Winter Solstice — the shortest day & longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, the turn of the Earth towards lengthening days — occurred last Tuesday. Since earliest times, humans all over the world have noticed, felt, and expressed the significance of the shifts in light atboth the solstices and equinoxes. For the most part, we can only guess at the earliest myths and rituals associated with these points in the dance of Sun & Earth. Fortunately, at least since Neolithic times, people in a number of places around the globe have built both simple and more elaborate & labor-intensive places to mark the movement of the life-giving Sun.
One of the oldest and most well-known of these sites is Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne) in Ireland, the mythic home of The Dagda (god of Wisdom & Fertility) and his son Aenghus (the god of Love & Dreams). Built ca. 5200 years ago, this massive Neolithic complex of underground passages and chambers, whose stone walls are covered with intricate carvings, was constructed so that only at the Solstice would a ray of sunlight, falling through an opening above the entrance, penetrate all the way through the darkness to light the main chamber. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be deep inside the dark and to watch the light coming in to meet you?
Today, as always, many of us continue to celebrate, in both story and ritual, the return of the Light and retreat of the Dark, whether understood literally or metaphorically — expressing our joy at this cosmic turning through festivals of light such as Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and many other spiritual practices, both old & new. And, everywhere, a symbol for this turning towards a positive Mystery is the Candle. So I’ve been thinking about candles.
At this time, we in the northern hemisphere can count on the lengthening of days, the literal increase in life-giving sunlight. But, in so many ways & on so many levels, Earth and her community (including humans) are going through some metaphorically dark times. I won’t enumerate the many dire challenges we face. You all know them. But the question is: How can we each help facilitate a turning away from destruction and into a place of light, joy, peace?
Have you ever attended a gathering of people standing in the dark, each holding an unlit candle? There are no words to capture the awe that begins as one candle is lit. And the awe expands as the first candle lights another candle & each of those light others & on and on, spreading the illumination outward until every single candle burns with its own lively dancing flame.
Is it possible to do something similar with our own inner light?
The poet Rumi reminds us:
"Being a candle
Is not easy.
In order to give
light one must
I ask myself, Am I willing to light my candle? What will it take? And how can I pass along its loving flame?
One candle is a small thing.
But many, gathered together, can illuminate the world!
Wishing you all peace and joy — now & always…..
Photo credits: Irish Examiner, Geralt, Myriams-Fotos, Mike Labrum
Now the earth slides faster down the long dark days towards Solstice. We’ve been flung almost too far from the center, skidding violently along the curve of space.
The pace presses me flat against the rocks, among the dried debris of summer. Blackberry canes snarl my hair; faded petals or leaves, compressed beyond recognition, cling to my lips and eyes.
Oh, it’s a long slide down to the Solstice.
tugged sunward at last on gravity’s leash:
We’ll hit the corner flying and careen round into who knows what great wind of passage.
may be blown clear out of this cave, clean
onto my feet.
Lifting my arms to
layer upon layer of translucent
color cupped to Earth’s curve,
I’ll feel the thrust of the planet
beneath my feet.
Gulping air straight
from Arctic floes,
I’ll raise my face to
the icy stab of Orion’s sword and
Eighteen years ago I was fortunate to take a life-changing course entitled “The New Cosmology,” taught by Dr. Larry Edwards. It was a week-long intensive class with lots of reading & a paper before the gathering and more reading & a longer paper due a month afterwards. We looked briefly at the origin stories told not only by our Western cultures but also by other cultures around the wold, and considered how different origin stories were both creators of & products of the cultures in which they were found. We looked at the current scientific explanations/stories of cosmic evolution, Earth’s evolution, the evolution of Life, and finally — within the context of these larger patterns — human evolution. We considered the ways that the various species of plants and animals in an ecosystem help shape each other’s evolution, creating distinct traits and skills that interlock. And the human? What is our special trait? Perhaps, Dr. Edwards suggested, it is our ability to become fascinated by what we encounter, to wonder, to simply stop & gawk. One of my classmates added the word “saunter.” That’s it we decided: What makes us human is not simply our physiology or our technical achievements — it is our delight in sauntering & gawking — and then making up stories (whether scientific explanations or extended reflections) about what we’ve encountered.
“Saunter & Gawk!” That pretty much sums up my life this past week. Even in my fiber work, I’ve been doing a sort of saunter-and-gawk as I spend time in the company of some poorly-prepared llama and angora rabbit fibers — trying to understand the nature and “desires” of these tangled fibers. I’ve also been sauntering & gawking with delight in the natural world that surrounds me here and in the written world of ideas & discoveries & the records of unique personal experiences.
A brief question from my brother about a current forest fire here in North Carolina led to questions of geology, and I began saunter (and/or stumble) through information about the geology of this place in which I now find myself living. So much to learn! Much of what I encountered was beyond my comprehension, but I did stop to gawk at some wonderful surprises. I’d sort of assumed that the Piedmont where I live was mostly a result of the erosion of the Appalachian Mountains to the west. Who’d have guessed that this place was — before that — a chain of volcanic islands that were eventually squished between colliding tectonic plates?! Somehow seeing that deeper story of the land upon which I walk daily delights me and makes me feel more at home here.
