Tag Archives: collage

Loosening the Literal

Standard

Third Eye_NEW

 

This year the work for me is to try and dislodge the firm hold of the literal.

lit•er•al (lĭt′ər-əl) adj.:
1. a. according with the letter of the scriptures
b. adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression
c. free from exaggeration or embellishment
d. characterized by a concern mainly with facts
2. of, relating to, or expressed in letters
3. reproduced word for word: exact, verbatim

At one time I prided myself on not being a person who took things literally, but honesty eventually compelled me to admit I am bound as tightly as any to adhering to facts.  The problem is that the more we know about the factual the more we discover that there ain’t no such thing.  Of course, that’s actually a double negative and so does not “really” mean what it purports to mean. Catch my drift?

 
Which brings us to the third eye or as Hindu’s call it “Shiva’s eye. Eastern thought places the third eye in the middle of the forehead, slightly above brow level.  Western Theosophists associate it with the pineal gland at the back of the head.  In either case this eye is said to open upon a different reality or possibly more of reality than we perceive with normal vision.  It is the eye of non-duality, the place of perception from which we recognize the unity of all things. It allows us to see visions and pierce the veil of time.   New Age thought associates the third eye with enlightenment; a word which could meant ‘to bring light to’ but, I like to think of it as ‘to make lighter’  as in less heavy, as in feather-light on the scales of Ma’at.

 
I really love symbols, love the idea that a (literal) object can provide entrance to a whole field of dynamic tangible and intangible associations and meanings, but when it comes to depicting such abstractions artistically I find it incredibly difficult to jump the tracks and toot around in Rumi’s field.

 
I think it may be related to the extreme near-sightedness that afflicted my eyes most of my life (till laser surgery in my fifties).  Nobody noticed until I was six years old and started school.  I still remember the amazing clarity of that first pair of glasses and how quickly I became frightened of losing them.  I think that fear has made me hold tight to the “facts “of what I see.  Now, I want to loosen that grip a bit.  I once had a mentor who told me “we teach what we need to learn.”  My husband and I teach each other many things.  I taught him to “soften his gaze.”  It took a while for me to explain it clearly and him to understand what I meant.  Now, he has incorporated it so thoroughly he uses it as a teaching tool professionally.  Meanwhile, I am still struggling to learn  the difference between discernment and judgement, to soften the gaze of my inner critic while pulling the veil from in front of that lidless third eye.

 
So here is my depiction of it – the third eye set in an energetic field of non-being.  I don’t really like it.  It doesn’t fit my aesthetic and feels raw and unfinished to me.  I’m uncomfortable with it.  But isn’t that the point?

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

 

Advertisements

The Egg and I

Standard

Egg and I 2

 

I can’t seem to get birds off my mind. Thinking of the number three in conjunction with them, I realized how closely connected the symbolism of the number three and the egg have in common. The egg like many triple deities found cross-culturally and across time represents birth-death-rebirth.
The Cosmic Egg like the number three is a symbol of wholeness. Of course both egg and three carry multiple meanings The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols devotes four and a half pages of densely packed definitions to both of them. Even within their own categories some of those meanings are very similar, some differ widely, but all agree that both carry attributes of the sacred, the mystical and the magical.
This blog has resulted for me in lots of intentionally created collages, in which the theme drove my choices and composition. This one is almost entirely intuitive. The image of an egg came immediately to mind when I started thinking about a collage inspired by three. It was only as I was wondering why that it occurred to me an egg come in three parts – shell, albumen and yolk.
Maria Prophetissa, a legendary alchemist whose reputation for sagacity and intelligence remains current to this day gave us a famous axiom: “One becomes two; two becomes three; out of the third comes the one as the fourth.” She could well have been speaking of a fertilized egg. Perhaps, Maria kept chickens!
Karl Jung saw Maria’s axiom as a mirror image of the individuation process expressed in alchemical terms. This kind of reversal fits right in with Hermetic wisdom, which tells us “as above so below.” In other words the laws of the universe apply equally to all elements thereof. We all know all things at our deepest level which is why the great masters and teachers all say that to know yourself is to know God/Spirit/Source/etc.
Intuitive expressions of “scientific” facts began long ago with the first creation stories i.e. the Cosmic Egg. Science, as it prods deeper into time and space, is rapidly verifying those ancient intuitions and insights. We are, as we thought, made of stardust.
What all this has to do with this collage, I don’t exactly know- call it a grok.

