Tag Archives: Art

A Comprehensive List of All the Things Entirely Yours

Today is April the 15th, and for those of us in the United States, it is the last day to file our taxes (barring all the usual extensions and other means of putting the thing off, that is).

It’s a bit of a relief really.

Mine were dealt with weeks ago, but I’ll be glad to get a bit of a break from the complaints of my friends and neighbors.  Every year we seem to greet the spring with a rising chorus of, “They’re taking my money, they’re taking my money, they’re taking MY money….,” the inference being that your property is being stolen by people who don’t deserve it.

But does money equal property?

It’s not tangible.

The paper and the coins that fewer and fewer of us carry are nothing more than placeholders, effigies of a number which itself is a representation of a highly generalized valuation of the total output of goods, services, natural resources, expectations for future development, and compounded debt (yeah, let’s not forget about the debt), that is the product of our nation.

Which is to say that a dollar is worth nothing more than what we all agree it’s worth.

Money is not property.

Money is a social contract.

It’s the stuff that we’ve agreed to use instead of trading a clutch of chickens for a bolt of cloth.

You don’t own it.  It belongs to all of us.

And part of the price we all pay for using it, is that we agree to cycle a certain percentage of that which we have accumulated back to that body which does all the printing and tabulating for us.

If you’ve every tried to drive any distance with more than a few chickens in your car, you’d be glad to pay your share.

So, having come this far, I thought that, as a bit of a public service, I should just go ahead and list those things that, unlike the mighty dollar, really do belong to you.

Perhaps you will think of other things as well.  Feel free to suggest any additions in the comments below.

Land

Yeah, no.

Land does not belong to you.  I know, I know, you payed a bundle for it, and you slapped a fence around it and posted it with all kinds of big angry ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ signs, but really, no.  Your little patch of earth was here for hundreds of millions of years before you came along, and will be here again when the oldest of your decedents are nothing but dust.  At most, you are a temporary caretaker of those lands to which you hold the deed.

Looked at from this perspective, it becomes clear that instead of the land servicing OUR needs, we are responsible for its care and upkeep.

If anything, we belong to the land.  And we pay for the privilege!

Property

Okay, we’ve all got our stuff.  And it’s very nice stuff.  And we’re all very proud of it.  And eventually, with the exception of a few very nice or sentimental items, every bit of it ends up in the dump.

Do you still own a thing after you’ve thrown it away?

But sure, I guess we can put property on the list, even if fleetingly.

Children

Mmmm…, maybe while they’re still in the womb.

Honestly, the whole point of children is that they’re growing away from you bit by bit from the moment you have them.

Also, like it or not, the perspective with which society views us shifts dramatically when children come onto the scene.  Because “the children are the future” and with every day that passes they become a little less ours and we become a little more theirs.

What will they do with us in our dotage?  Which of our precious things will they allow us to retain?  Where shall they choose for us to live?

Our children, indeed.

We’ll hold the little ones tight and give them all the love we can, but let us not delude ourselves into thinking of them as truly ours.

Art

Ah the power of creation which we share with the gods themselves.  To take crude matter and shape it into the stuff of dreams and nightmares.  To write and rhyme and sing our ideas into being, bringing life and light into the hearts of our fellows.

To create art is to render a piece of yourself for all to share, and what could be more your own than something that is, by definition, an expression of your inner being and talent.

But does an idea, no matter how personal, belong to the artist who renders it for all to see?

Or does it become a shared commodity, with every viewer putting a little of themselves into it, seeing reflected there their own thoughts, their beliefs and biases.

Is art property?  Or is it the most deeply personal contribution one could make to the public good?

Our Thoughts

Yes!

We all have them.

Our thoughts and dreams, our fears and ambitions…,

They are ours, they exist only within us, and if we cling to them and keep them for ourselves, we can take them with us to the grave unsullied.

Congratulations!

I wonder though, what exactly is the value of a thought unexpressed?

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized

How many more weeks of Winter?

My first sculpture, in clay, was of the groundhog.

I was in the second grade.

And it was awful.

Why had my teacher picked the end of January to bring a couple bags of clay into the classroom and tell us build sculptures in commemoration of the February 2nd holiday?

I do not know.

Perhaps there was some message there, about working with earth and water and fire, and about the living cycles of a world we were only beginning to explore.

