Tag Archives: Egypt

The Three-Way Motif

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The Three Graces

The Three Graces

 

The Three-Way Motif
The Month of April

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

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

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

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

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

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The 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.

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

The Language of the Birds

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Lakshi Listened

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

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

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

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

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

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

MADRE LAKSHMI

  Lakshmi Listens

Living alone

she learns to listen

distinguishing tweet from chirp

 chitter from squawk, constricting

 tongue and throat, rasping 0ut

syllables harsh enough to splinter ice;

whistling refrains so sweetly pitched

Lakshmi stoops to overhear, dripping

nectar tears

into the dimpled lake.

©2014 Christine Irving

Cinderella BCE

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Hawk 4

In this collage I return to the oldest known Cinderella story, Rhodopis.  It comes to us from the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BCE – c. 24 CE) who heard it in Egypt.  Another account of Rhodopis has survived in Aelian’s (175 – c. 235) writings implying the Cinderella theme remained popular throughout antiquity. Interestingly, the story mentions Aesop of fable fame who lived 500 years earlier, indicating that the story probably originated much earlier than the 1st century CE. Aesop used stories featuring animals to teach lessons in morality; from her very beginning, Cinderella is doubly linked with the animal world.

In this version Rhodopis is a slave girl who is teased unmercifully by the other servant girls for her fair complexion.  After her master gives her a pair of rose-gilded slippers, they dislike her even more.  At the next feast day they give her so many chores she cannot attend the celebration.  As she washes clothes in the Nile, her slippers get wet and she puts them on the bank to dry. The god Horus swoops down in his falcon form, flies off with her sandal, and drops it in the Pharaoh’s lap.  He goes in search of the owner and you know the rest of the story!

I’m struck by how very old this story is and how long it retained the shoes and the bird as part of its bones. In my last post I mentioned the symbolism of ownership and possession inherent in the shoes. Years ago, I moved to Saudi Arabia where I lived for sixteen years.  One of the first things I learned was not to ever point the soles of my shoes at someone.  It is considered an insult.  I always thought it was because shoes touched the dirt and were unclean.  I see now that it might imply ownership.  In a part of the world where slavery existed officially until very recently and still continues unofficially in some households, I understand how this might indeed be a grave offense.  It also explains why shoes are left at the door of the mosques (and in other countries and faiths, the temples).  The holy places belong to God and no human can possess them or claim ownership.

Of all the places in the world where one might need shoes, the desert takes the cake.  Given the heat, the stones, the difficulty of walking in sand, a shoe offers freedom of movement and the ability to travel long distances.  Freedom and travel are hardly synonymous with possession and ownership, in fact they seem opposed.  Like many seeming opposites, they simply occupy different ends of a spectrum.  Or perhaps they are mirror images of each other.  Maybe the point of them, in this story, is to teach that two things can be true at the same time. Or that one thing can simultaneously be true and not true …

In my collage there is only the god Horus, the sandal, the sky and the desert.  I wanted to capture a tiny bit of the majesty and terror and beauty of this stark realm.  The collage represents a moment of suspension, of transition and transformation.  In a moment the shoe will drop into Pharaoh’s lap and everyone’s life will change.

The collage recalls a passage in my novel Magdalene A.D. in which Mary Magdalene, the protagonist, has been stung by scorpions.  Lying in a fever, near death, she dreams three dreams.  In the second dream she falls through the sky like the sandal in my collage.  In the third, she dreams of flying over the desert in the shape of a sacred vulture.  These images also recall my vision quest in the Mojave, during which I spent three days and nights in the desert in the company of a Joshua tree.

I feel deeply satisfied with this image (though the blue of the sky didn’t scan very well because I used a metallic electric-blue paper that was really hard to work with).  It seems a far cry from all the busyness of the story and its complex overlay of worldly socio-economic concerns, yet somehow Cinderella brought me to a place of immense solitude and hushed expectancy.  Cinderella consistently retains its ties to the spirit world – whichever of the many versions one reads there is always some mystical connection made by an animal, plant or ancestor that connects the feminine to the divine.   Perhaps this is the true meaning of the story.   Buried in a midden of lust, ambition, greed and cruelty the heart of the world still beats for us, still offers connection.

The Bremen Town Musicians

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Bremen Town Musicians

Bremen Town Musicians

April fools us with five Mondays this year so Michelle and I have decided to each do a one-off tale of our own choosing.  I selected  The Bremen Town Musicians because it’s been a favorite of mine since childhood.  Since then I’ve revisited this tale several times, always with the same sense of delight.  I can pinpoint exactly where this sentiment resides – right at the top of my tummy – waiting to erupt into a gleeful sound, something between a chuckle and a gurgle.

