Old Woman or grandmother. Yaga means horror, shudder, or chill, witch, pain or worry. She first occurred in 1755 listed among Slavic gods. The Slavic god Perun appears equated with the Roman god Jupiter. Baba Yaga appears to have no equivalence, attesting to her uniqueness even in this first known attestation.

Baba Yaga has bony legs, when inside her dwelling, she may be found stretched out over the stove, reaching from one corner of the hut to another. Her nose is repulsive, so are her breasts, buttocks, vagina.  In some tales a trio of Baba Yagas appear as sisters, all sharing the same name. Her long chin curved up and her long nose curved down, and they met in the middle. She has a tiny white goatee and warts on her skin from her trade in toads. Baba Yaga is the fearsome wild Crone.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, The story begins, ‘Once there was, and once there was not … ‘. This phase alerts the soul that this story takes place in the world between worlds where nothing is as it first seems. The woods can be that luminal space between realms. In my collage I show Baba Yaga flying about in her cauldron rowing with her pestle. Below you can see her hut and fence surrounded by forest. It is night and the moon is full.

Krishna’s Flute

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Krishna'sflutewk#3,4

Krishna’s Flute
Little Krishna & the Fruit
Week# 3, 4

The flute of Krishna means the flute of revelation. Krishna lived like a human and he was a prophet. His story is told in the Epic Mahabharata. Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, is based on Krishna’s life.
The Bansuri is a transverse flute made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes. It is an ancient instrument associated with cowherds and pastoral life in India. Krishna was a master at his flute, enchanting every living creature to dance to his tune. In the tale of the Women of Braj, who became spell bound and danced their love and devotion while listening to Krishna play. (see Christine’s essay.)
Krishna’s flute teaches love. “Ah! How alluring is the melody of your music! It seems you are not a flute, but a magic wand.” When the Gopi women asked the flute about its magic the flute replied, “I am but a lowly reed, hollow inside. I know neither magic nor any arts of attraction. I am simply a forest reed, all hollow within and bereft of any beauty. Krishna, my lord, lover and bearer, calls this attitude of mine the greatest virtue and is extremely pleased with it. He over and over whispers into my ear-hole this excellent teaching: ‘Empty your self and I will fill you.’ I have realized its truth, and I obey it to the very letter. This is magic, if magic you will call it. This is my strength. It is he who sings through me and enchants you all. My dear friends, if you too empty yourselves … he will fill every nerve and atom of your body with his love and life. Does the pervading air not fill a jar when it is emptied of other stuff? He will not leave you even for a moment, and will sing through you the sweet melodies of harmony and peace to the whole world.”
In paintings of Krishna he is often shown playing his flute. I show in my collage the young Krishna playing his flute, standing at the portal of his temple which is the universe. He is surrounded by other children. He is also attracting cow herds and sheep. He revels in the affection and love of his mother.
“Stop it! Stop!” all of them shouted from the top of the tree. All the little heads popped out from among the branches … in my collage, I have the heads of his brothers around the right side of his temple’s doorway. They symbolize the brothers outraged by Krishna eating the fruit. As children often do, they run to the mother to tattle on their sibling. Much to their disappointment the mother does not punish Krishna. In fact, she hugs and kisses him.
In this collage I include the heavens because Krishna is the avatar of Vishnu the maintainer of the universe. This is shown in the story when Little Krishna is asked to open his mouth. His two brothers are by his side. Even the little girl on the pillar of his temple is hoping to catch stars to put into her basket. When Krishna plays his flute all is right with the world. Some say that Krishna’s Flute is the “Voice of eternity crying to the dwellers in time.”

Purple Fruit

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Krishna#1

The Universe in Krishna

Young Krishna and the Purple Fruit

 I read and re-read the story.  I asked myself, “What is this story really about?”  My immediate answer … I don’t know.  Perhaps, it will come to me as I work on my Collage.

As I looked through my images, I have boxes and boxes of cut images that I’ve collected over the 15 years that I have been doing collage art, I realize there are no images of Krishna as a child. In fact, there are only a few Hindu images period.  Hindu Mythology is a subject with which I am only casually acquainted.

