Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Todays entry was inspired by a great photo of my friend Anna Molitor's niece happily riding the shiny black back of model spider with a tentative expression on her wildish face. She seems in on some little secret that the rest of us have forgotten. The commentary i am working on comes from a moment early in the story of Parzival (only two and a half weeks away for the myth weekend -we need final deposits now!). The boys mother, devastated by her husbands death and the grandiosity of court, takes him off to the forest, where he is not to know of his noble past. When he falls in love with the sound of jubilant bird song, she orders the birds to be strangled. She senses the call to glory and adventure in them. The wider commentary makes clear sympathies with the mother, not an outright condemnation - it's a very complicated situation.

When a Bird is Strangled

There is a wisdom to the White Queen’s turning away from Courtly life. A clawed hand has thrown another good man onto the ritual flames. We feel her grief and her compulsion to save her son from going the same way. Accordingly he receives an austere upbringing. Limited views, restricted diet, cold water thrown on the old, wily stories of adventure and trouble.

On the other hand he grows up in abrupt proximity to the living world. Some vital part of him is free – not to be whittled into courtly shape – but to expand into the murmuring of the dappled forest. With this, his mother has given him a great gift. Still, as he arrives at adolescence, he cannot help but turn his gaze upwards. What beautiful song first caught our ears, made us dream of wider views and growing wings?

We strangle a bird when we give a child no stability, little attention, no cohesive advice, no boundaries, no love. Children need to be children for sure – some mystical teachings say it takes seven years for the soul to land fully in a child’s body, but they also rejoice in elegant language, elevated questions and mythic image, it helps the brain develop. The access to pornography from a young age takes a beautiful, many voiced firebird from the upper branches and strangles it in dark hands.

Recall the story of Hansel and Gretel.

Once upon a time a wood cutter and his wife grew so hungry that that decided to ‘lose’ their children in the great forest, - so they could keep all the food. The children wandered lost. They came to a cottage made of gingerbread, sweets and sugary things and they were very excited, and hoped this would give them the nourishment they craved. An old woman let them in, with a promise of the softest of beds and most delicous of foods. She was both a Witch and a cannibal.

She locks Hansel in an iron cage and keeps Gretel as a slave. Hansel stays alive by pushing a bone through the bars, and, as the Witch is shortsighted, she thinks it’s a finger, that he is too skinny to eat. Finally she trys to push them both into the oven, but Gretel will not go easy, she adopts a strange position and claims she can’t fit. The Witch peers in to check the width and that it is hot enough, from where Gretel appears from behind and shoves the Witch right in and locks the oven door. The children finally escape on the back of a swan across a vast expanse of water and live well on the Witch’s riches.

Gretel’s wit is inspiring; how do we show our children to ‘not go easy’ into the Witch’s oven?, to use Hansel’s cunning to fool the dark one. What is the oven? It is whatever deadens young souls, what rots value by chewing on sugary nothingness, what makes children feral not wild, what annhilates goodness and passion into horizontal, carniverous, deadining want. What encourages betrayal, deceit and ultimately disappointment. Herod stands nearby the Witch, poised with the order to kill the babies.

There has to be a fight back.

Against a multitudinous assault of ghastly sweet lures lain in wait on the internet, television and veritable empire of technology aimed for young minds. The forest does not have to be a place of rigidity, retreat and cold, demonic presence’s.

It is a domain of rapture, of wider fellowship with the box-elder and the robin, of secret camps and high branches that open onto honeyed sunlight. It is a place of the ancient ebony beetle and the scat strewn track of the roe buck, silvery rivers and steep muddy banks filled with fleshy worms and overhanging oaks with slumbering owls in its archaic branches. It is a place of a poachers fire and soil smudged kids gathered round it, Cumberland sausages groaning on sharp sticks above the embers. It is a place for myth telling; when a story leaps from a grandmothers mouth then up into the nest of a Goshawk roosting her eggs, gets wonderfully enmeshed and then lands like soul-water in the thirsty mouths of the little vagabonds.

It is a place where a young boy, face daubed with charcoal patterns is just telling the story of his first trip to the stream all on his own, and of a sudden a stag breaks from a clearing in the far distance – in a porous, eternal eruption, the little lads story joins with the mythology of the animal powers, both are blessed by each other and enter one galloping rhythm, for an everlasting dream they are hairy brothers.

Forest schools place birds back on trees. What seemed dead can reassemble, re-constitute, can start to sing again. This is one of the deepest secrets of myth. What seems dead in ourselves is often just in exile, hibernating or entranced. The startling intelligence of the forest is a great place for a young cub to see an infinitely deeper mirror of their own dignity and strength than the thin, radiating box of a computer. To my delight, schools like this are appearing at speed all over the United Kingdom.

Originally developed in Sweden, it is specifically aimed at the under sevens. So all that time that the child’s soul is slowly assembling in their raw boned frame, they are exposed daily to beech trees, fresh air, practical skills – the ability to track, listen and attune to the forests earthy spluttering’s and conversational raptures. It becomes home.

