Tuesday, 12 March 2019

I Am Still Here, With Books

It has been lovely to be quiet in this space while I work on other things, but I just wanted to pop in to say that I am still here, and I do hope to return to posting a little more regularly as soon as I can. 

More art is being birthed in my studio, though the technique I am using is time-consuming, so progress is slow; and if I am not happy with a work, I begin again … and again. Hence, I don’t have anything new to reveal as yet, but I am working on something.

In other news, I’ve been *trying* not to buy books, as things got more than a little out of hand last year, but a few more have entered my collection. The first is Marija Gimbutas’ The Language of the Goddess, which (to be fair) I had been trying to get hold of since I began Witchlines last February. It’s proving to be a veritable treasure trove of imagery and ideas, which I intend to use to inspire my own artistic work.

Since our ancient ancestors lived so close to the earth, this is reflected in the art they made, which, though it often features the human form, also has a strong connection with the nonhuman and the numinous. Furthermore, they made much use of multivalent symbols, which I find particularly fascinating. These symbols and signs are doorways into meaning, into the sacred; and the work Gimbutas has done in deciphering them, and bringing the world of Old Europe back into consciousness, is invaluable.

The next books I have acquired are The Shetland Notebooks and Sketchbooks by Kate Walters—a sequel to her beautiful Iona Notebooks (2017), from Guillemot Press. I have loved Kate’s work for a number of years, so this is a special treat, particularly as it came with an exquisite original watercolour, which I adore. 

I’m going to enjoy the process of allowing these intimate embryonic paintings to seep in to nourish me from the inside, and hopefully also to emerge again, transformed, in my own art. 

Earlier this month I was also lucky enough to see the incomparable Margaret Atwood speak about her dystopian fiction at the Sydney Opera House, and got a couple of books signed by the ‘goddess of the north’ herself. 

So, while the last few months have been very difficult, right now I am feeling so very fortunate.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Messenger of the Invisible

It has taken me some time to complete (and then photograph) this new painting, mainly because midway I experienced (I suspect) some kind of fatigue-inducing virus, which meant—to my frustration!—that I did almost nothing for about a week. Also, it was initially intended to be nothing more than an ‘experiment’, but clearly I need to have a little more faith in myself and what I can create, for I am very pleased with the results.

Messenger of the Invisible, watercolour and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)
I have not been writing, and thus feel unable to say much more at present, but I am including some quotes below that elucidate some of the ideas behind this work, and what she represents. All are taken from the absolutely brilliant book I have been reading by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (Arkana: London, 1991).

The bird who appears out of a distant sky has always been a messenger of wonder as the visible incarnation of the invisible world. In many Bronze Age myths the cosmic egg of the universe was laid by the Cosmic Mother Bird, and its cracking open was the beginning of time and space. (p. 13)

The bird was the life of the waters, the epiphany of the goddess as the deep watery abyss of cosmic space and as the seas and the rivers, underground wells and streams. The bird that flies high above the earth and the bird that swims on waters resting upon the earth linked two dimensions that were not the native element of human beings yet surrounded them above and below. The image of the bird at home in both dimensions brought the upper and lower waters together, offering an image of a unified world. (pp. 58–59)

The bird, since Palaeolithic times the messenger of the vast incomprehensible distance and so of the whole invisible world, was taken by the Minoans, as by many another culture, to constitute the supreme image of epiphany. (‘Epiphany’ in Greek means literally the ‘showing forth’ of the sacred, which is the presence of the divine recognized as immanent in creation.) (p. 124)

The moon was an image in the sky that was always changing yet was always the same. What endured was the cycle, whose totality could never be seen at any one moment. All that was visible was the constant interplay between light and dark in an ever-recurring sequence. Implicitly, however, the early people must have come to see every part of the cycle from the perspective of the whole. The individual phases could not be named, nor the relations between them expressed, without assuming the presence of the whole cycle. The whole was invisible, an enduring and unchanging circle, yet it contained the visible phases. Symbolically, it was as if the visible ‘came from’ and ‘returned to’ the invisible – like being born and dying, and being born again. (p. 147)

Saturday, 9 February 2019


This work follows on from my previous painting, concerning the ancestral voices going back seven generations, the thread of knowledge that we may be able to learn how to grasp once more. Only this time, I acknowledge too the original guardians of wisdom, the serpents who are at the core of the mythologies of so many cultures around the world; the snakes that women once spoke to, and danced with, and welcomed into their houses with bowls of milk.

