Thursday, March 9, 2017

Riding on the Back of the Bear King, Part II.

          
          The following is a sequel to the essay titled “Riding on the Back of the Bear King,” posted today on the Dark Mountain Blog as part of their “Myths We Live By” series. It tells the story of our move into a Mongolian ger in the woods of Point Reyes this winter, the coming of The White Bear King Valemon tale into my life, and a little bit about what I think it might point us toward in these times, and what it might teach us. What follows below is a deeper look at the story’s main seven facets, which seem to me to offer a shaggy-edged map into deeper belonging with the living land. It is a map that you might follow in a single day’s wander alone among the pines, listening and watching and laying long on your back under the trees; but it is also an entire life’s journey. If I give the impression of experience or expertise, know that in reality I have little, as little as a very young tree; I can only offer what my first foray into this wise old tale has taught me thus far, what I sense of its shapes and movements and gifts.
             As described in the first part of this essay over on Dark Mountain, I learned the story in order to tell it as part of an animal tracking workshop near my new home in Point Reyes. I was curious to see how such a big old myth might be woven into the experience of tracking animals on the wild edge of coastal California; how we might track traces of the story as well as the pawprints of coyotes. 
         All the while, the story was teaching me about coming home. 
         This map, these seven pieces, are only a beginning, the first sketch of the map-pelt of the white bear king. The first and most important part of this journey for me has been to actually tell the story out loud to the land. The rest, I think, unfurls within us and without us in its turn. 


Greek golden laurel wreath, 4th century BCE

The Golden Wreath

Relationship starts with longing. Longing starts in the body, in the senses. The smell of manzanita flower nectar on the February wind. Storm-puddles rimmed with a golden tideline of pine pollen. Wind through the bay laurel trees, ruffling their slender leathery leaves like one skin, turning them all to flashes of light. 
This is maybe the easiest part; to follow the gleaming of what delights you, not just in your mind but in your body. To notice the wholeness of its impression upon you. The back of a river otter in a swollen creek between tules and a marshy field, shining gold with sun as she curves in one great sinuous movement and dives under again. The eyes of a young-great horned owl peering from a myrtle bush near dusk, two rings of yellow around the black pupils, opening into total darkness. The late, rut-polished antlers of male tule elk as they rest together, lounging in a meadow on Tomales Point, their bodies tawny, russet, strong.
The golden wreath the king’s youngest daughter dreams of, pines for, and finds in the paws of the great bear king has much to do with true wholeness. No facsimile will do, though we are being sold facsimiles right and left every day.
It all begins here, in your senses, where the bright wholeness of each living thing rests, and shines. Where does this longing live in your body? Of what is that golden wreath made? 

Kay Nielsen, East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Riding the Bear’s Back

Sometimes, just for a moment, I can sense the Point Reyes Peninsula as one great, breathing animal, shaggy with firs and pines, oaks and bays, with a long grassy snout cropped close by tule elk, and granite claws deep down in the ground, under the sea floor. Such sudden glimpses produce a vertiginous feeling; how a single humped hillside clad in young bishop pines is suddenly part of an unbroken skin, and all that unseen sinew, vein, blood, there in the invisible watertable where the rain goes, where roots spread and spread and spread, one touching another touching another. Imagine it, all the roots across an unbroken swathe of wild land. The mycelium between them. A skin, a pelt, indeed. 
            This is the body of the beloved. The bit of land that claims you, the bit of land you long for. The great bear king. The story says that you must give yourself to the bear king in order to have that golden wreath. You must give your whole self to this feeling of belonging. When the bear asks each of the king’s three daughters upon his back in turn “have you ever sat softer, have you ever seen clearer?” he is asking what my tracking teacher would call a sacred question. "What are the bobcats eating on this land at this time of year?" is also a sacred question, though of a different variety. The latter, followed to its end, leads you deeper into relationship with the outer world. The former brings you right into the center of your own self. And then what?
            Where have you truly sat softest? When have you truly seen clearest? Can a whole landscape be a great unknowable creature, willing to carry you home? What does it feel like to dream this, and sit thus?

