Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Giants at Samhain

Ahoy - Samhain descends. Just enjoyed a quick visit from Dark Mountain founder Paul Kingsnorth and his wonderful family. We are planning many juicy twists and turns for our weekend at the end of November - sold out with big waiting list alas.

Something on Giants, regression and the more positive aspects of Mars this week. This comes from a commentary on the story of Brutus of Troy - who, on arriving on the coast of what became Devon, has to encounter a race of aggressive giants. Taken as indications of what happens as we get to know our own psyches better - an inner journey - we find our own Giants pop out. So, this follows that lead....

PSYCHE AND EROS day in Dartington (please scroll to last post), is speedily filling up - get in touch today if you'd like to book a place, or risk losing a seat.

Giants of Regression: Taking the Strain

Giant energy is a harsh force when not aligned to a great cause. It is giant energy that pours through a community when they tie a woman to the stake and light the kindling. Giant energy has no eye for nuance, or the patiently grown herb garden, the subtle array of greys and blues in a painting by Cezanne. It towers too high off the ground to catch the scent of the wild lilies, its irritable eyes struggle to make out distinctions on the small canvas. Giant energy is distrustful of difference, of paradox, of ambiguity. Anything other than a yes or no enrages it.

Growing up in the eighties I would encounter it first hand in the terrorising of our local pubs by right wing skinheads. They had a rigid dress code, brutal fists, were utterly aligned around an intense but basic symbolic language, and if you did not fit within that language then they would gleefully inflict as much damage as they could.

In the Greek world that stands behind much of this story, Zeus had to defeat the giants, or Titans, to instigate culture and civic order. Hesiod, the oral poet and shepherd (of somewhere between 750 and 650 BC), claims the etymology of Titan is “to strain”. So the sense of the Titan’s in our own being is one of stress. Stress being a major killer in the new century, we see that it is creating a flesh harvest in Hades. If domination by giants indicates that gods are no longer present (i.e. no Zeus), then in losing our mythos, we allow a damaging flood of exhausting strain.

We all have giant energy. Harnessed well it is a tremendous source of will. It is giants who are in service to saints who get some of the great cathedrals built in old Gaelic stories. It is a raw reserve of sheer grunt power; if we deny it or fail to educate it, then we exile a great deal of momentum and stamina. It is not to deny giant power but to anchor it.

Brutus encountering the giants is like moments in our lives when we face up to large energies within our own being that have grown hostile. Whatever we neglect, or unduly abandon, tends to become aggressive. Greasy, mean-eyed, sadistic. To get to our own mythic ground and all its lucid abundance, we have the challenge of absorbing these marginal impulses that we would far rather ignore. But, in the process of any real growth, low and behold out they trot – sharp yellow teeth and club swinging, god only knows how long they have been languishing.

We have a tendency to view these exiled parts with great suspicion. We may 'decide' to be a free thinking artist, loose and unconstrained - groovy. Immediately anyone in a suit looks suspicious. Down into the cellar goes that part of ourselves that keeps a close eye on the contract, works to a deadline, balances the books – frankly that’s so uncool. But as the years pass and we end up selling our work for far less than its worth, or get tied up in knots with the tax man, or are beset with rip offs, we may have to pick up the key and wander down to the cellar where we exiled that part of ourselves so many years before. Do you think they will be pleased to see you?

For others, the lover could be down there - starved of dusk, the scent of sun on skin, the joy of erotic friendship – locked up by a life rigid and only focused on statistically viable results. No one down there, no exiled energy, is going to show you anything but the giant when they emerge. They’re pissed, regressed, woefully hostile. So, to repeat, we can see Brutus’s journey as one within ourselves towards the interior world, contact with what’s called the soul.

Those who had difficulty absorbing the fury of some feminism towards the masculine during the sixties and seventies may benefit from studying this story. If you had been squeezed down, relegated, abandoned, then what would your mood be when you finally got some space? It’s no great mystery.

Blake regarded many of these cellared beings as more than personal – as “divine influxes”, that rage and lust and grandeur drew us closer to a world soul. To repress them entirely is to numb routes out into wider consciousness. When we engage them, we start to get a sense of what they are about.

Being named after Mars, always associated with war, has been an interesting dynamic in my own life. But I use the word dynamic deliberately. Few want associations of mass bloodshed, annihilated villages or heads on poles, as connections to the name they carry. But Mars, when allowed out from the cellar, has other things to do.

It could be tempting to view the accomplishment of Mars, and indeed all these
giants, as apocalypse, nuclear war, the end of everything. But James Hillman reminds us that Mars asks us for engagement, not wipe-out, that even victory is not essential.

Mars is about instigation - a god of beginnings. The ram god mobilises. No Mars, and we have indistinct paranoid fumblings,vagueness. Apocalypse is not on his radar because it is the ending of all things. When Mars (really a god of agriculture, not of the city) arises, with all the drama and attendant movement, then we need to get closer to the message, not further away. We need to differentiate his passions. So to cure something of what we dread involves knowledge of the deity behind it.

The Homeric Hymn to Mars (Ares) calls for a devotion that assists understanding, that grows ever more subtle: “beam down from up there your gentle light on our lives and your martial power so that I can shake off cruel cowardice from my head, and diminish that receptive rush of my spirit, and restrain that shrill voice in my heart that provokes me to enter the chilling din of battle”. So real attention to Mars creates discernment, helps you choose your battles, calls on an expert's eye in the field of rousing activity, hones a point to angry, aimless spears. Throw all that away, and you just invite mayhem.

