Tag Archives: symbols

Feminine Circles

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Feminine Circles

Feminine Circles

 
Feminine Circles
July 2015

Circles, circles, and more circles … cups, flowers, wheels, balls, apples, oranges, seashells, our planet, nests, jars, stars, and so on … so much in nature is in the form of a circle. The Circle represents wholeness and is primarily a feminine sign as opposed to a line or cross or phallic shaft representing the masculine spirit. The circle is the mark of protection, a natural shape, a consecrated space. The round table with King Arthur and his men represented the idea of equality . Pagan sacred dances were circular. Stonehenge is a good example of a sacred space. The cup, container of nourishment, the vessel of life giving liquid.

Circles with spirals, spirals as eyes. Circles of petals, crowned sages, deities have circles of gold, a golden disc attached to the back of their head. The red haired goddess clutching a dove, listening to the music of the spheres. The lion with a halo of golden fur around his face, looks as majestic as a sun god. The rose, the lily and the lotus, circles of beauty.

Spirals are very ancient symbols used since paleolithic times and found all around the world. The whorls depict energy, the vortex, movement, winding and unwinding, the rhythms of nature, the seasons, thunder, lightning, rain and water, Whirling energy representing fire and flame, smoke and air. It is associated with weaving and spinning, the web of life, and the veil of the Mother Goddess, controller of destiny and weaver of illusions. The spiral is also associated with the navel the center of power and life.

The butterfly transforming from caterpillar, to chrysalis, to taking flight. Why the parrots? Why the Hen or the stairs or a nest with blue eggs. What does the apple have to do with the composition you might wonder. The apple came to mind when I thought of circles. The Hen begs the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” This is circle thinking.

This collage piece was totally intuitive. I just let it unfold only asking when it was finished, “Why, How, What for?” I looked up the symbols. Chris sent me a piece that included the circles with spirals. I just started looking through my stash looking for Circles and Spirals. I’m pleased with the way the piece has come out and I am willing to let the mystery images be in the composition without completely understanding the why. There is a bit of Chaos about the piece that’s why I love the red haired girl with the dove. She represents the calm, the act of entering. She holds the space, calls for wisdom, calls for inner peace.
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Loosening the Literal

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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

 

The Egg and I

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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

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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.

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.

The Cosmic Egg

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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?

The Auger

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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.

And NOW for something different!

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And NOW for something different!

The two of us are pleased that we’ve stuck with our blog for a year but we are also very excited about starting this next year with a fresh new focus. We decided to continue with Myths, folktales, stories, poems and tall-tails but to broaden our approach. Instead of picking the tale/story first we are going to take an element, category or aspect of story and approach the creative work in an open-ended way. It is my hope this will expand the imagery to include some surprises and to connect to myths, stories and folk tales in a new way.

February is going to be about BIRDS. We are going to work with the idea of birds. Birds, all types of birds: sea birds, raptors, ducks, forest birds, open field birds, night birds, water fowl, big birds, tiny birds, birds as spirit, their feathers, beaks, feet, eggs, and nests, birds as totems, bird wings, bird flight, soaring, gliding, and flightless birds, diving birds, bird plumage, song birds, bird symbols, and their predators. We will be considering all of it.

Another change is that we are going to take turns posting. Each week one of us will be responsible for the blog post and art piece, (a mixed-media and/or collage) plus an essay, poem or story. Of course, we can always post more often but for sure every other week. We plan to give this format a 3 month trial and then decide to continue with it or make more adjustments.

The idea of this blog is to continue our collaboration, which we both love, to create an art piece on a regular basis, and to focus on the study and application of symbols, story, story telling and creative writing. We welcome your feedback and suggestions. If you’d like to play along with us let us know.

Folklore and Number 3

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Folklore the Number 3

Folklore the Number 3

Rumpelstiltskin and the Number 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumpelstiltskin

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Rumplestiltskin 1_0001

This is actually a collage I made years ago. It was the last of a series of fairy tale collages I created last century.  I was never very happy with it.  I think because this piece is a rather traditional overview of the tale and I’ve always felt that in this story, justice wasn’t really served.  It seemed to me Rumpelstiltskin had been cheated.  As I recently discovered, I’m not the only one who felt this way.  Sara Maitland in her beautiful book From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Fairy Tales rewrites Rumple’s story in a much more sympathetic vein.

As you might have guessed, the strange little woodland creature was my favorite character.  I loved the combination of grotesquerie and wisdom, foolishness and wicked pragmatism; besides, like me, Rumple had a very strong innate sense of Justice.  Like me he was an inveterate outsider.

I liked that he lived in the woods and danced wildly around the fire at night.  Because of the time and places I grew up in, I didn’t do any moonlight prancing until my early forties.  it turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated.  I despised the greedy king and father. The maiden seemed rather dim at best, not to mention untrustworthy.  Of course, at the time I hadn’t any children of my own and had not an inkling of the lengths a mother would go to keep her child.  Still, in spite of my intervening years and experience I still prefer Rumpelstiltskin and my inner child would have much preferred to grow up in the forest.

One day, while puzzling about what it might mean to spin straw into gold, I suddenly realized that straw could stand for all the mistakes and unpleasantness in my past, while the gold stood for all the meaning, insight and teaching, which had grown out of those events.  With this same end in mind, we have unraveled fairy tales over the past twelve months, harvesting innumerable golden threads that connect our personal lives to the greater history and heritage of humankind.  Thus, Rumpelstiltskin seems a fitting conclusion to our year of twitching our tales and spinning the resultant fallout into gold.