I attempted to get the paint to crack again, though the result is not as even as it was the first time. Yet it is enough. I am embracing imperfection, learning how to work with the things that do not go to plan, and create what I need to create anyway. 

I am finding that painting is something that I can do at the moment (little by little), in contrast to writing, which requires a kind of mental energy I just can’t summon. Though I miss playing with words, and feeling stories flow through me, I am instead speaking through images, and returning to ideas that tugged at my heartstrings half my lifetime ago. If I can, I am going to follow this serpentine thread back into the heart of things. Maybe it will lead me to my mothertongue—my inner wisdom, and the wisdom of my foremothers—which will give me the knowing and language I need to speak with words once more. 

And now the words ‘mother tongue’, language, widen out for me, as I see that the relationship to the one who has given us birth, and to that universe which engendered our being, might be the same as our relationship to language: we must trust words and the coming of words. (Susan Griffin, from ‘Thoughts on Writing: A Diary’, in Made from this Earth: An Anthology of Writings by Susan Griffin, Harper & Row: New York, 1982, p. 230)

Mothertongue, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2019)

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Where My Being Waits: A Poem

I cannot do nothing

Some days, yes
I rest
I retreat

But when I can
I write
I create
I pull work out 
from within

I spin a self around it
a courageous chrysalis

Before sinking back
into non-doing 
where my being 

Friday, 25 January 2019

A Small, Tenacious Part of Me

One of the things I am consistently having to remind myself of is that CFS/ME is experienced differently by everyone who has it. A naturopath said to me once, “It’s not really CFS. It’s more like CFSes”—that is, a completely different illness for each person. That’s partly what makes it so difficult to treat.

I would not describe my physical symptoms as severe. I can go for regular walks (and, living in the mountains, puff my way up and down the unavoidable hills), and am currently doing a small amount of resistance exercise as prescribed by a physiotherapist. Recently I’ve been getting into my studio quite often to paint, which usually means leaning over a piece and working on quite small details for sometimes considerable periods of time. Such things are not always possible, nor are they easy. There are certainly limits to my energy. Yet I am mobile, and in that sense, I am fortunate. 

Sometimes I wonder whether my symptoms are more mental/cognitive in nature. I can’t seem to think clearly, or in any kind of sustained way. Occasionally I struggle to think of completely everyday words like ‘fork’ or ‘cucumber,’ and they emerge awkwardly from my mouth. Currently, I am not reading as much as I would like, as my concentration is poor when I am fatigued, but I can still read, and assimilate information to some degree. I am well aware that some people with CFS are unable to read, so I am very grateful that I still can, for where would I be without my beloved books?

So, it’s not that I can’t function at all—yet my functioning is significantly impaired.

However, what I know very clearly now is that my mental symptoms cannot be separated from my physical ones, and vice versa. There is no real separation between body and mind, other than the one we impose conceptually or philosophically (which I think is gradually coming to be understood as a big mistake).

This means that I am becoming more and more aware of physical symptoms which are having a deleterious effect on my mental state and abilities—symptoms that I would not have noticed before, having become so used to their presence; or symptoms that I simply had not realised were related to other symptoms (everything is connected, after all). 

I do not want to sound like I am complaining, or seeking pity. I just felt compelled to write this down, to try to make sense of things, and express something of my own experience of CFS. I’ve been doing so little writing recently, it just feels good to want to write, despite the subject matter.