from The Blue Fairy Book's version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon

The Art of Beholding

        When he takes her to his castle, all the bear king asks is that the girl look after the hearth and keep the fire going. And, of course, never to lift that tallow candle and look upon the man who comes to her bed by night. Tending the fire is easy enough. It is a tender, gentle courtship. She learns the language of embers. But when her mother forces a little candle stub into her hand, saying my daughter, you must look, she can resist no longer. With that flush of light, and the drip drop of three bits of tallow, she beholds the most precious thing she has ever known, and loses him.
I find that both stories and wild animals have to be approached sidelong. Staring fixedly at a doe in a field will only scare her off. What stares fixedly and desirously at a deer in a field but a mountain lion? This is a predatory gaze. You will never get very close behaving that way. Even so, I’m afraid my default is often the cat-stare. I can’t help myself. When I see something beautiful, or an idea for a story or poem flickers through me quick as marshlight, my tendency is to pounce. To turn the whole intensity of my gaze there, smoldering, a little too bright with eagerness. And yet I have learned as both a writer and an animal tracker that the approach has to be a little bit more roundabout than that.  More subtle, intuitive, humble. Both stories and wild animals are shy. The gentle steps of a slow approach are important. Walk sideways, look the other direction, crouch down and eat a bit of miner’s lettuce. Glance up, and you will find the doe has gone back to grazing. Such steps allow her to read you, to smell the air around you, to sense your heart. Same goes for stories, and perhaps whole landscapes too. Learning each other mostly in the dark; the soul can see well there, even if your eyes cannot.
There is a time to tend, to gently approach, to never seek anything brighter than the soft glow of the embers. But there is also a time to bring what is being courted into full consciousness. To raise that candle and look. Its light, after all, is still hospitable to shadow, as John O’Donohue so beautifully says. But inevitably, the bear king flees. And inevitably, the girl goes chasing after him. There is no other way to step deeper. He is guiding her into the heart of the land, beyond the warmth of his hearth and arms, to learn for herself the Way—the way of trees, the way of streams, the way of stones, the way of birds, the way of coming home.
Part of this process will always involve reaching too far, trying to grasp too soon, and losing what felt so close. Failure, perhaps, is a sign that you are doing something right; that now is the time to run deeper into the forest and not look back!
What does it mean to sit quietly, tending the embers of something holy? Sitting day by day under the hazel, watching its ruby-filamented flowers open until at last you hear the beginning of words? What part of your life requires a slow and embered approach? What part of your life requires that you drop everything and run to catch up?

The Norns (1889) by Johannes Gehrts

Following the Golden Thread

There are always three old women in this story, whichever version you read. I like it best when they give gifts of thread and spindle and carding comb. These are the gifts of the Fates, the Norns who sit in the roots of the World Tree, spinning out the stuff of lives. These are the ones the girl must encounter in her quest for her bear king, her wholeness. These are the ones we must bow to, pray for, and seek. In the European tradition they are the old, old deities of the land, whose names are sometimes the names for the Earth. The Fates and their threads of Being are everywhere. They are in the little spiderwebs on the magenta-flowering hazel trees, the tiny threads between manzanita branches that flash rainbows in the sunrise, the footprints left behind by animals, the pulse of blood or sap or water or lymph in eddies and pathways and spirals through all things.
When the king’s third daughter comes seeking, the first old woman gives her a golden ball of yarn and says here, throw this ball before you and follow where it leads. Follow its gleaming. If you want to find the bear king, there is no other way to walk. No trails will do, but only the bright gleam of intuition, where the sun falls on spiderstrings, and what it is that makes you sing.
When what seemed close, and clear, is lost, seek out the Fates, the threads that bind things, that make a place a living being and not just so many disparate parts.
Where do you sense these old spinners in the landscape around you? Where do you glimpse that web-wise wholeness? What is the name of the making, the place in you that creates?