In retrospect I  see that I loved the idea of animals (read non-entities and minions) upsetting the established order of things.  Their cheerful aplomb and raucous courage cheered my own rebellious heart.  I attribute that rebellious streak and longing for independence to my (at the time) terrifyingly angry mother, the strict hierarchy imposed on our family by the military culture we lived in, and the genetic disposition inherited from Dad’s determinedly individualistic family. The self-determination of the donkey, dog, cat and rooster endeared them to me.  To this day they remain great favorites of mine.

Male donkeys represent stubbornness, vulgarity and  laziness.  Though originally associated with Ra the Sun god ancient Egypt, later they became aligned with Seth the ‘evil’ brother and shadow side of Osiris.  Female donkeys, on the other hand, represent knowledge, symbol of humility, poverty, courage and peace. They appear twice in the Christ story – once to carry the Holy family to safety and again to carry Christ on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Apuleius also made use of the donkey in The Golden Ass.  He transformed his protagonist into a donkey in order that he might work through his thoughtless foolishness and eventually regain human form  under the divine auspices of Goddess Isis.  The juxtaposition  of Donkey’s differing traits remind me of the Tao, the spiritual path we must all, sooner or later,set foot up.fyVMtP8A

Being born in the year of the dog gives me a great affinity for canines.  Their wild ancestry sings in my bones and allows me, at least metaphorically, to run with wolves.   Dogs above all else, symbolize loyalty, an attribute I appreciate in others and aspire to myself.  Because of their dual nature (wild and domestic) the dog is said to walk between worlds.  Dogs are often guardian figures such as Anubis or Cerberus or the companions of powerful Goddesses  such as Hecate, Diana, Hel, and the Caillech.  The hounds of Hell, who run with the Wild Hunt through Celtic nights, are sometimes called The Hounds of the Mothers.  Cave canem!  Beware of the dog  who can focus her wild nature through the lens of her loyalty and fight to the death to protect what she loves.

mosaic dog

Ah cats, who can deny their insouciance?  Sacred since time immemorial in both their domestic and wild guises they remain to this day creatures of portent and mystery.  Long demonized by The Church because of their affiliation with the Feminine Divine, cats have managed to retain their popularity in spite of being drowned, hung, skinned and burned at the stake. One reason is their ability to destroy vermin.  Unlike dogs who serve man out of love and loyalty, the cat makes a pact with humanity in which both parties are expected to fulfill certain conditions.  Cats love the night and seem to have a special affinity for the moon, reflected in the luminous orbs of their dark-adapted eyes.  Their purported nine lives make them a symbol of transformation and rebirth.

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The Rooster is known for his courage.  Long associated with the sun he is a solar symbol in many cultures around the world, venerated for bravery, kindness, raucous good nature, eroticism and ability to keep time.  His appearance in dreams may be a call to “wake up” or, if he appears in full plumage, a sign to strut your stuff.   In Christianity the rooster stands for the risen Christ, but he is also affiliated with the Greek trickster god, Hermes.  Good fortune belongs to Rooster, but his self-assurance and confidence can slide quickly into vanity and fool-hardy “cockiness”.

rooster logo red

All these animals are rich in meaning, they appear in dozens of tales around the world as both bit players and heroes. I could go on and on about any of them, but I can  already see a pattern emerging. Self-reliance, connection to Spirit, rebelliousness,  good humor  are all qualities I prefer and can lay claim to on my good days. Their shadow sides are mine as well. I am glad my old friends don’t hesitate to crow, bray, screech or bark when I get too vainglorious, stubborn or aloof.  This story reflects so much of my own nature. It’s interesting, gratifying and very humbling to me to see how little has changed, how much remains the same.

For some reason I gave this Germanic (notice the dachshund)  tale a Japanese setting – perhaps because of the import these creatures retain in so many diverse cultures around the world.  Their meaning differs, sometimes radically, but these four animals all make their home in our collective unconscious.  They are messengers from our deepest selves and most ancient community, bearing lessons and rewards for those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear.

As a child, I never noticed this story was about old animals being discarded by their community.  Now, my own aging eyes and ears perk at tales dealing with the end stage of life. After seeing my mom in and out of several nursing homes and watching my dad’s decline into old age, I am poignantly aware of how many of our old relations are shuffled off to deteriorate in death’s waiting room.  It’s an awful way to go.  I thank whatever gods may be that both my parents died at home, surrounded by family.  My own ageing process remains both fascinating and frightening .  I hope to meet it in the same spirit as Donkey, Dog, Cat  and Rooster meet theirs.  You’ll notice I used a lot of color (our prompt from Leah for April) in portraying them and yes, I used the word hope, upon which I cast such aspersions in the previous post.  The story speaks to me of color – the rainbow colors of diversity and change, creativity and novelty, courage and carnival, persistence and possibility.  I really like this story.  I like it even more now than when I first heard it.  It’s a noisy tale.  It says, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

The Box

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On Opening the Box

 

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

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

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

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

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

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