I’ve been having trouble placing the 2 masks on the context I showed last week. Finally I’ve realized that the problem is that the masks didn’t want to be placedon the land, but wanted to emerge from the land.
I did a couple small samples to figure out how that could happen. The best way is to place, before felting, a resist under the top layer in the area where the mask will emerge. After felting, the area above the resist can be opened so the mask can go beneath the surface to rest on the separately-felted space below. Then parts of the separated surface layer can be needle-felted onto the mask so that it is an integral part of its context. In the case of my current making, the context has already been thoroughly felted — too late for that solution!
It is possible to simply cut out a mask-shaped hole, put in the mask, and needle-felt some more fibers like those in the surface layer to join the mask to its context. But that cutting of a hole seemed to violate the idea of “emergence” — and besides, in the current case, I don’t have enough of the context fiber left to do a good job of hiding the separation between mask & context.
So — for now — a pause on this piece……….
And — for future explorations/makings — some exciting new possibilities!
All this work has set me to thinking once again about “edges” and “boundaries,” about how things can be separate but also part of a whole, about Trickster the boundary-crosser, and about permeability & liminality.
I’ve thought about what the living world teaches us about Edges. The amazing diversity that exists at Edges — for example, the teeming life of intertidal zones or the cultural richness and cross-fertilization found at gatherings such as those along the Silk Road.
Fungi, lichen, and moss are all wonderful creatures of edges and transitional zones. Mosses fascinate me both with their beauty and with their special adaptions to the boundary layer between air & land. [Do read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s lovely book Gathering Moss for much, much more!]
I see this, and several similar areas, every day on one of my walks — a wonderful meditation on Edges & Emergence & the power of Community.
Tree roots pushing aside the asphalt. Lichens & mosses making homes both on the bark of that tree and on the asphalt it has broken. Together, the mosses begin to create new humus with nutrition for more forms of life. If there is no interference, the arbitrary asphalt will once again join the larger, living land.
In the Coyote story I told May 6, No Song lived at the extreme edges of his village. It was there that he met Coyote — the primordial Edge dweller, transformer, holder of liminal space — who gave him a Song. But when the newly-named Sings Wonderfully was pulled too much away from the Edges (where, for example, rituals dwell) and back into the center of cultural hustle-bustle and self-aggrandizement, Coyote took his Song away.
Edges & transitional zones can places of nourishment, growth, and inspiration.
“I think we could make a case that most of the world’s great religions, philosophies, artforms, even political systems and ideologies were initiated by marginal figures. There is a reason for that: sometimes you have to go to the edges to get some perspective on the turmoil at the heart of things. Doing so is not an abnegation of public responsibility: it is a form of it. In the old stories, people from the edges of things brought ideas and understandings from the forest back in to the kingdom which the kingdom could not generate by itself.”
— Martin Shaw, storyteller
I’ve been thinking about what Shaw’s words mean in terms of the stories and art and imagining we need now in these times of political/cultural & environmental upheaval……
…. Also wondering how often I really listen deeply to what the Earth is saying…
If you’d like an exuberant reminder of how we can listen to Earth, here’s a joyful, rollicking song/chant & affirmation:
Lukas Nelson & Family have a lovely song entitled “Turn Off the News and Build a Garden”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPrPtDoaB3s&list=RDMPrPtDoaB3s&index=1 I am working as I can to build a variety of gardens — with seeds, with fiber, with words, with love for Earth & all she includes. However, I can’t just turn off the news. I have learned to restrict my intake, reading just enough to stay abreast of the news but, of course, I am still saddened and distracted by all the violence & destruction & pain. I think a lot about all the different stories & myths being enacted and encountering each other — sometimes finding ways to cooperate with or even to enrich each other, sometimes locked in the kind of vicious clashes we are now seeing in Russia and the Ukraine. I wonder about the stories to which nations, cultures, & peoples have given over their lives and souls. What, for instance, are the stories which men like Putin have created and absorbed so completely that the stories themselves have taken charge of their thoughts and actions? In her book The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit asks the same question of us all:
“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice…. [….] We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well within which we drown…. [….] Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop.”