“‘Alright, Dr. Abram, I understand when you say that we humans are completely embedded within a more-than-human world, and I understand your claim that many other animals, plants, and landforms are at least as necessary as humans are to the ongoing flourishing of the biosphere. But despite the attention and praise that you bestow upon other species, surely you must admit that humankind is something utterly unique in the earthly world?’“
After musing about that question and his responses over the years, Abram goes on to say:
“And after puzzling and pondering the matter, over and again, sussing out the signature traits of our species, I began to feel my way toward a fresh answer, one that rang true to me even as it seemed to satisfy my challengers—or at least to give them pause.“
“For if there’s something exceptional about us two-leggeds, it seems to reside in our ability to become interested in—even fascinated by—well, pretty much anything. Diverse other creatures, as I watch them go about their days, seem to stay fairly focused on a range of matters that concern their own well-being, indulging in other whims and curiosities now and then, but rarely ranging very far afield, with their sustained attention, from the sort of things that seem to grab others of their kind. But we humans have a peculiar proclivity to become fascinated and enthralled by the most incommensurable matters. Among even my close friends, there’s a person who closely studies the antler patterns of moose, another whose hobby involves documenting the life cycle of various lichens, and another whose expertise lies in throwing and baking the perfect Neapolitan pizza. That same baker is also a fine gardener who spends much of her week wooing various butterflies down from the skies to alight on the plants that she’s carefully cultivated for their delectation. There are people who steep themselves in the long-dead languages of lost cultures, and others who listen in on and try to decipher the long-distance utterances of humpback whales. Still others decline to consider those calls as linguistic, but concentrate their talents on playing music with whale songs….
So perhaps there is, indeed, something uniquely unique about our species. Yet we defy this uniqueness when we strive to assert what is most unique about humankind.Whenever we focus so exclusively upon ourselves, training our attention day after day upon the specialness of our species, then we are no longer enacting the very trait that most exemplifies our humanity. ”
Finally, Abrams — after contemplating the linguistic relationships among the words ‘human’ & ‘humus’ & ‘humility’ — counsels humans to remember their intrinsic interdependence with the larger community of other earth-beings and to act, therefore, with appropriate humility.
As I’ve been thinking about saunter-and-gawk, I’ve come round once again to Trickster, for that is what Trickster loves to do — to ramble along, to see something & to get curious about it. But then, thinking only of himself and his desires, Trickster stops looking and just jumps into the situation head first — only to find himself, time and again, in dreadful trouble. Humility is not to be found in Trickster’s vocabulary or in his actions!
Can there by any doubt about what message Trickster stories have for us these days?
We are humans. Who are we?
We are listeners, listening to the song of the Land.
And we are one of the many voices to which the Land listens.
We are spinners, spinning wild fleece into Meaning. And we are the fleece being spun into Meaning by others.
We are weavers, weaving radiant colors into Story. And we are the colors, being woven into others’ Stories.
We are children standing in awe of Cosmic beauty. And we are the Cosmos reflecting on Itself.
And when we sing praise songs, sing songs of gratitude,
Then we become a part of the Song.
We’ve been having what we used to call “unseasonably” warm days this week — up in the low 70s, which feels ridiculous for December even here in central North Carolina (where, of course, the winters never produce the snow & ice that formed my template of the season when I was a child in Iowa). I am dismayed by what these lovely warm days are telling me about Earth’s reaction to our human irresponsibility, but I’ve enjoyed them nevertheless. It’s been good to spend time outside putting some of the summer’s growth to bed for the winter — although one of my cone flowers has just put forth new blossoms and the iris & daffodils are sending up what they must think are spring shoots. I’ve also been planting more pansies for winter blooming. I love their little faces & all their different colors. Pansies remind me of my childhood when, each spring, I got to choose my own pansies to plant. (No hope of winter blossoms under the prairie snows in those days!)
Not much new on the fiber-front this week. Mostly I’ve been procrastinating. I’m so well-practiced at that, it often feels like the easiest path — until I realize once again how much energy it takes to not-do something. I did finish — to the best of my ability — finding the shape of my most recent mask/person. I was excited to discover that he is very different from & much more interesting than my early imaginings & expectations. The name that came surprised me. I think it is “Ochre: Sacred Red Earth,” so — naturally — I had to spend time learning more about ochre & the role it has played in humanity’s unfolding story. Some surprises there too!
This mask, this Spirit of Sacred Red Earth, has sent my imagination careening in some new directions. I’m curious & eager to see what will happen and have done a little playing with fibers in that direction — but the few unfinished details on 2 old projects have kept nagging at me. I finally found the will/intention or just plain gumption needed and told myself — in no uncertain terms — that I must finish the old before chasing after the new. Why is it so hard for me to take the final step that says “Done”? I guess there are several Life Lessons somewhere in there.
Yesterday I finally felted the tabs that are necessary to hang both “Conversing With Forest; Becoming Tree” & “Thalassa.” Thalassa was easy, since her tabs won’t show, but I wanted to hang Forest/Tree on an old twisted stick that had been gifted to me decades ago. Since the tabs for this have to be integrated visually with the piece as it already existed, I’ve had some trouble envisioning them. I haven’t yet sewed the tabs on & will probably experiment a bit more before I do, but at least I’ve started the forward movement!
I am curious about how these 2 areas of exploration might be connected. Already my pondering has gone too far for a single blog post. This is something I’m going to have to dive into more deeply & extensively.
