Category Archives: Psychology

Folklore and Number 3

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Folklore the Number 3

Folklore the Number 3

Rumpelstiltskin and the Number 3.

In the end, Rumpelstiltskin becomes the tricked instead of the trickster. First, he is the trickster and then the others turn the tables and trick him. By calling out his name, he looses his powers. In my collage, Rumpelstiltskin has come to claim the first-born and I am showing the moment just before the group chants out his true name.

One of the aspects of the story that I liked was the use of the power of three.  The spinning wheel goes whirl, whirl, whirl turning the straw into gold.
Rumpelstiltskin gives the Millers daughter 3 days to guess his true name. She has to turn three rooms full of straw into gold. He comes for the baby three months after it is born. The Jaybird, the squirrel and the foxes attract the Game Keeper. He hears the voice of Rumpelstiltskin and watches while the goblin sings and dances around the fire.

Three is a magical number in fairy tales. In most cultures and religions, numbers are carriers of symbolic meaning with often-complicated significance. Numbers are frequently expressions of the cosmic and human order or of the harmony of the spheres.

Three is a particularly significant number for most peoples. It is the synthesis of one and two, the symbol of the principle that embraces all, the image of mediation, and the number of sky (heaven) in contrast to that of earth the number four. The symbolic meaning of three probably relates to the elementary experience of productive fulfillment in the trinity of man, woman and child. Three also forms the basis of numerous systems and ideas of order.  Multiplicity; creative power; growth, overcoming duality, expression; and synthesis are associated with the number three. Three is the first number the word “all” has been appropriated. The number has a beginning, middle, and end. It is man as body, soul, and spirit. It is birth, life, death, past, present and future. It represents father, mother and child.  Once, twice can be a possible coincidence, but three times carries certainty and power.

Folklore has three wishes, three tries, three princes or three princesses, witches, fairies. Three being equivalent to the many, can symbolize a large number, a crowd, three cheers, and signifies fulfillment. Lunar animals are often three-legged. Three is the number of good fortune. Bad luck comes in threes. Counting to three is the minimal amount of counts while setting the rhythm or rate. The third time is a charm. In baseball, the batter gets three strikes before he is out. There are three outs and the side is retired.

In this story of Rumpelstiltskin, the number 3 plays a key role.  In the collage, and old woodcut shows a spinning wheel and a woman spinning. The Miller and the Goblin accompany her.  The King, Queen and the first-born are watching. The Miller stands defiant determined to foil the goblin. When he hears his name chanted Rumpelstiltskin  is so enraged that he stomps his foot driving it into the ground and then yanks his other leg so hard that he splits himself in two.

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December 2013 “The Christmas Tree”

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For the Month of December we will be working with the tradition of creating a  “Christmas Tree”

Decorating an evergreen, usually fir, spruce, or pine is part of the celebration of Christmas and the Winter Solstice rites. The evergreen tree and its branches are often made into a wreath,  swag or garland  and  used to decorate the house, hall, store, barn  or building.  It is also placed in the town square. This month we will work with the evergreen tree and make up our own stories to accompany our collages. You might use the prompt, evergreen tree or Christmas Tree  and see what stories come up for you.

The Evergreen Christmas Tree

Here is a little history of the Christmas tree. Cutting down an evergreen tree and bringing it into the house is both a secular and a religious symbol of Winter and Christmas.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity. It is a Scandinavian custom to decorate the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil. They also set up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.

Alternatively, it is identified with the “tree of paradise” of medieval mystery plays that were given on 24 December, the commemoration and name day of Adam and Eve in various countries. In such plays, a tree decorated with apples (to represent the forbidden fruit) and wafers (to represent the Eucharist and redemption) was used as a setting for the play. Like the Christmas Nativity crib, the Paradise tree was later placed in homes. The apples were replaced by round objects such as shiny red balls.  The entire tree didn’t come into the house until the 19th Century. However; it was common for an evergreen branch to be brought in, hung from the ceiling and decorated with edibles, like apples, nuts, cookies, colored paper, stars made of straw, ribbons, and wafers.  People believed in the tree‘s magical powers linked with harvesting and success in the New Year.

In the 1800 when George 111 married Charlotte, a German-born queen, the Christmas tree was introduced to the children. The tree became associated with children and gift giving. The custom of decorating trees in winter time can be traced to Christmas celebrations in Renaissance era guilds in northern Germany and Livonia, (present day Latvia and Estonia). The Guild Halls had a decorated tree with dainties that the children would collect on Christmas day. After the Protestant Reformation, such Trees are seen in upper-class Protestant families as a counter part to the Catholic “Christmas Nativity Cribs.”

In 1584, the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”.

