Tag Archives: story

I am Raven.

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TricksterRaven#3

I am Raven

I Upset Things. It’s my job, it’s what I do!

This story comes from the people of the Pacific Northwest. A people closely linked with the sea. It is a tale that explains the tides.  My favorite parts of the story are when the lines, “It’s my job. It’s what I do!” are said by Fog man, The Man who sits on the Tide, and finally by Raven. Each character knows their part in the over all plan. Each of us also wants to fit in and be part of an over all plan.  For some of us, knowing what our job is isn’t the easiest thing to figure out.

The seagull in my collage symbolizes “not knowing.” He is about to land on top of the head of the giant that sits on the tide. In the Tale, Raven asks Seagull if he knows how to move the water out of the way, but Seagull does not reply because he is busy searching for answers himself.

In some indigenous cultures, you are given a name that explains what you do.  In our Tale, the person who makes fog is called the Fog Man. Early on, many surnames came from what the person did. For an example, Shoemaker,  Schumacher, let us know that the person made shoes. The person named Fletcher was the individual who puts the feathers on arrows so they fly straight. Today, our name rarely represents how we fit in. Today we have to decide for our self. Yet, we are still judged by what we do. Most of us realize that there is more to who we are than how we earn a living.

Raven and Seagull are the main characters in another story. When the great creator created things, he kept them separate in Cedar boxes. The boxes contained such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One of the boxes was given to Seagull who decided not to open his box. All the animals tried to get him to do so but he refused. The animals called upon Raven to get Seagull’s box open. Raven tried reasoning with Seagull, but that didn’t work. Next he tried to trick Seagull into releasing the box, that to failed.  Finally, Raven was so angry that he stuck a thorn in Seagull’s foot.  Seagull dropped the box and the lid fell off. Out came the Sun, the moon and the stars. This brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin.

Raven is an old friend to me.  I wrote a story that had Raven as an important character. He acted as a go between people and the gods.  He is the one that blithely goes forward believing in the  future and his role of happily discovering it.  I loved the trickster.

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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?

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.

Black/White

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Taijitu Entangled

Taijitu Entangled

Black and white, held to be polar opposites, both contain within themselves diametrically opposed meanings. White can be cold, sterile, barren, the color of funerals, grieving and death, Black can represent decay, despair, sin, funerals, grieving and death.  White can be purity, spiritual ecstasy, new; death can be fecund, rich, warm, the source of the divine spark of life.

No wonder the Chinese married these opposites into a timeless symbol of wholeness – the immediately comprehensible Taijitu.  The moment one sets eyes on this figure one knows what it means.  Two opposing, yet complementary flowing black & white figures, each containing a piece of the other, fit together to form a complete circle.  The inextricable oneness of  yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) is obvious, especially to a Jungian who can easily perceive the anima and animus in the contrasting dots within each figure. The two halves of the circle resemble fish  and people have been running with that association almost since it first appeared.  When I considered the black and white prompt for a story about out-of-balance femininity and masculinity involved with a fish, the Taijitu figure was a no-brainer.

Tajitai

I decided to enclose my fisherman and his wife in an entangling net to represent how stuck they were in their marriage, their poverty, their assumptions, etc.  The story of the Fisherman and His Wife disturbs and intrigues.  It affects us.  So, the net also represents the world net of Shiva, which one cannot touch without setting off vibrations that echo through the cosmos.    Just as in the story, though it isn’t mentioned per se, all the changes effected by the wife and fish touch on hundreds of lives.  AHA!  I do believe I’ve just unraveled the meaning of those staggered, stepped maidservants, soldiers and flames, which so puzzled me.

I had great fun making Zen tangles out of the squares of the fish net.  I used a Sharpie marker to draw them and the fish.  The lines are rough and crude without the definition of a fine-tipped pen, because the story is kind of rough and crude itself.

The tangles represent the changing nature of the sea – its many moods and manifestations.  They also stand for the shape-shifting nature of the fish who is also human.  The Taijitu figure is derived from an intricate system of solar measurement used to determine the calendar.  In my collage, along with the other meanings, it refers once again to the unchanging change nature of the natural world. The whole philosophy of Taoism rests on an idea inherent in this symbol – the complementary nature of opposing components.  It is also the basis for the system of divination called the I Ching.  So it is appropriate to use it to represent both the universal nature of storytelling and the divinatory way in which we use collage to reveal hidden meanings in our lives.