I’ve been re-reading David Abram’s spectacular classic work Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, in which he points to the way that not only stories but, even more fundamentally, languages themselves have grown out of the Place in which they have been formed. Abram’s words, examples, experiences, and images are so rich & complex that I hate trying to condense or summarize them. I’ll just quote some of his sentences from pp.61-86 to show the starting place for some of my meandering thoughts:
Our senses “are divergent modalities of a single and unitary living body, …complementary powers evolved in complex interdependence with one another.’
“My senses connect up with each other in the things I perceive, or rather each perceived thing gathers my senses together in a coherent way, and it is this that enables me to experience the thing itself as a center of forces, as another nexus of experience, as an Other. [….] …[M]y body is a sort of open circuit that completes itself only in things, in others, in the encompassing earth.”
“In contact with the native forms of the earth, one’s senses are slowly energized and awakened, combining and recombining in ever-shifting patterns.”
“It is this dynamic, interconnected reality that provokes and sustains all our speaking, lending something of its structure to all our various languages. [….] Ultimately, then, it is not the human body alone but rather the whole on the sensuous world that provides the deep structure of language.”
“As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. [….] For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.”
I’m often frustrated by my inability to express in English the wildness of living Earth & the nature of therelationships within her web of being. Pronouns (especially possessives) can be a problem & words like “nature” & “environment” seem to deliberately hide the wonderful intertwingling of us all. Just as I was beginning to think the situation hopeless, I remembered some of the ecstatic poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889, English poet & priest), whose attentiveness to the other-than-human world flowed into his exuberant words. I found this poem (and photos of the actual location described, which unfortunately I couldn’t copy here) at https://hopkinspoetry.com/poem/inversnaid/ :
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáawn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
“Give thanks for what you have been given. Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
As a child, I was fortunate to attend the University Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa. The learning was active, with lots of “hands-on” participation. In addition to all the usual basics, our 2nd grade year was devoted to a study of the Native Americans. When we studied the Plains people, we made a teepee of sheets, decorated it, and set it up in the hallway. We pounded out “pemmican” from dried beef and raisins — and gave it to the principal, who did take a bite! When we studied the Diné (Navajo), we made weavings on little frame looms that we had helped make at home. [As I’ve said earlier, this is one of the earliest roots of my love of weaving.] We even made a wickiup (wigwam) and planted some corn on the playground. All these things — along with the reading, encouragement, and travel opportunities my parents provided — led to my later involvement with native groups and gave me a deep respect for the indigenous peoples of this continent.
I continue to learn from these diverse cultures & people who have so much to teach those of us in profit-driven/consumer cultures. At this time of year, I like to revisit the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address which, as many of you know, is recited by members of the Iroquois Confederacy at the beginning & closing of any gathering and regularly in their tribal schools. I like to read it slowly — perhaps aloud — truly taking time to be with each of our relations as they are named & thanked.
Speaking of this Thanksgiving address, Robin Wall Kimmerer says, in her beautiful book Braiding Sweet Grass:
“As it goes forward, each element of the ecosystem is named in its turn, along with its function. It is a lesson in Native science. You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires… The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need… That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”
Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address:
Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address:
Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.
Now our minds are one.
The Earth Mother
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.
Now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Plants Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.
The Food Plants
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods
together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Medicine Herbs
Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.
Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.
Now our minds are one
We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Four Winds
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength.
With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.
Now our minds are one.
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of women all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches
over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.
Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as
one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.
Now our minds are one.
The Enlightened Teachers
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.
Now our minds are one.
We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.
Now our minds are one.
[This translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was developed, published in 1993, and provided, courtesy of: Six Nations Indian Museum and the Tracking Project All rights reserved. Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World English version: John Stokes and Kanawahienton (David Benedict, Turtle Clan/Mohawk) Mohawk version: Rokwaho (Dan Thompson, Wolf Clan/Mohawk) Original inspiration: Tekaronianekon (Jake Swamp, Wolf Clan/Mohawk)]
May we all find comfort, meaning, and joy in this time of giving thanks!
First, a POSTSCRIPT to last week’s blog: In my last post I mentioned how much I enjoy the possibility of unraveling & re-doing in that exists in most fiber work. However, too often I let my wonderings about those illusive possibilities take over a project, leaving it unfinished for a long, long time. That’s what happened with my Thalassa mask (introduced in the May 28 post — almost 6 months ago!). I spent months arranging & rearranging fiber for her background. I must admit I loved the process of adding, subtracting, rearranging, just touching the beautiful soft and colorful fibers. I was not in a hurry to finish, but I finally told myself to stop playing, to bring that conversation to a close, and to go ahead and wet-felt the piece in its final form. (Wet-felting cannot be unraveled!)
And then began the conversation (occasionally almost moving towards argument, but eventually calming down into negotiation) among the completed background, Thalassa’s hair, and myself. I know I — with my dissatisfaction & perfectionist tendencies, alas — made that conversation much more fraught than necessary as I tried one thing, …then another, …and another….
Now I am eager to try some of the many new ideas that emerged from all that trying, so the time was not “wasted,” …. but I am relieved that the fibers & I have achieved a conclusion at last!
