Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Belonging to this Land (and a Welsh Word about Longing)

A few weeks back there were hazard reduction burns taking place in the mountains, controlled fires eating up fuel which could have become next summer’s disaster, so for a few days, the air was filled with smoke. Helicopters whirred in the distance, and blackened leaves and pearl-grey flakes of ash fell from the sky.

This got me thinking: Was it like this in my ancestral lands? Did a similar smokiness fill the air in autumn as the field stubble was burnt? Were there bonfires to celebrate Samhain, with dancing in the flickering, orange light?

Fire is often considered a comfort in the northern lands, a warm light in the long, cold dark of winter. A life-giving and life-sustaining presence. 

In Australia, on the other hand, fire can be a destroyer, a frightening and unwanted visitant in the hot months, when the smell of smoke is worrisome, to say the least.  

Yet, as the fires burned in these days of autumn, I almost welcomed the sharp, familiar scent, for I could imagine myself back there, back in the northern lands, in time’s past, when fire was a friend.

The smoke hanging in the air gave the sunshine a golden cast, and the autumn leaves on the trees blazed in sympathy. This autumnal change—the bright burgundies, ambers and lemon-yellows—is not seen in the bush. The valley across the road looks the same. Olive green. Eternally muted. There is no leaf-change on the native trees and bushes (but for the burnt-looking, reddish tinge of new growth on the gumtrees in spring), and no fruitings that I can see (though plenty of seeds around). 

Am I blind? Do I know the land so little?

I feel like a fraud sometimes, or an intruder, living here. It is and is not my home. My ancestry is from elsewhere (as it is for most Australians)—Poland, Ireland and England—and there is an indescribable longing for those places that I come from, yet do not know, ghosting in my cells. My bloodline came from the northern hemisphere, yet here I am, far south of the equator—a northern soul in a southern body.

Is it possible to mingle these northern and southern parts of myself? I know it is necessary, for the soul fits inside the body as a hand fits inside a glove. The glove has no purpose if it is not worn, if the hand does not move within it. 

This is the place of my birth, the soil from which I was made, so I must get the hand to fit, my soul to belong. 

It is in learning about this land, in naming the other beings around me and knowing them better, and in observing and being present to the seasonal changes, that I may achieve better integration of north with south. Though the north will always be there. Blood is strong, and I must respect the past, the old ways that would have been my ways. Once. Long ago.

My task, I think, is to try to fuse old and new, north and south, soul and body. To find belonging here whilst honouring the lands I dream of and yearn for. Those lands of my heart. But to find heart-land here too.

This Earth is so full of diversity, a profusion of life and places, landscapes and climates, all different, but all connected. In rooting myself more deeply here, in knowing my mountain homeland better, perhaps I will bring the multiplicity of the rest of the world closer, and then I can be more truly myself. Then, possibly, I will belong.

*    *    *
After writing this I came across a four-part series of pieces by Jay Griffiths on the subject of ‘home’, which you can find here; and the beautiful Welsh word hiraeth:

There is a Welsh word for homesickness – hiraeth – which is famously untranslatable into English.  It is a past-haunted word which leans backwards in time and can hold the sense of an impossible longing for a home, a person, or a land that may never have existed, with a yearning sense of one’s incompleteness without it, it is wistful for the unattainable. (Part 2: A Beggarly Account of Empty Boxes)

Perhaps that is what I am feeling. Hiraeth. A longing for something that is, essentially, unobtainable. All the more reason to seek, to home in on, a sense of belonging, a sense of home, right here. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Story: The Solitary Woman

From time to time I may share some pieces of creative writing with you, and here is my first small offering. 

This story is particularly special to me for being the very first one that I wrote, a little over two years ago, therefore marking the beginning of my journey as a writer. Indeed, writing it is what helped me to believe that I could actually be a writer. After all, to have the technical ability to write is one thing; to be able to write creatively, to grow stories from the fertile ground of the imagination, is quite another. 