Growing Claws

“Only one with wings or claws could make it up the mountain where the bear king went,” the last old woman tells the king’s youngest daughter, and gives her a pair of bear claws so she can climb it.
It’s time to become a little bit more animal. To look out at the land through other eyes. Sometimes, when I cup my hand over a coyote track and close my eyes, reaching out along that golden thread to the paws of the very being who made the prints, those little needle-pricks of claw, I get a jolt of brief sensation that both terrifies and thrills me. I can feel the feeling from inside the body of the coyote. Panting, the air cold and sweet on my tongue, my coat shaggy and good and thick; but mostly it’s a brief explosion of sensory awareness that is totally other than my own. The whole landscape woven of smells that seem in my mind to be colors or shapes or brightnesses, all of it vivacious and layered one layer upon the next, shivering with potency with the trilling of birds the tiny vibrations of gophers underground the fluid unbroken being of it all, colors that are smells that are sounds, every creature singing out its name every creature singing out its death every creature singing out its life.
            Sit here, among your own senses and the senses that are not your own. Feel your own nails as claws, the place on your backside where once was a tail, the memory of paws.
For only animals can climb that mountain.


1915 watercolor by John Bauer

Meeting the Troll Hag

I’ve learned to pay attention when women as large as mountains, women as ugly as roots and underworlds and rot, show up in stories. My furry cat ears perk up. Trolls, Titans, giant stone-heaving Cailleachs—I’ve come to see each as a sign left behind in a colonized story, a glimmer of its most ancient strata, of an indigenous Europe before the many Bronze Age invasions from the east.
     On the surface, the story tells us that the bear king has been cursed by a terrible Troll Hag, and that when the king’s youngest daughter fails to break the enchantment, he must return to said Hag and wed her. On a deeper level, this is all part of the necessary process of becoming whole; this is how a seed sprouts. It must first be held in the arms of decay, of the great life-death-life crone. Earth herself is the most ancient keeper of justice, the most ferocious of devourers.
            “Human beings have made much of purity, and are repelled by blood, pollution, putrefaction,” writes Gary Snyder in his piece Unnatural Writing. “The other side of the ‘sacred’ is the sight of your beloved in the underworld, dripping with maggots. Coyote, Orpheus, and Izanagai cannot help but look, and they lose her. Shame, grief, embarrassment, and fear are the anaerobic fuels of the dark imagination.”
            Until we face the Troll Hag and barter with her—golden ball, golden carding comb, golden spindle, all the pieces of Fate—for a deeper understanding of what we love, of the bear king himself, we will only have encountered half of his wholeness, and our own. This is about looking at the darkest places in us and in the land—shit, rot, waste—and allowing them to be part of something bigger, essential even. Perhaps most of all, our own fear—not as a stagnation, but as a necessary expression that may be released at last into rot, and thus reborn.
Else this, nothing ever grows.

 
Snake Tube ritual libation vessel, from 2nd/1st millennia Greece, courtesy of the Suppressed Histories Archives


Cleaning Out Three Drops of Tallow

            It was the three drops of tallow by which she lost him. Three drops from the tallow light. It is by cleaning them from his furred coat that she wins him again, back from the Troll Hag and into her arms.
            I will be honest. This part of the story still mystifies me, and yet it satisfies me deeply too. The first time I read it, I was disappointed; I felt like our heroine won back her bear by playing the neat housewife. It felt too domestic, too patriarchal. And yet I believe now that there is something deeper at work here, something about ritual purification before an altar, something about the haleness of clean water. Something also about a power that only women know. And my mind comes back round again and again to Tomales Bay, where the harbor seals watch with dark eyes. The bay is narrow, made by the San Andreas Fault zone, and its tidelines gleam with mica. My mind comes back round to the feeling of a dunk in cold salt water. How much the water eases from me in one cold rush. Always it seems to give me a new skin, a baptism by salt.
            What would it mean to release the parts of you that want to know, to grab, to hold? What would it mean to give back something that is asked of you by the land, purely? What is it you can give? What bits of tallow can you remove from the pelt of the earth, left there by over eager hands? What act of cleansing and of absolution can you offer back again, with a mind at last as clear and empty as water, and a heart as full?


