Tag Archives: symbols

Iktome and the Ducks

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Iktome and the Ducks_0001_NEW

Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…

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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.

Coyote as Trickster

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Coyote says, “RUN!”

In this story of Coyote, we discover that he does not understand the cultural rules about gift giving. When he returns and demands the Rock, Iya, give his blanket back Coyote has disregarded the cultural belief that what is given is given forever.  He is reminded that the blanket is no longer his by Iktome who says, “It is Iya’s blanket now!” Coyote still thinks of the blanket as being his.

When Iya tells Coyote “NO” because he likes having the blanket.” Coyote explains that it is cold out and he needs HIS blanket back. He tells Iya he doesn’t want to catch a cold.  Yet,  Iya still says “NO!” This makes Coyote angry. Coyote just takes the blanket and leaves.  Iya warns him that it is not over.

There have been times in my life when I have not understood the rules or the person I’m dealing with seems to have a different set of rules that I don’t understand.  The whole idea of etiquette or manners is to make social interchanges comfortable and pleasant.

The newspaper columnist Dear Abby or the writer Emily Post are often asked about what manners and/or etiquette rules apply in very specific social situations. Not all rules are written down. In addition, as our society becomes more and more complex new rules have to be established.

My collage this week shows the Rock chasing Iktome and Coyote through the river. Coyote has his blanket flapping behind him. The over all collage depicts a patchwork broader suggesting that the entire piece is a blanket. The reason for the dispute.

Despite the fact that rocks don’t need blankets and Coyote did make the mistake of giving his away, Coyote cannot be an “Indian Giver”.  He cannot expect the Rock to give the blanket back. As the Rock explained, “What is given, is given.”

The Serpent

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Adam & Eve The Serpent

Adam & Eve The Serpent

The Serpent

The Serpent is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. Its meanings are highly complex. The Serpent is a symbol of life and death, it is solar and lunar, light and darkness, good and evil, wisdom and blind passion, healing and poison, spiritual and physical rebirth. The presence of a serpent is often associated with female deities and the great mother.

In some cultures snakes are fertility symbols, and in others they symbolize the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. The snake is assigned many aspects. It is  shown as a Dragon, a snake twining up a trunk or staff, and as a Naga sheltering the Buddha.

In Christian mythology, the snake acts as tempter. It convinces Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The snake is evil, the devil himself.  In many religions, the devil is a supernatural entity that is the personification of evil and the enemy of God and humankind.

After Eve and Adam have eaten the fruit, God confronts them. Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake. God expels the two of them from the Garden and places a Cherubim at the entrance to keep them out. In his anger, God tells Adam that he will live by his labors, Eve will suffer in childbirth and the snake will forever be the lowest of the low.

In Gnosticism, the snake is thanked for bringing knowledge to Adam and Eve.  With knowledge, Eve and Adam are freed from the Demiurge’s control. I want to give credit to the serpent and to the woman who listened to the snake. Eve took a bite of the apple and a) she didn’t die, except to her old naive self and b) she was wiser and more conscious for having done so. By sharing her discovery with Adam he became wiser too. So instead of seeing the snake as the devil and the apple as sin, we need to be thankful for the disobedience, the curiosity to listen to something outside of the box, explore life’s possibilities, grow beyond childhood and listen to the wisdom within.

Coloring

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Coloring

Week #4: Prompt; Color

How does the word color work with Pandora’s Box?  This week I have no insight nor make any connection between the prompt Color and  Pandora’s Box.   What keeps coming up are the words Coloring and Coloring Books.

When I was young, sick and had to stay in bed, my mother would buy me a new Coloring Book and a box of crayons. I loved the dot-to-dot pictures. I loved the new crayons with their perfect points. I decided to turn my previous collages into black and white images. I then colored them using colored pencils. My enthusiasm for coloring did not last long. Perhaps it didn’t work back then either. When I was sick, I often fell asleep mid-page.

I decided to look up the word color in the dictionary. I hoped to find a new definition, something I could expand upon. Something to peak my imagination. What caught my interest is the word coloring. When used  as a verb … to misrepresent, especially by distortion or exaggeration – to color the facts. … I agree.  In the story of Pandora, the subject of  distortion  and misrepresentation  apply … the story colors Pandora and Eve as scapegoats. It’s women’s fault that there is evil in the world.  See my last post … First Sinners.

I looked up Color in my symbols dictionary and read what it had to say. “Color as a symbol is the differentiated, the manifest, diversity, and the affirmation of light. Black and White represent negative and positive, and all opposites. God, as light, is the source of color.” As I colored my black and white collages, I note that whatever is “colored” becomes more meaningful, pops-out, turns into a highlight …the red apples, the red heart, the yellow pears, the flowers, the bird and the Box. Pandora’s face, the butterflies, the blue shirt and the torn paper all take on a special focus. So what do I make of this collage? A Poem.

 Red apples, yellow pears,

Fruit from the Gods

Flowers briefly announce

Spring, Summer and Fall

Temporary, fragile, juicy heart,

Open faces, dot-to-dot the branch

With bird flutter and orange butterflies

Dancing gold coins tossed before the blue

Torn truth, black and white, splashes raindrops

Down to color  the feminine psyche.

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.

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.

Shape-shifter

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I wish I’d originated the idea of Red Riding Hood as a Werewolf, but I came across it watching Once Upon A Time, a TV show about fairy tales. It appealed to my dark sense of humor and spoke to my abiding interest in all things shamanic. Also I love werewolves. Synchronisticaly, I’ve been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ s book, Women Who Run With the Wolves (if you’ve never read it run don’t walk to the nearest bookstore or keyboard). So when I found a red cape with an empty cowl all I could think of was a snarling wolf head.

The idea of drastic transformation into another species in order to gain perspective on your own is one of my favorite story motifs. Lots of contemporary fantasy writers of the werewolf and vampire genre use it, but my favorite example is still The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. In it young Arthur Pendragon (Arthur means “bear”) is changed into a series of animals (fish, hawk, ant, goose, and badger) by Merlin the magician.

This collage shows Little Red Riding Hood turned into a large imposing figure of a snarling wolf draped in a long red cape. By transforming into a wolf, she is claiming her inherent wildness the part of her that cannot be contained by culture. We forget so much of the time that we are animals- the same creatures as the ones we watch in nature documentaries with such avidity, love and longing. Their beauty is our beauty; their cunning our cunning; their endurance our endurance. But we forget.

As a wolf, Red Riding Hood is restored to her senses- nose, ears, eyes, mouth regain their direct access to her brain, their messages undiluted , uncensored by the strictures and caveats of her brain. As a human girl she is terribly vulnerable. Basically blind, deaf and dumb, she goes into the dangerous forest bereft of her natural resources. No one has taught her how to move with caution, hide in plain sight or fight. Naiveté is her only protection.

She wears her cloak to remind her to return to the human world- she cannot be wholly herself as just wolf. Civilization restricts but it also offers freedoms the wolf cannot comprehend. Butterflies flutter around her, symbols of transformation. There is one fly. Flies and butterflies are pollinators and thus symbols of fertility. Sex is the underlying theme of the Red Riding Hood story. The girl stands on the cusp of womanhood wooed by both the wolf and huntsman, stalked by her own burgeoning sexuality. The wolf picks her own mate and explores sexual feelings without shame.

Flies are also psychopomp- they convey souls safely into the afterlife. The fly reminds us that death always lurks nearby; the huntsman still patrols the forest. Transformation is a tricky thing- will Red forget her human self, will she be able to change back? Will she remember and learn or continue to cling to innocence? Lots of questions. No answers except your own.

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