At first I did not believe I would be able to write fiction, for creating stories had never been one of my strengths or talents. And, to be honest, the basic structure of a story—the plot itself—is still something that I struggle with. Places and characters come to me far more easily. Yet, a dear friend (they know who they are) encouraged me to write, to perhaps initially write a story about myself and where I wanted my life to go. At the time, I resisted. I did not feel that I could write imaginatively about my future. Though, without my fully realising, a character had already been evolving within me for some time—a woman somewhat like me and totally unlike me—a woman who I aspire to be more like. Inspired in part by the Wild Woman archetype, and by all the stories of witches and healers I have ever read, she suddenly came to life. 

Strangely, I knew that I wanted to use the words ‘ramshackle’ and ‘hodgepodge’, and from those humble beginnings the story grew in the course of one magic afternoon. 

It seems that what I needed was someone else to believe in me before I could believe in myself. And I needed to give myself permission to write, to sit down and allow myself to begin placing word after word, until another world appeared on the page. 

Now, here I am—a writer. Still learning the craft, but a writer nonetheless. 

And here she is, the healer–herbalist–witch, the edge-dwelling woman of the forest, wild-hearted and wise beyond knowing. 

The Solitary Woman*

She lived in the woods in an old, ramshackle hut made of stone and timber, wattle and daub, topped with a mossy green roof. Some people said that she built the hut with her own strong arms and hands, her sharp axe and sturdy hammer. Others said that the hut had always been there, as if it grew up out of the earth, fully formed, a strange wood and clay and stone creature, warmed into life by a fiery hearth heart. Whatever the truth was, there was something magical about this hut and the women who lived in it. 
She liked to be alone, though she never was, not really. She was friends with the trees and animals, the toadstools and birds, even the ants that walked in a line across her windowsill. It was human company that she avoided. Yet, when some poor, lost and half-starved soul did manage to stumble into the clearing in the woods where she lived, they were always treated hospitably enough, offered hearty food, a warm seat by the fire, and a comfortable place to sleep. Providing the weather was favourable, they would be sent on their way the following morning, their bodies rested and their bellies full, with fail-safe directions back to their mislaid path. Still, though she was kind to her human visitors, she was always happiest when they were gone and her forest glade was quiet once more, filled with the peaceful hum of nonhuman life.
Yet some people in the nearby village were suspicious of the wood-woman, and they wanted to spy on her, to prove that she was a witch, and wicked too, but curiously, anyone who went into the woods with that intention never found her. It was as if her hut was so well camouflaged that it was invisible, as was she, her clothing a hodgepodge of greens and browns that made her blend in with her surroundings. Or it could be that her hut uprooted itself and trundled off to some new location, deeper in the forest, and harder to find. Some dark place that even the most courageous villager would be loathe to enter into, for fear of wolves and other wild creatures. Perhaps even the forest itself hid her, the trees protecting her home, blocking paths, and tripping unwelcome intruders. But even more curiously, when people were desperately in need of help—for the gash in the woodsman's foot, a woman’s difficult labour, or a child's broken bone—the woman's hut could always be found, quickly and with ease, as if it was situated right on the edge of the forest, the smoke from its chimney curling above the trees and clearly visible from the village, its scent blown in on the wind. She would then come, with her satchel of herbs and potions, utensils and restoratives, to stitch up and bandage the wound, deliver the baby, or set the bone right again, before disappearing back into the shadow of the trees. 
Of those who had seen her up close, none could agree on her age or appearance. Some said that she was old and wizened, small and stooped and quite definitely ugly. Others thought that she had not seen many summers at all, and was tall and strikingly handsome. Yet others thought she was of middling age, neither old nor young, and entirely unremarkable in appearance. And was her hair winter white or autumnal auburn, chestnut brown or sunlight golden? But, despite the contradictions, everyone wholeheartedly agreed that her green eyes always seemed to be laughing, even if her lips were not, and her voice, when she did break her silence, was lilting and rich. 
However, in spite of her obvious strangeness and the inquisitiveness of the villagers, in the general commotion of illness or injury, the woman’s presence was often largely unnoticed. She simply went about her healing work, quietly and methodically, doing whatever was necessary—staunching, stitching, bandaging, massaging, reassuring, easing pain. It was only when her patient was cured, on the mend, or had peacefully breathed their last, and she was gone once more, that her warm-hearted and motherly, yet uncanny presence, was acknowledged and missed, and the earthy smell of herbs, woodsmoke and soil that accompanied her would fade away. The villagers would then feel a peculiar dull ache, a yearning for something they knew not what—her patients most of all. And this yearning would pull them towards the forest, towards the dark, green, wild place outside the confines of the village, with its fenced yards and homely cottages, clucking hens and bleating sheep. Something called to them from the shadows under the trees, something ancient and untamed and mysterious. But after a few days, or a few weeks, most people would forget this yearning and get on with their lives. They always forgot.
Once in a blue moon, though, there would be someone who wouldn’t—or simply couldn’t—forget, who would feel the yearning so strongly that they would abandon their home and walk straight into the woods without looking back. And after the villagers had called and searched and eventually lost all hope of their safe return, sometimes that person would walk out of the forest, months later, smelling of leaf mould and vegetation, their clothes tattered and patched with squares of green and brown, but looking none the worse for their long absence. They would, however, have a strange kind of laughter in their eyes, now newly flecked with green.