I’m very grateful to Leah Piken Kolidas of Creative Every day for sprinkling a bit of magic on this site with prompts that always send us in new directions.

Unfolding Emptiness

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Developing the Negative

Unfolding Emptiness

For this week’s prompt I chose to illustrate emptiness.  Not that I think emptiness is a bad thing.  I consider it more as the “negative space” defined in art as “the space around and between the subject(s).”  In art, empty space can be used to create a silhouette, a background, a balancing counterpoint to an object or group of objects, or a place for the eye to rest.  In life, emptiness can give the mind or heart or emotional body time to rest, recuperate and regroup.  In metaphysics, emptiness is the void from which the spark of life arises and in physics emptiness is the great mystery.

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11
translated by Ursula K. Le Guin (1998)

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
Cut doors and windows
to make a room.

Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.
So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Sometimes we need emptiness to understand the true utility or meaning of a thing, concept or action.  When we first read this story we found it almost devoid of content; but the longer we spend with this seemingly empty story, the more it holds.

Genesis tells us that in the beginning was the sea – … and God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  The Judeo-Christian religion is not alone in thinking the world evolved from water; many other theologians, scientists and psychologists agree.  The sea encompasses this story – the story bobs up out of its depths.  This fact alone is enough to make us sit up and take notice.

The watery background of this collage forms the negative space around two objects, the fish and the boat carrying a woman and her sand castle.  You may recall that the sea changes its appearance and mood each time the fisherman makes a new request.  When he approached the shore to ask for the castle, the sea “looked blue and gloomy, though it was very calm.”  The sea here is blue and a bit gloomy and very calm; empty of any kind of disturbance.  It conveys a brooding season of waiting.

My idea of Hell is waiting in an endless line without anything to read.  I really dislike waiting.  So my personal negative space carries undertones of frustration and impatience.  I suppose it’s why I fall in so easily with the idea of “staying in the moment.”   If the moment is all there is, then one never has to wait!  The trick is practicing this sense of presence in the dentist’s waiting room!

The fisherman’s wife is adorned with elaborate seashells.  If you hold a seashell to your ear you can hear the ocean.  What needs to be heard?  Who needs to be listened to?   For me, sitting on an empty beach surrounded by the rhythmic sound of waves is the closest I get to perfect harmony.  I suppose it’s a point of arrival.  At the very edge of the known world there is nowhere left to go, nothing to do except be one with the elements.

Shells are wampum, a form of money in both South American and African history.  The conch, sliced cross-ways, forms a perfect spiral, ancient symbol of rejuvenation and rebirth.  Gods are born from seashells and this is the wife’s ambition – to become a god.  Transcendent religions teach us that it is humankind’s best and truest aspiration to reclaim his/her god nature. To do so usually involves a trip to the underworld, as represented in the traditions of many sea-faring nations.

The wife in my picture is plump, naked and crowned in a rather ridiculous headdress, all of which might indicate empty (endless) greed and desire.  On the other hand she also appears poised, calm and completely self-confident.  Perhaps, her crown connects her to Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.   Perhaps, her actions in the story stem from a profound comprehension of the workings of fate and the sea.

Her castle is made of sand – transient, ephemeral, easily washed away it’s a thing of illusion, yet the child’s pink bucket has been left in plain sight.  Children are naked and truthful in the expression of desire; they know how to play and use their imagination.

The boat, a tool of the fisherman’s trade, has become a frivolous pleasure boat.  If this collage were the fisherman’s dream, we might ask him if his work gives him pleasure.  Is he “following his bliss?” as Joe Campbell would ask.  If so, does the fish bless him by returning him, at the end of the story, to the profession he loves?

The golden fish is as enigmatic as any fish.  Why does he do what he does?  His mouth is open to speak, but he also bleeds from it.  (Remember the bloody streak in the water when the fisherman lets him go free?)  Bleeding is a kind of emptying out and links the story, once again, to the feminine.  It also implies the kind of sacrifice in blood that magic and gods sometime demand.

