Thursday, 19 July 2018

The Darkness Of The Beginning: A Poem

The darkness of the beginning was never a void. 
It was never empty, never nothing. 
It can only have been a body, 
black as rich soil, the colour of 
the inside of a heart, 
unseen, but felt, 
beating out a rhythm. 

The body — Her body — 
was a site of becoming, of potential, 
resonating with the sound of poetry 
in its elemental form; 
poetry before it became the multiplicity, 
before it became the abundant world 
and all its wonders. 

The darkness of the beginning was not a void. 
It was everything — 
every being and dream, every form and thought. 
A great parthenogenetic pregnant body, 
ready to burst with possibility.

I wrote this poem on 21st June, the Winter Solstice, as I thought about the creatrix of many Native American cultures: Thought Woman. Below are some of my rambling notes which led me to write it.

* * *

I was just thinking something very important about mind/consciousness, and Thought Woman (aka Grandmother Spider). If consciousness is a property of existence, and we cannot exist without the existence of others (who enable us to be ourselves through contact with what is not ourselves), then this is why the universe began. Thought Woman could not bear being alone—she had to think things into being so that her existence could become different. A multiplicity rather than just One. There was an absence of existence—an essential absence of consciousness, because nothing else existed to form the elements of mind. Mind is totally reliant on diversity, on there being many things, so that beings can become themselves by their sensuous experience with other beings. The more diversity there is, the more whole we can become, the more wise … Thought Woman could not bear to be only herself—she had to create, to think things into being. 

Spider Woman, by Susan Seddon-Boulet, 1986

Monday, 16 July 2018

Wise Words: Joy On The Skin

Our bodies are both all we have and everything we could want. We are alive and we get to be alive. There is joy on the surface of the skin waiting for sunlight and soft things (both of which produce endorphins, so yes: joy). There is the constant, stalwart sound of our hearts. Babies who are carried against their mothers’ hearts learn to breathe better than those who aren’t. There is the strength of bone and the stretch of muscle and their complex coordination. We are a set of electrical impulses inside a watery environment: how? Well, the nerves that conduct the impulses are sheathed by a fatty substance called myelin―they’re insulated. This permits “agile communication between distant body parts.” Understand this: it’s all alive, it all communicates, it makes decisions, and it knows what it’s doing. You can’t possibly fathom its intricacies. To start to explore the filigree of brain, synapse, nerve, and muscle is to know that even the blink of your eyes is a miracle.

Our brains were two million years in the making. That long, slow accretion doubled our cranial capacity. And the first thing we did with it was say thank you. We drew the megafauna and the megafemales, sculpted and carved them. The oldest known figurative sculpture is the Goddess of Hohle Fels, and 40,000 years ago someone spent hundreds of hours carving Her. There is no mystery here, not to me: the animals and the women gave us life. Of course they were our first, endless art project. Awe and thanksgiving are built into us, body and brain. Once upon a time, we knew we were alive. And it was good.

(Lierre Keith, ‘The Girls and the Grasses’, Deep Green Resistance News Service,

Venus of Hohle Fels, carved from mammoth ivory, dated to 35,000–40,000 years ago
(Source: Wikimedia, by Ramessos)

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Witchlines: Dancing The Labyrinth

Here is the second of my Witchlines pieces exploring the world of Minoan Crete—or Ariadnean Crete, as it should be. This prompt asked us to write about a ritual, involving bull, labyrinth, and sacred dance. 

Woman dancing in a circle (the centre figure holds a snake), clay figures, c. 1300 BCE, Heraklion Archaeological Museum
(Source: Wikimedia, by Jebulon)
Dancing the Labyrinth

Half-closed eyes under the round eye of the moon, under the gaze of the mountain, the shelter of the trees. Whirling, skirt unfurled, face upturned. The air heavy with poppy smoke, the scent of night, and the sweetness of the honey and wine we have offered to the earth.
Between us is a red thread, a sacred cord. Grasped in the hands of seven young women, led by Her—Most Holy, Most Pure—the Mistress of the Darkness, the spiralling ways, crowned with horns. We thread the air with circles. We weave ourselves in and out of time.
As we move like an eddy of water, a twist in the wind, night seems like day, rich with colour, and the moon’s light is an echo of the sun. 