“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.”
Because we are humans, we are all saddled as we grow by the family and cultural stories that surround us and by other stories that we encounter along our life journey. If, as Solnit suggests, we become aware of our stories and how they steer us, we are more and more able choose which stories we keep or change or discard — though we must be vigilant because even the stories we thought we’d discarded may occasionally rise as echos or ghosts that try to slip under the radar and affect our perceptions. It’s interesting to look back at the ways our individual stories about ourselves and the world have come, gone, or morphed over the years. For instance, I grew up in a culture in which the human was seen as naturally dominant & in a subculture where the rational mind was venerated, often to the exclusion of physical or emotional or heart-centered ways of knowing and doing. It was a story in which the players believed they could also be uninvolved & unbiased observers and narrators. These are no longer the stories by which I live. It’s easy to say this, but changing these and other personal stories has been an on-going, life-long work
A guiding story for me is the one recent research has suggested on the origin and evolution of the Universe — this expanding, diversifying, and complexifying Universe in which all that exists is interrelated, is kin tracing back to a single beginning. As John Muir famously said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” That includes each of us. We may never see the consequences but we can be sure that the stories we tell ourselves and others are — through thoughts, words, and actions — radiating outward like the rippling rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, having some tiny or even some larger consequences as they move through the Cosmos.
For now I am focusing on making, working with fiber and words and my love of the Earth and all her community — never sure of the consequences for me or for the fibers & words themselves or for the larger world — but trying to think and act in ways that will bring life rather than death. And hoping…
Several weeks ago, I thought I had finished with the Dreaming Towards Dawn mask, but she continued to seem unsettled, to want more. I tried this; I tried that…. Then last week I dreamed of her wearing a crown or headband of coral beads. When I woke up, I remembered the simple little necklace of coral beads I’d gotten in Mobasa, Kenya, in 1964. Its thread had broken many years ago and I always meant to restring it, but…. the beads ended up in a little box somewhere. And when I dug out that box, I found it under another little box containing small earrings I’d purchased in 1968 from a Tuareg woman near Tamanrasset in the Algerian central Sahara. They were enameled, with tiny coral beads set in the pattern. So — still not “done” (whatever that means) but getting to what will be the stopping point.
And after the Spirit of The Betwixt and Between asked to live in a twilight forest (see last week), I set out to make one for her. Then it seemed she needed some sort of wrap, so — after much experimenting — I made her a scarf. I still need to decide whether to use it and if so how. I almost see it as taking her to a whole new context (though that may be a thought for another mask & another time). In any case, she herself needs some further shaping. Oh, I discover so much as I go along with the flow! Great fun — and this is a good (though rather sobering) time to contemplate the meaning of Between-ness as I work.
In the meantime, I continue my primary work, which has been so beautifully described by Mary Oliver:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
~ Mary Oliver ~
I have been doing my small work of making this week. The mask that I showed you a couple weeks ago (2/11), having already declared herself a Spirit of the Betwixt and Between, has suggested that she would be most comfortable in a forest at twilight. Easier said than done, but I’m trying. And Dreaming Towards Dawn (1/28) has also clarified her requests. Next week I’ll say more & send pictures, but today I want to share the art of an award-winning Ukrainian poet and of a Ukrainian painter.
Lyuba Yakimchuk is no stranger to armed conflict. She grew up in a small town in the eastern part of Ukraine where separatists began armed conflict after the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. Her parent still lived in that region & refused to leave. They planted potatoes & they slept on their harvest in the basement during the shelling. Yakimchuk wrote the poem excerpted here:
"Our Father, who art in heaven
of the full moon
and the hollow sun
shield from death my parents
whose house stands in the line of fire
and who won't abandon it
like a tomb....
our daily bread give to the hungry
and let them stop devouring one another
our light give to the deceived
and let them gain clarity
and forgive us our destroyed cities
even though we do not forgive for them our enemies
and lead us not into temptation
to go down with this rotting world
but deliver us from evil
to get rid of the burden of a Motherland -
heavy and hardly useful
shield from me
my husband, my parents
my child and my Motherland"
For the past 5 years, a sniper has occupied the poet’s childhood home.
