Festivals of Light

Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) at Solstice

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 at both 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
first burn."

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

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Turning

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.
But we 
      shall be
tugged sunward at last on gravity’s leash:
     a cosmic 
                     crack-the-whip.
We’ll hit the corner flying
and careen round into who knows
what great wind of passage.
Even I
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
roar
              for Joy.

Saunter & Gawk

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.

Yesterday I came across an essay by David Abram which affirms our class’s “saunter-and-gawk” hypothesis. https://www.humansandnature.org/on-being-human-in-a-more-than-human-world In it, Abram begins by sharing the question that was inevitably asked every time he spoke about the human place in Earth ecology:

‘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.
photo by Noah Buscher
photo by Casey Horner

To Be Remembered in the Darkness

The last month or so have been, for me, a difficult convergence of multiple medical issues and my on-going grief for so much ecological, cultural, social & political devastation. I know that Trickster loves stirring things up to make room for new possibilities but — once nightly insomnia joined my list of playmates in the downward spiral — I ran out of energy for the dance. I am fortunate to be one of those privileged few in the world with access to good medical care — so medical problems are being addressed and, as insomnia begins to fade away, I am once more alive to my self and to the world. Still, there is my grief at what I & my kind have destroyed & are still destroying.

A conversation several days ago reminded me of several poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows). In many of his works, Rilke writes beautifully of the embrace of darkness. Today, I want to share 3 of them. [Actually I’d like to share a dozen, but I’m becoming a “realist”…..]:

“You, darkness, of whom I am born —

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But darkness embraces everything:

shapes and shadows, creatures and me,

people, nations — just as they are.

It lets me imagine a great presence is moving near me.

I believe in the night.”

~~~~~~

“How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing —
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we must begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”