I know a little bit about a few of the Hindu deities. I know Ganesha, the elephant headed god that removes obstacles, Hanuman, the Monkey headed God that helped recover a stolen Goddess, Kali, the Goddess who slays the demons, and Shiva, the lord of the dance. Otherwise, the many myths and epic stories that make up the religion of Hinduism are foreign to me.

Finally, I found a picture of a child playing the flute. I decided I would make it into a Young Krishna. Therefore, my collage will start with that image.

I looked up Krishna on the internet and read about Him on the Wikipedia website. I have many images of the Universe so I will include a few. I discover Krishna is a simple herdsman using his flute to bring the animals together. When I finish the collage and complete the Wikipedia article, I feel like I know a little more about Krishna

The Universe is Krishna, and Krishna maintains the Universe. Each of us are the Universe, we are it and we are Krishna. The divine spark is in each of us. What about the Purple Fruit. Krishna gobbles the purple fruit. I decided the purple fruits are plums.
However, after I re-read the story again, I change my mind and decide the fruits are cherries.

I grew up in San Leandro, CA, which at the time had hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cherry trees. There were cherry orchards and cherry trees lined the streets. In the spring, the entire town glowed with Cherry blossoms. We could hardly wait for the cherries. From time to time we would climb up in the trees and test a cherry or two to see if they were ripe yet. Finally, the cherries would turn a deep purple red. My brother and I would climb up into the trees and pick cherries popping them into our mouths as fast as we could pick them. I know from experience that there is no way you can eat all the cherries off a cherry tree.

In our Tale of the Purple Fruit, the older boys are upset because Krishna is gobbling up all the fruit. They are afraid that he will eat all the fruit and they will get none. He is not doing what they told him to do. Krishna knows that there is plenty of fruit and so he doesn’t worry about what he is doing. Besides, he is still very young and is driven by the taste of the Cherries. They are ripe, juicy and delicious. At some point He will be full.

Krishna, just like my brother and me who had been told Do NOT eat the fruit, we did not follow instructions. We just thought … ripe Cherries ready for the picking … gobble, gobble …Yum!

 

Little Red Riding Hood and the Light

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"The morning sun begins to bloom."

“The morning sun begins to bloom.”


Little Red Riding Hood and the Light
(Week #4, prompt Light)
February 25, 2013 by Michelle O. Anglin

As a solar story, Little Red Riding Hood is the sun. The Wolf is the night and he swallows the sun. Once the Huntsman cuts open the wolf, night, darkness, danger and evil is out in the light. Grandmother and Little Red escape death; resurrected, they can bring us the morning sun. There is even a Norwegian Folk Tale about the Wolf swallowing the sun, which the night seems to do every evening.

I had a hard time figuring out what to do with the images I’d selected for this week’s project. I arranged and rearranged them repeatedly. Nothing seemed to suggest the prompt Light. Finally I added the piece depicting the night sky and the rest of the symbols worked. The three women, grandmother, mother and maiden are grouped together. The Huntsman with his rifle is standing over the up-turned wolf. The sunflower stem with the opening bloom reaches up for the light.

In my project the main players of the fairy tale, the Wolf, the Huntsman, the Mother, the Grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood are all present. Little Red Riding Hood says, “it was dark and cold” inside the Wolf’s belly. Once Granny and Little Red are free to jump out into the light, they are wiser for the experience. This part of the story reminds me of the “dark night of the soul”. The experience of being devoured is the crisis needed to change our heroine’s perspective of danger and awakens her to the power of her mother’s wisdom, “Don’t talk to strangers and be cautious if you leave the trail.”

The golden Sunflower in the collage represents the seeds of potential, the beauty of the sun and the glory of mature growth. The dark at the bottom, the upturned wolf and the heavenly cosmos fill the picture frame. At the top is the new day dawning and new possibilities. Grandmother sewing, Mother watching, and Little Red
starting out once again on a new adventure.