The Three-Way Motif

Standard
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.

The Mermaid’s Tail

Standard

 

The Mermaid's Tail

There was once a mermaid named Verdi, who longed to fly. When waves roiled and bubbled on the surface and the depths turned murky and opaque she longed for sun. On clear days the limpid emerald and turquoise seas drove her mad with their banality. She longed to swoop through a gamut of blues whose cerulean hues held no hint of green. Whenever she could, she rose to the surface and sent her woes spiraling heavenward in a high-pitched aria of sadness and despair.

Sometimes, when huge weather systems marched across the endless expanse of ocean, strong winds preceded them, heralding change with a phalanx of whirlwinds each bearing an armful of spoils torn from fertile lands beyond the horizon. Occasionally, their booty came as petals stripped from the flower pots and gardens of fisher women. Verdi gathered them carefully, transfixed by the faint hint of fragrance still clinging to each scrap of shimmering color.

In the short time before they turned to slime, she laid the petals out on the back of a large sea turtle, summoned from the depths to act as her table.  Arranging and rearranging them, Verdi tried her best to imagine their original configuration. But, she never could and then the sad, heart-breaking song would rise from the sea again, distressing every living thing above and below the surface.

One day an owl happened to be passing while Verdi was mixing and matching the flower petals. As he slowed his flight to see what she was up to, the tip of his wing crossed her peripheral vision. Without knowing what he was, before her head had swung around to follow his flight, she ensnared him in a web of golden trills. The beautiful notes, tough as spider silk bound his wings together and he tumbled out of the air. SPLAT!  Down, down down he fell, onto the turtle’s back.

The owl shook himself and stood up. His huge yellow eyes raked the mermaid’s sullen face and weedy locks.

“Caught me fair and square,” he muttered. “Well! You may have the requisite three wishes. They come with the standard warning and no guarantees. Be careful what you wish for.”

“I want to fly.”

“Easy enough; hop on. I’ll take you for a spin myself.”

“No! I want to do it myself.”

‘You haven’t any wings,” observed the owl craftily.

“Well then I wish for wings!”

“You wish for wings and the ability to use them in flight. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“That’s two,” screeched the owl, but the mermaid did not care.”

Her wings stuck out on either side of her body, just below her arms. She gave them a lazy flap and felt the air beneath her catch and take hold lifting and carrying as if she were a piece of thistledown. The view was all she hoped it would be. There on the very tip of the horizon she caught the glint of a palm leave rustling in the breeze. The owl flew alongside her. Normally he wouldn’t bother with a wisher, except for the actual granting, but something about Verdi made him curious to see what would happen next.

Land was all she had hoped for – the sights, the sounds, the smells and textures. How different everything looked when it was dry! Not quite as rich and shiny as when wet, but the variety more than made up for it. She flew and flew, soaring, diving, gliding and indulging in acrobatics until suddenly, far from the sea, hunger pangs sent tremors through her new wings and she realized how tired she was.

“How do I land?” she demanded.

“Is it your wish to land?” asked the owl casually?

Ye … er no, not just yet. Uh, how do you land?”

“On my feet,” smirked the owl.

The mermaid flapped her tail. They were flying over a thick patch of forest.

“What if I asked for legs? But then what would would I  eat? How long  till I learn to walk?”

Her stomach rumbled, interrupting the string of increasingly panic-stricken thoughts.

“I wish I had…” She clamped her teeth down hard on the tip of her little green tongue and winced.

Your wish is my command,” he murmured sweetly.