~~~~~

“Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.”

~~~~~~

On the fiber front, I finally had enough energy to play a bit in the studio yesterday — making various small felt samples to try out different textures. I came up with some I liked & with many more ideas to try before making decisions. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get a good photo of black on black felt. [And no, the color has nothing to do with my past few weeks! It is more a case of rebirth & growth as I once again work on a Raven shawl I’d woven 15 years ago & pushed to the back of the closet — given up as “hopeless.”] I’ll keep playing & hope to have the shawl completed to show you soon.

In his poem “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot wrote:

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

It Begins With A Story

This week I have been “downsizing” — deciding which books need to leave my shelves and go out into the world where they can do more good. It has turned out to be a lot easier to let go & a lot more difficult to find recipients than I’d thought. Many libraries are no longer taking donations (even of excellent & like-new books that should be on their shelves) & the various “book fairs” at churches & synagogues seem to have gone out of existence with the pandemic. I’d hoped to celebrate this liberation of knowledge and inspiration — imagining the books flying off to new minds & hearts — but most of the books are just going to our rather dreary local used book store or to Goodwill — with hopes that each book will somehow find the person who needs it. I’ve got 17 or 18 excellent books on Andean textiles, arts, and history. Several are about techniques for us to learn but most tend to be on the “academic” side with loads of glorious color photos. They are wonderful! I thought I’d found the perfect recipient but have heard nothing back yet so if anyone is interested in exploring the amazing ancient Andean arts more deeply, please let me know.

I comfort myself by remembering a particular time when I passed a bookshop in Harvard Square (knowing it didn’t carry the kind of book I was seeking that day) and turned around, entered it, picked a random book off the display table & opened it to a poem that changed my life. And I remember Matt Fox’s stories of books inexplicably tumbling off bookshelves & hitting the people who needed them.

On the more positive side, I have, on my ever-so-crowded shelves, come across gems that I’d forgotten. Sometimes it is a whole book that I want to reread, sometimes just a few underlined words that open beautiful windows in what I am experiencing as a rather dim & dreary present.

One lovely thing I encountered (ah, sweet serendipity!) was Rumi’s poem “Story-Water” (translation/version by Coleman Barks):

A story is like the water
you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you.

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

“Water, stories, the body, all the things we do, are mediums that hide and show what is hidden.”

The most important thing I can do this week is to share with you the link to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s exquisite essay Returning the Gift:

https://www.humansandnature.org/returning-the-gift-2021

The stories we tell, the way we use language, the names we give or withhold — all have an indelible impact on our lives & relationships and thus on the entire web of life. Dr. Kimmerer’s essay begins, as so many of our thoughts do, with a story — The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, as told by her Potawatomi ancestors — and leads us into a new understanding of gratitude & the joys of responsibility: a way forward.

If you like, you might ask yourself as I have, about the Origin Story you tell yourself & how it shapes your days and how it reverberates through the whole web of Life.

If you talk to animals they will talk with you and you will know each other.

If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear.

What one fears one destroys.

          -- Chief Dan George, My Heart Soars

Excuses…

There are many things I’d like to have explored with you today, but this has not turned out to be — for me — a good week for that kind of journey of heart, head, or hands. My old habits are urging me to provide you with plausible explanations & profuse apologies but, instead, I will offer this poem — written for a class several years ago:

I CANNOT WRITE THIS POEM BECAUSE...

I cannot write this poem because
the witch who lives at the top of the stairs
will not give permission for me to speak.
Silence, she hisses.  Stop.
Be still or you'll wake 
the dragon who slumbers below.

And what are poems but dragon dreams
of soaring wings over desert wastes
whose sands have buried a thousand worlds,
or of deepest dive through salty light
to labyrinth cave where treasure gleams
with wink and promise of what might be?

No.
I cannot write
for witch forbids
and dragon sleeps
and, in any case,
the child
has hidden 
all my pens.

“What poetry knows, or what it strives to know, is the dancing at the heart of being.”

–Robert Bringhurst

There is a Thread…..

2 postscripts to last week’s blog:

> I’d forgotten that I’d made a follow-the-thread book for my son, but after he saw last Friday’s post he sent a photo. Here, as in last week’s book, between ‘Dream’ and ‘Dare,’ ‘Decide’ is printed in many different & enticing fonts — hidden behind double doors because, as you’ve no doubt figured out, deciding between all the wonderful possibilities can be a block to my process, a weak point in my thread. Then, at the end, ‘Depart’ opens to reveal ‘Dream’ because completion & letting go open up space for new dreams to appear & unfold. I’m posting his photo here because I like this book better than the one posted last week & because it includes Raven, that old Trickster who is an embodiment of human Creativity (for good or for ill) & who seems to keep popping up in my life

> I also want to share a bit of serendipity. Last week, I wrote of my struggle with choice & form. So imagine my chuckle Friday morning when I opened Jude Hill’s blog https://clothwhispering.com/2021/06/18/it-comes-together-by-being/  and saw her title, which seems to simply bypass my quandary: “it comes together by being.” And then her first two sentences provided me with a wonderful new mantra: “Today I am composed. I am the Composition.” Such reassurance — just what I needed!

Here, once again — for those of you who missed it last week and just because I like it & keep finding more to ponder in it — is William Stafford’s poem:

"There's a thread you follow. It goes among
 things that change. But it doesn't change.
 People wonder about what you are pursuing.
 You have to explain about the thread.
 But it is hard for others to see.
 While you hold it you can't get lost.
 Tragedies happen; people get hurt
 or die; and you suffer and get old.
 Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
 You don't ever let the thread go."
                             ~ William Stafford

I have been thinking a lot this week about “thread.”

What is a “thread”? Although the terms are often used interchangeably in common speech, “thread” and “filament” are distinct. A filament is a single continuous untwisted strand, like a spider’s web or the strand we pull from a silkworm’s cocoon. A thread, on the other hand, is created by twisting together a number of long filaments (like silk) or shorter fibers (like wool or cotton) to create a new unity, drawn out into one continuous, three-dimensional line.

The ability to make thread goes far back in our human story. It has been hypothesized that the twisting of thread was one on our earliest technologies. Archaeological data about the most ancient threads is hard to find, for threads are made of organic materials that don’t survive time and change as easily as do bones and stones. Recently, through, thread remnants dating back to around 41,000 to 52,000 years ago were discovered in southern France in a rock shelter that had been inhabited by Neanderthals — those distant cousins who lived at the same time and in the same places as the Homo Sapiens who had emerged from Africa, the two groups interacting in ways that we are just beginning to understand. These particular ancient strands of thread were found wrapped around a stone tool, probably used to attach it firmly to its haft. https://www.npr.org/2020/04/10/828400733/the-oldest-string-ever-found-may-have-been-made-by-neanderthals

Joining — filaments twisted together to make thread which was in turn twisted around stone & wood or bone to join unlike elements, to create something new, an axe perhaps or a spear. I think, too, about how Neanderthal DNA has been found in much Homo Sapien DNA — twisting together, part of the spinning of our ancestral thread. Joining…

The root of our English word “thread” is the proto-Germanic word for “twist.” In many ways, the Key to a Thread is in the Twist.

The Strength is in the Twist. Loosely twisted, fibers separate easily & the thread breaks apart when subjected to even slight stress.. Tightly twisted, the thread holds firm against increased force.

A thread is not a separate simple and singular entity but an interactive community. And when the community is large enough, when many threads are twisted together, the new thread gains in strength. Even grass can become strong enough to make a functioning bridge if enough fibers are twisted together. Communities of thread joining together communities of humans ….

When I think about the Thread in Stafford’s poem, I realize that mine is not a single filament, but a twisting together of many diverse longings and curiosities. (Silk, wool, llama fiber, cotton, linen — let’s see what else we can add to this strange thread!) As Stafford says, it is hard to explain to others, but it it real & it is strong. I’m still finding out out where this thread will take me, and I am spinning it as I go.

We speak of “spinning a yarn,” telling a tale. Can we think of Stories as Threads?

Alix E. Harrow writes that stories “are the red threads that we may follow out of the labyrinth.” That is true, in my experience, of many stories — as it is also true that other stories, other threads have led me deeper into labyrinths of mind & spirit or even created labyrinths of their own.

Trickster is certainly a thread, a paradoxical twisting together of incompatible concepts/behaviors/ways of being, who has joined in the twist of my inner Thread.

Today I am thinking especially about the notion of “Joining,” of how metaphors and stories twist together various fibers to form new concepts, feelings, insights. And I am thinking about how stories grow and change as they meet and interact with other stories. I am wondering how strong a community might become if its stories twisted together many disparate threads into one thread.