The Power of Story
Ben Okri, The Mystery Feast ( This is part of his address given at the “Everything Under the Sun Storytelling Festival, 2013);
“As this is a celebration of storytelling, it is also important to state that stories can also be pernicious. Stories have been used for evil. They have been used for the denigration, the demonisation, and the extermination of peoples. This is because of the psychological power of stories, their ability to fit in perfectly with our belief brain cells. It is easier for people to believe nasty things about others if you tell nasty stories about them.
“Stories used as negative propaganda have fueled wars, tribal dissensions, and genocide. False stories use the same laws as good stories, making them readily acceptable to our imagination. The true danger of stories is that they bypass intelligence and go straight to the subconscious. Why else have very intelligent people…believed such absurd things…? The subliminal demonisation in stories and images is one of the roots of racism and sexism.
“…. Whenever we listen to negative stories about others we are contributing to this ongoing preparation for some unforeseen future monstrosity.“
This week I read a story in the Washington Post that reminded me of Ben Okri’s words. It’s a long story about a traumatized young veteran who helped create a story/video, trying to understand and work through his war experiences and disillusionment in the process. The resulting video, “Loose Change,” was subsequently adopted by extremists, contributing to the current “conspiracy culture” in the U.S. I’ll just summarize a few points here. I do hope you will read the whole article so you can get a more rounded understanding of Korey Rowe, learn the details & really get a feel for its “story-ness.” My Washington Post subscription allows me to share access as a gift article –> https://wapo.st/3DbTYUy
The Washington Post piece begins: “A veteran helped spread viral 9/11 conspiracy theories. Can he start over? Nearly 20 years after shipping off to war, a soldier who helped make the ‘Loose Change’ video wrestles with the power stories haveto heal and to destroy.” (Jose A. Del Real, Washington Post, November 11, 2021)
When he was a teenager, Korey Rowe made some bad choices, dropping out of school at 16. By the time he turned 18, Korey knew he needed help to straighten out his life so he joined the Army in 2001, planning to save for college. Just weeks later, while he was still in basic training, the U.S. experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11 & Korey soon found himself fighting in two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) for which he was not prepared. “War ‘was something I wasn’t ready for emotionally, physically, mentally,” he said. “It was not something I wanted. It was not something I expected. Those were the hardest years of my life.’”
Kory returned to civilian life a “deeply broken” young man. When an old friend asked his help in producing a video about the 9/11 attacks, Korey agreed. As they began doing research, the two became fascinated with the conspiracy theories that were floating around. Those stories seemed to Korey to fit with his own distrust of the government’s motives for and the appalling methods used during the wars: ““I had seen countless innocent people die for no good reason, for a war that was based on lies,” Korey said.”This wasn’t a report I read. I was there. I saw them rob the American taxpayers and murder innocent people by invoking 9/11 every day.” …. “I was f—ing angry. I was angry at the government. I was angry at the media. I just wanted to say something,” Korey recalled.“And so this became my vessel. We never, ever, ever expected it to go anywhere.”“
“The series in question, “Loose Change,” made fantastical claims about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including that the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives rather than airplanes and that the Pentagon had been attacked by a military missile. Laced throughout the videos was the suggestion that the U.S. government was intentionally concealing the truth about the attacks, including perhaps its own participation in them. It melded compelling narration drawn from Internet research with engrossing news footage from the attacks to create a highly watchable documentary.“
And the videos did go somewhere — Exploding onto the internet when just when folks were discovering ways to connect and pass along “information” through new social networks, the videos were viewed by millions & lodged in the hearts and minds of those (whether extremist or not) who already distrusted the government’s handling of the 9/11 crisis. “Loose Change” was “perhaps the first Internet blockbuster.”
Korey Rowe has no sympathy for right-wing extremists, but the story he told fifteen years ago in his anguish and confusion has taken on a life of its own. It remains a key rallying point for extremist agitators today. It is often seen as a significant player in the polarization that currently distresses the U.S. Today, after a few more years of wrong turns and poor choices, Korey is committed to a new life. He’s married with 2 young daughters & is starting a video business in his hometown of Oneonta, NY. Korey wants to use his storytelling skills in ways that he feels will be more positive — to create video ads that tell the stories of locally-owned businesses and someday to make documentaries.
The article concludes: “In retrospect, Korey and his friends had become characters in a story arc they didn’t recognize, at once patients and superspreaders of a new disease of viral misinformation that would come to infect all of America.
“But how could he and his friends be blamed for creating anger and distrust, Korey tried to understand, when they had been reacting to those feelings themselves?Could there be some truth to it? “
How shall we take responsibility for the stories we tell, the ways we tell them, and the stories that we take into our hearts? I am thinking today of Gosar, the member of the U.S. House of Representatives who posted an animated video of himself killing another member of the House and attacking the President of the United States. What do the stories we tell say about us? When we tell a story — to ourselves or to others — we weave a world. What kind of world will it be?
As Okri reminds us in Birds of Heaven,1996: “To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help with the psychic destruction of their people.“
Stories can illuminate, build, and heal. They can also destroy.
All We Do, by Ben Okri
"Gazing at the shape of a hill,
The grey horizon,
A woman reading a book,
A landscape shaped by history.
All we do is story.
Our public acts are dreams.
Our private acts are dramas.
Submerged rivers are our thoughts,
Misted streams our hopes.