What prompted this was a review I read yesterday of Heroines, the anthology a short story of mine was published in last year, in which my story (the reviewer calls it a poem) is mentioned in glowing terms:

Therese Doherty’s poem ‘The Fisherman and the Cormorant’ soared with stunning lines of imagery, encapsulating the flight of a half-woman, half-bird after she is cursed by a man who ‘wanted to grow his own power by stealing from [hers]’. Therese’s vivid poetry makes the reader believe they are there, with ‘supple wings instead of arms, and dark as night feathers’. (Yvette Gilfillan, South Coast Writers Centre blog, https://southcoastwriters.org.au/news/2019/review-of-heroines-an-anthology-of-short-fiction-poetry)

This short paragraph made me so happy. Yet it also made me sad, for that is what I know I am capable of. A few years ago, writing stories brought so much joy, magic and purpose to my life. But I can’t write when my body-mind is impaired as it is now. Right now, the thought of writing stories barely appeals to me, and it doesn’t even seem possible. My mind simply refuses to work that way. My body rebels. 

In short, I am not myself. 

A small, tenacious part of me is just barely hanging on, is still hoping an idea will spark into being, and that I will be able to fan that flame, get it burning strongly and brightly once more. Yet I know that is hardly likely unless I address the physical symptoms which are having such an impact on my mental abilities.

This leaves me both frustrated and hopeful. It’s not going to be easy, and I know it will take time and patience, but improvement is possible. It’s just a matter of making sense of what is happening in my body, and finding ways to ease the symptoms.

In many ways I know I have been going through a long period of transformation, unlearning many things and reconsidering my perspective on the world, and transformation always involves some pain and discomfort. As I wrote in my story, ‘Changing is always a difficult undertaking. We avoid it more often than we embrace it.’ So I am trying to embrace it, and work with it, and to find my way back to where I want to be: immersed in a mythopoeic understanding of the world, from which stories can grow. If I can find ways to heal my body, and relieve my discomfort, I am certain that my mind, as an integral part of my body, will feel more willing and able to connect with the imaginal once more, and to make something of that.

It may be that having an illness means that a certain level of potential will never be reached, or will only be reached rarely, and with great effort. But for the sake of my sense of self, my happiness, and whatever health I may have, I am not going to give up on dwelling in possibility.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Necklace of Mouths

When I painted Ancestress, I also prepared another piece of paper at the same time, and achieved the same cracking (which I have since learnt is probably because I added insufficient water to the gouache), so I used it to create this image. 

When I was watching Max Dashu’s video, ‘Grandmother Stones of Megalithic Europe,’  I am sure she said that the ancestor figures are generally depicted without mouths. As the ancestors no longer have bodies, and thus mouths, through which to speak, this made sense. Hence, Ancestress has no mouth, but rather, speaks through her presence.

Yet, the idea of voices, of story and poetry and language, echoing back through time, was something I kept returning to. That’s why this figure has seven mouths—her own, plus six hanging below like necklaces. There is a reason for this, as Jay Griffiths writes:

Many cultures conceive the future and plan for it by looking ahead seven generations; the Iroquois Confederacy of Six Nations, for instance, living in the remains of their ancestral land in America and Canada, consider the effects of every decision they take ‘unto the seventh generation’. African and Polynesian tribes, too, were, traditionally, said to look ahead at least seven generations. Seven generations, it is thought, is chosen because that is the greatest number one could hope to know in one’s own life; one’s great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, grand daughter and great grand daughter. (Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time, Flamingo: London, 1999, p. 225)

To look ahead seven generations, to always keep the future in mind, would have a momentous impact on human behaviour and morality. But what about looking back also? What could we learn from listening to the voices of those who have come before us?

In the film Aluna, about the Kogi people of Colombia, I was struck by one of their ideas: that each generation knows less than the one before—not more, as Westerners would tend to assume. And we know less because we are moving away from the source, further in time from the first ancestors, the people and beings who knew the most, because they were closest to the beginning of things.