“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”

— Barry Lopez

Seeking the Form, Following the Thread

Some years ago, I took a week-long intensive Storytelling class that shifted and widened my angle of perception & that continues to nourish my spirit. Our teacher, Luisah Teish (author, artist-activist, and Oshun chief in the Yoruba Lucumi tradition) helped us engage our bodies, minds, and hearts as we brought into consciousness & into our lives the power of the stories we tell, the names we choose. At the start of the course, she told us that whenever we begin a new endeavor — especially one of a ritual nature — we must be careful to set a clear Intention. Any beginning is a Crossroads, she cautioned, and that is precisely where Trickster likes to lurk, just waiting to lead you astray.

Apparently the intentions I set when I started this blog were still pretty fuzzy, and Trickster has been happy to appoint himself tour guide, tugging at my sleeve saying “This way… No, this way… Or how about that way…”. And, as always, he howls with delight as he watches me stumble in dizzying circles.

Is this blog about the nature of Story or about telling the stories themselves? About spinning a tale or spinning yarn? About weaving words into thoughts or thoughts into words or wool into fabric? About something else entirely? With everything in the Cosmos interconnected and interacting with everything else, what is one to do?

My life tends to be odd scraps of paper & snippets of thought & loose wisps of assorted fibers, just waiting to take part in some mischief or other. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time simply rummaging about, wondering “Where did I put this, that, or the other?” Sometimes, the chaotic juxtapositions lead to discovery: “Oh! Look how interestingly these two disparate fragments can fit together.” Or simply, “I wonder…”

Then every so often, one bit of writing or yarn will simply pop — literally — to the surface of the heap & say, “Look at me!”

That happened today when I came across this beautiful & particularly apt quote from Wendell Berry:

“There are, it seems, two muses:
the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires,
And
the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say,
‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’

This is the muse of form.

It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction,
to baffle us and deflect our intended course.
It may be that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”


And so, I continue to seek Form(s):

On the left, Thalassa’s world is slowly taking shape. In the back, a small mask tries out a relationship with some wool I’d dyed with acorns & walnuts. And the red on the right is a shawl I’d woven long ago with an idea for a Raven design, only to find once again that grand ideas don’t always translate well into physical form. After some struggling with various possibilties, I’d shoved it up on a high closet shelf in disgust & put it out of my mind for years. But this week, when I stretched up to grab else, the shawl fell out softly onto my head, which immediately filled with new possibilities. I wonder….
Too many intriguing thoughts & magical words …. I wonder….

It is easy to get lost.

Fortunately, as William Stafford assures us:

"There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let the thread go."
The Thread — accordion book MCK

With love & all the blessings of this almost-Solstice day
from your perpetually baffled friend, Margery

Fire and Trickster Dance On

In the dawn-light, I am weaving a basket to hold the stories.
In the sunlight,
In the twilight,
In the starlight,
In the moonlight,
In the dark,
I am weaving a basket to hold the stories.

With my hands I am weaving.
With my voice I am weaving.
With my heart I am weaving.
- Here, now -
I am weaving a basket to hold all the stories.

                  [MCK]
            

I can imagine the Old Ones sitting around a fire, telling stories. The fire in their hearth must have been a welcome and precious guest in the cold, in the dark. They tended it, fed it, watched it move & breath, carefully tended coals overnight to prevent its dying. They told stories of adventures & dreams. And of course they told stories about Fire itself.

Usually, Fire was sacred. Fire was how the god or gods revealed themselves. It was the medium through which they received sacrifices. It was a means by which they showed their divine anger. Because of its inherent power, Fire was – in the stories of a great many cultures — jealously guarded by a divine being. Most often, it took a Trickster (Prometheus in Greece, Maui in Polynesia, Coyote in the Great Plains of Turtle Island, Raven in the Pacific Northwest, Nanabozho in the Eastern Woodlands on Turtle Island, etc.) to trick the ones who hoarded the fire, to steal it, and to bring it back to the People.

In the southeastern part of what is now called the United States, tribes such as the Cherokee and Choctaw had a variety of stories about the theft of Fire that featured a different kind of thief. There have been many retellings, oral and written. One goes something like this:

In the dark times, in the cold times, the People shivered. They all suffered — the winged ones & the legged ones, those that slithered on their bellies and those that swam in the waters. They suffered so greatly that a great council was called, and all the People came. Someone spoke: “I have heard that the Great One has hidden Fire away in a tree stump on an island to the east. Who will go to steal some Fire for us that we may live?”

Immediately a great clamor arose from the crowd of People who had gathered, many boasting that they were the ones who could succeed. Finally Buzzard’s voice rang out above the others. He spread his wings and said: “I can fly far, I can soar high, I can cross to the island and steal some Fire.” “How will you carry it?” asked a voice from the edge of the crowd. “Oh,” said Buzzard, vainly displaying the great plume of feathers that grew on his head, “I can easily hide it in my beautiful crown of feathers.” And off he flew with a rapid flapping of wings, and he did get to island, and he did take some fire. But as he flew proudly away with a coal nestled in his feathery crown, he began to cry “Ow! Ow!” and he shook the bright ember out of his flaming crown, and it & the ashes of his crowning feathers fell into water and were lost. He returned to the council, hanging his bare burnt head in shame.

Next came the possum proudly waving his bushy tail high in the air. “My fur is stronger than mere feathers,” he bragged. “I will swim to the island and bring back some Fire.” And so he swam quickly, and so he hid a warm coal in his bushy tail, and so he set out to cross back to his People. But the ember was hot, and hotter, and “Ow! Ow!” he cried and plunged his tail into the cool waters. The Fire was gone and so was the fur on his tail. And possum, trying to hide his bare pink tail from sight, slunk back to the Council and shook his head.

There was silence. Now, no one wanted to risk the trip.Then a tiny voice spoke up — so small, so quiet that it could barely be heard. “I will go,” said Grandmother Water Spider. “I will bring back some Fire.”

Everyone began to mutter…”You’re too small… You’re too old… You’re only a woman….”

But, distracted by neither the negative clamor nor the shaking of heads, Grandmother Water Spider quietly spun a basket, placed it on her back, and began taking her dainty strides across the surface of the water. It took her a long time. As she approached the island, she heard a great hullabaloo. Voices cried, “Someone has dared to violate the island. Look, someone has been poking at the Fire; someone has stolen an ember or two!” The guardians of the Fire had noticed the tracks of Buzzard & Possum and were rushing around, brandishing weapons, looking for the intruders. But Grandmother Spider didn’t hesitate to come ashore. She was so tiny that no one even noticed her. Calmly she picked up an ember, calmly she put it in her basket, calmly she clamped the lid tight shut to hide the glow, and calmly she set out for home.

When she arrived, the People were overjoyed to see the ember and immediately kindled a blaze that leapt to the sky. They celebrated loudly with singing and dancing and feasting and drumming. And Grandmother Spider walked quietly away from the hubbub and calmly returned to her work of spinning and weaving.

Ah, Grandmother Spider may not be a Trickster but, like Trickster, she goes her own way. (And as Sharon Blackie has pointed out in another context, an Old Crone does contain a lot of Trickster energy.)

Anyway, as an old woman and as a weaver, I found that this version of the coming of Fire immediately spoke to me and lodged itself in my heart.

In general, I am not a fiery person. Except in the case of ecological, political, and social injustice, I am more likely to smolder than flame. But even so, I am alive – so the fire is there.

About 15 years ago, the carefully banked coals within me flared unexpectedly into a poem:

		FIRE

Having been deemed clumsy and
banned at three from ballet class,
she never danced another step.  
Wallflower, unable even to waltz-- 
until at seventy, 
she took up flamenco.

The first time she stamped her feet and clapped her hands, 
it set the smoke detector howling.
The second, it set off every fire alarm on the street.
The neighbors shook their heads.  The fire chief complained.  
The judge took one look at her arched back, high chin, imperious eyes
and forbade dancing after 5 p.m. on weekdays.

That very day, she found a cabin in the forest
and, gathering up cats and castanets,
flounced out of town.

It still happens, now and then, 
that a passing motorist from elsewhere
calls 911 to report a column of smoke 
at the cottage near the crossroads.
The volunteer firemen are required by law to respond
but they all know what to expect.
Arriving on scene, they nod their heads and radio dispatch:
“It’s OK.  
The usual.  
A controlled burn.”


No, I didn’t learn how to dance the flamenco [alas] but, in letting the words flow through me, I felt my fire grow stronger. The story fed the flames.

And then last year, this weaving. In my fiber work, I tend to use the colors of earth and sea, but suddenly I needed Red. I didn’t know why or where it would go, but as I entered into conversation with colors & textures, I felt the fire flickering through my fingers, and I came alive. The work kindled the flame:

Ember Dreaming Flame – Weaving, spinning, crochet, knitting, stitching; Wool, silk, mixed fibers.

EMBER DREAMING FLAME - detail

