Tag Archives: nature

“Rumpelstiltskin Is My Name”

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Straw into Gold_0001

In this collage I portray Rumpelstiltskin as an aspect of the wild and randy god Pan, ancient guardian of the wild.  We find him here creating the magic that will allow the miller’s daughter to spin the king’s straw into gold.

Pan was a god of woodlands and meadows, guardian of both wild animals and flocks with the torso of a man and the hind legs and horns of a goat.  His worship spread far and wide spanning a millennium that we know of and probably stretching back far beyond his first archaeological appearance in the 6th century BCE.

There is a story from the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37) that purports to report the death of Pan.

One day a ship piloted by a sailor named Thamus lay becalmed off the Echinades islands.  Suddenly a great voice sounded from the shore.  It called his name three times.  When he replied the voice shouted, “Tell them that great Pan is dead.”  As he sailed along the shore, the pilot shouted to the people on land that the god was dead, whereupon arose the sound of great weeping.  The news spread fast and when he arrived in Italy the emperor summoned him to be questioned by a committee of scholars.  The learned ones interpreting the event decided that the Pan in question was not the god, but a demon of the same name.  

Early Christians believed this story and took comfort in it, confident that it marked the beginning of the end of the pagan era, but in fact, well into the 4th century B.C.E. coins were being minted bearing the face of the god.  It takes more than a decree to banish a god or to convince people, especially those living close to the land, nature spirits don’t exist.  The spirit of Pan lived on in the tales of the fey, the ‘little folk’, fairies, brownies and gnomes and wood sprites such as Rumpelstiltskin.  Push them into the shadows as we will, such tales still leak past the borders we set; the lines of logic we impose on both our physical and imaginative landscapes._The_Wind_in_the_Willows

Maybe, Rumpelstiltskin wanted a child to raise in the old pagan ways and thus ensure their continuation.  Perhaps, it is belief that keeps gods alive – maybe they do need someone to clap for them.  Thanks to Kenneth Grahame I’ve been a lifelong believer in Pan.  His depiction of the god as the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in his beloved book Wind in the Willows* continues to be the only description of the masculine divine that’s ever truly moved me.

In same way that humans cheated Rumpelstiltskin, I think we cheat Nature – the carbon emissions, the methane, the GMO’s, the dams, the pesticides etc., etc., etc. are all ways we break the pact of reciprocity which is part of the evolutionary cycle.  It grieves me.  It breaks my heart.  If I can help restore balance by creating an image of a powerful Earth elemental at the height of his power, I’m glad to do so.  It’s the sound of two hands clapping – loud and long.

*I’m in good company.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote Grahame a fan letter saying that he had “read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends.”

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Finding My Flock

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Finding Your Tribe

I can’t stress enough the importance of finding your tribe.  Wild women make up mine.  You see them here – young, middle-aged, old – maiden, mother, crone.   Sisters, companions and beloved friends, peers, these are the commadras.  Isn’t it strange we have no feminine words for buddy, pal, compadre?  I think we women need more words to signify and define the nuances of our rich femininity.

The Ugly Duckling is about finding the companionship of peers; of those who share an orientation to the Earth and life, which coincides with your own.  Of course first you have to know what that is.  Hence the quest in the first part of life.  That’s the part where we waddle and quack about the world, making mistakes getting hurt,  enjoying and suffering huge tidal waves of emotion as we come to terms with our own humanity and the condition of being human.

Not everyone makes it.  Some crack, some break, some turn away and refuse further exploration, some never engage with solitude or introspection, some become addicted to the rush of novelty.  For me, there came a time when I began to know who I am.  When that happened, I I began longing for peers – those ones who also know themselves.

Mostly, I find them among women.

Femininity encompasses another layer of belongingness.

For the first three decades of my life I didn’t like other women much.  I thought men were smarter, more interesting, and led more exciting lives because, in my family, my Dad was the good guy.  He was calm in the midst of my mother’s erratic emotion and fair in the face of her injustice.  He “got” me, in a way I believed my mother never would.   Happily, in my thirties I discovered, the Goddess, the women’s movement and consciousness raising.  It changed my life and opened interior and exterior worlds to me, expanding heart, psyche, mind, soul and body.  It also opened the door to understanding and reconciling with my mother.

They also brought me to the profound realization that the Earth is one integrated whole soulful organism of which I am an integral part.  There is nowhere I go on this planet where I do not belong because the culture of nature is deeper and more encompassing than any human culture can ever be.

This collage celebrates my journey and all the different kinds of women who travel with me – my tribe, my commadras, my peers.  They bring me happiness, vitality, joy – each one of them holds home in her arms.

Coyote’s Blanket

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Coyote's blanket

Coyote’s blanket

One of the best things for me about my friendship with Michelle is how differently we view things.   Over the years we have both benefited from an expansion of vision, learning from each other how to see from a different perspective.  We’ve learned to trust each other’s vision and follow along even  when we don’t “get it” right away.

Last week, I was utterly swamped, enmired in a project with a deadline I was having trouble meeting, so when Michelle offered to pick the story and present it, I was delighted.  We’d agreed earlier that we wanted to work with a Native American tale and Trickster Coyote is an old favorite of ours.  We created a workshop around him several years ago, using collage to do shadow work.  Coyote loves to dance with the shadow and he proved a perfect mentor for those workshops.  Still, when Michelle picked this blanket story it left me at a bit of a loss.  It’s a teaching story, so it must be teaching something, but what?  It seemed way too elaborate a set-up to say something so obvious.

It wasn’t until I finished my collage that I realized what a big part landscape plays in this story.  First of all Coyote’s antagonist is a rock!  It’s one thing to see a biological creature as a character in a story but a talking stone that feels cold…?  Then there’s that detailed description of all the places Coyote runs through with the rock chasing him – hills, thick forest, a river, prairie.

As it happens the project I’d been working on was a talk and slide show about pilgrimage.  It’s my contention that our human habit of going on pilgrimage is a direct result of the nomadic lifestyle practiced by all Homo sapiens for at least 40,000 years.  I won’t repeat my reasoning here, suffice it to say my theory has to do with the importance of landmarks.

In part this story seems to talk about the importance of maintaining and honoring an intimate relationship with one’s geography.  The intimacy is underlined by the symbol of the blanket.  In many Native American traditions blankets are strongly associated with the bonds of kinship.  When publically given, a blanket acknowledges those ties to the whole community. In this story we see Coyote giving the rock the blanket in front of Iktome.  He makes a point of the gift, proclaiming the change of ownership in front of a witness.  His failure to respect his relationship with the land (symbolized by the rock – think basics, bedrock, bones of Earth, foundation) has dire consequences from which he barely recovers; just as our failure to maintain a relationship with the land results in floods, landslides, and dust storms that flatten us.

You see how my faith in Michelle’s vision is justified?  This story contains a powerful teaching for me.  Not only as a concept but also more immediately; I spent all last week hunched over my computer.  I did manage to walk every morning, but I walk with a friend and we talk the whole time, so I haven’t really been outside and present for days.  This collage made me long to be out alone under the sky, tiny as distant Coyote in my picture. – I think I’ll take tomorrow off and go wrap the landscape around me like a blanket…