Like the spider we turn
All things into ourselves.
We bend the light
Of time into fables.
Beyond our mind, reality moves.
Unknowable like the darkness
We carve from the unknown
We live in and out
Living belongs to story.
Being belongs to mystery.
We yield time
Our story-making sense.
In this portion of eternity,
Awake and in dreams,
We live myths.
It's what makes us immense."
This week I have been musing about a lovely essay included in Vol.5 (Practice) of Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, published this year by The Center for Humans and Nature. Written by Maya Ward (https://www.mayaward.com.au/), the essay is entitled “Getting In On The Making”:
“Weaving is an old way of knowing. Losing our fur was quite an incentive for getting in on the making: to find a way to dress our delicate skin, to shelter this sensitivity. The weave is a knowing like life: a pattern, not yet conscious, emerges in the creative act. Weaving in many cultures is a sacred art, a type of magic, a spidery kind of skill.
“We can all see, now, the holes, perhaps irreparable, in the web of life. In this age of ecological unraveling the subtle, gentle magic of the weaver seems too humble a thing to help. And yet without it, I fear we will become totally frayed.
“Some say this time, exactly as it is, is an initiation into something entirely new. Can we trust enough to be entrusted with the true, strange, terrible way things are? I think every person is called upon to stitch together their samples, to quilt themselves into this new home. I doubt there is a soul alive for whom this will be easy work. The needle must be carved from one’s own bone. The thread will be nothing less than our sinew.
“We care for ourselves through tending our connections. Our love for this world, our kindness with it all, and the actions that arise from love–these must weave a vessel that could nest a new culture. Through everyday acts of attentiveness, from aligning with the other as kin, change will come. Practices of kinship involve a conscious restorying of our irrevocable entanglements. All things are born from this system of earth and sun, a system entangled among endless stars, the dying of which gave birth to elements of our bodies. The root of the word ‘kin’ means ‘to give birth.’ [All things]…are emerging as and from the eros force…. It’s a wild and sexy thing we’ve arisen from. All things are woven into it; threaded knotted, bound. And within the weave we dance.”
I was immediately caught by this opening — these metaphors of Interwoven Being are exactly what I love. I was a bit taken aback when — after the three central sections in which she brings to life the power of improvisational contact dance, the stories behind place names, and the intimacy of a night walk in the forest — Ward shifted the metaphor slightly, concluding:
“We wove to shelter our extraordinary sensitivity. We wove cloth and we wove narrative. We wove ever-greater patterns of protection; shelters, walls, nations, wars. To shed false skins seems an immense risk, yet there may be no other way. At its wildest, eros is the will to trust all things, to be kin with all things, even in this terrible time. It is its own strange truth. It is love and naked fury. To say yes to the fray, to let go of the woven, to be an act of unmaking. From this we will be made.”
To weave/connect/make or to un-weave/unravel/unmake…..?
In workshops I’ve given, people of various ages have enjoyed both creating their own new weaving and unraveling parts of an old one so it can be re-woven in a new way. [This is easily done with burlap: After cutting some of the burlap’s weft threads somewhere in the center, you can easily pull out those short bits of weft and then, using a needle and new yarn, weave over the existing warp structure to create something new. Or, of course, you just pull out some of the burlap’s weft and relax into the empty spaces. Or you can unravel the edges and play with the fringe.]
One thing I’ve loved about working with yarn it that it can be undone. This is very different from the finality of taking chisel to marble. (Working with yarn is certainly more suitable for anyone as indecisive as I am!)
While weaving, I find myself un-weaving surprisingly often. Sometimes it’s because I am unhappy about way the color or pattern I’d planned actually looks as I make it. Sometimes it’s because I have a “brilliant” idea about how to do things “better” — which may, in the end, lead to more un-weaving. Sometimes it’s because I’ve let my attention falter and just plain made a mistake — which I may not notice until I’ve woven a good ways further. Occasionally the “mistake” is something I’m content to ignore or it might turn out to be an opportunity for a new way of continuing, but often it is something that just throws all that follows out of kilter and simply has to be undone and remade for the sake of the whole. I guess the latter is where we in the dominant/dominating Western culture are now with respect to many of our errant weavings.
[The old Persian belief that you must always leave a flaw in the carpet you weave — to show humility, to acknowledge that your creation is less than what has been made by the Great Creator — is an altogether different thing.]
Humans have at last become aware that we have — perhaps unintentionally — been unraveling the all-inclusive tapestry woven by Earth. And it is our own weavings of certain stories, technologies, politics, religions, etc. that have caused this damage, this unraveling. We need to re-weave, to re-story ourselves and our ways of being so that all of the Earth community can be actively included as participants rather than being seen as either “obstacles” we must overcome or mere “resources” under our control. It is, I believe, time for us to consciously keep the human weavings that support or enhance Earth’s greater weaving and to un-weave the ones that are damaging the larger whole. Then we can pick up the threads and — with the help of the inclusive stories that will continue — weave something we may not yet have imagined, weave “a new vessel that can nest a new culture.” Within that new vessel, not only we but all of our Earth kin will be able to dance!
On 11/9, Grace posted — on https://windthread.typepad.com/ — this beautiful photograph by Bertrand Kulik. It has been an amazing image to contemplate as I think about weaving, unraveling, re-weaving…. I hope you, too, enjoy it.