Or maybe, it was just a random collision of events and the groundhog theme seemed, to her, like a good idea.

So we wedged and shaped the lumps of clay with our little hands, and then she took them off to be fired.  When they came back they were hard and crumbly, and we painted them…, garishly.

I vaguely remember that some of my fellows had, roughly, approximated the look of a large rodent, sitting up on its hindquarters.

I had not.

There was a greenish lump (the ground) upon the crest of which stood a rough brown cylinder (tree trunk), and next to that another brown blob resembling a brazil nut with ears (the critter).

It was bad, really, REALLY bad.

I was so embarrassed by it, that years later, when a friend of mine in college was twisting my arm to take the Intro to Ceramics class with him, I was filled with an irrational fear that my secret shame would finally be exposed.

“I paint, I draw,” I told him, “I’m a 2d artist.  I’m just no good at 3d work.”

“Come on,” he countered, “you’re gonna love it.  Have you even tried?”

And in my minds eye…, green and brown lumps of earth…, and people laughing, LAUGHING!

“Yeah, I’ve tried.”

But in the end, I relented and took the class.

And my friend was right, I loved it.

That first class was followed by a second, and suddenly the focus of my studies had shifted from painting in oils to sculpting in clay.

There was something deeply powerful in the manipulation of those basic elements, earth, water, fire.  There was a ritual quality to the process that touched the spirit, and there was the careful science of manipulating chemical reactions to occupy the analytical portions of my mind.

I had never…, have never…, felt so entirely within my element.

And then the long winter began.

When I left school, I left the ceramics program behind.

I lived in a cramped apartment without the financial means to acquire the tools and materials I’d have needed to pursue my interests.

So I focused on my painting, and I told myself that a brief hiatus from clay would do me good.

And the years passed, and I painted less and less.

I got a job as a graphic artist for a magazine.

I learned new skills.  I won awards.

And the paints came out less frequently.

By the time I changed jobs again (this time repairing computers) my easels had been stowed in the attic and my paints were congealing in their tubes.

And so I came here, and I began to write.  And always, ALWAYS there was the intention that the writing would be a portal into something bigger, something that would utilize all the other skills I have acquired along the way, something that would make me feel like I used to feel before this long winter took hold.

But after a while, the writing seemed to be using up all the creative energy that I had to spare, and keeping to my self imposed deadline was chewing through what little free time I had.  I felt like I needed to take a break and get my head on straight, and finally get a start on whatever that next big thing was going to be.

And so I stopped writing.  I withdrew further into the day to day grind and I waited for the creative well to replenish itself.

But that was never going to happen.

The well didn’t run dry because my creativity went away, instead it has been filled up with silt and debris, the grit and grime of a thousand little things that we like to call ‘living’ but which have nothing to do with being alive.  It is plugged with worries about money and home and transportation, and with all the things that come from being a cog in someone else’s machine.

The waters are still there, but they will never rise above all that junk.

To find them again, I’ll need to grab a shovel and climb down into the well.

I need to get my hands dirty.

I need to start digging.

I know this.

I WANT it.

But wanting and doing are two different things.

Part of the problem is not knowing exactly how to get started.

But far bigger than that is the fear of failure.

And so hear I am, I have become the groundhog, curled in his burrow, desperately wanting the winter to end, but afraid to peek out for fear of seeing his own shadow.

And tomorrow I’ll get up and eat my breakfast and head off to work like a good little citizen.

And I’ll wonder – How many more weeks of winter?

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Filed under About this Blog, Art, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey

Sacred Space: Footprints in the Darkness

There are those among us who will always seek out the sacred.

We look for signs of it in our lives, in the comings and goings, the twists and turns of daily existence.  Often, if we are attentive and open, we might catch just a glimpse.  More rare yet are those occasions when we might see or feel something truly extraordinary.  Yet however fleeting or profound the experience, invariably it makes us yearn for still more.

It is in our nature.

We are a species seeking connection, to each other, to the world, and to the spirit within and around us.  For every wall and fence we erect, we engineer new ways to connect ourselves to people and places that seem otherwise out of reach.

And so, when seeking communion with those things of the spirit realm that seem furthest from our grasp, we re-engineer the world around us.  We build sacred spaces.