Yakimchuk speaks of Story and of Language during war time. The meanings of words are not the same in regions at war and those at peace. In her poems, she demonstrates how war deconstructs not only cities and individuals but also language itself. In the interview, she states that “Language is as beautiful as the world. So when someone destroys your world, language reflects that.” In her poem “Decomposition,” Yakimchuk writes:
"...there’s no poetry about war
only letters remain
and they all make a single sound — rrr ..."
And stories — Both Yakimchuk & her translators speak of the ways that “a nation is narration.” Russia and the Ukraine have differing narratives about Nation & about The Golden Age. In the former, history has been rewritten to accommodate the narrative of Mother Russia.
Yakimchuk also describes the dangers of the traditional Ukrainian stories that say heroes are to be found only among the dead. [This reminds me of Trump’s comment that McCain shouldn’t be considered a hero because he had been captured, not killed….] From the article accompanying the CBC interview:
“War is also a story maker,” said Yakimchuk. “There are damaging narratives in every country — in Ukraine as well … Ukrainians believe that the heroes are dead people. According to [this narrative], a person who managed to stay alive, to survive isn’t a hero. And this idea is very dangerous when war is here.”
She points out that it is the survivors who can shape the stories and the future.
Yakichuk says succinctly [again from the CBC article]:
“I believe culture can program people for behavioral models, and that is what I mean when [I write about] a ‘burden of the motherland,'” said Yakimchuk. “It’s our burden, which in the end we should cope with. And we should invent new stories to tell ourselves. If we don’t, our enemies tell them for us.”
The poet and her translators all point out the difference between praying for Victory or for Peace. Words have meaning, words matter — Does one pray to achieve a success which still carries the seeds of on-going war or to change the narrative to something new and completely different? Perhaps this is something we all need to think about, not only in the political sphere but also in the depths of our own lives.
And still, in spite of everything, her translators point out that Yakimchuk’s poetry includes a sense of playfulness, an affirmation of the small everyday joys of life and the little acts of kindness that bind us together. May we, too, remember all that is good in life and build upon that foundation.
from Song of Peace:
"To Death, said the enemy
and we said, To Life!
New life stirred in us
To Death beat his bullets,
Lechayim, earth cried
after the holocaust --
bursting into bloom.
To Life, greetings fly
as field salutes field...
...The sun fills up
the earth's green cup
We tell stories & share insights not only with words, but through all our creativity, including the visual arts. In her newsletter a few days ago, Julia Fehrenbacher posted this painting by the Ukrainian artist Olesya Hudyma — “Angel of Peace for the Ukraine,” painted in 2015 just after the revolution and during the fighting in the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine (Donbas) where she had grown up and where her parents still lived. In the midst of turmoil this vision is a prayer for and affirmation of Peace:
[I hope you will check out her website olesyahudyma.com to enjoy her beautiful artwork. So many of her paintings are filled with exuberant brushstrokes and color and with details (especially in her Fantasies) that capture the spirit of the Ukraine and its traditional folk arts & tales.]
Remembering the people of the Ukraine
and all the humans and other beings of this Earth community,
let us sing a song of Peace.
This morning (Thursday) I read Amy Codjoe’s remarkable and sensitive short essay, “This Land Was Made: Considering the soil that bears witness to America” https://orionmagazine.org/article/this-land-was-made/?mc_cid=fe57d0b1c4&mc_eid=db8c698749. The essay is a moving contemplation of her African American heritage and its relationship to the land. Many things in it struck deep chords of meaning that are still resonating within me — too many, too much to try to explicate in this space. That would be like trying to summarize a poem. You need to experience it yourself — and I hope you will take the time to do so.