"O our mother the earth, O our father the sky,Your childrenare we,and with tired backsWe bring you gifts that you love.Then weave for us a garment of brightness:May the warp be the white light of morning,May the weft be the red light of evening,May the fringes be the falling rain,May the border be the standing rainbow.Thus weave for us a garment of brightnessThat we may walk fittingly where grass is green,
O our mother the earth, O our father the sky!
-- Tewa Pueblo prayer
This past week has been, in Celtic & many other traditions, a time to mark not only the threshold between autumn & winter but also the threshold between our ordinary world and other worlds (whether the world of the dead, of spirits, or of faerie). This is the time of year to pay special attention to the Thin Places, the places where, according to local lore, one may easily slip — often unaware — from one world to the next. It was in such a frame of mind last weekend, that I happened to pick up Sylvia V. Linsteadt’s magical book of stories & poems, Our Lady of the Dark Country. I opened it, somewhat randomly, and found her remarkable story “Net.” It begins like this:
“Time is a net thrown around the universe, though every knot may be loosed. There are winds that live inside knots, and love affairs–solar winds that blow comet shrapnel through the glinting fishskin of the galaxy, stars bound to the same gravitational spin, like two pumas, golden and circling one another.
“Of course there is no saying what cordage was twisted to make that net, how dark space may tie a knot, but on ordinary days, when there are low clouds and then rain, when you have to turn on the heat or light the fire…, you can just as easily find the netted universe in the fascia of your own body. There are enough stars to last a lifetime, inside. Not all nets are for capture. Some things long to be contained–veins and muscles, fat and bone; stars and moons and striped planets, a hundred million other suns and all the dust that drifts between them.
“All witches know…. that the cords in a net are for walking, and all the empty spaces for slipping through, but only if you know your way back. It’s best to tie an extra cord to the knot by which you left, and unspool it from your belt so you can follow it back home.”
I was enchanted by the images: a net to capture or to contain; cords for walking and empty places for slipping through; a thread that leads the way home…. And, of course, my mind immediately flew off in too many directions at once — tightrope walking along the cords or (more often) slipping through the spaces between.
The earliest nets our species formed, being made of materials such as willow bark, were quick to decompose, so we don’t have a good archaeological record of when the first nets were invented. The oldest bits of netting found (in Karelia, Finland) were more than 10,000 years old. But fragments of string at least 50,000 years old have been discovered in areas of human occupation. Other evidence has lead to conjectures that string may have been made 150,000 years ago. Once string appeared — as anyone familiar with string or yarn might imagine — knots probably weren’t far behind.
We at least know that netting has been in our human repertoire for a long time, including — we can safely assume — our repertoire of stories. It was fun to learn that Polynesian stories include one of a sly man stealing the secret of net-making from fairies. And, of course, there is the majestic Hindu myth of Indra’s Net — infinite in size with each knot containing a jewel that reflects all the other jewels in the net — an amazing metaphor for the Oneness of being. I think my favorite story of nets comes from Norse mythology which tells of the Trickster god Loki, who invents the net and then, turning himself into a salmon to flee the angry gods, finds himself trapped by his own invention. (Perhaps this is a story with pertinent messages for our own times of climate change…?)
Nets = strong cord + open spaces. Opposites joined to create a new entity. Nets can hold something safe or can entrap it, can let something through or keep something out. For a fisherman, a net means food; for a fish, a net means death. Or, thinking about the netting used to make some old-fashioned curtains or nylon stockings — does it obscure the view or enhance it? Much depends on the perspective.
As I thought about it, I began to see stories as nets that — like a spell — are cast over our hearts and minds. How do we each decide which stories are nourishing/life-giving or unhealthy/perhaps deadly for us? I’ve found it’s an interesting question to ask about all the conspiracy and/or political stories that seem to dominate our news — and also, of course, the stories I tell myself about myself & others. I tend to prefer stories with lots of possible openings in their net, which may explain my fascination with Trickster.
In his lovely little book The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling, Ben Okri says:
” Stories are the koans life sends us. They contain hints of multiple realities. [….] Great stories have lightness and multi-dimensional agility. They speak constantly to different levels in us. They speak to the level we are on.”
“Stories are the infinite seeds we have brought with us through the millennia of walking the dust of the earth. They are our celestial pods. They are our alchemical cauldrons. If we listen to them right, if we read them deeply, they will guide us through the confusion of our lives, and the diffusion of our times.”
“Stories are never what they seem. They are whispers from beyond the invisible screen of existence. They are whisperings from the gods we carry within us.”
“Wildness is the earthy, untamed, undomesticated state of things — open-ended, improvisational, moving according to its own boisterous logic. That which is wild is not really out of control; it is simply out of our control. Wildness is not a state of disorder, but a condition whose order is not imposed from outside.”
“When we consider the palpable earth around us as though it were an object – when we conceive of nature merely as an objective set of mechanical processes – we tacitly remove ourselves from the world we inhabit. We pretend that we are not palpable creatures co-evolved with the rest of earthly life, but are rather disembodied minds pondering reality from a godlike position outside that reality. In this manner, we free ourselves from any responsibility to the rest of nature; we give ourselves license to engage other animals, plants, and natural elements as a set of resources waiting to be used by us….