These are the churches and temples, the shrines and burial grounds, where the human community has shaped the land in such a way as to being the spiritual world within mortal reach.  In some cases, we seek to house the gods, and in others, the goal is to lift ourselves a little closer to whatever realm they inhabit.

But there are, of course, other places to seek out encounters of the spirit.

These are sacred spaces of a different nature.

Or, more to the point, within nature.

There are forests and cliffs, canyons and mountains, which I have visited, in which I have felt the earth beneath my feet vibrating, coursing with the same sort of energy I have felt in certain circles of stone and lofty cathedrals.  This energy is raw, untamed, but focused by the shape of the land, by the rivers and the rain, and by the winds that sculpt the rock.

I have felt that energy.  I have tapped into it, used it to steady me in high places when I might otherwise have fallen.  At certain times, I have seen within in that earthy pulse, a momentary glimpse of the divine.

We are a species seeking connection.

And sometimes that search leads us underground.

Natural Bridge Caverns

I have explored several caves in my life, more than most perhaps, but far fewer than some of the hard-core cavers I know.

I have walked among vast glimmering cathedrals of stone, and crawled between buried shelves of rock narrow enough that a lungful of air would close the gap between myself and the ceiling above.  Touristy showpieces, pitch black lava-tubes, and dripping-breathing-living caverns in seven states and the Republic of Ireland have known my careful step.

Footprints in the Darkness: the rule in caving, whenever possible, is to leave no trace.

Standing underground, in the darkest dark it is possible to know, with earth both above and below, I have reached out to feel the ebb and flow of energy that surrounds us in those places.

And, as with the surface world, I have discovered that our results may vary.  In some places the pulse of the living earth seems strong almost beyond measure, while in others it exists as but a hesitant trickle.

Still, if you have been in a cave, particularly in a living one where the stone is still flowing with the steady passing of millennia, and if you have reached out with any part of your deeper self, then you know what it is to wander (wonder?) in such a place.

If you know that feeling, and if you can reach back and bring those sensations into the present, then I suggest that you watch Werner Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ – a 2011 documentary concerned with the exploration of Chauvet Cave in France.

The paintings in that cavern, drawn by paleolithic men some 30,000-year ago, are as powerful a bridge between the worlds of human, animal and spirit, as any I can imagine.

Look at the great sweeping horn on this beast.  This is not a depiction of something merely seen.  The artist renders for us the very spirit of the being!

Look at the great sweeping horn on this beast. This is not a depiction of something merely seen. The artist renders for us the very spirit of the being!

The scientists in the film remind us that we cannot truly know what purpose the drawings served, or what people were doing in that cave so very long before the written word.  Yet, even as they caution us against flights of fancy, these men of science wax poetic about their personal experiences in the cave and the perception we have, of so called ‘primitive’ peoples, who knew no hard lines between the spiritual and the physical world in which they walked and hunted.

An entire pride of Cave Lions, extinct since the Ice Age, is made immortal in the stone.

An entire pride of Cave Lions, extinct since the Ice Age, is made immortal in the stone.

And there are tantalizing glimpses of things we moderns can easily recognize as religious or spiritual in nature.  There is the positioning of a cave-bear skull on an altar-like platform of rock, facing the distant entrance, and the grouping of so many of the drawings around an natural font of water – a natural melding of the elements not dissimilar to the holy wells found throughout the Celtic world.  These things provide us with touchstones, however tenuous, to a people whom might otherwise seem lost to history.

Blessed Epona, look at the horses!  Where have I seen them before?

Blessed Epona, look at the horses! Where have I seen them before?

These things also tell us that the spirits that walked among these people, are not really so different from those that we seek out, if indeed there is any difference at all.

In a forbidden recess of the cave, there’s a footprint of an eight-year-old boy next to the footprint of a wolf. Did a hungry wolf stalk the boy? Or did they walk together as friends? Or were their tracks made thousands of years apart? We’ll never know.

—Werner Herzog

Footprints in the Darkness…,

We dig down into the deepest places in search of answers and are often left with greater mysteries still.  The quest for the sacred, like any other endeavor, may be as much about the pursuit as it is the objective.

Which, I suppose, means I’ll have to find the time to explore more caves.

I hope you will as well.

