Holding the world in balance

A stag who appears on New Year's Day in Romania (photograph by Charles Fréger)

Ceremonial deer dancers in the Mayan, Portuguese, and Bhutan traditions

Following on from yesterday's post, here's a passage from an interview with Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan noting the role of traditional ceremonies in mediating our relationship with animals:

"There were times when animals and people spoke the same language, or when the animals helped the humans. For instance, our mythology says it was the spider who brought us fire. I’ve thought about these human-animal relationships for years -- is this true? Well, humans and animals existed together for many thousands of years without creating the loss of species. There was enormous respect given to animals. I have to trust the knowledge of indigenous people because it held a world in balance.

"I have a special interest in ceremonies. I look at a ceremony called the Deer Dance. In the ceremony, I watch the entire world unfold through the life of the deer and a man dressed as a deer. The man dances all night. It is as if he were transformed into a deer. This is a renewal ceremony for the people. The deer that lives in the mountains far from the people provides them with life.

"The purpose of most ceremonies -- such as healing ceremonies -- is to return one person or group of people to themselves, to place the human in proper relationship with the rest of the world. I thought that we were out of touch with ourselves twenty years ago. Now, with computers and email and cell phones, we are even more out of touch. How many of us even stay in touch with our own bodies? If we aren’t inhabiting our own bodies, how can we understand animal bodies of the world?"

Deer dancer at the Crane Festival in Bhutan 2

Tibetan Cham Deer  in the early 20th & 2st centuries

Women's deer dance in Bali

An urban deer dance by artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley

"Indian people," says Hogan, "must not be the only ones who remember the agreement with the land, the sacred pact to honor and care for the life that, in turn, provides for us. We need to reach a hand back through time and a hand forward, stand at the zero point of creation to be certain we do not create the absence of life, of any species, no matter how inconsequential they might appear to be. "

Yaqui Deer and Pascola Dancers, Sonora, Mexico

Deer Dance by Kyle Bowman

Yokai spirits in Akita Prefecture, Japan (photograph by Charles Fréger)

Pictures: A traditional stag dancer on New Year's Day in Romania (photographed bCharles Fréger); Mayan, Portuguese, and Bhutan deers dancers (the second photograph by Fréger); a deer dancer performing at the Black Crane Festival in Bhutan; Tiben Cham Deers, early in the 20th & 21st centuries; a women's deer dance in Bali; an urban deer dance by American artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley; Yaqui Deer and Pascola Dancers in procession in Sonora, Mexico; a Yaqui Deer Dancer in Arizona (photograph by Kyle Bowman), and Yokai spirits in Akita Prefecture, Japan (photographed by Charles Fréger). Please note that there are rules and taboos about photographing sacred ceremonies; I've only used photographs taken with permission.

Words: The first passage above is from an interview with Linda Hogan by Camille Colatosti, published onlne in The Witness. (Alas, it no longer appears to be available.) The second passage is from Hogan's essay collection Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (WW Norton, 2007), which I highly recommend. All rights reserved by the author.

Further reading: "Deer Woman and the Living Myth of the Dreamtime" by Carolyn Dunn, "Where the White Stag Runs" by Ari Berk, and two previous posts: "Wild Folklore" and "Homemade Ceremonies."


An ode to slowness

Between the Fox and the Owl by Donna Howell-Sickles

Fridays are my day for re-visiting posts from the Myth & Moor archves, often ones that touch on themes we've been discussing during the week. This post first appeared in the autumn of 2012, presented today with new art. 

From "Ode to Slowness" by Terry Tempest Williams:

"I want my life to be a celebration of slowness.

"Walking through the sage from our front door, I am gradually drawn into the well-worn paths of deer. They lead me to Round Mountain and the bloodred side canyons below Castle Rock. Sometimes I see them, but often I don't. Deer are quiet creatures, who, when left to their own nature, move slowly. Their large black eyes absorb all shadows, especially the flash of predators. And their ears catch each word spoken. But today they walk ahead with their halting prance, one leg raised, then another, and allow me to follow them. I am learning how to not provoke fear and flight among deer. We move into a pink, sandy wash, their black-tipped tails like eagle feathers. I lose sight of them as they disappear around the bend.