Statistically the kids are seen to be less stressed and with a far greater ability to concentrate – they have become, like the story, ‘listeners.’ When removed from the speedy edited, primary coloured world of kid’s television, some agitation seems to remove itself. They can go at their own shambling, magical little pace. A friend and colleague of mine, Chris Salisbury, with his organisation Wildwise, is continuing to transform hundreds of children’s lives by this opening of the young soul. Some of these kids turn up carrying bags of strangled birds. When a gathering with them ends, the branches are filled with the jubilant cries of chicks, just hatched.

copyright Martin Shaw 2011

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


Last chance saloon for the "Red Eared Hounds' weekends, with Robin and myself, we are down to the last few places. Friday night gig with Robin begins at 8pm at St Lawrence's Chapel, Ashburton, tickets on the door 10 pounds. for workshop and gig 130 pounds, ring 01364 653723 and hope they've not gone.
Hard for me to say anything approaching intelligent this week as i have been working on my new book so hard i am a growling, tusky loon of befuddlement. The horrendous situation in Japan got through though, and i send much love to anyone over there right now.

Here is this weeks taste of the upcoming " A Branch From The Lightning Tree" - older readers will have read bits of the below in earlier entries...

Myth: A Collision of Ruptures
The word “myth” carries a variety of association too wide to explore fully in this book. The stories we will explore may be described as initiatory myths: they follow the archaic progression that rites-of- passage also offer; they are indeed two strands from the same rope. I use the word myth to describe a story that instigates an intense, personal reaction and at the same time a wider range of relational awareness.These are visions of what we call eternity, or outside daily time, and have little regard for catagories of folktale, fairy tale, or myth. From this perspective these categories are secondary functions.As I have written, myth is promiscious. Just as we start picking out wedding rings and carving its meaning onto tablets of stone, we find it in the bed of another tribe, society, or civilization, enjoying a quite different set of associations.

What we can say is that initiation myths often deal with rupture. How secular society accomodates rupture is an interesting question—the word indicates a break or fissure in the surface of appearances. In the myth world, it is not the steady road of societal affirmation that defines us but rather that we orientate ourselves through hierophany—a sacred rupture. Myth could be said to be a collision of ruptures. From this perspective, our rupture, our ruin, is our axis mundi, our place of orientiation, our holy hills, our cathedral.

Myth has also had its critics, Roland Barthes describing it as “an abnormal regression from meaning to form, from the linguistic sign to the mythical signifier”4.

I would argue with Barthes that a sign is something that has literal significance laced upon it, whereas a symbol has a far wider web of connection. Within the realm of story a sign denotes, a symbol connotes. When images from the un- conscious or myth are seen only as signs, they are robbed of their transformative power; their use as psychic guides is erased. It can only point towards a breakdown of the imagination when we interpret a symbol as a sign.

Mythic understanding is subterranean; it lives underneath. A woman who is really a seal, a Dragon obese with conquest, a bridge that is a razored sword—it is rash to suggest these doorways are falsehoods; they provide a poetic space for the imagination to flood into. Rather than frozen, they are vast-collapsing and refiguring with every consciousness that encounters them. Barthes’s position arises when we are deprived of the real thing—when the myth stiffens into religion or certain ritual techniques are used to subvert the conscious- ness of large groups—this seems to me his real bone of contention.

Initiatory myths are clear that real story is not designed for societal crowd control, but that they are forged in the great smelting ore of earth consciousness—not just the human. Are myths literally issuing from rocks, lightning storms, and snowflakes? Is it possible that what we call myth is an arc of imagination that rises from the awakened mind and at some invisible but tangible moment collides with the arrival of plant, mineral, or star conciousness? What also is the sound comunicating from concrete, fumes, and electricity? Do they engender a kind of twisted mythic arch, or does the vital, truly mythic synthesis require contact with an unmanipulated natural force?

What is Wild?
To be in touch with wildness is to have stepped past the proud cattle of the field and wandered far from the twinkles of the Inn’s fire. To have sensed something sublime in the life/death/life movement of the seasons, to know that contained in you is the knowledge to pull the sword from the stone and to live well in deep woods in fierce winter.

Wildness is a form of sophistication, because it carries within it true knowledge of our place in the world. It doesn’t exclude civiliza- tion but prowls through it, knowing when to attend to the needs of the committee and when to drink from a moonlit lake. It will wear a suit when it has to, but refuses to trim its talons or whiskers. Its sensing-nature is not afraid of emotion: the old stories are full of grief forests and triumphant returns, banquets and bridges of thorns. Myth tells us that the full gamut of feeling is to be experienced. Wildness is the capacity to go into joy, sorrow, and anger fully and stay there for as long as needed, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Sometimes, as Lorca says, it means “get down on all fours for twenty centuries and eat the grasses of the cemeteries.”5

Wildness carries sobriety as well as exuberance, and has allowed loss to mark its face.