****

This is the eighth post in a series following my progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property, along with contemplations about what exactly Sacred Space actually means.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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Filed under Nature, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey

Picking up the pieces

I was pleased, earlier this week, to see a small but emphatic shout of joy ring out from certain portions of this, our internet.  This, in response to a bit of unexpected good news, as word spread that the statue of Manannán Mac Lir, recently stolen from a mountain top in Northern Ireland, had been recovered.

The image of the Irish sea god, missing for some weeks, was found where the vandals had cast it down, at the base of a ravine only a few hundred yards from where it once stood.

Until now, I think most of us believed that the fiberglass statue had been torn apart and disposed of.  Instead, it appears to have been carried a short distance and then rolled down a hill.  So, I suppose we can ad laziness to the list of crimes for which these religiously motivated thugs are guilty, should we ever chance to discover them.

And, with the statue safely returned, I seriously doubt we’ll see any great effort put toward that investigation.

Did I say, “safely returned?”  Well no, not really.

Fallen Statue Found

Even as the first stories of the statue’s recovery began to circulate, there was mention of some damage to the head.  When the first photos were finally released it was clear that the entire back of Manannán’s head had been sheared away.  Whether this was a consequence of the fall or an active attempt to further disfigure the sculpture is unclear, but the result is the same.

A community is left to pick up the pieces, both literally and figuratively.  Will the local taxpayers have the means to both restore the statue, and secure it against further attacks?  And even if Manannán is returned to that high lookout on Binn Fhoibhne, I have no doubt he will always bear the scars of defilement.

In that, at least, he is in good company.

Tour any of the great museums and you will see them.  Cracked and broken, their once graceful arms missing, they are the gods and heroes of old, the glory of civilizations past, long ago cast down in a fit of religious fervor, and more recently resurrected as simple curiosities to entertain the masses.

Here is the head of the Goddess Aphrodite, torn from her statue, her eyes gouged out and a cross chiseled into her forehead.  Carved in the 1st Century C.E., it was found in the Roman Agora in Athens.

Here is the head of the Goddess Aphrodite, torn from her statue, her eyes gouged out and a cross chiseled into her forehead. Carved in the 1st Century C.E., it was found in the Roman Agora in Athens.

There is a warning phrase which we hear, from time to time, among certain segments of the Christian faithful.  “These are the End Times,” they shout for all to hear, usually in response to some aspect of our modern world which they find irksome to their sensibilities.

Be it secularism…,

…same-sex marriage,

…stem-cell research,

…global free-trade,

…and let us not forget the rise of alternative religions,

…you can be sure that someone, somewhere is convinced that society is about to collapse in on itself and a new age is about to begin.

And therein lies the irony, because these really are the end times.

The biblical ‘tribulations’ began long before the first words of that book were set to paper, when the various tribes of mankind began to migrate across the face of the land and entire societies fell in their wake.

The end isn’t neigh.

The end was yesterday and the day before that, and the world of marvels we have built for ourselves rests upon the gutted remains of the ages that came before us.  And while some are still trying to pick up the pieces, others are determined forget it all in favor of some approaching paradise.

But what so many of them fail to understand, is that the end is a process, not a stopping point.

The worlds we know is always in a state of death…,

…and birth,

…and rebirth.

The human response to this process appears to involve clinging to those portions of the past we hold dear while simultaneously trying to pull down that which we find hostile to our world view.  In so doing we become as much the engine of the end times as we are its victims.

I don’t imagine that will ever change, but I’d like to think it possible.

In my moments of greatest optimism, I imagine the world we know in collapse, falling away to be replaced by one in which we are free to worship any god, or none, without feeling the need to pull down that which is sacred to our neighbor.

It wouldn’t be the Biblical Paradise, the Celtic Otherworld, the green fields of Iðavöllr, or the Age of freaking Aquarius, but I think it would be a nice start.

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Filed under Art, Culture, Interfaith, Ireland, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods

To Live Among the Martyrs

A few weeks ago I was killing some time during a break at work, just puttering around on Facebook, when a friend shared this image…,

Arrow Plane

I was pretty sure it had been faked.  After all, the resolution of the image was pretty low, and I felt doubtful that wooden arrows would be quite so effective against the fuselage of a low flying plane.  Still, I couldn’t help myself from smiling as I looked at the image.