But here, because of other things that have been percolating in my mind over the past weeks, I do want to think about her beautiful use of the words “altered” & “altared.” She writes:
“The soil of this land has been altered—altared—by blood, sweat, and tears falling from black and brown bodies. Even when I am not aware of this, I am aware of this.”
“We altar the land. We create sites of mourning and remembrance on street corners and paint portraits of our murdered in mural-bright colors. We use our green thumbs to …. cultivate a plot of city garden, or kitchen herbs, or acres and acres of farmland.
We pull weeds, again and again. Clean the dirt from under our nails. We begin to act as if what we know is true. As if we’re running out of time.”
ALTER = change; ALTAR = “place which serves as a center of worship or ritual,” …”often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else” (MerriamWebster)
One way to think of rituals is as myths or stories enacted within a sacred space or in order to create a sacred space — to recognize or to make an altar. I’ve spoken about the rising of myth & story from the land itself in indigenous cultures around the world. Myth/Story, Ritual, and Daily Life are inseparable from the Land, which is not only altered but also altared by the living Earth community of which humans are an integral part.
And here I am in North America, born to this land for generations and still a descendant of immigrants who were driven by a variety of circumstances from their native lands in Europe, where their ancestors had learned the myths and stories that had arisen from those particular places, had altered and altared the land over centuries or millennia. What did it mean to them to leave behind the places that held their stories?
We all know many of the ways in which immigrants may alter — and be altered by — the new lands in which they find themselves. Here, in the part of North America where I am now living, the alterations to the land are obvious — swamps drained; forests clear-cut; mountain-tops removed and dumped so that they fill surrounding valleys & bury the streams; soils depleted by unmindful agriculture or scraped away to accommodate buildings…. Living land entombed beneath asphalt & concrete….. We can see that the Land (which includes its geological features and its community of life) has been altered. But have we altared it? If so, what is the meaning of those “altars” evoked by our alterations? For what purpose have they been created? For the well-being of the all-encompassing Earth community or for personal convenience, comfort, profit? I think these are important questions to contemplate.
How do we gently and meaningfully altar (or re-altar) the place where we find ourselves now — in this precise moment of being?
We can do it through our actions. To me, the flooding of fields to make them hospitable to the birds who have flown to the now-missing swamps winter upon winter beyond counting is a making of altar. So is the thoughtful re-introduction of elk and red wolves to the places that gave them birth. And many of us consciously do this altaring of place through our creative work whether our materials are garden soil & native plants, clay, cloth, words, metal, paints, or unspoken dreams….
Sharon Blackie has, in all her written work & oral teachings, stressed the important interconnections among the threads of Story/Myth, Place (in all its aspects), and Human well-being. She often speaks of an original compact of mutual care that must exist among Land, Culture, and “the Otherworld” (however you experience & name the Life Force or Divinity or Mystery). Stories known from many (all?) cultures tell of the wasteland that results from the cutting or the mindless tangling & distortion of these three essential threads of our existence. Dr. Blackie speaks movingly of the need to “re-mythologize” the Land, which is another way of altaring it.
The task of “re-mythologizing” becomes more and more urgent in this time of increasing alienation “– alienation from ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the world we live in. In a 2016 [UK Office for National Statistics] report, around 40 per cent of adults reported that they did not feel a sense of belonging to the places where they lived, and in people under twenty-four the figure rose to a remarkable 50 per cent.” (Blackie, The Enchanted Life)
“When I try to explain to people the essence of my relationship to place, I usually call myself a “serial rooter.” I’ve lived in many places during my life, but I’ve rooted deeply in almost all of them. …… [A]t the very deepest level, place makes us who we are. We think that we imagine the land, but perhaps the land imagines us, and in its imaginings, it shapes us. The exterior landscape interacts with our interior landscape, and in the resulting entanglements, we become something more than we otherwise could ever hope to be.”
