Monday, 30 July 2018

Wise Words: Truth

Truth is harder to bear than ignorance, and so ignorance is valued more—also because the status quo depends on it; but love depends on self-knowledge, and self-knowledge depends on being able to bear the truth.
(Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Basic Books: New York, 1987/2006, p. 63)


Fearless female truth-telling is extremely threatening to the status quo, particularly when that woman is denouncing sacred male authority. 

(Jane Caputi, Gossips, Gorgons & Crones: The Fates of the Earth, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, 1993, p. 95)

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Witchlines: On The Tip Of The Needle

The second myth we have been studying for Witchlines is the Russian Baba Yaga tale, The Frog Princess. In this story the frog-wife, Vasilisa the Wise, has her frog skin destroyed by her husband, Ivan. She is then forced to return to the realm of Koshchei the Deathless. Ivan must go on a journey to find her; but what isn’t told is what happens to Vasilisa while she waits.  

On The Tip Of The Needle

Life waits on the tip of a needle.

The needle is inside an egg, the egg is inside a duck, the duck is inside a hare, the hare is inside a trunk, and the trunk is at the top of a tall oak tree.

The tree stands bare, poised between winter and a spring that does not come, at the bottom of a steep-sided valley where light barely reaches. A perpetual twilight cloaks the place with dimness, broken only by the pale glow of swan feathers shed at my feet. My woman-skin is all I have now, and I am cold, shivering in the damp, stale air.

A sliver of moon, neither waxing nor waning, pierces the sky, a sharp piece of bone; and I hear the rattle of Koshchei’s bones as he stalks about his realm, as naked and spindly as the old oak.

There is no movement, no breeze, only stillness. The day seems to be ending—always ending—falling towards a longed-for night, yet the stars never appear to whirl as they should. The world remains colourless, silent, grieving for the lost certainty of darkness and light. Icy water seeps up through the sodden ground to numb my feet, and exhale its reek of rot, its stench of stagnancy. My mouth is dry, but I cannot drink this foul fluid, for near me is a shallow pool filled with frogspawn on the verge of decomposing, a becoming that will not be. Beside my unrealised children, my dormant dreams, I sit and brood on my fate, holding the memory of warmth within, the memory of wings, of clean water, of life and growth and never-ending change.

With the tip of a feather, I trace meandering lines on the muddy ground. Lines that turn this way and that, swirling inwards and outwards, always moving, always journeying, seeking and finding. Lines that tell of life, and the Mystery, and the insides of bodies—mine, Her’s, earth’s. 

Koshchei the Deathless is near, and he is always hungry. I hear him gnawing on the bones of his own gaunt body, scraping at the lifeless ground with his fingernails, looking for any trace of sustenance. He moans and cries out a lament, which echoes through the valley, the song of a sad ghost, a decaying god. I pity him as much as I fear him, but I know he must die. 

As he howls, my meandering line moves towards one of the oak’s twisted roots, and that is when I see it: the rotting wood, the bark falling away, the beetles and fungi that are eating out its heart, bringing blessed death. 

The tree will fall. 

I know then that the oak is Her body, withering, turning inwards, descending back into the renewing earth. It is Her body, crowned with the magic vessel, containing hare, duck, egg, and needle—the needle that stitches the world together, threading it with lines of fate, tipped with the prick of life in death. And when Koshchei succumbs—as all life must—when he finally lets go of his impossible immortality, it is Her body to which She will draw him, back into Her embrace, into life, to suckle hungrily at Her abundant breasts. 

Postcard by Matorin Nickolay Vasilyevich (Source: Wikimedia)

Monday, 23 July 2018

Wise Words: Our Most Precious Talisman

The abandonment and dishonoring of the body and its Powers is an ontologically disastrous error. In her brilliant and heartfelt essay “The Woman I Love Is a Planet,” Paula Gunn Allen writes that our bodies are our most precious “talismans” connecting us to the earth: “Walking in balance, in harmony, and in a sacred manner requires staying in your body, accepting its discomforts, decaying, witherings, and blossomings and respecting them.” In other words, one of the most politically radical and effective things that any of us can do is respect our bodies—and the bodies of others—in all of their manifestations and transformations. This includes respecting aging, fatness, weakness, male softness, female hairiness, bodily waste making, and even our sickness and death.

In our healing and transmutational work, Paula Gunn Allen insists that first of all we need to cherish and honor our bodies, “singing Heya-hey to our flesh”:
The mortal body is a tree; it is holy in whatever condition; it is truth and myth because it has so many potential conditions; because of its possibilities, it is profane and sacred; most of all, it is your most precious talisman, your own connection to her. Healing the self means honoring and recognizing the body, accepting rather than denying all the turmoil its existence brings, welcoming the woes and anguish flesh is subject to, cherishing its multitudinous forms and seasons, it’s unfailing ability to know and be, to grow and wither, to live and die, to mutate, to change.

(Jane Caputi, Gossips, Gorgons & Crones: The Fates of the Earth, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, 1993, pp. 254 and 257)

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)
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