I could see the scene in my head…,

The Piper Comanche sweeping low over the jungle canopy, only to be pelted with a sudden barrage of arrows from below; the frantic pilot and passengers shouting in fear, fighting the suddenly unresponsive controls to gain altitude before it was too late.  Then, back at the tarmac, the looks of disbelief from those on the ground as the wounded plane sets down, having just made it back before the last of the fuel drained away from punctured tanks.

Still, the whole thing seemed pretty unlikely, so I responded to the post by saying, “Assuming this isn’t photoshopped – good for the tribe – keep those arrows flying!”

When I glanced back at the post later, my smile diminished somewhat.  What followed my comment was a brief discussion about five men, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully, who were killed in 1956 while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani, an Ecuadorian tribe which had previously resisted all attempts at contact from the outside world.

Except, of course, “killed” is not the word that was used in the discussion.

These men were not killed, they were “Martyred”.

Because, when you intrude where you are not wanted, when your goal is to disrupt the social order of a foreign people, to make them question their beliefs and ultimately, to convince them that they must conform to your beliefs, and when you are slain in the pursuit of that effort, you are a Martyr in the eyes of those who see the world through that same twisted logic.

Okay.

A few days later, came the news of violent attack against the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, in Paris.  And then two days after that, news that the two gunmen, along with a hostage, were now surrounded by police, in an industrial area north of the French capitol.  The words that were repeated again and again, in the news reports during the standoff, “the two men have announced that they wish to die as martyrs.”

In the end, I suppose they were given their wish.

Ye gods, am I ever so sick of martyrs!

And yes, before you ask, I am with no reservations whatsoever, equating the actions of the Paris gunmen and a pack of Christian missionaries killed in the jungles of Ecuador, almost exactly 59 years ago.  Because they ARE the same, all of them, and I don’t care that their methods differ.

Both groups intrude themselves into innocent lives with the goal of disrupting a social fabric of which they disapprove.  They seek to quash the beliefs of the “infidel” or the “savage” and replace those beliefs with their own.  Their final goal is absolute conformity of thought and action, and it matters not if their target is an isolated jungle tribe or modern western secularists.

I have long held that there is no difference between fanatical branches of Christianity and Islam when it comes to this point.  Each religion, hammers it into the heads of their faithful, that the greatest gift that you can give of your god, is the gift of your own life, taken while spreading the holy word to all corners of the globe.

Generation after generation, raised upon such a belief, have birthed a society which embraces the martyr, even when the cause falls far from the religious sphere.  And so we see efforts to paint the editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo as martyrs in the cause of free speech.

And perhaps those poor artists and writers really are the ones who should be seen in this context.  At least they didn’t try to push their agenda upon anyone at gunpoint.  At least they never tried to force their book and their message into the hands and hearts of people who only wanted to be left alone.

Maybe they are the real martyrs here, but I’d rather not think of them as such.  The cause of free speech does not need martyrs.  History has shown that the dead do not speak with their own voices, but with the voices of those who choose to speak through them.  Free speech is, I think, a cause for the living.

I fear for our future because I don’t think it is possible to live among the martyrs.

Take a long look at the world around us, and remember that the architects of that society have been, by and large, a people who believed that this life, this world, was only a proving ground for the Kingdom of Heaven.  And now, close your eyes and imagine what the world might look like, if its custodians were, instead, a people who believed that the greatest thing that they could do to honor their gods, was to live long and peaceful lives.

Ah, but what about that airplane, pierced by so many wooden arrows?

Aviao

Well, it was neither an invention of photoshop, nor evidence of a jungle adventure gone wrong.  A quick search revealed it to be the centerpiece of an Argentinian art exhibit called Avião.  So, it would appear that no missionaries were harmed in the making of this sculpture.

Many of the comments I’ve read on this piece fall into the, “That’s not art!” variety, which are so common when a work does not fit easily into a frame, and on a wall.  Personally, I love it.  I find the image to be both beautiful and frightening.  Like any good work of art it takes my mind in several directions, some of which, I have little doubt, the artists involved never intended.

The Arrows

What I find beautiful, is the contradiction between the ordered elegance of the flying machine, and the sudden chaos of feathered wooden shafts which pierce its perfect surface.  And then there is the something of the lilliputian here, as a thousand tiny spears threaten to bring down the behemoth of modernity.