By 1870 putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America. Russia banned the Christmas tree after the Revolution. It was reinstated as a “New Year Spruce in 1935.  It became a secular icon decorated with airplanes, bicycles, space rockets and other toys.

Death and Ambiguity

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The Crone

While Baba Yaga may have her more benign moments, in truth, she is a terrifying creature of great power; a cannibal, said to have devoured the flesh of those whose flaming skulls form a palisade around her chicken-legged hut.  Cannibalism seems repulsive and horrible to modern eyes, but originally people ate bits of the dead in order to share their manna, their spirit, and make it their own.  Taking a bite of one’s ancestor meant incorporating some of her/his power and wisdom into oneself and opened a door to communication with the dead.  In the same way, eating some of one’s enemy allowed access to their courage and intelligence. In a way its about conservation, recycling and continuity; learning from the past and bringing its lessons forward.

Skulls served the same purpose.  Many ancient cultures from Celts to Mayans collected skulls and incorporated them heavily into their culture and art considering them the repository of intelligence and  home to the soul.  Within it repose the organs of all the senses including touch (though skin spreads across the rest of the body as well). To behead a person is to sever his/her connection to Earth; to collect it is to retain some of their essence.  To preserve the skull of one’s ancestor maintains an immediate and personal souvenir, which acts as both a mnemonic device and a means of communication with the dead.  Read more about skulls on Magdalene A.D.’s Facebook page.

The skull has long been a symbol of death, but in more ancient times it also stood for rebirth.  After all, bones last longer than any other part of us – sometimes for century upon century – look at our own far distant great, great, great, great, etc. grandmother Lucy!  Thus, in a weird paradox bones represent both immortality and mortality.  The witch Baba Yaga embodies that same ambiguity with capricious displays of ferocity and benevolence. So too, do her familiars the cock and the cat.  These animals are powerful symbols in many cultures around the world – sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.  Both are psychopomps – spirit guides who move between worlds carrying messages and leading souls through the veils that separate one plane from another.  Out of all the tangled myth and meaning associated with these animals two things stand out for me.

The cat, a known familiar of witches, hunts in the dark, pouncing on her prey and bringing it into the light.  She symbolizes the work the Crone demands of us- to hunt through our own shadows for whatever gnaws, festers and corrupts and bring it into the consciousness.

For Malays, the foot of the rooster represents a three-way cross roads; a place where destiny can change. Hecate, ancient Queen of witches, herself the crone aspect of a pre-Olympian triple Goddess (Persephone, Demeter, Hecate) was worshiped outdoors at places where three paths crossed. The number three has been considered sacred since the dawn of time and still survives in modern Christian culture as The Trinity. Hecate’s crossroads can represent the past, present and future as well as possible new directions to take in one’s life.  It’s interesting that she offers a three-way choice, rather than an either/or decision.  Hecate, like Baba Yaga represents choice and ambiguity.

The Crone understands connection and entanglement and yet she is essentially simple, basic primitive. Her mantra is easy to understand: Change or die.  She grasps the meaning of life’s most basic paradox: the one is contained in the many and the many in the one; all entities formed from the same matter, connected by the same life force, but each one singular and unique.

This is a lot of telling to explain what the collage intends to show!  Hopefully, it’s all there.  If nothing else, the feminine symbols carved into the trees, half-hidden behind their trunks, indicate  the unequivocally feminine nature of this goddess and her mysteries. Or do they?  As humans age their bodies change; women and men become more and more androgynous in  appearance and wisdom.  Individuation is about becoming more completely human.  The true Crone integrates within herself both cat and rooster, feminine and masculine.

And Sarah Laughed…

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and sarah laughed

One day, God took with him two angels and went visiting, disguised as a wayfaring stranger.  Abraham, obeying the ancient laws of hospitality ran out to welcome the weary travelers in.  He ordered a lamb slaughtered and sent Sarah to bake bread.  Seating the stranger in a place of honor, he offered him wine, dates, almonds and salty olives.  God, pleased with Abraham’s kindness to strangers, promised that Sarah, who had been barren her whole long life, would soon bear a son.  Sarah, eavesdropping on their conversation from within the folds of her tent laughed to herself at the idea.  God heard her and asked Abraham why she laughed.  Sarah, frightened, denied that she had. “Yes you did,” said God.

What a strange and wonderful story this is.  I’ve read several interpretations of Sarah’s laughter – some describe it as a peal of joy, others as a snort of derision.

In the entire Bible Sarah is the only person who is described as laughing.  Laughter is mentioned in a few other places and a couple of times groups of people laugh scornfully, but no other individual laughs. This is an old old story, repeated hundreds of times before it was written down more than six hundred years after it was first told.  Why did this little detail of one woman’s quiet laughter survive?