“…. For many of us today, though, our relationship with place has become demythologised—a fact which is both an explanation for and a consequence of our sense of alienation from the world around us. Remythologising our places, then, is not just an interesting intellectual exercise, but an act of radical belonging. Like any other species on this planet, we badly need to be grounded; we need to find our anchor in place, wherever we might happen to live. Stories can be our anchors.”
“We’ve forgotten much of the old dreaming; it’s time to scrabble amidst the rubble, and see what stories we can unearth. But even more important is the need to participate in the process of its never-ending becoming. If the stories of a place are alive and transforming, then so is the soul of the world as it expresses itself in that place. And so are we, held within it. Because it’s acts of imagining, ultimately, which keep the world alive and thriving. The land is waiting for those who know how to watch and listen; for those who are open and know how to dream. It’s time to dream along with it.”
Speaking of the Hudson River Valley, the bioregion in which he then dwelt, Thomas Berry [early explorer of deep ecology & theologian — or, as he preferred, “Geologian”] wrote in The Dream of the Earth:
“Tell me a story, a story that will be my story as well as the story of everyone and everything about me, the story that brings us together in a valley community, a story that brings together the human community with every living being in the valley, a story that brings us together under the arc of the great blue sky in the day and the starry heavens at night, a story that will drench us with rain and dry us in the wind, a story told by humans to one another that will also be the story that the wood thrush sings in the thicket, the story that the river recites in its downward journey, the story that Storm King Mountain images forth in the fullness of its grandeur.”
Have you learned the old stories told by those indigenous to the place where you live? Have you discovered new stories that can help heal the wounds in this unique place, in its life community, in ourselves? Here is a photo of some roots along the road I walked this afternoon. How many stories are embodied here? How many myths are being called forth?
Dear Ones, After a month or more of profound insomnia, my brain is on strike. I’m filled with questions, but as soon as I start to formulate one, a dozen new questions arise from it like a flock of crows and fly off in all directions, stealing all the meat from the few bony words I’d managed to arrange in my mind or on the page.
Today I have been pondering the definition, the concept, the limits of Story — but, like Trickster, Story’s meaning resists such cages, slips out between the bars or wastes away in captivity. Perhaps for me, “Story,” like “Trickster,” can only be approached as a koan.
We’ve all heard the Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
“…in the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan…When one realizes (“makes real”) this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand.”
— G. Victor Sogen Hori, Translating the Zen Phrase Book
Linda Hogan, Chicksaw poet & writer, has simply said:
“To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen.”
That which opens our eyes to “reservoirs of light and fire”….. There are many ways to open our eyes.
“I do believe that artistic expression is rooted in witnessing the world around us and the need to understand and communicate, with ourselves and then with others. In order to do this, we choose a medium and I have chosen cloth. I like to use the word cloth because unlike textile or fabric, cloth most often refers to a finished piece of fabric that can be used for a purpose. And part of the purpose can be to communicate and that is where we find the story.
All my cloths are stories. They could be stories about the people I make them for, or stories about me. Or simply stories about life’s journey or nature or color or shape (this year it is the square). I consider stitching a cloth to be a sort of documentary, a time line of thought and process, no matter how long it takes. Telling a story is a way to share what you have learned through experience…and that is ultimately who you are. Story cloth may take many forms. It might be a story generated as the answer to a question, like “what is trees had feathers??? It could focus on a single word or thought like a magic feather which you might think about a lot until it becomes a personal symbol. Or, my favorite, a story cloth can be the story of the cloth making itself. Even a sampler is a story, a story of a little time spent on a specific technique, or a collection of wonderful memories stitched together into something useful. Even a beautiful piece of fabric has a story in it waiting to be told.”
> Here I'd love to include examples of Jude's wonderful cloths but am defeated by technology
-- hers or mine or some combination of the two.
Please check out her work at
How many ways can stories be told?