*This story has previously been published on the Blue Mountains Library blog, Writers in the Mist, along with a number of short stories by other members of my writers’ group. Do click on the link and have a read of their stories too. We are a talented bunch.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Moving Through Self-Doubt: Some Thoughts on Blogging

This blog is primarily for myself, to motivate me to write more—both creative non-fiction and stories—to take more photos, to eventually create more art, and to pursue creative living in general. 

Yet blogs are designed to be read by other people, and this creates a dilemma. 
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brilliant blogs out there. Clearly, it is impossible to read all of them, or even to follow a substantial number. There are a few blogs I read regularly, and several more that I might dip into from time to time, if there is a post that specifically interests me, or for inspiration, or out of curiosity. 

The fact is that I already read a great deal, and cannot constantly be adding to this always growing, never-ending workload. Ideally, I want to read only what is most stimulating and necessary for me—wild and wonder-filled fiction and non-fiction with mythic, ecological, spiritual and feminine focuses. (Though I would also like to connect with other bloggers in the Blue Mountains, and Australia in general, whatever it is they may be blogging about, for I am sure there are some treasures out there I have not yet discovered.) 

Yet if I must carefully control how much I read, how then can I expect anyone else to read my blog?

I am not a professional writer or artist. I am not (yet) published. I am not marketing a product. I don’t have fans or followers. So how am I to find a readership? 

After the great excitement of launching this blog, and the substantial attention I received in the first few days, now the interest has dropped off sharply, and I find myself wondering why I am doing this, and if it is even worth it. This is the negative voice talking, I know, and I am doing my best to ignore it. Still, I need to renew my courage and sense of conviction that I am doing the right thing.

I have never been much of a ‘commenter’ on blogs, as I have often felt I have nothing important to say, and I have never been particularly comfortable with social networking in general*, but I am trying to remedy this now by commenting on blogs when I can, and being a bit more sociable (as much as that is possible in an online space). 

All writers and artists need encouragement—even the seemingly successful ones—though especially those of us just starting out. So, if you have stumbled across my blog and you find something you like, please do leave a comment, however small, however simple. It would make my day. And I extend this to all other blogs too, not just my own. If you enjoy something, leave a comment, for I think we often don’t realise just how important our comments and small connections can be. We can’t possibly support every blogger or creative person out there, but we can make a (perhaps substantial) difference to a small number of people.

At this time I am also needing to remind myself that I have only just begun. It is too early to be thinking of failure, of this venture being a mistake. 

April's first quarter
My mood has a tendency to change like the moon, to go through cycles of ups and downs, and the ride can be bumpy, to say the least. When I am ‘down’, all of this work seems pointless, the inner critic flaring up to seed doubt in my mind, and I wonder whether I have anything of worth to say. Yet when I am ‘up’, I remember why I am writing and making art, and why it remains necessary. We are living in a time of great destruction. Creativity is one way to counteract that, to resist those forces that seem hell-bent on destroying the Earth. Creativity has the capacity to heal, and to create meaning. It is essential, else we die to life. 

