Friday, 29 May 2009

Tasting the Milk of Eagles:US Road Trip

In Vermont, rain sluicing the window and just hours from catching a bus up to Maine and the Great Mother Conference. Word just in is that Galway Kinnell himself, the great poet, has thrown his hat in the ring and is coming up from NY too-alongside James Hillman, Coleman Barks, Gioia Timpanelli, Caroline Casey, Fran Quinn and many other great and startling teachers. I'm teaching 4 workshops from 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree' and Gioia and i are telling the conference story over 7 days-a big Irish epic of romance, aging and betrayal. I'm going to teach it on year two of the Westcountry School of Myth and Story programme, so won't say too much more about it for now.

Hours of flights, buses and ferrys-hopping coast to coast this past week. Strangest moment was when i met a bus driver who turned out to be a fan of the book and had come to see me teach 3 days before-lovely bloke and helpful with the luggage. First stop was Seattle with the Mythologist and storyteller Daniel Deardorff-a book launch and workshop. Good crowds-lovely to see a roomful of people clutching the book after 3 years writing it in complete hermitude.( Is that a new word?). Danny was brilliant as usual and we were joined by John Densmore, author and founding member of The Doors, another feral skin pounding drummer.

I was with many graduating students in Vermont yesterday, for a day on rites-of-passage and myth-today i have a few moments to catch my breath-which means shopping for presents for the girls-i got at least one gem, and one horribly awful breakfast in a local diner. America is immense-the land feels intimate to me in some way, but what's often stuck on the top of it seems disconnected (although i admire the wooden houses and the culture of The Porch-what a great invention). the UK is probably the same, i'm just more used to it. Folks are universally friendly (even when i lost my passport-that was fun), with many wisdoms and opinions.

Opened local paper to read today and found ad that said ' i need to pee. would you like to watch? please get in touch on.....'

I'm not in Devon anymore.

More musings soon, and snaps. (not of the peeing person......)
Blessings from Turtle island.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


THE CRISIS IN TRIADIC VISION: An inteview with Martin Shaw, author of 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness'(Ragnell Press 2009)

Q: What is the book about?
Shaw: Wild thinking, wild places and wild story are its root position. As we watch Coyote-like chunks disappear out of both our economy and eco-system it feels desperately important to re-vision our relationship to wild nature-both in landscape and ourselves. Many of us are aware that in both initiatory rites and the structure of many myths there appears to be a three-fold pattern-a severing from community, a period of trial and revelation and then a return to society where the visionary nature of the expulsion is confirmed and integrated into the whole.

After well over a decade of leading rites-of-passage work (frequently involving a four day and night fast in the wilds of Snowdonia in Wales), I’ve become convinced that in the 21st century the moment of greatest peril is now the return to a society indifferent or actively hostile to the individual having had such an experience. The period of trial and all it’s mystical implications are not, I believe, as under extreme a threat.

Personal vision requires these three stages to flourish; a severing, an opening of the soul,a return- in some subtle way it has to be witnessed-to remain on the fringes after the initiatory experience is to create a marginal life out of a marginal experience-not the aim at all.

Defending against our own Beauty

So an initial idea in the book is that this time honoured process is psychically turning on its head; the whole dynamic is in flux. Without great focus being attended to the process of integration, this process will cease to have a transformative quality. There is a level of beauty in this transformation that makes society at large very uncomfortable-I would say that we are generally trying to defend against a sense of our own beauty most of the time. Not vanity, but the real leathery, nimble, ferocious and delighted being that we are. This has nothing to do with lip-o-suction and anything we can buy, but a connection to what most of us call soul. Soul not so much as a particular religious idea, but as a way of experiencing life, a kind of inner-atmosphere we cultivate.

The Currency of Longing and the Malignancy of Disappointment

I think we are becoming societally addicted to the act of severance. We sever from relationships, jobs, communities, even countries with ever alarming speed.Bands rarely get a chance to develop for more than one record before they've been replaced, along with the phone, trainer or car. I myself have lived in fourteen parts of the UK. I have found myself asking why?
When we undergo profane severance (i.e. outside of a ritual setting)in our lives we often do so with an avoidance of the grief that entails, and a hypnotic desire to ‘move on’ to the next situation. This very avoidance short circuits any capacity for longing, ‘vertical attention’ or yearning that exists in the deeper story of the experience. When longing is replaced in a society of satiated want we are likely, ultimately, to fall into disappointment. Prolonged disappointment is then a place where the ability to praise, nurture, challenge and bless-in short create community-becomes almost impossible. Hence the three-fold process described by Van Gennup and Campbell’s ‘Heroes Quest’, starts to malfunction. As an Archetypal pattern it won’t disappear, but there is a growing dissonance between this Initiatory triad and the societal wants of the 21st century.

Black Elk said ‘you have to live the vision so the people can see’ without some performative gesture it just won’t be birthed.

Without longing beauty becomes hard to locate- satiated want won’t offer its bittersweet complexity, and so, as we said, in some way society is defending us against an experience of our own beauty. If we located our own beauty, our own sovereignty, there would be a far greater sense of personal accountability.

We are also at sea when confronted with our personal shadow material and are uneasy with the Trickster paradoxes that help us live in our divine murk. So we are occupying a weedy middle road between both clear perception of beauty and shadow-also the place they join-Initiation is the tool that brings both into focus-through ritual, myth and a sense of the sacrality of living.