I tend to tell stories through written words, though I believe oral stories are far richer than printed ones. I guess I am also telling stories through my work with fiber (weaving, felting, etc.) but it really feels more like engaging in conversation. Indeed, if stories are being told, it is usually the fiber that is doing the telling! Sometimes in my work with both words & fiber I feel more like listener than teller. (Are the two separate?) In any case, in such engagements, my eyes are being opened to the reservoirs of fire and light Linda Hogan describes, and sometimes also to the ashes of fires past or to the shadows behind the flames — which are, in their own ways, sources of illumination as well.
How do you tell your stories?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts & your stories about Story.
> 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.”
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.”
“Stories contain the hidden secrets of transformation, the alchemist’s formulas for turning lead into gold.”
~~ Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD., PhD., Coyote Wisdom, 2005
The stories we tell about ourselves are powerful. Story is the domain of Trickster — a place of shape-shifting, transformation, wildness, change. Sometimes a story can be — or, as circumstances change, can become — a cage or a windowless room or a festering wound. Nonetheless, we often lug these old stories around with us and defend them against any perceived threats, believing them to be fundamental to our identity and the world as we know it. And, indeed, that fear is justified. What if we encounter — as I did with Raven Brings the Sun — a new exuberant story to replace an old one of fear and hiding? We may find the new story creating windows, opening doors, changing the shapes of our dwelling-places and of our understandings of self and others. Or what if we ourselves re-tell our old story in a new way that opens our heart, deepens and widens our sense of self and of others, and brings us healing and empowerment?
Many years ago, I sat down to write about an old betrayal that was still baffling me at times, shards of its desiccated residue still needling occasionally beneath my skin. I had no preconceived idea where the words would take me. I was just along for the ride. And a wild ride it was! When I finished & reread the story, I felt a sudden sense of strength and closure. I had freed myself, acknowledged my strength. I was healed, made whole once again:
STORY FOR A STORMY NIGHT
Once upon a time--long ago and far away--
I was the princess glad and golden; you,
the prince. It had to be so; I knew
how these things were supposed to go.
And off we danced into velvet nights
and secret bowers where you were
the prince who kissed me asleep:
Through dimming eyes, I saw your feet grow
webbed, your mouth widen, your back
hump down under slick green skin.
And off you hopped to other wells, spilling
from your waistcoat pocket, broken
promises, broken heart--seeds
cracking open in the dark.
Out and up sprang vines and briars--
catching twisting--thick and deep. Quickly
I buttoned my skin tight over the tangle
and no one knew. And all the blossoms
were hidden. And all the blossoms were
the color of blood.
But fierce things thrive in wilderness--
weasel, wolf, and wolverine--and I,
year by year in my spiked cocoon,
slept more wildly, dreamed more wise.
I woke myself when it was time.
Then, what else could I do with a lifetime of
ivy, creeper, and kudzu,
honeysuckle and bramblerose?
I have pulled it, peeled it,
soaked it, chewed it, made it
pliable enough to plait. I have woven
baskets for bread, baskets for brides,
wicker cradles, caskets, coffers. I have
hawked my wares from door to door. I have grown
singular and shrill.
Now I weave one last basket,
round and tight as any coracle flung
by crazed Celtic monks into Atlantic brine.
I climb into my craft and fly,
like Baba Yaga, along the seams of nightmares.
I ride the currents of your lies, the windsheer
just beyond the edges of your eyes. I have
woven well; I fly high enough.
Don't be afraid, old frog, when my cape
feathers out into wings and I plunge--
hook-beaked and taloned--down and down.
It is not your soft body I want: I will
rip flesh off one old corpse, I will lay
bare the bones of the matter. These are
my bones. I claim them: picked clean,
Thank you for your encouragement! As one who loves language, I can’t help but remember that the root of ‘encouragement’ is the Latin “cor,” meaning ‘heart.’ Also related to ‘core’ – the heart or essence of the matter. You all are helping to strengthen my heart, essence. Thank you. I hope I may also encourage you.
Several folks have asked about Subscriptions. l’d like to add that option for those who’d find it more convenient than checking out the website on Fridays, but it turns out that it’s less straight-forward than I (with my computer ignorance & naivety) realized. I’m working on it.