The wounded Fish/Prince is reminiscent of another story – Parsifal and his encounter with the wounded Fisher King.  In that story, the hero, long dominated by an overprotective mother, doesn’t ask the questions he should ask at the beginning of the story.  As a result he must take a long roundabout adventure that brings him back to where he started.

There is one more story I’m reminded of.  The “Arabian Nights” contains a tale about a fisherman who nets a jar containing djinn who threatens to kill him when the fisherman uncorks his catch. Through trickery, the man talks the djinn back into the jar and then returns the imprisoning container to the sea.  To me, our story seems like a reverse mirror image of that one.  In both, magical creatures, fishermen and the sea are involved and in both stories the characters end up in the same place they began.  As in the tales from “A Thousand and One Nights,” our story contains the seeds of another wonder tale. How and why has the enchanted prince been turned into a fish?

The story of the Fisherman and His Wife contains plenty of emptiness in which one may float questions; lots of room into which imagination may expand …

 

In the Shadow of the Forest

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Waiting in the Shadow

To me, the scariest part of the Red Riding Hood story comes when the wolf dresses up in Grandmother’s clothes. He pretends to be something he’s not in order to fool Red while intending her harm. It’s pretty easy to figure out why this is my negative – I grew up with a mother prone to fits of rage – she could turn on a dime from ordinary mom to a raging fury. Scary. The huntsman could easily be a stand-in for the dad meant to protect me. Although he never approved of her angry outbursts, he believed parents should “present a united front.” Their behavior left me with a lifelong aversion to hypocrisy and a desperate (at least for the first couple of decades) need both to understand how things work and to see them for what they really are. All in all, not such a negative legacy. Both traits stood me in good stead. The drive to understand is a blessing, for as I’ve come to learn, understanding engenders forgiveness and provides the ground from which compassion may arise.

Much has changed since my childhood – more relevantly, much has expanded – mind, heart, memory, information, compassion and comprehension have all increased in capacity. The space taken up in my interior landscape by childhood trauma is decreasing proportionally. In fact, I can now fit it onto an 8×10 piece of canvas covered cardboard. Not that the over-size fangs, preternatural hearing and x-ray vision don’t still lurk in the shadows. Of course, they do. The evidence of their power is right here; captured in the imagery I chose to use.

But let’s go back to the benefits of my shadowy legacy. Not only was I frightened of those huge teeth, ears and eyes – I wanted their power for myself. Just now, writing these words I didn’t expect to say, that have never even occurred to me before, I begin to understand. I used to think I owed my talent for acute observation to the need to gauge my mother’s moods quickly. Probably true, but also (also being one of my most favorite words), I now see that I probably sharpened the acuity of my own senses in order to acquire some of the power those amplified sense organs could bestow.

See how this process works? I could have sworn I’d figured out everything about the dynamic between my young mother and the girl-child I once was. Yet, the collage has revealed a new piece of information. I understand more about why I am what I am. Once again I get to marvel at the interrelatedness of the universe, the prevalence of synchronicity and the elegance of cosmic timing. I am more connected; more humble, easier than I was when I started. Halleluiah.

Michelle’s thoughts about Little Red Riding Hood

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Red Riding Hood tells the Wolf she is going to Granny's

Red Riding Hood tells the Wolf she is going to Granny’s

Chris and I decided to post thoughts about the artwork and prompt after we finish our artwork. Here are some of my thoughts.

Little Red Riding Hood

Week #1 The Big Picture: Illustrate the story … Little Red Riding Hood, its theme or significance. I have chosen to illustrate the story. One of the things that her mother had said to Little Red Riding Hood before she left for Granny’s house is …”Don’t talk to strangers”. Little Red not only speaks to the wolf but she tells him where she is going. That is what I illustrated.

Since this is an old tale, I decided to include the illuminated letter “R” which was used in old times to beautify hand written manuscripts. I wanted to give the piece a “Once Upon a Time Feel.”  Little Red Riding Hood is instructed to take a basket of goodies to her grandmother who is not feeling well. Granny lives in the forest. The forest is a scary place. The trees are tall and dense and they block out much of the sunlight. You cannot see what is up ahead. There are wild and dangerous creatures living among the trees. Red’s mother tells her to stay on the path. This is another admonishment little Red fails to heed … she does not listen to advice.

