Month: May 2010

in the temple of the Muses

One of my personal pilgrimage sites is Brookgreen Gardens, to which I drag various family members during my annual sojourn.

It is a vast sculpture garden — a Museum, in truth: a temple to the Muses. I’ve often thought the site would serve well as a Pagan temple, due to its many deity-images and the devotion of its garden-tenders. Sculpture gardens often inspire religious feelings in me for this purpose, and I think the Kindreds enjoy them as well. Why not inhabit a gold statue of Dionysus, flanked by panthers? How different is that from ancient temples?

But rather than words, let me offer some pictures:


an experiential rundown of Goddess art

The day spins threads of light in birdsong. It beckons.

Before I go hiking, I’ve been inspired to share some of the Goddess art I love. My aesthetic tends to be of the more detailed sort; no modernist globs of color for me! In the age of the photograph, detail is probably passe, but I admire the skill that goes into it.

Deity images are funny things. I am reminded of the ancient Celt who laughed at the Greek depiction of deities, in all their anthropomorphic realism: “how can we know what the Gods look like?” Brighid herself is the water of the healing well, the lick of flame in the hearth, the blacksmith’s arm, the clever fingers of the musician.

It’s hubris to say that the Gods are merely deified humans in appearance. I believe it was Herodotus who noted that horses would see the Gods as horses.

However, human images of the divine offer a glimpse of beauty — what’s accepted as beauty, and its social construct. They also grant legitimacy: who can be regarded as the image of the divine? In a monotheistic, patriarchal culture, it’s the typical Sky God (old, white male with a beard and an unsmiling face) or his tortured son — or the Virgin with her demure manner and her veil.

Pagan art shatters that paradigm — or rather, it can, when you discount the “babe on the broomstick” and muscle-rippling sun god on the cover of Silver Ravenwolf’s books, for example. It has the potential to envision the divine in new ways. Sadly, this is most often expressed solely in terms of the female — there are very few modern God-images out there. It’s understandable in that women are frequently attracted to Paganism for the female divine, although I hope that male images catch up.

(Amusing side note: Shoshen was trying to order Celtic god statuary from Imagicka as a gift for me. Aonghus Og, the Dagda, Nuada — no one makes any! He settled for Lugh, who now proudly sits on my altar. We both wish there was more out there, though.)

    Here’s some image-makers I particularly enjoy:

  • Sandra M. Stanton, I love her work because she depicts some lesser-known Goddesses such as Scythian Tabiti, but also because her Goddesses aren’t traditionally beautiful. They have older faces and bodies, appearing more as crones than as maidens. She also depicts more full-figured Goddesses, such as Rhea.
  • Hrana Janto, my all-time favorite. Her art is detailed and beautiful; I have her Goddess deck and some of her prints on my wall. Some of my favorites are Arianrhod (for the motion in it), Rhiannon, which has beautiful depictions of birds and horses, and the Lady of Beasts, a touching depiction of pregnancy across the mammalian world.
  • Thalia Took — completely different from the “realism” track I have taken. Her art is comic-book style, awash in color. I love her depiction of Epona (note how the Goddess and the horses mirror one another) and the triple goddess of Arabia, who is not often depicted in Goddess art. She also does an incredible image of the Mayan Goddess Ix Chel — incredible because Mayan art is often ugly to Western eyes, and she paints this in beauty while maintaining the traditional style. Her simple image of Brighid, part of her attractive Goddess Oracle deck, is also a favorite of mine. Unlike other artists, she other does God art, including a great image of Manannan.
  • Another beautiful image of Manannan is from Miranda Grey in the book Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses. The book is worth it for the art alone; other beautiful images include Blodeuwedd and Morrigan. Alas, there’s no simple Web site to send you to, so buy the book!
  • While it’s a tarot deck rather than a Goddess deck, i’m a big fan of Joanna Powell Colbert, whose lovers card I linked to. I plan on buying the deck as soon as it comes out — beautiful work!
  • Sculpture-wise, i’m a fan of Paul Borda, whose Brighid, Morrigan and Lugh statues i have. I also love Maxine Miller, although I don’t own any of her work; her Goddess art is incredibly detailed and fine.

What’s your favorite Goddess/God art? Please share! 

a prayer for the hours before dawn

In the moon just past fullness, a crescent pared from its belly, remember you are blessed.
In the white of night when none sleep, remember you are blessed.
When the owls call out the small creatures, driven by fear from the leaves, remember you are blessed.
When the veil wreathes the pockmarked face in a pale halo, remember you are blessed.
When the coyotes keen on the ridge and the hounds reply, remember you are blessed.
When the deer amble in their feast and hunger, remember you are blessed.
When marshlights dance at the crossroads, remember you are blessed.
When Midhir measures time in his pale hand and age beckons in the black curve of space, remember you are blessed.
When the stars are lost in dawn’s haze, remember you are blessed.

The Horse Boy: Some thoughts

Recently, my family and I watched a documentary called The Horse Boy, about an autistic boy who goes to Mongolia with his filmmaker father and psychologist mother. I’ve been aware of the film for a while, having first read about it in the New York Times.