There’s also been an enquiry about a “Comment” button. Once again, it’s complex. Since this blog is in many ways a practice of discovering & sharing Voice, I would very much like to have it offer a place where the voice is not restricted to my own! In my dream, I would find a way to make it possible for folks not only to comment on or respond to my words but ultimately to respond to & converse with each other, encouraging & enlivening one another. But, as you all know, communication via internet is not the same as face-to-face sharing. There are many wrinkles. I’ll keep dreaming, as well as doing some more exploration of realistic possibilities.
I do hope to add links for further information and perhaps an ever-expanding list of some of my (our?) favorite resources. And….
…Sometimes I feel like Trickster, who is forever (literally or figuratively) biting off more than he can chew – – – – always with unexpected results!
But …. ….today, I promised you a Story.
These days many of us think of “stories” as escapes from life, or ways to lull ourselves, or others, into sleep. But Stories are wild & meant not only to comfort us but also to wake us up! Today’s Story and others like it have certainly led me — sometimes, jolted me — to new places, new understandings of myself and of the larger world …..
“The earliest storytellers were magi, seers, bards, griots, shamans. They were, it would seem, as old as time, and as terrifying to gaze upon as the mysteries with which they wrestled. They wrestled with mysteries and transformed them into myths which coded the world and helped the community to live through one more darkness, with eyes wide open and hearts set alight. …. And I think that now, in our age, in the mid-ocean of our days with certainties collapsing around us, and with no beliefs by which to steer our way through the dark descending nights ahead — I think that now we need those fictional old bards and fearless storytellers, those seers. We need their magic, their courage, their love, and their fire more than ever before. It is precisely in a fractured, broken age that we need mystery and a reawoken sense of wonder. We need them to be whole again.”
~Ben Okri, A Way of Being Free
Like Trickster himself, Stories are shape-shifters. Since the time they were first told, stories have been, again like Trickster, travelers – always “going along…” Like Trickster, they leap boundaries of geography, culture and ownership, and in the leaping they change to fit their new home. Often as they travel and transform, stories and their tellers begin to violate the original sacred practices and social norms — much as Trickster in many of his own Stories crosses forbidden boundaries and violates the rules of the storyteller’s culture. And still the Stories go about their work in the world. In fact, it can be said the Trick is in the Telling.
RAVEN STEALS THE SUN
With gratitude to the Haida storytellers who shared their story and to all those of many cultures who have told & retold this and similar stories over the centuries. This is my retelling for this day. Because there are so many versions, I cannot promise that this is exactly how it happened, but I can assure you that it holds truth. ~Margery Knott
Raven was going along and as he went he found himself stumbling and bumbling and bumping into unknown objects in the dark.
It was uncomfortable. It was undignified. “Ouch!” said the voice of Beaver. “Watch where you’re treading.” And “Ouch!” cried Raven himself as he tripped over Porcupine.
But there was no light— No light to be seen anywhere in the whole world, in the whole universe. All the light was hidden away where no one could find it.
Raven was tired of stumbling and bumbling and bumping in the dark. He said to the Wind, “O Wind, you go all around the world. Tell me — where is the Light hidden?” But Wind just flapped her many hands and ran away laughing. Even Raven could not fly fast enough to catch her.
Raven went down to the shore where Sea splashed and spilled against the rocks. “Sea,” croaked Raven in his sweetest voice. “O Sea, you are mighty indeed. You cover the world from edge to edge. Surely, you can tell me. Where is the Light hidden?” But Sea just laughed and pulled back its tide.
Now Raven was angry. He was tired of the dark. He wanted the Light. He wanted to gather it up and keep it for himself. “Sea!” he cried. “If you don’t tell me, I will begin to drink. I will drink and drink and drink you dry!”
Sea thought and thought. Sea knew that Raven was angry. Sea knew that Raven was powerful. Sea sent his tides back to tickle Raven’s toes and whisper, “Deep deep below my waves lives Old Man Under Sea. I have seen the faintest gleam seeping from his house. Look within.”