If, however, we acknowledge the myriad presences around us not as objects but as subjects in their own right — as open-ended beings with their own inherent spontaneity and active agency — then we swiftly become aware of the relationships that we sustain with those beings. For only then, when we recognize the things we experience as sensitive beings like ourselves, do we notice that we inhabit a common world. And in truth, it is not only the other animals and the plants with whom we actively share this world; it is also mountains and rivers and stormclouds, the asphalt street underfoot and the wind surging through the skyscrapers…Every aspect of the sensuous surroundings can be experienced as an active, animate power, able to sense the beings around it and to influence them in turn.”
David Whyte stresses the importance of asking questions and then (like Rilke) of living your questions. Whyte delights in the Invitational nature of life and the essential role of Astonishment. Again and again in his poems, he asks the reader to pay attention to “what is not yourself.” Only then can you enter into Conversation — i.e.,that “moving frontier” of relationship which he so beautifully celebrates throughout his work.
In his poem “Everything is Waiting for You,” David Whyte makes this truth of relationship concrete — involving even the minutiae of our day to day lives in Conversation. I thought I would type out the poem for you but realized how much better it would be to hear it in the author’s own voice. Indeed, my first encounter with this poem was not on paper but by ear. I’m happy to say that I found it on YouTube in a format that lets you both read the words and hear them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmA4s8r630s
As I continue to learn how to participate more and more fully in the many Conversations that life offers — listening as well as speaking; speaking as well as listening — I find myself engaging in the deep interrelationship & interaction from which something new may emerge. This certainly includes conversations with the fibers I love. And those conversations, of course, change me as much or more than than they change the fibers.
Sometimes I find these conversations take much more time than I’d planned/expected. Sometimes they gradually bringing to the foreground the integral Listening aspect of any “Wild Conversation through Making” — whether one makes a mask or a garden or even the “best planned” meal. As a maker, I am not asked to impose my will on the materials but to enter into a dialog with them. A good example would be the making of “Willow: Healing Spirits,” which I might summarize as Expectation, Rejection (mutual!), Persistence/Loyalty/Faithfulness to the Conversation, and – finally – the making of Community.
I usually begin by weaving a mask & then weaving or felting a context for it. “Willow,” however, began with a weaving I created to use up some rather ugly (i.e., not as expected) yarn I’d spun to make use of internet-ordered fiber that had turned out, upon arrival, to be not quite what I’d expected. [And as I write this now, I realize how those intertwined themes of “Expectation-As-Impediment” & “Impediment-As-Opportunity” have been embedded in the process since its very beginning!]
While taking the weaving off the loom, I heard it ask for a mask, ask to become part of something larger — perhaps to be named “Willow: Healing Spirit.”
After I wove the mask I thought was called for, I placed it on the weaving — and I shook my head in something not too far from disgust. Not what I expected! And the mask took one look at me & replied, in an equally unfriendly tone of voice, “I don’t much like you either.” Not to be deterred, I wove another mask. Again, I didn’t like it & it didn’t like me. Again I wove. I soon was looking at 4 masks of various shapes & sizes. None of the four fit the background weaving.
I paused a long while, listening more closely. I began to see how the masks needed each other. I realized that the conversation was teaching me something wonderful. Healing is not about a single entity but about a community — not about one “Spirit” but about the interaction of many “Spirits.” By staying with this rather uncomfortable conversation, remaining engaged through the ups&downs and back&forths, not being trapped by the limits of my own expectations — I had received some beautifully unexpected gifts of understanding about both Healing and Expectation.
And, one more thought on the Wild Conversation of Making — from JayGriffiths:
“In making art, the artist expires, breathing herself out to allow the inspiring to happen, the breathing in of glinting universal air, intelligent with many minds, electric and on the loose. Artist, shape-shifter, shaman or poet, all are lovers of metamorphosis, all are minded to vision, insight and dream.”
Since the beginning, the peoples who have lived in and with Turtle Island (now called “North America”) have dwelt in Kinship with and listened to the Land and her many creatures. As they have listened, they have made meaning from what they have heard, and stories have been told to point to these essential truths. Of course, many different stories arose about how humans came to have Fire. And, as far as I know, the different groups of people never fought over whose Story was The Truth. [A situation very different from that in Europe, from which many of my ancestors fled as a result of persecution & “religious” wars for power, thusbecoming colonizers of this already known and occupied place].
As you already know, I love the Story of how Raven — while trying to be selfish — brought Light to the world. There are also Stories about how Raven brought Fire. And I love the Stories of how Coyote acquired Fire through his tricks. But the Story of How Fire Came to the People that is perhaps most dear to my heart is the one told, in varying ways, by the Cherokee, Creek, Osage, and other Peoples in the south-eastern part of the North American continent, where I now live. This week I have been especially in need of this account of How Things Happened.
The following is, as always, merely my telling for this moment. I give gratitude to the Peoples who originally told the Story, to their descendants who still tell it today, and to the land and animals from whom the Story arose. I don’t know if my telling is exactly how it happened, but I know that it is True:
Long ago there was a time when the world was dark and cold. An icy wind blew and all the People suffered. And so it went, on & on. The People suffered from the cold, from the dark.