And what do I find so frightening?

Only the seeming futility of it all.  I look at this sculpture and I smile.  But hiding behind that smile is the knowledge that a thousand thousand arrows could not hope to bring down all the airplanes, boats and busses that will carry the faithful to their next jungle village.

Kill one missionary…,

Kill one terrorist…,

…and his fellows will brand him a martyr, his name will become a rallying cry, and more will follow.

Unless…,

Unless we stop celebrating those who die for our pet causes, and instead learn to celebrate those who lead through living.  It may be hard to accept, when we have been raised to believe otherwise, but the path which I am suggesting is, by far, the more difficult one.

Dying is easy.  And dying a “meaningful” death is only slightly more challenging.

But to live a full and meaningful life?  Well now, that is task which every single martyr, those we are taught to revere with such dedication, failed miserably.

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Filed under Art, Culture, Death, Modern Life, Philosophy, Proselytizing, Religion

Sacred Space: Spirit in the Tree

My neighbors must think I’m crazy.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my backyard recently, staring up at the dead tree which stands at its center.  Every few days, I find myself walking in circles through the high grass (ugh, I really need to mow) and stopping at various points to look up into the barren branches.

After two or three orbits around the trunk of that old oak, I’ll head back inside and go about the business of the day.  The sun may set and rise again a few times before I return, to gaze again into those twisting limbs.

I am looking for the shapes that I know must be hiding under the bark.

I am looking for the spirit in the tree.

One face among the many that adorn the ‘Trinity Tree’ in the churchyard of St. Mary’s in Dingle, Co. Kerry.  Carved by Juan Carlos Lizana Carreño.

One face among the many that adorn the ‘Trinity Tree’ in the churchyard of St. Mary’s in Dingle, County Kerry. Carved by Juan Carlos Lizana Carreño.

In thinking about how we create a sacred space, it seems to me that part of the job of a temple or a shrine is to remove us from the everyday world of our mortal lives.  While the gods may walk among us as we go about our daily routine, we might never notice their presence because we are conditioned, over a lifetime, to expect only the ordinary.

Our ancestors believed that to experience the divine, we must enter into an altered state of awareness.  There are many means to do this, but the temple is the physical manifestation of that altered state.  The temple sets the mood, it removes us from the ordinary and offers us a glimpse of the otherworld where the gods reside.

Dingle Tree Friar

In my travels, I have encountered a few places that felt as if they were set apart from the world around them.  Most I have sought out, but a few I stumbled upon by accident.

Such was the case a few years ago while traveling along the western coast of Ireland.

Upon arriving in the town of Dingle, in Co. Kerry, and checking into our Bed & Breakfast, the kindly Hostess of the establishment sat us down and offered us a number of suggestions as to what my girlfriend and I should see and do while touring the area.

Now I am very much the planner, when it comes to mapping out my explorations, but I do like to leave some room for chance encounters, and something that our Hostess said grabbed my attention.

“Oh, and you really must visit the Angel Trees!”

“Angel Trees?”

“Oh yes, they are like nothing you have ever seen.”

At the top of the Pilgrim Tree we see the pagan Ulster king, Suibhne, transformed into a birdlike creature by the holy magic of St. Ronan.

At the top of the Pilgrim Tree we see the pagan Ulster king, Suibhne, transformed into a birdlike creature by the holy magic of St. Ronan.

In the town of Dingle, in the west of Ireland, off a narrow street that seems more like an alleyway than something you would actually want to drive through, in the garden of a rectory that sits beside a rather pedestrian little church, there is a doorway to another world.

In this otherwise simple garden, stand a handful of tree-trunks, ash and oak, that are carved in such a way that standing among them I felt as if I had been transported somewhere else entirely.

The imagery, while Christian in theme, had a primitive, tribal nature to it, which seems quite out of place with the rather mundane surroundings.  And yet, while you might expect a certain dissonance between the trees and their surroundings, in my experience, the sculptures draw you in to their world, leaving the mortal realm far behind.

Here we see Saint Michael the Archangel, doing battle with the Christian Devil.

Here we see Saint Michael the Archangel, doing battle with the Christian Devil.

And now, several years later, as I gaze up into the branches of the dead oak behind my house, I am looking for the shapes that will have that same effect on those who see them.

