Friday, 20 February 2009

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Just back from a foray onto the wild and wooly moorland around the Blytheswood hostel up on Dartmoor. 'Arthurian' woods, gutteral and gurgling streams, pilgrims tracks and open vistas-its all there. Overhead a hum of chirrups and cackles announce a variety of feathered powers, whilst small buds are appearing on every apparently dead branch.
The place has good dream medicine too: it was all i could do not to fall into a heavy slumber. Luckily my old honcho Jonny Bloor was there with a large stick everytime i started to look longingly at a large piece of snoozy moss.
ROAD OF SOLITUDE, ROAD OF VOICE is the title of the next school gathering up at the Blytheswood hostel in just a couple of weeks-March 6-8th
and is the reason we were on the reccy today. Expect a weekend ranging from Siberian myth, the etiquette of chivalry,the craft of story and a day vigil in the Living World, hunter-gathering for the symbols and signs of your own mythic story.

Places are approaching capacity, but if you have a hunger for something wonderful then get in touch at 01364 653723 (TODAY) if you would like to join this growing band of vagabond magicians and hedgerow ecstatics. Don't be a stranger-there's gold in those hills.

It was good to be out in the brightening air-much of the last fortnight has been spent in final amendments to 'A BRANCH FROM THE LIGHTNING TREE' hurtling back and forth to the U.S. and the books agent, Steve Scholl. Halfway through a final and delicate edit, i pulled back from the computer and watched it all crash, the mouse refuse to work, and the keyboard pull a sicky. I tell you, it took every trick in my anger management tool book to not reak a positively Old Testament style vengeance
on the whimpering machine. Praise be Cara sang it back to life but it was an interesting moment.

Being in wild places, whether on a mountain or riding a fury makes me think of that all round groovy cat the poet and nature-man Gary Snyder. Snyder spent years as a lay Zen monk in Japan so may have the anger under wraps, but few have written more intelligent prose or spacious poetry about the wild. Now lean in, i want to share something with you. Many have Snyder's 'the Practice of the Wild' or 'a Place in Space', but i want to let you in on the real juice, the behind the counter stuff. Track down this book and you will never regret it:

GARY SNYDER-THE REAL WORK: Interviews and Talks,1964-1979.

If you want to read fresh, startling, disciplined thinking then go straight to these interviews. Lock the door, hire a kid-sitter, burn the day job and build a tiny shack with woodburner, books and good green tea. Snyders mind catches everything at strange angles. Anyone who wants to understand why its important to read should live under this roof for at least five years.


This weeks piece of excess comes from Hafez.
Don't expect obedience, promise keeping, or rectitude from me, i'm drunk.
I have been famous for carrying a wine pitcher around since the First Covenant with Adam.

That's a great, truly religious attitude.

Then there's Thoreau:
I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extravagant enough, may
not wander beyond the narrow limits of my daily experience, so as to
be adequate to the truth of what I have been convinced. I am convinced
I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a
true expression...why level downwards our dullest perception always,
and praise that as common sense. The commonest sense is the sense of
men asleep, which they express by snoring...while England endeavours
to cure the potato rot, will any not endeavour to cure the brain rot,
which prevails so much more widely and fatally?

Thats the 'Road of Voice' right there. I'll finish off with something from a larger essay that roughly ties in with these opinions.

The Old Gods aren’t fed by Statistics

'Someone needs to be speaking up for Kingfishers, small English hedges and lightning storms over New Mexico, and not just in the loud shout of an ecological protest rally. Some sweetness has to come too, some beguilement, some enchantment. Ecological disaster statistics are effective, but also bring apathy or panic as bedfellows. We need people 'with the tongue' to touch the soul as well as the adrenalin ducts.
The mythology of wilderness needs to be articulated as the mythology of ourselves. That requires a certain type of education and long periods moving and sitting in the wild.
Bashing a drum of complaint and stats can still be a shrill sound, no matter how well intentioned, and I don't think the old nature gods are overly impressed either. Grief has a watery quality that they seem to enjoy, it’s like us sending clouds of feeling back to the sea. Handled well and ritually sanctioned, they seem to eat it.

So speaking out goes in two directions: into the wires and lights of modern living and back into minute caves where the old heroes sleep, one eye open for a beautiful word. Every time they hear one, they blink a tear of oceanic moisture for the tumbling earth.'

Funnily enough when they asked Mr.Ecology himself (Snyder) about the future of the planet, he merrily replied 'No need to survive'
he also said;(on writing decent poetry)

'It's an extremely subtle thing, but part of it can be described in no other way than
'taste'. There is an intuitive aesthetic judgement that you can make that in part spots phoniness, spots the overblown, or the undersaid, the unripe, the over ripe..then it takes on a life of its own, and it loses no energy in the process.'