The truth is that I greatly enjoy the process of writing and the unexpected journeys I am often taken on. I enjoy the process of designing my posts, incorporating photos and artworks. I am excited about the glorious unknowns I might be drawn to write of and about, excited about what I might discover and learn, and how Offerings from the Wellspring might evolve over time. What possibilities will it open up for me? What new avenues of inspiration will be revealed? And now that my blog is here, it is here for the foreseeable future, when it might be discovered by just the kind of people who will gain something from it. So I will put doubt aside and be patient. Much is yet to come.

I know that my voice and my story may not appeal to many, but it may appeal to some. So I am doing this not just for myself, but for them too, whoever, wherever and whenever they may be. 

If you are one of those people, and you have the time, please leave a comment, say hello, tell me what you like about my work. And if you would prefer to contact me directly, you can send me a message using the form on the right side of the page.

Thank you to everyone who has read my posts so far. You’ve helped to smooth out the bumpy road at the beginning of this particular path of mine.

*Nor do I feel particularly comfortable with technology as a whole. While the Internet can be a great tool for learning, finding information, and forming connections with people all over the world, it is also awash with many of the worst aspects of Western and patriarchal society; whilst technology, and the vast infrastructure that sustains it, is one of the major things responsible for the destruction of this planet, our one and only, irreplaceable, home.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Autumn's Gifts

In Australia autumn often comes late, even up here in the mountains, as summer likes to lazily linger on into March and April. Changes to the Earth’s climate are no doubt exacerbating this phenomenon, bringing too-warm days and too little rain, and this year has been no exception. Though for some time the nights have been cooler, and the mornings brisk, the days have remained mild, and it was well into April before I noticed more than a tinge of autumn colour on the trees. Yet I have still been marking the season’s gifts, and all the usual residents and guests around me.

Little garden skinks aplenty, along with impossibly tiny babies, making the most of the warmth and sunshine, their rainbow-sheened skins shining as they bask, and climb, and fight in rolling tumbles. A larger skink, who I suspect is an eastern water skink, also took up residence; as did another even larger member of the skink family: a blue-tongued lizard. 

Eastern water skink
Grasshoppers and butterflies, and bee-hum around the blooming fuchsia. 

Greenish Grass Dart (also called Southern Dart or Yellow-banded Dart)
Lines of industrious ants carrying provisions to fill their winter stores. And tiny insects, which I can only assume are some species of gnat, flying in oscillating dances, as if they are planets orbiting minuscule, invisible suns.

Gnat squiggles
The morning and afternoon migrations of sulphur-crested cockatoos, with their attendant screeches (my house regularly seems to be directly beneath their flight path); and the occasional, and much-longed-for, cries of yellow-tailed black cockatoos, mournful but beautiful. The sound gives me shivers.

Magpies have been making holes in the lawn as they dig out worms and grubs to eat, and there has been much flapping and whooshing of wings and clacking of beaks as they spar.

Of course, there has been an eastern spinebill, a tiny honeyeater (sometimes with one or two friends), that comes to sit in the callistemon and pipe his/her little call, preen his/her feathers, and feed on fuchsia nectar, wings a-blur. This year’s bird has been considerably shyer than the little fellow I got to know over the past couple of years, so I have had to keep my distance, and take advantage of the rather spectacular zoom on my camera, to capture his/her portrait.

Eastern spinebill
The ever-present crimson rosellas twitter and whistle their adorable conversations, and sit high in trees making soft cracking sounds as they nibble seeds.

In the garden there have been strawberries and tomatoes gradually blushing to red, while a pumpkin grows by the front steps. And, on a walk a little while back I found a shining golden, and no doubt magical, mushroom!

Until recently, the trees at the small park not far from my house—I believe they are bald cypresses—were still vividly lime green. Only now have they transformed to fiery copper, and eventually these bright leaves will fall (hence the tree’s name). 

Though late summer and autumn are the times for the harvest, for reaping the plentifulness of summer’s fruiting, I have not completed a story since the year renewed itself. Summer is a difficult time. While I love warm days and the freedom that comes with wearing less layers of clothing, the heat and humidity don’t agree with me. Though it doesn’t even have to be hot. For some strange reason, summer always depletes my energy. I find it difficult to do much physically, and very difficult to THINK, which I clearly need to be able to do to pull together all the various idea-strands that weave themselves into a story. Though I have had ideas—some exciting ones—I have not been able to follow them through, to put them together satisfactorily. 
Perhaps the story is not ready. 