This is a waking sleep.

From a part of myself that is aware, and still, I notice the great moon-beast, tethered to an olive tree. His hide seems to glisten in the moonlight, and his muzzle is wet and dripping. He snorts, stamps a hoof, tosses his head, dancing his own dance, resonating with a rhythm only he hears—ears flicking, muscles rippling. Garlanded with fragrant flowers, he smells sweetly of crocus and herbs.

I understand, now, the love held for this great bull, his pale hide and dark eyes. The blessing of his presence in this dance, to call forth what is yet to be born from the round belly of the earth, and what is to be born anew—the spark of energy that moves in and out of all things, always circling.

As we whirl we begin to feel it—a humming, a throbbing—an excitement in the air, an intoxication of life. Under our feet, we feel the earth inhale. 

The cord in our hands grows warm, sinuous as a serpent, and we thread it in a circle around the bull and the olive tree, tracing an ancient way that goes deep. We feel Her labyrinthine path beneath our bare feet, leading us onwards; we feel the labyrinth opening inside ourselves. The bull’s low bellow, and the tree’s movement in the night breeze incite us, and we move faster, faster, abandoning ourselves to Her will.

Suddenly, the Most Holy, Most Pure, She changes course, leads us inwards, ever closer to the bull; and we slow, open our eyes to see the beautiful horns reaching for the sky, the stars, drawing down the moonlight, calling in the light-in-darkness, the darkness-in-light. We touch the horns as we pass—blessing, being blessed—and the bull bows his massive head, lulled by the poppy smoke, gentled by night.

Then, eyes opened, and seeing anew—awakened fully—we orbit once more, spiralling out and away from the sweetly sleeping bull, our hair flying behind us, merging with the dark.

Below our feet, with a scent of honey and wine, the earth exhales.

White bull's head ritual rhyton, terracotta, from Gournia, 1600–1450 BCE, Heraklion Archaeological Museum
(Source: Wikimedia, by Jebulon

Monday, 9 July 2018

Wise Words: Taking Back Our Bodies

… Where there is a wound on the psyches and bodies of women, there is a corresponding wound at the same site in the culture itself, and finally on Nature herself. In a true holistic psychology all worlds are understood as interdependent, not as separate entities. It is not amazing that in our culture there is an issue about carving up a woman’s natural body, that there is a corresponding issue about carving up the landscape, and yet another about carving up the culture into fashionable parts as well. Although a woman may not be able to stop the dissection of culture and lands overnight, she can stop doing so to her own body.

The wild nature would never advocate the torture of the body, culture, or land. The wild nature would never agree to flog the form in order to prove worth, prove “control,” prove character, be more visually pleasing, more financially valuable.

A woman cannot make the culture more aware by saying “Change.” But she can change her own attitude toward herself, thereby causing devaluing projections to glance off. She does this by taking back her body. By not forsaking the joy of her natural body, by not purchasing the popular illusion that happiness is only bestowed on those of a certain configuration or age, by not waiting or holding back to do anything, and by taking back her real life, and living it full bore, all stops out. This dynamic self-acceptance and self-esteem are what begins to change attitudes in the culture.

(Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman, Rider: London, 1992, p. 202)

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Witchlines: Ariadne Wakes

The second unit of Witchlines has been leading us into the wild places of myth, where, as Sylvia Linsteadt says, ‘we will attempt to unravel the weave of patriarchy from three old stories, and examine what we are left with—a luminous spool of gold extending back through the ages’.