There is a thread of knowledge that winds back through time, a twisting labyrinth of story and words and wisdom, that spills from the silent mouths of our forebears. That thread runs through the now of our blood and living bodies, back to the then of ancient times. If we listen closely, perhaps we will hear it whispering.

Necklace of Mouths, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared paper (2018–2019) 

Thursday, 10 January 2019

(Not) Being & (Not) Doing

Without the free flow of energy, nothing happens.

Summer brings many green and lovely gifts, yet I reluctantly have to admit that it simply doesn’t agree with me. Heat or no heat, there is something about this season that drains my energy (though it certainly has been very hot recently, which has made things much worse). I feel like I have been emptied out completely. 

Yet even when I am fatigued and lying in bed, I often can’t help reaching for my notebook and writing something about how I feel—however mundane and seemingly pointless. Because sometimes the words cause a shift in my mental state, or even in how energy is flowing in my body. It doesn’t always work; and usually any effects are very subtle, below consciousness. Yet it has become a habit that I can’t shake, this reaching for words, reaching for some kind of expression leading towards understanding.

With words I can defy my inner critic, and defy the powers that be that dictate how I should think and feel, and how I should even perceive and understand the world. I can defy my own sense of helplessness. This is a kind of healing magic.

It’s not working so well at present, though. I can’t seem to find many words, or the right ones. I can’t seem to push beyond where I am into new territory, which should bring me new impetus. Instead, I am having to surrender to what I am feeling, to tell myself that it is okay to not be writing, painting, reading (much), or working towards anything in particular. 

The past year brought with it many challenges and changes, and I suppose I am yet to integrate many of them. For my health and sanity, there is much that I have to face.

And I don’t know what this new year will bring. I have no specific plans. Perhaps I should lie low for a while, take a break from social media, find my bearings, and go in search of ‘real world’ nourishment.* So I may be a little quiet in this space for the time being, as I tend to my health-related and creative needs. For unless I take care of my wellspring, nothing creative will flow from it, and my life will wither away. I don’t want that to happen, for I know I have much to give—I just need the energy to be able to do that. 

When necessary (which is quite often at the moment), I am going to take Kat Duff’s advice: ‘a simple spiritual exercise for pulling ourselves back together and cultivating the self-possession of the masters [is] to collapse with exhaustion’ (The Alchemy of Illness, 1993, p. 32).

Of course, now that I have written this, probably ideas will begin flowing, and I will have things to post. Such is usually the way with me.** But I am trying very hard to let myself (not) be and (not) do whatever is necessary, in alignment with what I need, physically, emotionally, creatively. If work comes it comes; if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I can’t force the flow of energy, but must learn to work with it, however meagre it may be. If I take care to beckon it gently, humbly, then maybe, just maybe, it will grow.

In the end, it is process that is more important than product. I’m going to try to live the process for a while, and see where that leads. 

* This has been made a little easier over the past week because I’ve had little to no internet access—both very inconvenient and a blessing in disguise.
** True to form, I have indeed completed a new painting, which I will share in due course.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Wise Words: The Hope Below

This is my last post for 2018, and a farewell to the strange, painful, joyous year it has been. I think I have learnt a lot: about patience, about love, about the importance of speaking the truth (despite how confronting that may be to some people), and about trusting in the direction my life is taking, however difficult and downright odd that may be.

I had wanted this year to be all about embodiment, and in many ways it has been, I just haven’t always been able to see it. There is still so much work I need to do—most importantly, to get away from the ‘idea’ of embodiment, and into the practice of it. Yet I’ve written much this year that has been a direct emanation of my body, my feelings, my beliefs and knowings, and my presence in this place. I’ve written intuitively; and while sometimes I feel a little shy about that—maybe even a little crazy—I also know there is wisdom in the weird and wonderful words I have written down. 