Dark Chivalry: Honouring the Sovereign and the Trickster

We need to be paying particular attention to the Trickster and the King or Queen right now-especially of sovereignty in profound service to the land. So we are personally galvanised but looking into the shadows and margins of culture and our psyche to see the steps to take. I have recently been calling this the emergence of a kind of ‘dark chivalry’. This is not an easy tension-hence the emphasis on both on paradox and excess in the book-it is not a moderate road. The chivalry now needs to be directed to the earth, rather a woman in a far off castle. Chivalry requires poetry as well as statistics, mythic etiquette that wakes all the sleeping warriors that live in the secret heart of any decent hill.

Mythology is the Heart of Ecology-We have the facts but do we have the story?

Genius in crisis always comes from the margins and can wear the costume of the fool or Positive Trickster (see Parzival arriving and the court in chaos). We should be looking for stories of relationship with the animal powers and the earth-shapeshifting stories-rather than expecting the Greek Gaia image to hold it all- it won’t.I feel we need to look towards energies outside 'classical' myth,whist not denying its brilliance. We need a word-hoard of complex variety- vision can be killed by over simplification.

When a Culture Shape Shifts

We are in huge cultural 'leaping of shape'right now, so we need the stories of how to make the leap well, how to flourish as well as survive-climate change,the economy, at-risk youth, all are pointing towards a re-visioning of the old stories-How did Taliesin move from a salmon,to a hen to a grain of wheat? How do we break from our lethargy, old patterns and disappointments?

Many Visonary fires: the book offers four major initiatory stories that show huge diversity within the classic three-fold motif. That many myriad of experiences exist within that framework.This is followed by three different faces of longing.

It also suggests a re-visioning of the Hero through the energies of the Grief Man/Woman and Crone, an attempt to re-open but also honour the phrase-to not 'throw the baby out with the bath water’. We freeze a great deal of personal energy when we try and deny the need for the authentically heroic. I would call this the difference between Grandiosity and Greatness.

Q: How do you view the book now it’s finished?
Shaw: Well, I think as a ‘10 easy stages to a soulful’ type of thing it’s a disaster-it’s wilfully obtuse at times-almost gnostic, the language is carried on the back of the many tusked owl of metaphor and it’s not for the purist academic either. Much of the writing has little sheltered areas for animals and spirits to live in, many of the sentences seem to bound along like the tempo of antelope hooves. You can’t write about wildness and not move to the edge of your thinking, you have to let in some furry shapes and night dreams into the sentences.

Much of the dream/thinking came when I was living in a black tent on the side of a hill for four years, so it seems to have secreted endless days of rain across the valley and twittering bird song. is also emphatic in its praise for long dead poets and thinkers, so my attention is partially towards them as well-I’m trying to offer a kind of libation. Unless the reader is really curious, prepared to study or on-fire for some interior relationship to wildness I suggest they buy something else. At the same time it is a rallying call-that mythology is the heart of ecology, that both longing and grief can lead to a strange kind of vocation in this world. It’s honestly trying to articulate something that feels important right now.

It is calling towards a value system that has a level of integrity but is also not naïve, that is a paradoxical crossroads between a delight in solitude and the fiery horse of the tongue-a way to express desire and passion. It carries grief and hope in either hand.

Whilst writing it I also came to believe that a third of the idea of community should live in the imagination; that opens the door to all the long dead poets, animal powers and dreams that we’re all so interested in. We shouldn’t always look to a human hand for a confirmation, or believe we’d all be better off living on tiny stretches of land grimacing at our neighbour over breakfast and a sweatlodge. So it’s pointing to imaginative leaps around what could constitute the returned–to-community.

Lightning Tree is available at

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Some of Love's Inmates In Natures Tavern

Exhausted. Ecstatic. Peaceful but Peckish-but full of story, opinions, tears, sweatrocks and White Deers. Thank you for a great one-may your study of Parzival be just beginning. Also cheers to Lisa for the photo of a handful of our hooligans of the soul in various stages of meltdown and laughter.

Last night God place a hard decree on the Tavern Wall
for all of loves inmates which read;
If your heart cannot find a joyful work
then the jaws of this world
will probably grab hold of your
sweet arse.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Wildish Voice of Honey and Thunder

Well, after almost 8 weeks of traversing the mysty lanes, robust maidens and complex ephipanies of 12th Century Europe, this weekend the Westcountry School of Myth and Story clamber to the mossy heights of Dartmoor and our bluebell laden Wildwood.
The tremulous story of Parzival is now rattling my very nervous system into a new,unruly constellation in preperation for gathering around the ancient fire and together journeying to the story-river, a place so long ago and also right here now.
Sell furniture, tap-dance on a street corner, pan for Gold, but get to the Woods!
01364 653723 for final places.

Part of the story is the need to throw our Good name into the dust every now and again. Here's some Hafez on that very thought-in a poetic form called a Ghazal (Jay's poem below uses the same form)

I'm well known throughout the whole city
for being a wild-haired lover; and I'm that man who has
never darkened his vision by seeing evil.

Through my enthusiam for wine, I have thrown the book
of my good name into the water; but doing that ensures that
the handwriting in my book of grandiosity will be blurred.

Let's be faithful to what we love; lets accept blame
and keep our spirits high, because on our road, being
Hurt by the words of others is a form of infidelity.

Now you don't get that from Pam Ayres.

Parzival as a story really starts to rock'n'roll with the double influence of both the early Celtic symbology but also the influence of the Islamic world coming up from Spain and both cooking in the world of the Troubadours and their brief century. (There is also bits of the Gnostics and Daoism floating about). The ancient feminine energies of Europe returned in force too,hidden in the lyrics and the general aspirations.For a way into this nest of gorgeousness (this Celtic Ecstatic mix is one of the 9 heavens in my opinion),a good book is 'the Troubadours and their World' by Jack Lindsay.

See you in the Forest. Bring a cloak, a hawk and attendents.