           

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Winterhouse



 Written for my dear friend Nao Sims of Honey Grove, inspired by a conversation about her dance class series of the same name


A star will guide you to the Winterhouse. Between the courtship calls of the great horned owls in December there is a door. It is made of smoke, it is made of bronze, it is made of bone. Take the hand of that star and he will show you how to knock and how to bow and how to cross the threshold in the old way. It is a low lintel. Only animals do not need to bow their heads. In the darkness you could not see much of that house, for its walls in the night are made of shadows and of certain winter stars, though for stability they are stuffed with straw, they are coated with clay. Starmade but mud and sturdy, this Winterhouse as round as time.  

In winter, in the year’s darkness, there is no time. The Winterhouse swallows time. You will leave time like a coat at the door when you cross the threshold, clasping a star by the hand. He too will vanish once you have stepped fully in—a glimmer of snowlight, a longing, and he is gone far up in the wheel of rafters with the smoke.

Owls and their ancestors perch on those rafters, the kind with very black eyes. The floor is covered with furs—bear and deer, sheep and goat, gray fox, red fox, bobcat, snowshoe hare. Everyone has given their coat to winter.

The Old One sits in the center by the fire that heats the whole house, a fire whose light and shadows move everywhere in the shapes of animals, of stars. The light of the Winterhouse is made of embers. It is soft. It dances. It is generous to shadow. It courts the unseen. You can never see everything at once, in the Winterhouse. Only many points of light amidst a great and indigo darkness. Still you can see the Old One very well, she who sits nearest the fire, cooking on the hot coals. Her coat is sewn of a hundred skins, of every creature that dwells in the winter forest. Her coat covers the whole of the floor; it is all the furs beneath your feet. When she moves, they rustle. She is old and broad and dark, and she is cooking little buns on the coals.


The air smells of yeast, of nutty flour, of sweet bread. She offers a bun to you. Her hand is gnarled, ancient and twisted as roots, and yet you see that it is jeweled. On her sooty fingers are rings of immaculate delicacy. They shine with a crystalline sharpness, with the glitter of snow, of sun on cold water. At her neck, over the many braided rabbit furs of her vest, hangs a piece of silversmithing that dazzles you. It is a woven net of silver, fine as spidersilk, jeweled with clear gems as perfect and bright as rain. Her looks are not a queen’s, but plain and strong and lined, her furs the furs of ancient memory, simply tanned and many colored, ragged here and there. And yet at her hands gleam the work of the smiths who live deep in the ground, the forgotten ones who tend the earth’s own light. You would like to ask her what it is she has seen, and how she goes there in those underworlds of silver, gold and stone. If by foot, by cat, by star, or none at all, and only soul. 

But her kind, fierce eyes quiet you, and you accept the steaming bun.



Monday, January 9, 2017

The Story of SILT: Osiris, Dismemberment and the Rebirth of the Sun

For a long time, the mythology of dismemberment has fascinated me. The Vegetation Year God, cut to pieces out in the fields, scattered to bless the earth, reborn at the lip of the winter solstice, when the light begins at last to return. How potent an image of healing, of rebirth. How layered, the word re-member-- to bring broken pieces into wholeness. Of self. Of world. It seems we find ourselves teetering on such a moment, here beyond the doorway of the winter solstice, as the light begins slowly to return to the skies; as another kind of darkness gathers.

