Sunday, 31 July 2011

Back from the Heavy.

# new interview on 'interviews' page of

I'm recovering from the grip of a fever. My mum and dad came down to visit us and we all trooped out to an old cove that we've swum in for at least forty plus years, before i was born. My father lost his wedding ring in its depths about twenty five years ago and we have been trailing the waters looking for a gold gleam ever since. Something in the cold of the water, heat of the day, chill of the wind and some other more internal factors got their fangs into my shoulder and i then spent 24hrs shuddering with a raging temperature, and another 48hrs dizzy, crazily dreamed and laid out before coming back.

So, part of the recovery of that is to walk the tors of Dartmoor, which i will be setting out to to do as soon as this post is written and i avail myself of some breakfast. Actually, i think i'm going to have to have another sleep first (!) - not quite back yet -but i'm on the way.

So School is out for the summer, but the year course begins in October - with some new elements coming in - NOW is the time to get in touch via our website if you wish to join us up on the moor. Don't delay friend.

This next section is from more on Parzival, and the fierce prophetess of the forest, Cundrie.

Cundrie is a sybil, “one who offers divine council”. The very first sybil, Sibylla of the seventh century B.C. had a harsh tongue in her head; her prophetic utterances would cut deeply into the complacency of the enquirer. She would speak flatly of famine, disease, war and would chastise heavily whoever came forward with a question. Heraclitus observed that the prophecies were delivered from unsmiling lips –it seemed a heavy role to carry. Still, it was claimed she lived for 1000 years, so maybe she was just conserving energy.

A fascinating detail is that the prophecies did not indicate a possession state – she retains her lucidity even while a spirit wind sweeps through her. In Sibylla we locate two great forces conjoining, the cosmos and the women. But even in this conjoining, the crucible of soul is wide enough to hold both in a tapestry without annihilating the personal or shutting down the cosmic. In our exploration of how to hold and express wild mythologies, this is a crucial detail. Remember the vision quester, hypnotised by Caer Idris, or Parzival tranced by the blood on snow? They lack Sibylla’s expansive container, that holds the arduous tensions of the two. It is only in later centuries that this mediation seems to be compromised by a later Sibyl’s working in Apollo’s temple; there we find descriptions by the poet Lucan of “a rabid jabber poured from her foaming lips...the groans and loud babblings as she gasps to draw breath; doleful howls and wailing fills the cavern”. This image does not suit the eloquence of Cundrie.

Sibylla herself was part of no organised establishment, she rode independence like a snorting horse, scattering freely her troublesome images. Another detail is that she didn’t speak them – she sang them.

Cundrie is emphatically showing Parzival the route downwards. Like most of us, he encounters grief and trouble with the sense of ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!’ Even as we head down into the muck we can see dawn breaking beyond the next set of hills. Hallelujah. The stone has been rolled away. This is James Hillman’s territory of irritation, even claiming that we are entirely christianised as a society if we operate with that sense of relentless optimism. The textual qualities of the descent – the scents, colours, the terrible insights – get lost if we are always paddling away from the flood. Drown, say’s Hillman. Drowning pulls us into the barnacled insights of Neptune; we are finally in a murky, half-lit world where we have to move very slowly. Soul is as interested in our retreats as our frantic jerks forwards, but this is a very hard notion to accept.

To allow the drowning is like a preparation for ageing. It is to watch certain things disintegrate but identify with the light rather than the bulb. Parts of us break off and become irritable crows, stuck water in old pipes, filthy trees by a busy freeway.

Camille Paglia claims that the west is addicted to the notion of climax. Every story ends with a wedding, certainty, radiant contentment, the return from exile. This is not always the ending in tribal stories. Horse drown, tipis burn, babies crawl out into the snow. The endings are sometimes ghastly. But the old myth tellers also know that the end of a story always wanders into its beginning, so the characters will reconfigure before long, find their way back to the warmth of the story fire. It’s a kind of bluff.

As a mythologist I have to follow the notion of drowning with another factor. The underworld jewel. The magical instrument, potion, gift or idea that somehow returns with the initiate. It is true that some part of them has died down there, and the old initiators insist that until there has been a dying down there in the depths, then there will be no gold, no culture-hero, no return. When we dive and surface too early then we carry a mimic, a faux-object, a non-event. Exchange is the thing, something has to be placed in the tobacco stained fingers of the Underworld Gamblers.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2011

1 comment:

Barbara Spring said...

Martin, I like this essay and I understand it as someone who has lived long enough to drown and descend. I stayed down long enough to return with some good. In fact as I think about it, I have done this several times over the years.