First off: it’s excellent; go see it. But rather than a strict review, I wanted to muse on the interpretations surrounding the film, in somewhat of a haphazard manner.

A bit of a spoiler:

the most prominent shaman in northern Mongolia determines that Rowan is destined to become a shaman himself, and recommends that his parents prepare his drum and costume. This is somewhat glossed over in both the movie and the reviews surrounding it. Instead, Westerners seem to pick apart why shamanic healing made such an impact on the boy — and, in the NY Times’ health blog comments, whether the parents are attention-whores going to charlatans. The mother admits that she simply cannot believe in the shamanic worldview; even though the advice has proved correct, she is still trying to fit the round peg of shamanism into the square hole of Western materialism.

But my thought upon seeing the film is: What if the shamans are right?

The film offers tantalizing glimpses. In the van, Rowan is seeing contemplating a mirror — a major tool in a Mongolian shaman’s kit. He isn’t afraid of shamans — and in fact, weeps and begs not to leave the wigwam of the last shaman, the one who divines his destiny.

The first set of shamans concludes that he’s being afflicted by an ancestral spirit; once overcome, such spirits — which cause the illness that initiates a person as a shaman — often become the shaman’s first helpers. Rowan’s great gift is quite literally talking to and understanding animals — not a bad gift for a shaman to have.

In short, no one from the West seems willing to set aside their culturally ingrained disbelief and take the shamans’ interpretations at their face value. To see the film with Other-eyes: perhaps the child’s helping spirits prodded his parents to take him to Mongolia. To Western ears, such a notion sounds patently ridiculous. And yet….

This isn’t to say that all autistic people are shamans; the film wasn’t about all people with autism, but about the trials and travels of one particular individual. This particularity is cited by Western experts as a reason to dismiss the film; there are no peer-reviewed studies, etc. It’s not a scientific experiment, but a spiritual journey.

The film is beautiful, but it also exposes — perhaps unintentionally — the pervasiveness of the Western world-view. We automatically assume that the atheistic, scientific world-view is the correct one — even though it did little to aid the afflicted child before his journey. Why is the West always seen as correct?

kitchen zen

The pumpkin sputters, hissing onto my hand. I suck at the burn and then stir in the lime juice, adjust the rice.

Brighid’s kitchen candle burns, merry and cherry-red in its square of glass.

I usually sing scales as I cook, followed by arias. The cat uncurls a white paw on the red couch cover. The curry wreathes the white-walled kitchen in warm scent.

and now for a word from our sponsor

When it comes to self-promotion, I’m horrible. It feels wrong to put myself on a flag and wave it about, and so I don’t — which isn’t good for me in the end. I have a definite deficiency in Vitamin Ego, I think.

However, Kwannon is now available digitally on Amazon. Reviews are eagerly sought!

We’re also available in CD format at the Kwannon site and in CD and download format from CD Baby.

Thanks for your support — or your strained-smile tolerance, as the case may be.  😉

Prayers at the boundary

From my journal, in February 2009:

Beauty in the odd places: the brutal wind-gust blowing ghost clouds of snow over the country road. The gibbous moon over my aching shoulder in the pre-dawn, the stars glittering in the overhead cold. Lying in bed as we watch the slender forest buck and rear, their surfaces lathered in white.

I end my nights with a prayer, praising the Gods and Kindreds and those I love. I begin with prayers to Boann, the moon and the river, and Aine, the shining sun, depending on which I see. to the spirits of the mountain as I wind my way down it. To Brighid as I make dinner or do dishes, at her supplementary altar in the kitchen.

I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia, and loving it. Not so much for the story, but for the depiction of the ancient Italian way of life: to honoring the fire and the spirits of the storehouse, the boundary-gods of the field.

One of my favorite parts, so far, is the disconnect between Lavinia and Virgil; she cannot understand his “Juno,” the shrew-goddess of women. To the Italians, Juno wasn’t a personality but the in-dwelling spirit in women, as genius is the in-dwelling spirit in men. Venus, similarly, isn’t a goddess on a half-shell, but “the power we invoke in spring, in the garden, when thing begin growing. And we call the evening star Venus.”

A favorite passage:

The world is sacred, of course, it is full of gods, numina, great powers and presences. We give some of them names — Mars of the fields and the war, Vesta the fire, Ceres the grain, Mother Tellus the earth, the Penates of the storehouse. The rivers, the springs. And in the storm cloud and the light is the great power called the father god. But they aren’t people. They don’t love and hate, they aren’t for or against. They accept the worship due them, which augments their power, through which we live.

And i say: Exactly. Exactly.

I do have visions, dreams and experiences of the Gods as personal presences, but that’s not really what they are. They adopt those forms to aid the understanding of a small being, who is overshadowed by the tall forest, the clouds overhead, the babbling waters beneath.

Another excellent, Pagan-friendly book by Le Guin is “Always Coming Home,” which expresses the same type of sentiment.