The longer I practice the craft of writing, the more I find that stories brew for a long time in me before being ready to be written. My mind catches at patterns, at threads whose meaning I don't yet fully understand, and then one day I see very clearly why they are all there, and what to make of them. During our trip to Greece, myths of dismemberment and rebirth, and above all the symbolism of the snake, gathered in my reading, in my notebook, in my mind. During our final days in London before flying home again, we visited an extraordinary exhibit at the British Museum that included a whole series of rooms and artifacts connected to the Mysteries of Osiris. I almost backed out of going when we reached the gates—it was so crowded, so touristy, and I have such an aversion to crowds. But the moment we entered the darkened rooms, and I beheld the sacred bronze ladles, the little oil lanterns, the ritual boat, all used in the Festival of Osiris... I knew it all fit, somehow. I've been deeply drawn to the world of ancient Egypt since I was a little girl, so the exhibit was something of a revelation. 
Artwork by Catherine Sieck (c) 2016


But it wasn't until I came home, and the unthinkable happened on November 8th, and I sat down with my friend Catherine Sieck on a hillside above a pond, that it all came together. On that hillside we talked about our sorrows and our fears, our hopes and our convictions, how now more than ever is the time for artwork that tells a different story than the story of hatred, violence and greed in which we find presently ourselves. 

A new story collaboration, called SILT, was the result of that conversation, and this is your last week to purchase yourself a copy before we begin printing and shipping them next Monday, January 16th! (You may already have heard the news from my newsletter; if so, forgive the following repetition. You can skip ahead if you like, and read a bit more about the symbolism and mythology of dismemberment, Vegetation gods, and rebirth, below.)

With SILT, we are retelling the Osiris myth along the riverbanks of our own future. In that most sacred of Egyptian stories, Osiris' dismemberment is a metaphor for the death and rebirth of the vegetation each year, and the renewal of life out of the Nile silt. In many ancient cultures across the world, there are myths of the Vegetation God, and his necessary sacrifice at the summer's end, to feed and gift the land with fertility for the next year. We find ourselves on the brink of some great ending, some terrible change that might also bring forth yet unknown beauty, and transformation, and revolution. 

Tomb painting depicting Isis & Osiris
SILT was written and created as an act of opposition and protest against the regime of proclaimed fear, bigotry and environmental attack that will be inaugurated into office on January 20th, 2017. Originally, we planned to time SILT so that it would arrive on your doorsteps on that very day— to offer a story of a different kind of leadership, a different kind of masculinity, a different way of relating to justice and to the earth. However, we've shifted that goal out of respect for the moon and our own cycles of creativity, so that it will now arrive on the NEW MOON, January 27th, 2017 (or very close to it). This felt like a better idea to both of us. As an act of allegiance to a different calendar altogether, it feels like its own kind of resistance—choosing to go by the moon goes against everything this coming presidency claims to stand for, and allows January 20th itself to be a day of action, of grieving, and also of serious planning.

We chose the name SILT as our rallying cry to invoke the power and fecundity of those tiny particles made of quartz and feldspar, tinier than sand and larger than clay, that rivers deposit along their banks during the flood season, renewing the green life everywhere within their reach. Silt is ephemeral and fluid, it can slip unseen between the cracks of the world, but the collective effect of a great rivertide of silt is enormous. Silt sustained the ancient civilization of Egypt for thousands of years, so long as its people remembered its name, and the power of mud.

This bundle is our response, in metaphoric and mythic language, to the place we now find ourselves, not knowing where any of it is leading, but wary of what might come. With this work, we are mucking about at the roots of things, with seeds in our hands and ferocious prayers in our teeth. This is a time to look to the old stories for guidance, to see what they have to teach us, to fortify us for what is to come.

Like I said, this is your last week to purchase a copy, which you can do right here!  The SILT bundle will include a story, a set of cut-paper illustrations, and a special gathered stone to plant as a seed and a prayer.