Perhaps I am not ready for the story. 

I cannot find the rhythm.

Earlier in the year I read Ursula Le Guin’s book The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, and I was struck by Virginia Woolf’s thoughts on writing, as related in the quote which gives the book its title. Woolf wrote in a letter to her friend Vita Sackville-West:

Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. (280)

Le Guin adds to this:

Beneath memory and experience, beneath imagination and invention—beneath words, as she [Woolf] says—there are rhythms to which memory and imagination and words all move; and the writer’s job is to go down deep enough to begin to feel that rhythm, to find it, move to it, be moved by it, and let it move memory and imagination to find words. (281)

It is quite true. Writing is about rhythm, and right now, I do not feel it. At least, not for the writing of stories. Besides, there is so much more that I need to know, to learn, to absorb and experience before I can write. 

Though I had hoped to read less this year to make more time for writing, I must confess, I am not doing too well on either score. I have written little of note so far, and have still been reading, perhaps not to excess, but not much less than usual (and the list of books I want to read, along with the things I subscribe to, and blogs, and articles, only seems to get longer and longer). Yet as Robert Macfarlane says in his book on landscape and language, Landmarks, ‘Before you become a writer you must first become a reader. Every hour spent reading is an hour spent learning to write; this continues to be true throughout a writer’s life’ (11). 

Perhaps it is not so bad to spend my time reading, for I am simultaneously learning to write, and learning in general, absorbing ideas and influences—what I like to think of as ‘literary osmosis’. The writing itself will come again when it is ready. I am sure of this.

I have now been writing creatively for a little over two years, and while I made great strides last year, writing several short stories and a novella, and developing well beyond what I had achieved the previous year (in part because I joined a writers’ group, which has motivated me to write much more), this past summer and early autumn has stopped me in my tracks. It doesn’t surprise me, feeling as I always do at this time; yet it still frustrates, in both senses of the word: thwarting my ability to do, and exasperating me emotionally and mentally.

I can only acknowledge the particular creative season that I am occupying at the moment, and accept its difference from the natural season occurring outside. While it is all abundance, I am lying fallow. Yet such dormant, slowing-down times are needed, as much as the times of abundance and activity. 

I am feeling a particular need to return to sources, to the things that I loved when I was younger. So I am slowly pursuing a re-reading of all six of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, the first four of which I read when I was about twelve or thirteen, and I am surprised at what forgotten things have leapt out from my memory. In particular, a line from A Wizard of Earthsea, in which the wise, quiet mage Ogion says to his young and impatient apprentice Ged, ‘To hear, one must be silent’ (The Earthsea Quartet, 26). That deceptively simple piece of wisdom made a big impression on me as a teenager, quiet girl as I was. Yet it means so much more now, for I consider listening to be of vital importance. Listening to the inner voice and to dreams. Listening to the more-than-human voices. Listening to the Earth herself. This is something that, for the most part, we have forgotten how to do. We surround ourselves with our human-made sounds, and the countless distractions of the digital age, and we have forgotten that we can, and should, listen to nonhumans, and to the land.

In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged discovers ‘that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees’ (82).

To listen. To learn, in silence. To try to understand what the Others—the more-than-human beings around us, both breathing and non-breathing—are saying, through their sounds and embodied languages, their movements and gestures, their non-movement and rootedness. The many ways in which they interact with, and create, the world. 

Listening—truly listening—with heart as well as ears, is hard. It does not come easily. 

Yet I sat on the front steps and listened, and watched, and in this fallow time, I was urged by who and what I heard and saw to write this piece. 

Perhaps I was listening well after all.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Fire in the Belly of Vulture

At the end of February I took part in a weekend-long workshop entitled ‘Activating Your Creative Force’ at the Blue Spirit Yoga and Healing Space. Run by shamanic practitioner Mirella Gleeson, and theatre director, writer and community arts facilitator Cymbeline Buhler, it was an opportunity to use shamanic methods to tap into creativity, to discover and destroy blocks/obstacles, to retrieve a lost soul part, and to work with a power animal.