EMBER DREAMING FLAME — detail

May the Fire that moves through our voices, our hands, our hearts, and our lives be always in service of Life….

*********

Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness … the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.

— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Savage Grace, Trickster Spirit

On Tuesday morning, I began to jot down thoughts for this week’s post. And then………. On Tuesday afternoon, I began to read Savage Grace by Jay Griffiths and was swept clear out of my chair and into the wild & wonderful Wind of Being.

The notes I’d made will have to wait. I must share with you some of Griffiths’ opening pages — words that are alive, a vision that conjures up a sense of Trickster Spirit:

Absolute Truancy. I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear its call. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun. Every path was a calling cadence, the flight of every bird a beckoning, the colour of ice an invitation: come. The forest was a fiddler, wickedly good, eyes intense and shining with a fast dance. Every leaf in every breeze was a toe, tapping out the same rhythm, and every mountain top lifting out of cloud intrigued my mind, for the wind at the peaks was the flautist, licking his lips, dangerously mesmerizing me with the inaudible melodies which I strained to hear, my ears yearning for the horizon of sound. This was the calling, the vehement, irresistible demand of the feral angel–take flight. All that is wild is winged –life, mind and language– and knows the feel of air in soaring flight. ….

I was looking for the will of the wild. I was looking for how that will expressed itself in elemental vitality, in savage grace. Wildness is resolute for life: it cannot be otherwise for it will die in captivity. It is elemental: pure freedom, pure passion, pure hunger. It is its own manifesto. ….

I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately –how resonantly– I belonged there. We are charged with this. All of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we are domesticated, but we are not. …..

Jay Griffiths, Savage Grace (Berkeley CA: Counterpoint, 2015) pp. 1-2.

Although Jay Griffiths is here describing her personal longings, her words definitely conjure up the universal Trickster Spirit. The typical American use of the word “Trickster” — meaning some kind of con-man seeking money and power or a mere prankster — has not only missed the point but has attempted to limit that which by nature is limitless, to reduce Trickster into something comprehensible to our culture’s everyday sensibilities. Of course Trickster, in whatever culture he happens to be residing, will try to cheat others for personal gain & to pull pranks just for the hell of it. But that is only one of his many facets, not his total nature. Above all, Trickster Spirit is wildness, possibility, and creativity — the Life essence –personified.

Jay Griffiths grew up in Britain but her experience (poignantly described further in detail on p.5) is typical of many in the Western consumer-capitalist/Enlightenment cultures.

I know this chloroform world, she writes, where human nature is well-schooled, tamed from childhood on, where the radiators are permanently on mild and the windows are permanently closed…..

Trickster Spirit moves freely in the Larger-Than-Human World and, because (whether we acknowledge it or not) we dwell within & are an integral part of that larger world, Trickster even transgresses the oh-so-well-defended walls of our human cultures, our received ideas, our “chloroform world.” Trickster is Wild.

Lewis Hyde — in his delightful, must-read book Trickster Makes This Worldstates :

In short, trickster is a boundary-crosser. Every group has its edge, its sense of in and out, and trickster is always there, at the gates of the city and the gates of life, making sure there is commerce. He also attends the internal boundaries by which groups articulate their social life. We constantly distinguish — right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead — and in every case trickster will cross the line and confuse the distinction. …. Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox. …. [T]he best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found — sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.

If you look at the bottom of this post, you will see coyote tracks meandering inside a frame, a box. Apparently, WordPress has decreed that every image must be so contained & I have not yet found a way to undermine this wall. But note that coyote (that old trickster) has left vibrant black marks, while the border, the boundary, the edge, the separating line is a pale ghostly gray. Which feels more real? Which is wilder? Which one enlivens you?

ROOTS

by Lucille Clifton

call it our craziness even,
call it anything.
it is the life thing in us
that will not let us die.
even in death’s hand
we fold the fingers up
and call them greens and
grow on them,
we hum them and make music.
call it our wildness then,
we are lost from the field
of flowers, we become
a field of flowers.
call it our craziness
our wildness
call it our roots,
it is the light in us
it is the light of us
it is the light, call it
whatever you have to,
call it anything.


~~ May Poem of the Month from gratefulness.org : From How to Carry Water: Selected Poems