The first tale we explored is that of Ariadne and the Minotaur, and here is my first creative piece. In it, Ariadne wakes on the island of Dia, and tells us what she remembers of the labyrinth, the Minotaur, Theseus, and Dionysus.

Ariadne Wakes

The salt-hiss of the sea. The scent of flowers. Cold skin cradled by sand, and unyielding stone; then warmed by the rising sun, and the touch of a hand that caresses my brow. I emerge from sleep.
I do not know where I am. I do not remember.
Only … the darkness, the torches. The laughter as the maidens and youths danced, stepping briskly, swaying and clapping. The young men taking the hands of the girls, sweeping them on, hands clasped, arms entwined, fingers touching fingers. Smiling faces on the verge of knowing. 
Inwards they circled, through the gloom of the deepening evening, all radiant in the firelight—heads garlanded with leaves and flowers, bodies lithe and moonlit. The dance spiralled, curved in on itself, like a bull’s horn, twisting, turning. And in the very centre I stood with him—masked and horned. He was like an old bull—huge and hairy, with staring black eyes—and we stood there, side by side, under the moon, waiting for the ecstatic dancers to reach us, to find the way.
It was the most beautiful of the youths who came first, unwinding the golden thread I had spun, the thread that binds all, that ties us to the earth, that we dance with, over, under and through; and with the sword I had given him, glittering like copper under the moon, the young man took the horn of the bull in his fist and slit the taurine throat. 
What happened next is a blur of red and dancing limbs. An intoxicating fall into darkness. A sleep of death.
Until I am awoken by the sun, by a man’s hand, by a warmth that fills me up after the cold blackness of night.
I open my eyes, and on the horizon, just slipping over the edge, is a ship. It means nothing to me that I can remember; for here, by my side, is the bull—horned as ever, but now a young calf, with a soft muzzle and wild, kind eyes. The fragrance of spring flowers enfolds me.
I do not know where I am. But I know I am where I am meant to be—with him—shining in the morning sun.

I feel reborn.

Europe Dancing by Bulgarian artist, Emilia Bayer (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, 2 July 2018

Wise Words: The Future Is Not A Promised Land

Westerners like me implicitly understand that a temporal orientation is also a spatial orientation: we face the future; the past is behind us. Indigenous Australians make temporal-spatial links too, but theirs work differently. They face the source; those who come after them are called the “behind mob.” Each generation follows along behind their ancestors, and their descendants follow along behind them. I imagine this mode of time as waves of generations; we face the source, which is where we all came from, and we follow our predecessors back to the source, leaving behind us a “new mob” or “new generation” to take over. Those behind us walk in our footsteps, as we walk in the steps of our old people …

Within this indigenous world of time, space, and generations in motion, the future is delightfully complex. On the one hand, it can be assumed to be following behind us in the form of the next generations of people, plants, animals, and others. More significantly, though, it is in the ground. The future is waiting to come forth, to be born and to live, and then to return into the source, riding the waves of generations that have kept country and all the creatures alive “forever.”

[The indigenous] way of thinking of the future impels us to take care of the ground right now, right where we are, because we are here, because this is our source, because our purpose in life is to bequeath life, not to unmake it. Jessie [Wirrpa] expressed such ideas as “true stories”—true accounts of the real world and our responsibilities as humans. True for humans everywhere, and true for other creatures as well …

… The profundity and simplicity of Jessie’s caring for country is, for me, an ethical claim. The future is not a promised land waiting for us to arrive, nor does it bear down on us. The future is in the ground. It is life, and it wants to come forth and flourish. The future is creation in everyday life, and like all everyday miracles, it is as fragile as it is resilient. We are members of creature communities, and our appropriate work is to honor the bequest by taking care of it so that the future can come forth. 