Sunday, 8 February 2009


to read above-click on poster, then page icon, then zoom at 75%

Well i got nowhere near Germany. Snow, Ice and the Thunderous beings that close airports put paid to that.At 3.50 in the morning i was getting reports of unholy mayhem from Bristol airport, 200 cars trapped on Telegraph Hill, fistfights over anti-freeze, you know the drill. So god bless the ones that made it to Ecshwege and my apologies for not getting there-maybe a summer reschedule?
More later in the week-for now news of a mentoring programme i'm offering. Details above. It comes after growing requests for regular one on one sessions, as well as the larger groups.It won't be focused on teaching myth specifically (that belongs to the year course etc), but specifically finding the way story hits the nerve endings in the strange boogie of your own life. No two sessions are alike -it is for a very limited number of places.

Ah hell, can't resist throwing in some Yeat's again:

'Because i am mad about women, I am mad about the hills,'
said that wild and wicked man
who travels where god wills'

more soon in mere days,
M x

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


Thanks for the familiar faces at the Storytelling Festival last weekend, it warms me up to see your faces.

Well it's bag packing time again. Off to Forests three hours outside Frankfurt, to the good people of the Eschwege Institute to lead a weekend on the European roots of rites-of-passage, and also the delicate area of how a culture reclaims its mythology after an experience of something like Hitler. That's a topic i want to keep close to my chest till i get there, but did get me thinking about the german artist Joseph Beuys. Whilst not a houshold name, Beuys is hugely influential as an authentically magical character with a great story. His life story seems to bear certain similarities to initiation practice. The detail i wanted to amplify is the use of something called 'medicine bones'in Shamanism. Beuys died of shrapnel moving slowly around his body in the mid 80's, and this is just a brief set of associations-but a detail really. I'm afraid i won't tell you much more about Beuys-for that all you need is Google-his post-war work is hugely interesting as a way of handling public or national grief through a kind of intuitive art making. Check him out-he's good and weird.

Art can, at its best, seem to be a modern word for attempting to handle a ritual life that can 'look both ways'-towards the visionary
realms and the hearth of community.“Now, when everyone speaks rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear" says he. It is worth looking at Beuy’s life for a short while whilst exploring this idea.

We know of his account of bring shot down as a Luftwaffe pilot, ruptured with shrapnel, and then being rescued by a nomadic people, the Tartars, and brought back to health by being wrapped in felt. This conspicuously mirrors elements of the descent, rupture and renewal process we see in myth.
(rather too well, say some disbelieving art critics).

In certain shamanic initiations young Shamans are invested with 'medicine bones' that are placed into the reshaping of the initiate’s body; items such as rock crystals replace the previous body part-the anatomy now containing information from the mineral world, a wrenching and distortion bringing life into a new, expanded harmonic. One account from the Unamatatjera recalls the climax of this process:
"In the morning the old man came and looked at him and placed some more atnongara stones inside his body, and in the joints of his arms and legs and covered his face with leaves. Then he sang over him till his body was all swollen up. When this was over he provided him with a complete set of new inside parts, placed a lot more atnongara stones in him, and patted him on the head, which caused him to jump up and live."

We could say that Beuy’s "Medicine Bones" were the shrapnel lodged in his physical form, elements that collided biology and machinery, colluding in his descent into illness and the rapture of his renewal. The breaching of the skin also perforates ideas of unequivocal containment. In shamanism these new attachments to the body are seen to contain distilled consciousness of the arena they originate from: mineral, plant, animal etc, so we encounter Beuys receiving concentrated knowledge of the atmospheric of war, the shadow of his own people’s psyche, appalling in its intensity. In one infinite moment Beuys is suspended in the death space, is split open by the projected violence of combat and is left changed, holding through experience a key to the expanding possibilities of the community.

Beuys is an exceptional figure for bringing an explicit ritual sensibility to modern art that didn't feel hackneyed and clumsy. He refuses the one -sided, tribalised myth of thirties Germany and becomes a Grief Man for some of the distorted and poisoned mythology of that era. The rawness of his work but also the Apollian intelligence and ambition he presented has caused him to become a totemic figure in a very confused field. Of course, this isn't purely a German problem, but an international dilemma of how a society subverts and distorts its mythologies-no one has clean hands.

Beuys was an obtuse kind of storyteller,and an original mind. Lets keep looking for Enchanters, especially in the mirror.

Back from the forests next week,
M x