I have been learning about and using shamanic techniques for some time now, and shamanism (and the ancient, earth-based wisdom that it originates from) has brought a great deal of transformation to my life, so I am always keen to find ways to deepen my practice. The workshop particularly interested me as I have come to believe that spirituality and creativity are one and the same, for they stem, ultimately (and magically), from the same source—whether you call that source Spirit, the Divine, the Otherworld or Creative Energy (or any number of other terms). Both spirituality and art give meaning to life, and life itself can be, should be, an ongoing creative process that produces meaning. 

Artists (of any kind) work by bringing into being that which was once invisible, intangible, inaudible. So making art truly is an act of Creation. 

It is shamanism, in part, that has helped me to find ways to journey to and connect with the source, that beyond place where ideas, stories and visions come from, and to have the confidence to believe in whatever I bring back, to let it have life, most especially in the form of writing.   

One of the first workshop activities that we did was a guided visualisation in which we had to imagine ourselves in a landscape, and for all my recent talk of water and wellsprings (see my previous post here), it was a desert landscape that immediately claimed my attention (though water did come to it, in the form of a life-bringing flood). This was not entirely surprising, as the desert has been a powerful symbol for me since I read Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés a few years ago. As she writes, ‘The desert is not lush like a forest or a jungle. It is very intense and mysterious in its life forms. Many of us [women] have lived desert lives: very small on the surface, and enormous under the ground’ (33). Ain’t that the truth! But, on this occasion I didn’t want to be in a desert. I wanted to be in that lush forest with golden sunbeams dancing down through green leaves. Yet isn’t it so often the case that we get what we need rather than what we want? The desert was where I needed to be, with aridity, heat and sun/fire. The desert was going to have her way. And it was where I met my power animal.

Now, I don’t usually speak about power animals publicly, but I am making an exception in this case, seeing as the animal in question has played a crucial part in the creation of this blog. So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Vulture. 

As part of the workshop we made masks, and here is mine: Vulture with wings of fire—an alchemical fire of transformation—and a blue tail, symbolising the rain/river/flood that comes to the desert and makes it bloom. (I later learnt that the Mayans associated vultures with water and control of the rain!) The spirals symbolise the circling flight of vultures, and the cyclical/spiralling nature of time and all life processes. Vultures eat the dead, and are therefore at the forefront of the process of death and regeneration—and while the subject of death and decay may be something that we prefer not to think about, it is wholly necessary (there is no life without death), and a powerful subject to explore. After all, death is always with us. I don’t just mean literal death (though that too; and whether we acknowledge it or not, our cells are always dying and renewing themselves, for example), but all the little symbolic or psychic deaths we endure as we grow as people, as relationships end, as we leave places, as we lose our youth or our health, as our lives change and evolve. We are constantly required to let go of our past selves, to let parts of us die, to enable our new selves to live on, renewed, different, older, and hopefully wiser. Life and Death constantly dance together, spiralling around each other. In fact, where does one end and the other begin?

Estés says most eloquently:

This is our meditation practice as women, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of ourselves, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of life itself. The one who re-creates from that which has died is always a double-sided archetype. The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vice versa. Because of this dual nature, or double-tasking, the great work before us is to learn to understand what around us and about us and what within us must live, and what must die. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live. (29)

Vulture embodies this important work.

Also, a realisation that came through loud and clear was that Vulture looks death in the face (quite literally), so she must be entirely fearless.

From a writing exercise we did to explore the main themes of our power animals, I wrote this very raw poem:

From spiral flight,
I see, I smell.
I go to the bones, 
the bones call. 
I eat death, 
and death is life is death is life. 
It spirals onwards. 
I see, I know, I eat. 
I re-flesh the bones. 
I come, I remake, I regenerate. 
I do not fear. I am Vulture.

Vulture is endless regeneration. Vulture is fearlessness. This is what I needed.

And the desert is not a place of lifelessness, though it may seem empty at first glance. As Estés makes clear, the life can be small, so you need to look closely, to pay attention; and sometimes it is hiding underground, just waiting for the right moment to emerge. In many arid places, animals, such as frogs, aestivate. (Aestivation is essentially the opposite of hibernation, when creatures like frogs, fish, insects and snails go into a state of summer dormancy or torpor, only waking and emerging again when it rains.) So the particular ‘belowness’ of the desert, the hidden underground life, is just as important as what is visible on the surface, if not more so. What is hidden might be huge and vibrant and magnificent. It just needs the right conditions to draw it forth.