Three Does and a Kid by Donna Howell-Sickles

"On the top of the ridge I can see for miles... Inside this erosional landscape where all colors eventually bleed into the river, it is hard to desire anything but time and space.

"Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breath, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space--an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness.

"Hand on stone -- patience.

"Hand on water -- music.

"Hand raised to the wind --  Is this the birthplace of inspiration?"

Desert Mule-eared Deer

Yes, I believe it is.

I firmly believe that inspiration is born in the land, born of the land, and borne to us on the sacred winds: in the Utah desert where Williams lives, here on my beloved Dartmoor, in the green spaces of London and Manhattan, and wherever you are too. We all need the land and we all need the wild, in all of its various manifestations -- for creative work, and for the art we make everyday of the lives we live.

That's not to say there aren't other forms of inspiration, or artists who make good use of them. But right now, for me, on this beautiful and ailing planet, this is one of the forms of inspiration we need the most, and that matters the most. I think about this constantly as I work with the tools of myth and fantasy. How can I use them in service to the land? How do I let the land speak through me?

I start by living a little more slowly, a little more attentively -- for my art cannot speak for wild lands or wild neighbors if I'm not listening to what they have to say.

In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit extolls the value of moving through the world more slowly:

"Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination," she writes, "a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use...time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space -- for wilderness and public space -- must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space."

Indeed.

And Then There Were Three by Donna Howell-Sickles

The art today is by Donna Howell-Sickles, who was born and raised on a 900-acre farm in Texas.Watching the Big Bear by Donna Howell-Sickles

While studying for a BFA at Texas Tech University, she came across a postcard of a cowgirl from the 1930s and became fascinated with the history, iconography, and mythology of cowgirls throughout the American West. Her distinctive art is now shown in galleries and museums across the United States and Europe.

Although she's best known for vibrant pictures of cowgirls and their horses, I'm especially drawn to her imagery of additional animals and birds: dogs, deer, bear, crows, owls, and the like. The artist is conscious of their mythological connotations, and often employs such imagery to tell symbolic stories about the inner journeys of the women in her work.

Please visit her website if you'd like to see more; or look for her book: Cowgirl Rising: The Art of Donna Howell-Sickles (from Greenwich Workshop Press, 1997).

It is Written in the Stars by Donna Howell-Sickles

Deer by Donna Howell-SicklesThe passage by Terry Tempest Williams is from an essay in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert (Pantheon, 2001). The passage by Rebecca Solnit is from Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Viking, 1997). Both books are highly recommended. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.


The art of hope

Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

I'm still immersed in Conversations with Barry Lopez by William E. Tydeman, allowing myself only a few pages during my coffee break in the woods each day, drawing the book out and taking the time to really think about what I'm reading. Today, I'm struck by following passage on hope -- for "hope" and "goodness," it seems to me, are too often portrayed as banal, Pollyanna-ish qualities, when in fact it takes great courage and clarity of mind to reject despair, reach for the light and make something beautiful and whole out of lives and times so dark and fractured.

Flora McLachlanThe passage begins with Lopez noting his desire to explore the relationship between emotion and landscape in the context of nature writing (a publishing label, I should acknowledge, that he personally dislikes) -- and the single emotion that he's most interested in exploring this way is hope. I find that interest significant for Lopez can hardly be accused of naivity, having spent a lifetime on the frontlines of activism for social justice and our ailing planet, and having faced true evil in his early years.* Those who thoroughly understand despair have my attention when they speak of hope.

"I think you can evoke aspects of the land in prose in a way that makes people hopeful about their lives, " he says. "I think you can also describe landscapes that are not just physically but metaphysically dreary, and that those descriptions can make a readers lose a sense of hope about the subtle possibilities of their own lives. For me -- and maybe there is some mode of critical thinking about this -- the creation of story is a social act. It's driven by individual vision, of course, but in the end I think story is social, and part of what makes it social is this impact it can have on the psyche of the reader.