Martin Shaw Copyright White Cloud Press 2011

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


So the countdown to the Lightning Tree release date is on in earnest. Rumors abound of a twitter campaign- apparently little snippets from the book are flying about, and if you go to www.whitecloudpress.com you will be able to actually download chapter four - "Gambling with the Nuckle-Bones of Wolves". There will be an interview about the book and some you-tube clips up on www.schoolofmyth.com soon too.

Bad news- Coleman Barks can't make the Tagorefest at Dartington Hall this May - we were doing an evening of Rumi and stories together. Doctors have told him the man needs more rest time for a gent of his age and stature, so he, with great regret, is having to stay home. I will keep you posted on the new schedule for that evening.

Todays Lightning Tree excerpt is on the business of vision- and how to articulate it on return from any deep opening of the soul, in this case the wilderness fast on the mountain.

...What emerges is not thinned out by the language of the masses, it is a torrent, containing angular, magical trains of energy. Like a collapsing iceberg or a fox in the hen house, it is volume, action, tearing, biting, smashing; how does such an experience fall into the neat little confines of everyday language?

When approaching the Horse of Vision, we could say it has four great Hooves:

1. The Strong Bite of Antlered Language The language of wilderness is an experiential teaching from a non-human realm, and therefore its impact is not primarily to the rational, easily digested intellect.
2. Opening to the Fierce Empty To receive its message, an emptying out is required. Full up as we are with domestic concerns, job, and relationships, fasting assists us to slow down, open up, to be aware of our own emotional currents. We need to lose the distractions.
3. A Scattering of Darkness To go without food, company, books, watch, or phone for four days can be hard, even terrifying.
4. Holding Gentle Cunning Don’t be naïve. You are returning to a world that hasn’t been where you’ve just been. Don’t risk potential loss by trying to share the experience too early. Don’t spill the soul-gold over coffee, even with a friend.

Community and Reclaiming Time
Finding community is a tricky thing. Community could live at least partially in the imagination, rather than continually forced into the literal. Our community should involve long dead poets, sharks teeth, the heavy frost on a Scottish glen, the erotic trim of a Bedouin tent. We could reach a wider perspective on the word rather than attempting to wrestle it always into concrete solutions, petitions, finger wagging, committees, living in a tiny house of comrades arguing over who last bought the toiletries and who stole the tofu from the back of the fridge.

Communities could also be to do with reclaiming time: it seems to have a harsh, worried pulse to many people. It is useful to reach back through it to a community of ancestors. I don't mean some vague concept but in the work of vitalising folks down the centuries. It is naïve for us to claim personal impoverishment when we are connected to the legacy of Emily Dickinson, Taliesin, Patti Smith, Delius, Mirabai, Black Elk, Wolfram Von Eschenbach, and John Coltrane. We could find a specific soul-teacher from history and follow that lead. This will also broaden and deepen time around us, and in the same moment make us more genuinely present.

It’s quite possible to completely re-experience time. Start by regarding the coming of night as a regular move into the eternal, the end of clock time till the sun rises the next day. Take questions to the night, questions that could never accomplish themselves in the agitation of daylight. Become a night walker, invite it to become an ally. What are the scents and impression that night brings? What Goddesses glide through the open window? Night as a disorderly community of dreams, sudden fears, and sideways epiphanies. Allow the art you make of your life to beguile the Moon to wander to your bedside and start to talk. This allows us to flood into the wisdom of shadows and the indistinct blessings that midnight offers. It’s a grave mistake for us to only associate wisdom with the daylight hours or “light of knowledge”; we isolate ourselves from half the insights that twenty-four hours carries. Night as an ally is to understand that it follows different deities to well-mannered day: Lillith, Nyx, lusty Pan, and his disgraceful fantasies. The ‘”Luna” -tics have taken over the asylum. At the same time, that very hoard of impulses can cut to the marrow of all sorts of worries and amplify all sorts of truths that we can’t get near in the daylight hours. Night is the entering of a temple.

James Hillman claims that reaching back through history becomes a kind of osmosis, that you can merge into the leafy mulch of mystical texts and hard ideas, that you can become thousands of years old. This is another invitation to shape/leap. So we extend community by actually retreating backwards.

Become an apprentice to the way Caravaggio handled color and don’t worry about having an original thought for at least five years. Allow yourself to feel strange and slightly magical. Compose poetry that is irritable and fiery, that runs to hundreds of lines, then learn by heart and recite to nearby jackdaws. Write letters again, and find the oldest mail box you can to post them from. Decide that your hips are an altar to old Romanian Goddesses and take up belly dancing. Give out library cards as birthday presents. Run a three-week course from your porch on the relationship between the Aztec temples and Gypsy gambling games from medieval Wales. Don’t go easy on yourself.

One genius of story is that it refers to an inner community. Study of myth on the Return is a practice that assists in a kind of internal literacy. The intelligence of the image is placed within the violent range of emotions a participant will surely encounter, and a rich language emerges to articulate these often-warring factions within the psyche. Myth reveals that these inner impulses are not easily “managed” (Even Arthur struggles to hold the Round Table together). So the Return is a dedication to an inside as well as outside community.