Tuesday, 23 August 2011


So i hear the earth is moving in the U.S., safe and good things wished to all friends (and otherwise) over there. I have spent a more sedate and very wonderful week with my daughter being outlaws and learning to cook outlaw food on outlaw fires, watching fireworks over Plymouth hoe (bay), eating way to much popcorn at yes, the Smurfs movie (she wanted Kurosawa but i insisted), wandering the woodland trail and lots of story. Story, that, on the rare occasion that she slept, led me back to my own reading of old classics like Bruno Bettelheim's 'The Uses of Enchantment', Heinrich Zimmer's 'The King and The Corpse', and Marie Louise Von - Franz's 'Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales'. I look forward to some autumnal (sorry, that word again) study specifically with fairy tales, and some group work out of it - how does that information sit thirty years (or more) later? Whilst i don't go along with every word there is some true gold in all three of those books for anyone interested in the business of exegesis of story - a tricky ground.

An excerpt this week from chapter seven of 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree - 'Deer Woman and the Velvet Antlered Moon'. In this Siberian story the Moon falls in love with a young woman who looks after a remote herd of Deer. When he charges down on his chariot from the night sky she changes shape into many different objects until he is worn down enough (and tied up) for a slightly less intense conversation to begin between them. This is a little of the commentary that i would hope can be enlarged to a wider thought on love and courtship.

It is a genius clue that when the gift comes, the Deer Woman hides. The myth-world’s frequency is different from that of the human, and much tearing and thunder can commence when the two worlds square up to each other. Destiny is an awesome thing. James Hillman tells the story of the great Spanish bullfighter Manolete (1917- 1947), who as a boy “clung so tightly to his mother’s apron strings that his sisters and other children used to tease him”4

His clinging was an attempt to jump down the hole, to buy himself time until he had developed a container strong enough to bear the gift offered. Come adolescence, he ran towards his gifting, and towards his death. Gored by the bull Islero at age thirty, he died, his funeral the largest Spain has ever seen.

It could be that Manolete sensed his destiny, the glory and the sobriety of it, and bought all the time he could before the pulse became too persistent to ignore. For others, the price of relationship to the moon is that they are unable to reenter the village, its light grows dim around other people. An artist’s studio can be seen to be an attempt to “catch beams.”

Of course, when we are overwhelmed, we attempt to return to safe ground—when the Deer Woman is confronted by the Moon, she runs back to her father’s tent. However, as in many initiatory stories, he’s not there. The father and the tent represent her grounding in her community, her childhood, and her humanity. The container remains, but this time she has to be the negotiator, the elder, the one with wit. Sometimes, when making a painting, I will occasionally slip into ground so new and unexpected to me that I panic and paint over it, calming myself with more “negotiated” gestures. Like the surface of the moon, I don’t recognize the landmarks, I can’t see any footprints. So I try to drag the Moon back into my black tent of tradition, comfort, and warmth. I too will try to familiarize the otherness of the experience into something that can gradually be integrated into a body of work. Try as I might, I’m not an astronaut yet.

The Deer Woman stays safe by a kind of mimicry, an invisibility that preserves us in all sorts of situations—at school we imitate the teacher and his or her “light of knowledge,” and gradually learn to hide our own peculiar, idiosyncratic opinions. If they should pop out, we would become visible and vulnerable, so better to ape what is bigger and brighter than us.

This kind of activity, while potentially life-saving as we grow, can become a castrating and unconscious habit if carried into adulthood. Of course the Moon is looking for her, not an imitation of himself. But in this case, she bides her time and wears him out.

Of course, there could also be a straight avoidance of intimacy in her hiding. Better to munch a lettuce leaf and practice detachment than get down into the muck of relationship and have to deal with its unwieldy shadow.

The Great Thief
It could be said that to know the moon is to be connected to thievery. Even the Moon’s glow is stolen sunlight, reduced 500,000 times. Not content with stealing sunlight, the moon also has a penchant for pilfering color. The gold of a cornfield or the crimson of a rose are quietly replaced by greys and blues when moonlight’s fingers fall on them. A lover of letters, the Moon steals into books read at dusk—as we read in the gloom, words become indistinct as he scoops them up and carries them off. Night is the time of break-ins, affairs, slow time-ruptures to the agitated clock of light. At the same time, we know that the Moon replaces everything the next day, just as we left it, so he appears a cheeky thief rather than a savage robber. The Moon is also a friend to lovers; his inky sky covers them as a blanket, but his light offers a slender trail to the sweetheart’s door. So to draw down the Moon brings a certain wiliness.

All this talk of thievery could have scared the Deer Woman: would she want her own color, her essence, so consumed? We see a strong reaction to the bluster of the potential suitor. Can you remember being with someone who cast so much light that your own couldn’t be seen? Like a hip-hop star covered in bling jewelry, the moon so far offers no real relationship, only adoration. The Deer Woman has been alone long enough to know that she doesn’t want that. And so it begins. She refuses calls, rain-checks dates, and has always just left the party when you arrive. This just intrigues and frustrates you more, until, like the moon, you find yourself frantic and sweating, searching under animal skins and through friends’ address books trying to track her down.

Just when you are finally turning away, you hear her voice from the top floor of a crowded restaurant, and there you go, charging in among the tables again. Her faint voice is a tiny clue that this is a courting rather than a flat refusal. Once the Moon’s grandiosity is lessened, and he is wrapped in the cords of the world, when he even faces something approaching mortality, he and the Deer Woman really start to communicate.

How can she trust such an energy? Surely better to stay in her glorious isolation. But the Moon Man also offers an image of largeness, flamboyance. His arrival has broken the steady rhythm of the animals and the frost: he offers an outwards expression, to be seen. In the tangle of our own relationships, the rambunctious partner offers a challenge to our inwardness—we despise but are attracted to this rambunctiousness. In the myth-world, all these characters reside in us, and so we could say that the Deer Woman—solitude loving wilderness being—and the Moon Man— mighty, galaxy-shining, tide-altering—are trying to reach an accord with each other. The Road of Solitude and the Road of Voice have found a crossroads.

All of us sense that many types of love exist. There is that first burst when we feel immortal and beloved in the eye of our sweetheart, huge and extraordinary. It is as if this sensation is propping up some fantastical posture of our own importance. The love is really about what we are experiencing—a sense of connection, support, and ardor—still centered around the self in some way. A relationship based on this pattern seems to have roughly a three-year life span. The crunch time is the possibility of a less self-centered love emerging, one rooted in compassion. Instead of trying to frantically draw your self-esteem from your partner, you instead, like the Deer Woman and the Moon Man, start to appreciate the other’s separateness, the intense beauty that is theirs alone—that they have desires, dreams, and idiosyncrasies that are not about you. This mystery can be so daunting that we allow the other to pass out of view forever. The Deer Woman never seems to be caught in the former, that instinct body is always pushing for a place of real appreciation, she’s not looking for props.

Copyright White Cloud Press 2011

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