"My sense is that story developed in parrallel with the capacity to remember in Homo sapiens. I don't mean 'Where did we cache the food last spring?' but memory operating at a more esoteric level, recalling, say, the circumstances that induced loving behavior. Story, it seems to me, begins as a mnemonic device. It carries memory outside the brain and employs it in a social context. So you could say a person hears a story and feels better; a person hears the story and remembers who they are, or who they want to become, or what it is that they mean. I think story is rooted in the same little piece of historical ground out of which the capacity to remember and the penchant to forget come."

Flora McLachlan

The First Leaves by Flora McLachlan

After reading these words, I flip back to the book's introduction by William Tydeman and find this passage I'd marked last week:

"Most times when Lopez speaks of hope, I am reminded of the simple-minded approach so many critics and intellectuals take toward place-based writing and its expression of hope. Lopez and I agree with an analysis made by Christopher Lasch, who conveys a nuanced view of the multilayered meaning of hope. He argues that 'Hope asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.' Hope does not require a belief in progress or prevent us from expecting the worst but, rather, hope 'trusts life without denying its tragic character. Progressive optimism, often confused with hope, is based on a denial of the natural limits of human power and freedom -- a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best. It is not an affective anecdote to despair.' Those who challenge the status quo and support the popular uprising  for social justice 'require hope, a tragic understanding of life, the disposition to see things through.' Hope is what we need."

It is indeed.

Flora McLachlan

Thistledown by Flora McLachlan

The art today is by Flora McLachlan, a printmaker born in Sussex and now based in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. "My pictures are records of things seen and imagined by twilight or moonglow," she writes. "I take inspiration from my studies of English literature, myth and legend. I try to express a sense of the enchantment I feel is embedded in our ancient landscape. I try to imagine the secret face of the land, when the light fades and the creatures come out to roam. I’m feeling for a lost or hidden magic, a glimpse through trees of the white hart.

"My preferred technique is etching. I love its atmosphere, the deep mysterious blacks and the glowing whites. During the long etching process, my original idea changes, and grows, with the working of the metal. The act of creation continues with the printing of the image; many of my etchings are underprinted with a painterly mono-collagraph plate, and most are complex and demand a concentrated and meditative approach to the inking and printing."

To see more of McLachlan's beautiful work visit the artist's website; and Foxnest, her Etsy shop.

Crossing the Water by Flora McLachlan

The White Hart by Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

* I recommend Lopez' s  beautifully-crafted & wrenching autobiographical essay "Sliver of Sky,"  published in Harper's in 2013, with a trigger warning for abuse issues.

The passages quoted above are from Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination by William E. Tydeman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). All rights to the words & images in this post reserved by the authors & artist. A related post from February: Alison Hawthorne Deming on art, culture, and radical hope.


Watching the deer

The Watcher in the Wood

The Book of Fairy Poetry illustrated by Warwick Goble
This Morning I Watched the Deer

by Mary Oliver

This morning I watched the deer
   with beautiful lips touching the tips
of the cranberries, setting their hooves down
   in the dampness carelessly, isn't it after all
the carpet of their house, their home, whose roof
   is the sky?

Why, then, was I suddenly miserable?

Well, this is nothing much.
This is the heaviness of the body watching the swallows
   gliding just under that roof.

This is the wish that the deer would not lift their heads
   and leap away, leaving me there alone.
This is the wish to touch their faces, their brown wrists -
   to sing some sparking poem into
the folds of their ears.


then walk with them,
over the hills
and over the hills

and into the impossible trees.

The White Hind by Arthur Hughes

This is the wish

Deer in DevonWords: The poem above is from Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2004); all rights reserved by the author. Pictures: An illustration from The Book of Fairy Poetry by Warwick Goble (1920), "The White Hind" by Arthur Hughes (1870), and deer in Devon.


Dreams of deer

Brother and Sister by Cremonini

I have another deer poem for you today, a psalm for the wild ones of the forest.