When I first began planning this project I assumed that after limbing the tree and shortening the trunk, I would enclose in within some structure.  Yet, thinking back to those unexpected trees in Dingle, I realize how much more powerful it would be, to have an open air temple with that great carved trunk as its focal point.

And so I wander into my backyard at odd hours of the day.

I gaze upward, looking for the shapes that must be hiding under the bark.

I am looking for the spirit in the tree.

In this detail we see the Devil riding upon the shoulders of Death itself.

In this detail we see the Devil riding upon the shoulders of Death itself.

****

This is the third post in a series following my progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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Filed under Art, Ireland, Photography, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey, Travel

Monsters in the Mist?

We had only just met, when you first mentioned that book to me.

I was aware of it, of course.  In those days the science fiction and fantasy section of the local bookstore was like a second home to me.  And that book was always on display there.  I’d just never gotten around to reading it.

I hadn’t realized it was so important.

“Oh, but it changed my life,” you said.

“It’s transformative,” you went on, “it shows us the truth behind the stories.”

Well, damn!

So I borrowed a copy from a friend, and buried myself in it for a few days.

…,

Meh.

It was okay.

But ‘just’ okay.

Yeah, I really didn’t get it.  And it’s not just because I’m a guy and am somehow unable to identify with feminist themes, unless ‘The Handmaid’s Tale and ‘The Golden Notebook’, suddenly don’t rate in that category.  I simply found neither the writing nor the characters to be all that compelling.

And that’s just my opinion.

I mean, some people don’t get Cubism.  It’s all a matter of taste, really.

De-Constructing Avalon

So anyway, we’ve moved on from those early “getting to know you” years.  A lot of time has gone by and suddenly I find that you are talking about that book again.

Except this time, you’re not exactly singing its praises.

Now, you tell me, you’ll be taking the book down from its exalted place on your bookshelf.

Maybe you’ll store it in a box, out of sight.  Or you’ll shred it and leave it for recycling.

Or you’ll burn it.
(‘cause there’s nothing like a good book burning)

Because now, and I mean JUST now, you don’t like the author.

She allowed those in her care to be hurt.  She tormented and abused her own child.

I’ve read the accusations, and they are terrible, I agree.

It sounds as if she committed horrible, truly criminal deeds in her time on this earth.

But what, I wonder, did the book have to do with any of that?

How did it change?

I mean, you’ve told me so many times how it “changed your life” and “transformed” you.  It showed you something you hadn’t seen before, and I guess I don’t understand how any of those things have changed with these recent revelations.

“She betrayed me,” you’ve said, “and she broke my heart!”

And now I’m feeling some of that anger and disappointment you’ve been talking about.

With you, for playing the victim in this!

Because whatever happened, it seems clear that she has left real victims behind, and a legacy of pain that has nothing whatsoever to do with you.  The betrayal and heartbreak are real, but are not yours to suffer.  No, she can’t have betrayed you, her most dedicated reader, because she never knew you.

And you, obviously, never really knew her.

But you knew the book.

You read it.  You were moved by it.

And now, with the author long dead and beyond the easy reach of your condemnation, are you really going to punish an inanimate object?

Or is it that you are looking for a way to punish yourself?  Perhaps you feel guilty for loving the book so much, or for holding its author in such high esteem when you couldn’t possibly have known what was going on behind the scenes?

Well, just stop it, already!

Knocking a hardbound book down from the top shelf of your bookcase, hardly qualifies you for martyr status, and anyway, you can’t erase the positive impact that her book had on your life.  And you shouldn’t want to.  It’s small, and it’s petty, and it changes nothing.

We are allowed to love things that were created by horrible people.

Our bookshelves would be sparse, our walls empty, our cinemas barren and our radios sadly quiet if we hid away all the art that was produced by people we didn’t care for.

We simply need to remember that we are all capable of horrors.  There are no monsters in the mist, however much we might like to believe otherwise.  It’s just us in here, some more damaged than others, but all of us trying to find something we can hold on to.

If you find a thing that you find beautiful, hold on to it.  And if you discover that that beauty was born out of darkness, then hold on to it more tightly still.  To do otherwise is to give in to the darkness, to let it have its way.

Honest thoughts, offered in friendship.

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