It is said that when the young god Dionysus was killed and dismembered, the drops of his blood on the earth became pomegranate seeds. From them the first pomegranate trees grew, those ruby-bright fruits associated with Persephone and her underworld (a whole other interconnected set of Mysteries!) which ripen in autumn across the gardens of Greece. In ancient agricultural mythology and ritual throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, and far beyond it too, the yearly dismemberment of a Vegetation God was central to the rebirth of the seed, the green, and the living land in spring. Dionysus, Greek god of wine, of the growing green things of the land, of vegetative life force, of ecstatic bacchanals and fertility and altered states, is a classic example of one such deity. 

Dionysus, a Satyr and a Maenad, Attic red-figure calyx krater, 520-510 BC (Courtesy of Scholia)
Dionysus' dismemberment was enacted by the orders of a jealous Hera—jealous, say the Classical myths, hiding her deeper power and deeper truth; that she was once the Great Goddess of a pre-Indo European Greece, and such an act was not done out of jealousy, spite or meanness, but as the necessary role of the Great Mother who doles out death and life, keeper of nature's older cycles, of which the coming and going green is but one. Interestingly, it was the Titans, that oldest substratum of Greek deities, who actually dismembered him, and Rhea, daughter of the Titan goddess Gaia (Earth) herself, who made him whole and revived him again. In later stories, the famous musician Orpheus, looking very much like a manifestation of the god of wine and green, was dismembered by frenzied Maenads, the priestesses of Dionysian rites.

As Ann Wroe writes in her magnificent book Orpheus: The Song of Life, "Mythologists watched him enter as a seed falling, the ash key turning in the wind, the kernel trodden underfoot, the grain flung out from the sower's hand. He sank into the earth until he released life. His husk rotted from him there, and white hairs of new roots crept out into the dark. A pale filament uncurled, like a question; the shoot grew. Orpheus, as a primitive god of vegetation, endured the cycle of the seasons from death to life, to death, to life again" (page 129). Later, she goes on to describe his death by the "sacred double-axe" (which sounds suspiciously like the double-bladed labrys, sacred to the goddesses of old Europe)—"It cleaved him so that life and voice were 'breathed out into the winds.' Orpheus in this scene was again a vegetation god, cut down because the seasons demanded harvest, pressing and winnowing to release new life. He was broken and spread out by hoes, mattocks, rakes and bloodied hands" (223).

A Maenad holding a thyrsus (a staff made of a giant fennel stalk with a pine cone wrapped with ivy leaves and honey on top, sacred to Dionysus and carried by all his priestesses) from a Roman relief c. 120-140 AD, Courtesy of Scholia
In later tellings, these Maenads were demoted to "angry farm-wives," but it seems certain to me that once their power was very great and very sacred indeed, and that it was perhaps their rites, more than the figure of Dionysus himself, which truly protected the fertility of the land. 

Some have called Dionysus simply the Greek version of the famous Egyptian Osiris, god of both the underworld and the green life of the earth, god of the Nile's flood and fertility, who was colored green like the very mud and silt. And yet both deities are very old, likely influencing each other in their mythology and ritual, but disparate in specifics and in practice, as are other Vegetation gods across Europe, the Middle East, and beyond.

A festival translated as "The Mysteries of Osiris," was considered the most important religious event in the ancient Egyptian world, as it heralded the annual flooding of the Nile, and the necessary fertility that those silty waters brought. During the festival, which lasted for almost a month, the murder and rebirth of Osiris were reenacted. In the old stories, Osiris was killed by his jealous brother Set, who first nailed him into a coffin and floated him down the Nile, and later dismembered him, scattering his 14 pieces all across the desert. His sister-wife Isis went after him, taking refuge in the papyrus swamps of the Nile Delta and seeking out every last piece of his body. She recovered all of them save his genitals, which had been eaten by fishes, but even these she magically remade from sacred things, and conceived their son Horus with him while in the form of a kite.