Originally, this fairy tale was a cautionary one. There were packs of wolves that did attack and kill people. The forest could be dangerous. People did get lost and disappear. Predatory animals do pry on the weak, the young and the very old.

The story however has many other meanings. The big bad wolf could represent a man who takes advantage of younger women. Red Riding Hood could be a woman who brings out the beast in men. Granny is frail and helpless. The woodsman is the good guy, the hero who saves the day.

What came up for me was …How am I like Little Red Riding Hood … naive and unconscious? How do my actions affect others? Do I listen to good advice? My focus was on “Red’s” red riding hood cape. I spent time creating the cape, I wanted it to be very red … sexy?  I wanted the forest to be dense and the path to be curved.  I wanted the wolf to surprise Red by appearing out of nowhere.

I started out with one idea and ended up with something different. I was going to paint the background and the trees but used collage instead.  I got excited when different parts of the piece came together. I had to remind myself to stay positive through what I call the uglies.  I reminded myself not to compare my work to others or to what I imagined the piece SHOULD look like.  I like my work to evolve. In the end, I told myself, “This is my answer today for Little Red Riding Hood the Big Picture. There are lots of answers and I may have another one tomorrow. I then called this piece done.

That’s all for now, I’m sure I’ll have more to say later.  Michelle

Christine’s Big Picture – Little Red Riding Hood

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I’ve formatted my first piece and am waiting for the YES glue to dry on the various smaller configurations before gluing the whole thing in place.  I use YES because it doesn’t wrinkle the paper, isn’t toxic and doesn’t dry up and let go after a while (like glue sticks).  Also I can use a damp cloth to get rid of residue without harming or staining most papers.  I spread it on with my fingers, which is a pain because I have to keep rinsing them off.  If anyone has a better suggestion I would love to hear it!

It’s been interesting working with Red Riding Hood.  The first prompt suggests making an overall image of the story.  I chose images of the girl, the hood, the picnic basket, the grandmother, the wolf, the huntsman, the bed, the forest, the path and the cottage.  As always, the most interesting lesson collage teaches me is to let go of what doesn’t serve.  I’m sure to elaborate on that idea in future posts!   For now, I’ll just tell you the thing that took the longest time was forcing myself to discard my favorite wolf.  He just wouldn’t come into alignment with the other elements.  I tried changing the background from forest to garden.  That worked really well.  The garden, painted in the impressionist style, holds a suggestion of a house in the background.  I wanted the cottage (Red Riding Hood’s goal) there because it represents stability and safety.  For many, life’s journey (the path) is to find safety and security.  In this case I chose a ‘garden path” as a visual pun hinting at deception and trickery.

Sticking to the original text, my Red Riding Hood shows a bit of attitude, while grandmother seems sad, apathetic and resigned.  The Huntsman is just a sliver of red in the far left corner at the rear of the wolf he’s stalking.  He appears late in the story and has no particular characteristics ascribed to him, yet his presence is vital – hence the color red.   To me he represents the wolf’s shadow; displaying all the characteristics – integrity, protection, kindness, which the wolf lacks.

I placed the bed prominently because of the implied sexuality in the story.  Look at all the songs, bawdy jokes and ribald tales, which have become take-offs on the tale over the years.  Red Riding hood is a young girl, a virgin.  The huntsman and the wolf are both drawn to her.  Wolves are metaphors for predatory males as are huntsmen.  Granny who should act as adequate chaperone is sick and enfeebled.  Mother’s advice been disregarded and Red is on her own.  But the underlying story isn’t spelled out; it’s implied in the imagery – the bed is an acknowledgement that we get it.

The tree represents the wild forest Red Riding Hood has navigated to get to the cottage garden.  It holds a clutch of red seeds inside a narrow cleft in the bark, another reference to Red’s fertility and appeal.  It hints at a future child, but whose – the huntsman’s or the wolf’s?

Speaking of the wolf, he’s very different from the calm beautiful creature I first chose- this one is stalking his prey, jaws open to devour.  He dominates the idyllic garden with his dark presence, though his mottled fur and stealthy stance allow him to fade into the background and seem to disappear.

That’s my story and I’m sticking it together as soon as I say good-bye!  Bye for now.

Chris

Red Riding Hood 100 C

Little Red Rding Hood
The Big Picture
Click for a larger image

Chris