I have occasionally worked alongside the writer and therapist John Lee. John’s phrase for recognising when you are in the grip of one of these powerful entities is to “grow yourself back up!” In his book of almost the same name, he lays out the thought that regression is the moment we leave the present moment. So to be caught in the grip of the giant is a moment when we are utterly cut off from what is actually happening now and hurled into a place of imagined powerlessness, to be without choice, inflated with rage, unable to articulate what it is that we need.

To act ‘the giant’ is a leap away from the vulnerability that feeling small evokes. We tumble away from the present moment, often into a childhood scene where we first experienced the unique wounding that instigates regression in the first place.

His “red flags” of regression include – raging and hysteria (classic giant behaviour) and unreal time – when we are in it, time slows in perfect synch with our anxiety and we have utterly tragic imaginings that we can’t appear to control, we are full of childish questions. A favourite question of his is 'do you love me?' It's loaded with neediness. His advice is to ask the far grittier question: 'how well am I loving you?' Lee associates regression with the possibility of trance-states, states that we slip in and out of daily, depending on our triggers. Following this lead we see that to be a sovereign of your own kingdom requires an encountering and tempering of regression.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


PSYCHE AND TATTERHOOD: The Women are Coming - new (and very ancient) for November.

Back in body but only just in spirit from en extremely rich MYTHTELLER gathering - the first of that name. Laughing, crying, deep in the stories, fellowship, the fireside, Dartmoor in autumn, perfect.

We will be announcing the 2013 year course dates at the beginning of November, so all that missed this or where on the waiting list, jump on quick, as these places will go - we have a maximum of 20.

I now have a little time to settle back into my studies, and also keep preparing for the winter migration to California. There will be myth-work in the Point Reyes area as well as Stanford (no access to that course unless student i'm afraid) - more on that and contact details soon.

I also have news of two short events over the Fri/Sat of November 23/24th. First up is an evening up in Dorset at Bridport Art Centre, then second, an all day workshop in my local ground of Dartington. It had been suggested to me that i may do something due to a lot of folks that could not get places at the Mythteller and Prophet weekends,so they still get at least a taste of what the school is all about.

Why not come to both, and make something of a weekend of it?

The below workshop will be the very FIRST time i have worked with this gutsy epic. I can't wait, i must admit. The poster above is rather small - so here's the info.

A Living Myth
A workshop with mythologist
Dr. Martin Shaw

Sat November 24th 10-4.30, Dartington Village Hall, Devon £50

This ancient Greek story is packed with information about how modern men and women experience the trials that love creates. A startling myth, it contains rich metaphors for loves stages, and how they inform our wider growth as human beings. As the telling unfolds over a day, we experience its giddy beginnings, its rough betrayals, the funeral contained within a wedding, the long road out of the Underworld and the hard won ecstasies of the lovers chamber.

To book a place, ring 01364 653723 today or email

“Her name? Psyche - the yellow breast of the moon shines through her - milk
surges from dark soil when she strolls by, even sea bandits praise her name”

I am also happy to announce a telling of that swaggering and magnificent fairy tale TATTERHOOD at Bridport art centre in November. Last time i was there it was packed, so you may want to book tickers asap if you are thinking of coming. I will tell the story and then as a wild little one-evening-tribe we will explore its many delicious layers together.

Here's the art centres info on it:



23 November 2012, 19:30
Ecstatic Myth
Mythologist, author and shamanic teacher Martin Shaw is a skilled and witty wordsmith. He explores the idea that myth is nothing to do with A Long Time Ago – it’s about a place you can inhabit at almost any time.

“Story is a Sharp Knife – not as allegory, repertoire or form of psychology but as an independent energy. How do we nurture it if it decides to be told by us?” Martin Shaw.

“Martin Shaw is a true master. One of the very greatest storytellers we have”. Robert Bly

Suitable for adults and older younger ones.

£7/£5 concessions

Excerpt below from my telling of the story - a king and queen who cannot conceive are visited by an old woman of the woods who has information on how to change the situation:

The nieces runs to the sovereigns,
“i have news!’
I have met a leafy-girl -
who says her granny
can make bellies swell
like a browning loaf:

She sings salt back to the ocean
she calls the owl to nestle in the lonely croft
of your hips.”

They are summoned.

And the dark stick
behind our raggled-girl

Hawk nosed, thistle-haired,
yoke fat with cobra-knowledge

Pockets a-clatter with magics,
brown fingers
dragging rooster blood
from the heart of the moon.

In the grandeur of the hall
at first she denies the powers.
That the child is tongue-eager,
bent to exaggeration.

But as the dusk shadows flood
over the gold, she relaxes.
In that time before candles are lit,
she shows some form.

Her proud shape
juts into the room.

She is:

mearcstapa - the boundary walker
zaunreiter - a hedge straddler
hagazussa - hag

She gulps brandy
and spits chicken-claw words:

“you will never grow large.
Your bed is too high, too smart,
too far from dirt.

In your far off tower,
a woman’s eggs grow dizzy
a mans pearling will be as a drizzle
of stagnant water.

You can rut
Like the creamy whale
ablaze with its concubine
in the indigo kingdom

but nothing much will happen.

Take your bed
Your pillows that hold your thinking
your graceful sheets

Out to the furthest stable
with the pitted earth floor.

Tonight, woman,
after you bathe,
carry the water, a-clink down the stairs,
sloshing with your filth.

Give it to the stable dirt,
four directioned, intended,

Then drag the bed
over the pool
and start the steady grind
of your seeding.

At dawn
push the bed aside.

There will be two flowers -
white and red.

Eat the white.

Under no circumstances eat the red.

Do this and all will change.”

Her speaking is strange.

Like words gathered from underneath
a stone.

By now the hall is almost completely dark.

As the page lights the first candle,

the women canter out

on the dark horses of their pride.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012