(Deborah Bird Rose, ‘So the Future Can Come Forth from the Ground’, in Kathleen Dean Moore & Michael P. Nelson (eds.) Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, Trinity University Press: San Antonio, Texas, 2010, pp. 155 and 157; my emphasis in bold)

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Witchlines: Spondylus Shell

This is the final (long overdue) piece I have written for the first unit of Witchlines, and I think it provides not only a fitting ending, but also a fitting beginning for the work of Unit 2, as you will soon see. 

Spondylus Shell

He said it was my turn to try, to shape something out of the white, the soft white, light in my hand, like a cloud come down, made stone. He showed me how to carve, how to grind away at the edges with a sharp piece of flint, gifting me with the white, curving form.
What is it? Where has it come from?
Far away, he said, from the place of water, the place of the past, which we no longer know. A place of blue. It is precious.
I did not understand, but I held the white piece in my hand—like bone, but alive under my fingers. I felt it speak to my palm, I felt it move, and I ran out of the village and along the trail that leads into the forest, and went to my special place, where I place the clay figures as offerings. In there, there is a hush, away from the houses where the women sing and bake bread, where the small children chatter and play. It is my green place, where I might snare a rabbit, or startle a deer—or be startled by the whoosh of a bird’s wings, and have my heart beat faster. In the wild green I held the white piece from the place of blue, and I listened to what it told me.
Fish, it said. Fish!
With my piece of flint I began to carve, to shape, letting my hands be led by what dwelt inside the chalky whiteness. Dust clung to my fingers, and settled on my clothes, and from the curve came a leaping form, water-wise and graceful, with tail and scales.
If this white piece says fish, and came from a place of water, of the past, which we no longer know, what does it say now? What can it tell me? What precious knowledge is wound into its flesh?

As one day dies a new day is birthed.

Little white fish, does a future wait in the place of blue?

I placed the fish beside the other offerings, to shine in the green gloom, and speak what it knew of water and of coming days to the earth.

* * *

The shells of Spondylus gaederopus, a type of bivalve mollusc, which lives in the waters of the Mediterranean, were highly valued in Neolithic Old Europe. They were traded far inland, and used for making beads, pendants, bracelets, and other objects, which may have held some kind of magical value.   

For this task I had to describe the making of an object, and what it might mean to the maker. I also allude to both the beginning and ending of Old Europe—for the first people of those Neolithic cultures migrated into Europe from the area of the Aegean; and, after the fall of Old Europe on the mainland, the last vestiges of the culture survived for another 2000 years in the Aegean, most notably on the island of Crete. Thus, the past and the future are linked through a piece of spondylus shell. 

I’ve used some artistic licence here: it’s possible that the Old Europeans who lived far inland from the sea did not know quite what the shells were, or where they came from, only that they had symbolic value, and were therefore deemed to be precious. I have suggested, however, that a memory of their origins may still have lived within them. 

Also note: while the raw shells could be reddish or purple (as pictured below), they would lose their colour over time and become white.

Spondylus gaederopus from Sicily, on display at the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano
(Source: Wikimedia, by Hectonichus)

Monday, 25 June 2018

Wise Words: Belowness

Aboriginal people talk of the land as if it is a body merely and recently clothed with the supermarket, golf course, airport or town, as if in time the body could and would shuck off these flimsy shifts and be naked again. As if “Adelaide” were as inconsequential as pyjama bottoms and a street just a scarf to be lightly tossed aside in the breeze. You may think you tame the land with concrete and pavements, but its wildness persists, primal and feral, below.

Below, too, there is an immanent world of “spirit business,” which I heard about on the slant, a scrap of paper from a diary blowing in a garden, a paragraph of tension, a look askance, a brief recollection. It is as if the land has veins under the skin, hot with the blood of revenge and power.

(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, Penguin: London, 2006, p. 259)

Thursday, 21 June 2018

In The Dead Of Night: A Poem

In the dead of night 
  there is life and light : 

the dead dance 

Dreams whisper our desires

Grandmother Owl swallows us 

and in her belly we 

(23rd August 2017)

Grandmother Owl, gouache on card (June 2018)
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