Fawn by Kiki SmithThe enchanted deer in the pictures above and below come from two classic French fairy volumes. Above is "Brother and Sister" from Les contes de Grimm, illustrated by Cremonini (Editions Fabbri, 1965). Below is "Bright, Dear Deer, and Kit" from Le livre des bêtes enchantées, illustrated by Adrienne Ségur (Flammarion, 1956). Selections from Le livre des bêtes enchantées and an earlier volume, Il était une fois, were published in the U.S. as The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, translated by Marie Ponsot (Golden Books, 1958).

The illustration on the right is "Fawn," by the German-American artist Kiki Smith. Alas, I have no idea where the final photograph is from...but isn't it marvelous?

Bright, Dear Deer, and Kit by Adrienne Segur

Old photograph, provenance unknown


Deer prayers

Three Does and a Kid by Donna Howell-Sickles

This morning when I looked out the roof window
before dawn and
a few stars were still caught
in the fragile weft of ebony night
I was overwhelmed. I sang the song Louis taught me:
a song to call the deer in Creek, when hunting,
and I am certainly hunting something as magic as deer
in this city far from the hammock of my mother’s belly.
It works, of course, and deer came into this room
and wondered at finding themselves
in a house near downtown Denver...

- Joy Harjo (from my favorite Harjo poem, "Song for the Deer and Myself to Return On")

Stray fawn in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 2013

Queen Anne's Lace, Devon

...And so we close our eyes when we pray to seek the blindness
that offers a window into the world,
                                                     & the world within this one,
sudden rain so fine it could be just a trick of the wind & the light,
                                                                                            there & gone,
as the deer move off, through the silky wilds
                                                                of Queen Anne's lace,
through clover scatter-brushed in the grasses,
the long grasses that hold the traces of their passing

for a moment only, & beneath the old pear trees
already heavy with their suns,
with the cities of clouds the caterpillars
have spun for their tombs
                                     as they move from this life & into the next one.
And we, with our rain-limned bodies, listening
for the echoes of our prayers to return,
to the aethereal bodies drifting so close
                                                       & out of sight,
listening hard for the sound of our own disappearance.

- Mark Wagonaar (from "Deer Hour Gospel")

Deer Amonst the Trees and Forest Deer Trio by Tony Abeyta

I'd seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night
under the pines...

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

- Mary Oliver (from my favorite Oliver poem, "Five A.M. in the Pinewoods")

Deer Dancer by Tony Abeyta

Hunting Processional by Tony Abeyta

I somehow overlooked these deer pictures (from the American South-west) during our Deer Week back in early July. The drawing at the top is "Three Does and a Kid" by "cowgirl" artist Donna Howell-Sickles, from Texas. The paintings are by Toby Abeyta, a young Navajo/Anglo artist from New Mexico: "Deer Amongst the Trees," "Forest Deer Trio,"  "Deer Dancer," and the two-part "Hunting Processional."  Please visit the artists' websites to see more of their beautiful work. The deer photo is of a stray fawn found at the City Hall in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexio, this summer. It's now at the Wildlife Center in Espanola and will be released into the wild after rehabiliation.   

I should mention that it's going to be a particularly busy month here at Bumblehill, due to deadlines, guests, and a family member's impending move. I'll keep posting, but the posts may be shorter & quicker over the weeks ahead. I''ll continue on with the  "Into the Woods" series when time permits, and will return to it fully in September.


Into the Woods, 21: Following the Deer (Part IV)

Woodland tapestry detail

Psalm
by George Oppen

Veritas sequitur ...

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —

That they are there!