Always, there is the knowing in me that it is what is beneath that matters. Not just the solid ground below our feet, the body of the earth; but also the suppressed and forgotten wisdom of the past, of the ancestors who knew how to live, and may yet be able to teach us how; and the wisdom held under our own skin, in our flesh, our hearts, our guts, our blood and bone. 

In a world that has become so obsessed with superficiality, with artificiality, with the violation of natural limits, all I want to do is return to the source, to myself as a biological being, who may perhaps be able to contribute to the emergence of a new human culture which rests upon, and reveres, this good and bountiful earth. I think we can all make a contribution.

To echo what David Abram says below, my faith is corporeal. We can explore this world of matter in so many ways: dreaming, meditating, art-making, writing, walking, singing, dancing, loving … Yet everything we do, and everything we are, is utterly dependent on what is, on the natural communities that surround us, the air, the ocean, the birds, the sun and moon … Matter is sacred, ensouled. And we all have a part to play in the unfolding of human culture in reciprocity with nature. I still have so much to learn, but I am slowly but surely finding my way forwards … or should that be backwards? Below? 

In the end all I can do is trust that my heart, my embodied, ensouled self, will show me the way.

I will leave the last eloquent and vital wise words to David Abram, who is always an inspiration. And if you are inclined to celebrate, do have a Happy New Year. I will see you in 2019.

* * *

When we speak of the human animal’s spontaneous interchange with the animate landscape, we acknowledge a felt relation to the mysterious that was active long before any formal or priestly religions. The instinctive rapport with an enigmatic cosmos at once both nourishing and dangerous lies at the ancient heart of all that we have come to call “the sacred.” Temporarily forgotten, paved over yet never eradicated, this old reciprocity with the breathing earth was here long before all our formal religions, and it will likely outlast all our formal religions. For it has always been operative underneath our various religions, nourishing them from below like a subterranean river.

… Our greatest hope for the future rests not in the triumph of any single set of beliefs, but in the acknowledgement of a felt mystery that underlies all our doctrines. It rests in the remembering of that corporeal faith that flows underneath all mere beliefs: the human body’s implicit faith in the steady sustenance of the air and the renewal of light every dawn, its faith in mountains and rivers and the enduring support of the ground, in the silent germination of seeds and the cyclical return of the salmon. There are no priests needed in such a faith, no intermediaries or experts necessary to effect our contact with the sacred, since—carnally immersed as we are in the thick of this breathing planet—we each have our own intimate access to the big mystery.

Each of us must finally enact this rapport in our own unique manner, discerning and learning to trust the particular gifts of our flesh even as we draw insight from the ways of others. Slowly we come to follow the promptings of our heart as it responds to the larger pulse of this earthly cosmos, listening inward even as we listen outward. And thus our voice, tentative at first, finds its own improvisational place in the broader polyphony—informed by, yet subtly altering, the texture of that wider music. Our rapport is ours alone, and yet the quality of our listening, and the depth of our response, can transform the collective texture of the real.

(David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, Vintage: New York, 2010, pp. 277–278; my emphasis in bold)

Monday, 24 December 2018

Wise Words: Our Only Hope Is In The Soil

To save the world, we must first stop destroying it. Cast your eyes down when you pray, not in fear of some god above, but in recognition: our only hope is in the soil, and in the trees, grasses, and wetlands that are its children and its protectors both.

“And why are we not doing this now?” … For a lot of reasons, most of them having to do with power. But a new populism could spring from this need, a serious political movement combining environmentalists, farm activists, animal rights groups, feminists, indigenous people, anti-globalization and relocalization efforts—all of us who are desperate for a new, and living, world.

… The earth, our only home, needs that movement, and she needs it now. The only just economy is a local economy; the only sustainable economy is a local economy. Come at it from whichever angle matches your passion, the answers nest around the same central theme: humans have to draw their sustenance from where they live, without destroying that place.

That means we must first know that place. 

(Lierre Keith, The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability, Flashpoint Press: Crescent City, California, 2009, pp. 250, 252)
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