Her purple eyes stare fiercely into his yellow ones.  They refused to blink

“Take me home,” she ordered wearily.

In the blink of an eye, she was floating, once again, beside the patient sea turtle. The owl had disappeared, but the wings still hung by her sides so water-logged she was never again able to launch up into the sky, no matter how she practiced.  Nevertheless, Verdi loved her wings; liked the distinction they bestowed.  To her delight she discovered they worked well underwater, propelling her forward more swiftly than she’d ever swum.  She soon became a hunter and explorer of renown, traveling all the seven seas and finding wonders in their depths to equal anything on land.  Occasionally, she thought of the owl and sent a song winging his way.  But nothing ever came of it because, from that day forth, he steered clear of ladies with tails.

 Christine Irving, March 2014

The White Ibis

Standard
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.

The Cosmic Egg

Standard

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?

“A Little Bird Told Me …”

Standard
"A Little Bird Told Me ..."

“A Little Bird Told Me …”

“A LITTLE BIRD TOLD ME …”

“A little bird told me …” is a common saying in the American English language. It denotes that the speaker has learned something that he wants to tell the listener but doesn’t want to divulge how, where or who gave him the information.  In Aesop tales there are lots of stories where birds “sing” out the moral lessons to the uninformed.
Here is a brief list of some of the tales.

The Cock and the Pearl … In this fable the rooster finds a pearl lost in the hay and because it is something shiny he is pleased it is his. The other chickens would rather have barley-corn, something they can eat. The message being …”Precious things are for those that can prize them.”

The Swallow and the other Birds … In this tale the Swallow warns the other birds to pick up every one of the seeds being sown by the man or else they will repent it. The birds pay no heed to the Swallow’s warning and the seeds grew into hemp that is made into cord, and the cord into nets that catch the birds to their demise.  “Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin.”

The Jay and the Peacock … In this story a Jay finds several Peacock feathers and ties them all to his tail. He struts among the Peacocks who note right away that he is a fraud and drive him away. When he returns to the Jays who have also witnessed his behavior he is shunned. “It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.”

The Peacock and Juno …This tale tells of a Peacock that petitions the Juno to have a voice of a nightingale in addition to all his other attractions. The Juno refuses his request. “Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.”

My favorite is the fable of The Crow and the Pitcher.”  The Crow that is half dead with thirst comes upon a Pitcher which has water in it. The water however is in the bottom third of the pitcher and the neck of the pitcher is to narrow for the Crow to reach the water. The Crow finds a pebble and drops it into the pitcher. He continues to drop pebble after pebble, one at a time into the pitcher until the water rises to a level that the crow is able to quench his thirst. “Little by little does the trick.”

In my collage the little bird is a Chickadee. A song bird that loves the forest. This puts me in mind of W.C. Fields and Mae West in the movie called “My little Chickadee.” Mae West often wrote her own lines for the movies, W.C. Fields did too. There are many funny lines in this old movie from 1940 worth repeating.
Cuthbert J. Twille: W.C.Fields
Flower Belle Lee: Mae West

Cuthbert: “… Whom have I the honor of addressing, M’Lady?”

Flower Belle “Mmm, they call me Flower Belle.”

Cuthbert “Flower Belle, what a euphonious appellation. Easy on the ears,    and a banquet for the eyes.”

And
Cuthbert: “I’ve been worried about you, my little Peach Fuzzy. Have you been loitering somewhere?”

Flower Belle: “I’ve been learning things.”

Cuthbert: “Unnecessary! You are the epitome of erudition … a double superlative. Can you handle it?”

Flower Belle: “Yeah, and I can kick it around, too.”

And

(Last line of the movie – each saying a line associated with the other)

Cuthbert: “If you get up around the Grampian Hills – You must come up and see me sometime.”

Flower Belle: “Ah, yeah, yeah. I’ll do that, my little Chickadee.”

The Auger

Standard

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.

Groking the Goose

Standard

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

The Language of the Birds

Standard

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