I have been thinking much about cycles and seasons, that there is a time for all things, even the desert and dry summer. There is a time for emptiness, for being emptied, and then for regeneration. That is something of what the desert is for me: a place of possibility, where new life grows out of death, where transformation is possible. 

Overall, the workshop was a thoroughly rewarding experience, as well as being overwhelmingly FUN! It made me feel more alive than I have in years. That is the power of untrammelled creativity, of spontaneity and playfulness, and I am grateful to Mirella and Cymbeline and all the other people who took part for making it what it was. 

Furthermore, another good thing came from it. One of the participants was Michelle Genders, an independent artist who works under the name of Emma Kay Inks, and I agreed to take part in an idea she dreamt up—The Deep Scarlet Red Pen Project. This is the result (which has been featured on Michelle’s blog and Facebook)—a drawing in red (the perfect colour) of Vulture, done entirely left-handed. In this I have been inspired by the English artist Kate Walters, who not only works using shamanic methods, but also does a lot of her drawings left-handed (and even with her eyes closed!). 

Fire in the Belly of Vulture
Drawing with my non-favoured hand, while difficult, is strangely liberating. Firstly, it helps me to lower my expectations (which is very important for someone like me, who hasn’t done much drawing for years, and tends to be very self-critical); and secondly, the wonky wobbliness of the lines can in fact make the drawing more interesting than any right-handed drawing would ever have been. There is also a certain vulnerability to it, for as it was made with my weaker, less coordinated hand, I had to accept the flaws and work with them. Somehow that makes it feel more authentic as a work of art. 

I am in love with this creation, its imperfect perfection, the blood-redness, and the details of the feathers and wings which remind me so much of the textures in landscapes, of geological layers. I even like my very rough preliminary sketch.

The vulture depicted is a griffon vulture or Eurasian griffon. They are found in southern Europe, north Africa and parts of Asia, and at around one metre in height, with a wingspan of 240–280 cm, they are huge birds, with, I think, their own unconventional yet majestic beauty (which appeals greatly to the nonconformist in me; beauty takes many strange forms). Due to their size, they are relatively heavy (especially when they have a full belly), so to save energy in flight they make use of thermal air currents, which enable them to stay aloft for hours at a time without the need to beat their wings at all. Thus they provide an important lesson in how to use energy with efficiency, to actually draw upon the powers of the Earth and the ‘natural way of things’; and to be patient and resourceful, for they make the most of the opportunities that come to them—as scavengers, they simply wait for food to become available; they do not kill.

I won’t go into further detail about the traditional symbolism of vultures (for it is what they symbolise to me personally that is most important), suffice to say that they are quite a feminine bird in many traditions. Said to be fiercely protective mothers, they raise their young for longer than most other birds (around three months), and in Egyptian tradition they were associated with Nekhbet (goddess of childbirth and feminine energies) and Mut (the mother goddess). The vulture is also one of the many animal manifestations of the Great Goddess of neolithic culture. 

All of this is apt, right for me at this time; and from this encounter with Vulture’s powers, I felt ready to make my work more public by creating this blog. Vulture has been an integral part of the process, and will remain so, peering over my shoulder as I write, circling above me with her astonishing wings outspread in protection and blessing.

In my drawing, Vulture has eaten what is dead, so death can be transformed by the alchemical fire in her belly. Something new then begins to gestate (myself/art/stories/this blog?), preparing to be born; the bone she clutches will be re-fleshed. Death and Life, held together in an eternal paradox—Death Mother and Life Mother. Vulture easily embodies these contradictions, for though she is fire, burning things to ashes, she also brings rain, which leads to the sprouting of delicate shoots, and the greening and flowering of a desert place that once seemed so very empty. Death and life, decay and regeneration, fire and water, all held beneath her wings and spiralling out into the world. These opposites are linked. Contrasting elements join together to create wholes. Everything is connected. It would seem, in the end, that even in the desert water is not far away, for ‘even desert is not the opposite of sea but her daughter—for the sands of the desert are formed of seashells’ (Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, 263).

Fire and Water
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