Raven thought. Raven planned. Raven dove deep deep deep and swam to the house where Old Man Under Sea lived with his daughter. He looked in the window. It was too dark to see Old Man. It was too dark to see his daughter. But Raven thought he could see just the faintest gleam of light in a far corner.
Raven knocked politely at the door. Old Man did not unfasten the lock. Old Man did not open the door. “Go away,” said Old Man. “There is nothing here.”
“Old Man, Old Man,” replied the Raven in his most humble voice. “I come to ask you to share your wisdom.”
Old Man Under Sea had just woken from a nap. He was sleepy; his head was not clear. “No!” he shouted. “You have come for my daughter, who may be as beautiful as the first fallen snow or as ugly as an octopus. But who can know — not even I —as long as the Light stays safe in my box. In any case, you cannot have her.” And Raven could hear him turning away and stomping back to the fireside.
Raven stayed still. He stayed still for a long while. And after a day and a night and a day and a week, a shadowy figure emerged from the house, and though there was no Light, Raven could tell by the rhythm of her steps and how her hips set the world to humming that this was Old Man Under Sea’s daughter.
Raven followed her to the freshwater spring. He heard the splash as her tightly-woven basket hit the surface and the slurp of water as it sank down. That Raven turned himself into a fir needle. That fir needle floated on the water. That fir needle was gathered into the basket. And when the Daughter took a drink of the beautiful fresh water, that fir needle slid down her throat!
Old Man Under Sea’s daughter was pregnant. Inside her belly, Raven was growing and growing into a beautiful baby boy.
When the baby was born, Old Man Under Sea cradled him in his arms and said, “I cannot see you. You may be as beautiful as the first snow or as ugly as an octopus but you are my grandson and I love you.”
That baby grew and grew. He saw a tiny hint of Light gleaming from a carved cedar box half-hidden under a pile of otter pelts in the corner. He crawled over and tried to open it. He began to cry. “Want, want!” he cried in his tiny baby voice. “Want, want!” And louder and louder!
“No,” said Old Man. “No. That is not for you.” “Want, want!” screamed the baby. And after hours and hours of this crying, the grandfather opened the box and gave his grandson the box within.
Raven tried to open the box. He tried and tried. “Want! Want!” he cried and cried. And after hours and hours, his grandfather opened the box for him and gave to the baby the next box within. And each time, the gleam of Light from under the lid got a little stronger.
And so it went. And so it went. Down to the 7th carved cedar box. “Oh,” said Grandfather Old Man Under Sea, “oh, how loudly my wonderful grandson does cry. But still the Light is safe in its box. It won’t hurt to let this baby touch the box.”
But there in the dark where no one could see, Raven changed. Raven’s beak was strong. Raven pecked and pecked at the beautiful little carved cedar box. The lid sprang open! And Raven scooped the ball of Light into his beak and flew up and up and out through the smoke hole. He flew and he flew up through the sea. And as he flew up into the sky, rays from the Light struck the eye of Eagle and roused him from his slumber.
Eagle looked. Eagle saw a fat juicy bird flying through the sky illuminated by something in his beak.
Eagle had not been able to hunt in the dark. Eagle was hungry. Eagle flew. Eagle flew faster.
Raven could see Eagle behind him, getting closer and closer. Raven flew as fast as he could but it was not fast enough. Raven opened his beak wide to gulp in more air.
And out fell the Light!
Eagle veered away from the sudden brightness. Raven tried to catch the Light but it shattered and scattered into a great ball of flame in the east and a pale ball of silver in the west and a million million points of light in-between. Old Man Under Sea rose up to look. Behind him, his daughter came to look , and sure enough, she was as beautiful as new fallen snow. And all the beings — the rooted ones and rock ones and the ones with scales and the ones with fur and the ones with feathers — opened their eyes to a colorful world and gave thanks.
And the Light shone.
And Raven continued on his way, going about his business in this shining world.