Isis, in the form of a bird, copulates with the deceased Osiris. At either side are Horus, although he is as yet unborn, and Isis in human form. Courtesy of Olaf Tausch

Osiris was thus reborn as god of the underworld, keeper of the rebirth of the year's green, and even, in some places, associated with the daily and yearly death and rebirth of the sun itself. Isis—great goddess of Egypt, keeper of the old magic of the earth— was the precursor of the Virgin Mary, particularly as she relates to a sacred-mother son iconography. The birth of Horus at the time of the winter solstice was celebrated in a ceremony called Kykellia, "The Rite of Isis," as the rebirth of the sun, and with it, the rebirth of the wheat crop. The stories of the birth of Christ coincide with the rebirth of the sun for a reason— and both are rooted in the imagery of the dismemberment of the vegetation god at the cusp of the year-- he who goes into the underworld as seed and returns as sprout, as green, as child, under the year's new sun.

Isis nursing Horus
According to the British Museum, "the Mysteries of Osiris took place between the 12th and 30th of the month of Khoiak (mid-October to mid-November), when the Nile retreated, depositing fertile soil ready to be sown. Every year, two figures of Osiris were prepared by priests in the secrecy of the temple. One was made of soil and barley grains, and the other was made of expensive ingredients including ground semi-precious stones. These sacred figures were carried in procession to their final resting place at the end of the ritual celebrations."

The actual exhibit featured a little case where you could see all the ingredients used in these sacred figures. I lingered long over that case, and wrote down the names, the list itself an incantation: lapis, flax seed, amethyst, saffron, aspalathus, date paste, Nile water, Nile silt, haematite, calamus root, barley, incense. 

From Sir James George Frazer's problematic but informative The Golden Bough we learn more—"Plutarch tells us that Osiris was murdered on the seventeenth of the month of Athyr, and that the Egyptians accordingly observed mournful rites for four days from the seventeenth of Athyr. [...] During these four days a gilt cow swathed in a black pall was exhibited as an image of Isis. [...] On the nineteenth day of the month the people went down to the sea, the priests carrying a shrine which contained a golden casket. into this casket they poured fresh water, and thereupon the spectators raised a shout that Osiris was found. After that they took some vegetable mould, moistened it with water, mixed it with precious spices and incense, and moulded the paste into a small moon-shaped image, which was then robed and ornamented." (page 434, The Golden Bough)

In the museum exhibit, I found myself particularly caught by the imagery of these molds of Osiris, filled with sacred spices, stones and also seeds, which were planted both along the Nile delta, and in a sacred granite coffin, which was watered by priests until it sprouted. More beautiful imagery for a worship of the regenerative powers of the green life of this earth, I can hardly imagine. 

(A priest watering Osiris in the Temple of Philae, Courtesy of the British Museum)

Obviously, this is a deeply powerful and also very vast mythology-- specifically of Osiris and Isis, and more generally of ritual and mythological dismemberment. What I've written here is only the briefest of explorations, to show you some of the roots of our SILT. One thing that has struck me during my research and writing is the way the mythos of dismemberment and vegetation deities seems to have changed throughout ancient times. I suspect that what was once the sacrifice of the Vegetation God at the hands of the Great Earth Mother, in her name, morphed into the Osiris cult during a time of increased patriarchal control. After all, Isis was also the goddess of the underworld, of rebirth, and of the fertility of the land, and the one who put Osiris back together, and yet Osiris seems to have taken much of the credit, though worship of Isis was so widespread across the ancient Greco-Roman world that she was folded into later Christian iconography.


In our SILT, I've tried to remedy this imbalance by telling part of the story from the perspective of a female narrator. It is written partly as diary entries, and partly as a series of incantatory scenes from the rituals of a far-distant desert future along the banks of a Californian river. Catherine's series of cut-paper illustrations are a revelation, an iconography of the kind of hope that dwells in the body, and of "the continuity of life which outlasts all changes of form," as C.G. Jung writes of the Osiris myth. 

These words from Jung seem the perfect rallying cry as we go forth into an unknown future. Devoted to making whole again what may be broken. Devoted to the new life that comes from every ending. Devoted to the truly awe-inspiring regenerative powers of this earth, of our bodies, and of our imaginations.