I found a great article by Richard Restak on the psychology and physiology of laughter.  Basically, laughter releases endorphins that make us feel good.  It relieves stress, alleviates anxiety and lowers our blood pressure.  Laughter also dispels nervousness, eases social situations and creates feelings of companionship and good will. Laughter can also be derogatory, self-deprecating or ironic.

Maybe God’s insistence that Sarah acknowledge her laughter was a way of underlining the importance of laughter.  Maybe, it meant, “don’t undermine your own human nature.” Perhaps it serves to remind us to stay present and take ourselves less seriously.  Consider how important the issue of reproduction was and still is to many women.  Then and now, it bears directly on honor, shame, status, fulfillment, personal happiness and identity.  Sarah had been living with the burden and shame of being barren for her whole life. Her reaction to Hagar and Ishmael indicates great defensiveness around the subject.  Maybe the story tells us that relaxing our hard grip on the identities we create for ourselves opens an opportunity for change.  Look how often women who try for years to become pregnant finally conceive after giving up and going on vacation or adopting a baby. There are many ways of being pregnant with things other than babies – dreams, projects, causes, art.  For any of them to come to fruition we need to relax, breathe, and let go of outcome.  We need to laugh.

Especially we need to laugh at ourselves and the absurd situation of being human.  It difficult to be self-aware. Consciousness is both blessing and curse, it can heal but also cripple.  Laughter, a phenomenon that even now scientists cannot entirely explain, explodes paradox and shifts our perspective. It breezes like a cleansing wind through our darkest passions and most twisted assumptions, if only we let it.  The story tells us to remember, honor, and use this gift as an antidote to suffering.

In this collage we see Abraham relaxing together under the trees, drinking wine.  Sarah, having heard her name spoken, leans against the tent pole eavesdropping on the conversation.  Traditionally in those days, when a man and woman were depicted together in a work of art, particularly if they were “man and wife,” the woman would be drawn smaller than the man.  Here I’ve reversed the tradition because it is Sarah’s story that interests us; her emotions drive the story and it is her laughter we remember.

The Giving Tree

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The Giving Tree_NEW

Several years ago Rhonda Byrne wrote a book called The Secret, which basically re-packaged the words of Christ, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Of course this idea goes back much further than the Bible, back to the first philosophical musings of humankind.  For the mind is truly a mysterious and magical force whose energy has re-sculpted the world’s history again and again and may yet lead to our ultimate destruction as a species.

Cinderella is about wishing – that is to say hoping, desiring, longing for, envisioning, affirming, etc.  It’s about the energy inherent in an all-consuming desire and also about the constant, always present, possibility for change.

In the late nineteenth century a quasi-philosophy called New Thought began to arise out of the great spiritualist movement that swept the newly industrial western world.  It arose as a reaction to TMI and too much technology, too fast.  It continues to this day, transmogrified into a fusion of world religions and historical esotery we call New Age, though even that term is becoming a little shop-worn.

Say what you will about it, enough experiential and anecdotal evidence has occurred over the centuries to make “the law of attraction” as Byrne’s calls it, one of the enduring belief systems we humans hold in common cross-culturally.  Hence the great durability and popularity of the Cinderella story.

And why not?  The world is scary enough and in truth we are almost powerless.  This story tells us not to despair in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds because we can affect outcome with the power of mind.  Even if that isn’t the case, the one truth we can count on is the consistency of change.  Everything changes all the time, both incrementally and in giant leaps. The possibility for alteration is always present.

The vehicle of change differs widely in Cinderella stories from around the world. In France we find a fairy Godmother, in Germany a tree, in Egypt a bird and in the Far East a red fish.  My mixed-media collage carries all these symbols in the branches of its “Giving Tree.”

The Giving Tree refers to a story by Shel Silverstein; a moral fable that explores what happens to a giver who gives too much and to the child who continues to take forever.  How much is enough? Does one really need three new ball gowns? The question highlights the avaricious implications inherent in The Secret’s philosophy.

The Giving Tree took off and sold like wild fire, translated into eleven different languages.  In 2013 Parent and Child Magazine listed it among the top 100 children’s books of all time.  Obviously, it’s appeal, like Cinderella’s, is universal.  Personally, I find the book dreary and disturbing, but I think the two trees are joined at the root.

 

Calling the Muses

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Calling the Muses July Week #1

Calling the Muses
July Week #1

*The Month of July has 5 Wednesdays in it. This first week Christine is away traveling with her husband. I decided to do a single Post using a one entry Tale. Next week we will have a regular Tale for the month of July.
This first week, Calling the Muses, is a collage inspired by the myth … King Pierus and his Nine Daughters. In this tale the King is so full of pride that he calls the Muses to compete in a singing contest. He claims that his daughters who have been named after the nine Muses are even more talented than the actual Muses. In my collage I have three of the Muses listening to the King’s call.