                                  Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

                                   The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

                                    Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

                                     The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Woodland tapestry

Holy Grail tapestry

skin
by Lynn Hardaker

i press
ochred hands onto the walls of this cave. my skin. my shelter.

my fingers crawl like night insects
to sing the running of the animals,
the wind of the chase, the beating of hearts and hooves
across the plains, of stone and dust.

each night i dream the chase
across my eyes’ black-lidded sky
each night
my body slick with sweat and smeared with ash
i run

as i run,
i hear the beating of the drum i’ve made -
taught and resonant - from my own skin,
feel the weight of the weapon i’ve made
from my own bone.

i leave the fire-painted walls
of this illusion

and i run

under the cool, many-eyed gaze of the night
i run until i feel my heart will beat its last beat and tear through my skin
i stop

my fear as dry as the dirt in my mouth.

i lower my antlers to the pool
and drink the stars.

Detail from the Holy Grail tapestry

Detail from the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries

The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry

The Faces of Deer
by Mary Oliver

When for too long I don't go deep enough
into the woods to see them, they begin to
enter my dreams. Yes, there they are, in the
pinewoods of my inner life. I want to live a life
full of modesty and praise. Each hoof of each
animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches
then lifts away from the ground. Unless you
believe that heaven is very near, how will you
find it? Their eyes are pools in which one
would be content, on any summer afternoon,
to swim away through the door of the world.
Then, love and its blessing. Then: heaven.

Go here for Following the Deer (L'Envoi)

A detail from the Winged Deer tapestry, medieval French

Tilly and the deer

Deer tapestries above: The Woodland tapestry designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. (English, late 19th century); The Quest for the Holy Grail tapestry designed by William Morris for Morris & Co. (English, late 19th century); a detail from one of the four Devonshire Hunting Tapesteries (medieval French); one of the seven tapestries in the Hunt of the Unicorn series (medieval Dutch); and Tilly sits with the winged deer in the tapestry hanging over the studio sofa. (The design is medieval French.)

Publication credits: "Psalm" by George Oppen was published in New Collected Poems by George Oppen, 1965; "skin" by Lynn Hardaker was published in Mythic Delirium # 28, Winter/Spring 2013 issue; "The Faces of Deer" by Mary Oliver was published in New & Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver, 2005.


Into the Woods, 20: Following the Deer (Part III)

Young Fallow Deer by Joshua Smythe

In the earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on the earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen -
all you had to do was to say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That's the way it was.

- after Nalugiaq (from Magic Words: Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos by Edward Field)

Peruvian deer vesselsCeremonial deer vessels from Chimbote, Santa Valley, Peru (100 BC-500 AD)

Iranian deer vesselIranian deer vessel, used for holding wine (1000-550 BC)

Pueblo Indian Bowl, Acoma, New Mexico - Polychrome Olla with Heartline DeerNative American olla from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. The exact date is unknown, but it's believed to be old, and the traditional "heartline deer" design even older.

Rutting deer buck

Hondoran deer vesselA ceramic deer vessel from the Hunal Tomb, Copan, Honduras (circa 437 AD)

Enchanted is what they were
in the old stories, or if not that,
they were guides and rescuers of the lost,
the lonely, needy young men and women
in the forest we call the world.
That was back in a time
when we all had a common language.

- Lisel Mueller (from "Animals Are Entering Our Lives")

Doe and Deer Jars by glass artist William MorrisDoe and Deer Jars, made of blown glass, by American glass artist William Morris, based in the Pacific Northwest.

Deer in Trees Bowl by C BaconDeer in Trees bowl by American ceramicist C. Bacon, based in New England.

White-tail deer

Deer and Doe Porcelain Boxes by Eleanor BartlemanDeer and Doe porcelain boxes by English ceramicist Eleanor Bartleman, based in Devon.

Long ago the trees thought they were people.
Long ago the mountains thought they were people.
Long ago the animals thought they were people.
Someday they will say, long ago the humans thought they were people.

-  from a Native American (Tulalip) story recounted by Johnny Moses

Go here for Following the Deer: Part IV

White-tail deer

The deer photographs above are: young fallow deer (by UK photographer Josh Smythe);  a deer buck at Dunham Massey Deer Park, in north-west England, during the rutting season (rubbing antlers in grass is a common rutting behaviour); an early morning doe and deer encounter; and two white-tailed deer-people.