Finally, one day all the People — Skunk & Cricket, Bear & Frog, Eagle & Turtle, and all the others — gathered together in a great Council to decide what to do. Their bodies shivered & their teeth chattered. At last, Fox spoke up. “I have heard,” he said, “that far away there is a village of people who have something called Fire. It warms them & lights their nights. But I have heard,” he continued, “that they will not share this magic. They want to keep it all for themselves.”
The People grew angry and a great uproar arose. At last, someone shouted, “Who will go to fetch us some of this wonderful Fire?”
“I will!” “I will!” they all clamored at once. After a time, Possum’s voice was loudest. “I will go for us,” said Possum. “My beautiful tail is bushy, covered with thick fur. I will hide the fire in my tail and easily bring it back,” he bragged. It was agreed by all, and off Possum went. The People shivered as they waited.
After a time, Possum returned, sadly dragging his naked tail behind him. “That Fire is fierce,” he said. “My tail was soon covered in flames and the people saw me. I was barely able to get away.” And Possum sat down, ashamed, at the back of the crowd.
Again the voices rose, “Who will go to bring back the Fire?” And many People answered, “I will.”
“”Ha!” shouted proud Vulture, “the crown of feathers on my head is stronger than fur. And I can soar high, out of reach of those greedy people. I will bring the Fire!” It was agreed, and Vulture flew off quickly on his wide wings.
The People waited, and after a time they saw Vulture returning, high in the sky. But when Vulture landed, his head was scorched and all of his glorious feathery crown had been burnt away. Vulture hung his head and hunched his shoulders, and silently crept to the back of the crowd.
Again, the crowd cried out, “Who will go for us?”
This time, only silence.
Then, in the great silence, a tiny voice spoke up. “I will go,” said Grandmother Spider.
At once, the People began to shout: “But you are too little!” “But you are too old!” “But you are only a woman….”
Grandmother Spider ignored the shouts. She simply set to work spinning and weaving a little basket, patted some damp mud on it to help it stick to her back, and off she went. She left so quietly that no one noticed & the shouts of “You’re too old! You’re too weak!” went on for quite awhile longer.
Grandmother Spider spun out long lines of her silk and swung from one tree to the next until she came to the village of the greedy people. Grandmother Spider looked down from her tree and saw that those people were angry. Two outsiders had tried to steal their Fire! Those people posted guards with knives and bows & arrows all around their village and all around their splendid Fire.
Quietly, quietly, Grandmother Spider climbed down from that tree. Slowly, carefully, she walked between those fierce and angry guards. No one looked down to see her among the shadows. No one could hear the silent passage of her tiny feet. Grandmother Spider walked right up to the fire and carefully placed a tiny ember in the basket on her back.
And off she went towards her home village. The way was easy for her as she swung by her silk thread from tree to tree, and soon she was back in the great shivering throng of folk in her village. She went to the center and called out in her tiny but very clear voice, “Gather wood! Here is the Fire!”
Soon there was a huge heap of dried sticks & branches. Someone shook the ember out of her basket and soon there was a blazing fire. No one shivered anymore. Then “Look!” a voice cried out, “Look at Grandmother Spider’s basket!” And sure enough, the clay she had patted around the basket was dry and strong.
Indeed, old Grandmother Spider had brought the People two gifts: the Gift of Fire and the Gift of Pottery. And so it was.
I give gratitude to Grandmother Spider for her bravery & persistence & artistry in bringing gifts to the People. I had special need of her Story this past week after I read Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter of October 16.
In this newsletter, Professor Richardson outlines the details of a new law passed in Texas to control what children may or may not learn about in school. The Texas House Bill 3979 is way beyond appalling! Among many other things, Dr. Richardson comments that
“Topics explicitly eliminated from the teaching standard are also instructive. Those things cut from the standards include: ‘the history of Native Americans,’ and ‘[founding] mothers and other founding persons.‘ “
I was immediately taken back to my years teaching at an American school in Libya. I arrived in Libya about 2 weeks before the start of school. On the first day of school, I had my classroom all decorated & organized and I was looking forward to meeting my students. But, as I went out the door that morning, a neighbor called out, “No school today! There’s been a revolution!” At first I thought he was just teasing a new teacher….. but it was true. It was the coup that put Qaddafi in power as dictator in Libya. During my 5 years teaching there, I found that living through a revolution and continuing under a dictator offers many kinds of traumas. But what I was remembering when I read Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter was the day when we teachers were forced to black out, in all our written materials including encyclopedias, any mention of Israel.
That is was a dictatorship looks like — the specific exclusion of things that those in power want no one to know.
I have 3 grandchildren currently enrolled in Texas public schools. I know that my love of weaving & working with fibers goes back to our 2nd grade study of the Navajo and their weaving practices and stories. It was in this class that I first wove on a simple frame loom. What ideas, encounters, and dreams might my grandchildren miss through the limited and closely prescribed “education” now required in Texas? How narrow will their worlds become?
Thoughts of Grandmother Spider have now calmed me down enough so that I can begin writing letters to the powers that be. My gratitude to Grandmother Spider for giving me courage to confront the threats. May I strive to emulate her persistence & craft.
Grow poetry in the debris left behind by rage.
Plant so there is enough for everyone to eat.
Make sure there is room for everyone at the table.
Let all of us inhabit the story, in peace."
Joy Harjo, Warrior Poet: A Memoir