When the daughters fail to best the Muses they are turned into chattering Magpies. Another tale about the Muses tells how the seven-tone musical scale was the Muses invention. They took the scale from the Music of the Seven Spheres. In modern English usage, Muses are implicit in words and phrases such as “amuse, museum, music, musing upon. Today authors, artists, poets, musicians, and other creative people call or invoke the Muses for help or inspiration.

Homer, In book 1 of the Odyssey wrote, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”

I have experienced the presence of a Muse when creating.
It is the feeling the work came through you but not necessarily of your doing. You remember doing the work but it feels like it is being done by another more knowing or talented being. When this has happened I am in awe of the work as much as any other viewer. You feel blessed my the Muses.

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Motherly Love

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Krishnawk#2aMotherly Love

Krishna and the Fruit  Week #2 The Positive Aspects

 The deep connection between a mother and her child is illustrated in this story. An example from the story, “Krishna! 0 Krishna!” she whispered, snatching up her boy in her arms. … Who are You?” she said softly, nuzzling His baby curls with her lips.This isan act of a devoted, loving mother. I agree with what Christine has written in her essay, “… I say motherhood lies in the quality of the love she brings to bear on the world.”

 I have two children and one of the things that struck me about motherhood is how each of my children came to me “factory wired.”

That is, each had their uniqueness built-in. They didn’t come as blank slate waiting for me, the parent to write upon. I wasn’t there to create or  mold them as I saw fit. In fact, they entered the world like the Prophet’s poem describes. “as sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”  Instead of thinking you are molding the child, you need to ask, “Who has come to live with me. Who are you?” For in time you will discover this other being who learns, and grows, but arrived here with their spark, their spirit already whole. They have come, like each of us, to have a human experience.

 I was listening to a TED Talk by Antonia Damasio, a Neuroscientist. The title of the talk,  The Quest to understand consciousness. He believes that the brain stem holds the conscious self. That part of us that is the observer of self,  is the aware one that is thinking, learning and experiencing. It is in the brainstem that we are connected from the body to the mind and from the mind to the body.

 This bit of knowledge suggests to me that this part of our self that is innate to our individuality is built-in. It is what makes each of us so very unique. In our story of Krishna there is the passage that reads … “and the lord who had become a human child out of sport, without any loss of his divine powers …”  I suspect that that is how we all come into this world.

We are all like Krishna. We arrive here whole and equipped to have the experiences that best serves our higher self.  Giving love and getting love are wonderful gifts.  Having a loving Mother is surely one of the greatest gifts of all.

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 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?

Coloring

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Pandorawk4color

Coloring

Week #4: Prompt; Color

How does the word color work with Pandora’s Box?  This week I have no insight nor make any connection between the prompt Color and  Pandora’s Box.   What keeps coming up are the words Coloring and Coloring Books.

When I was young, sick and had to stay in bed, my mother would buy me a new Coloring Book and a box of crayons. I loved the dot-to-dot pictures. I loved the new crayons with their perfect points. I decided to turn my previous collages into black and white images. I then colored them using colored pencils. My enthusiasm for coloring did not last long. Perhaps it didn’t work back then either. When I was sick, I often fell asleep mid-page.

I decided to look up the word color in the dictionary. I hoped to find a new definition, something I could expand upon. Something to peak my imagination. What caught my interest is the word coloring. When used  as a verb … to misrepresent, especially by distortion or exaggeration – to color the facts. … I agree.  In the story of Pandora, the subject of  distortion  and misrepresentation  apply … the story colors Pandora and Eve as scapegoats. It’s women’s fault that there is evil in the world.  See my last post … First Sinners.

I looked up Color in my symbols dictionary and read what it had to say. “Color as a symbol is the differentiated, the manifest, diversity, and the affirmation of light. Black and White represent negative and positive, and all opposites. God, as light, is the source of color.” As I colored my black and white collages, I note that whatever is “colored” becomes more meaningful, pops-out, turns into a highlight …the red apples, the red heart, the yellow pears, the flowers, the bird and the Box. Pandora’s face, the butterflies, the blue shirt and the torn paper all take on a special focus. So what do I make of this collage? A Poem.

 Red apples, yellow pears,

Fruit from the Gods

Flowers briefly announce

Spring, Summer and Fall

Temporary, fragile, juicy heart,

Open faces, dot-to-dot the branch

With bird flutter and orange butterflies

Dancing gold coins tossed before the blue

Torn truth, black and white, splashes raindrops

Down to color  the feminine psyche.